Toledo Democracy Day Testimony: Focus on Racism, White Supremacy

Below is the testimony I delivered today before Toledo City Council, or rather the three council members who showed up.  The mayor also showed up for part of the testimony.

Democracy Day Testimony

March 5, 2018

Hi, my name is Dan Rutt.  Today, I want to focus on one thing: that is, racism, or more precisely, white supremacy.

I am trained professionally in public health and I can attest to the effects of racial disparities across a sweeping array of health issues.  It is key to note that these racial disparities cannot be explained away by differences in income, education or the like.  Racism and white supremacy are baked into our system.  Less than two weeks ago, the Center for Investigative Journalism released a massive, nationwide study of access to housing finance, for home mortgages and home improvement loans.  Blacks were 2.7 times more likely to be denied loans than whites.  Again, this is comparing loans for people with the same credit scores, financial ability to pay, and even for loans in the same neighborhoods.  Of particular concern, this racial disparity is larger than during the Jim Crow era.  Racism is not receding into the distance.

Today, I would like to further focus on the criminal justice system, which is perhaps the most palpable manifestation of racism in our society.  At every stage of the criminal justice system, people of color are more likely than whites to be harassed by police, arrested by police, subject to bail or larger bail by judges, given harsher prison sentences by judges, and less likely to get parole.  And please note again, that this is comparing for the same crimes.  The treatment of people of color by the criminal justice system raises inescapable questions of what is criminal, what is justice, and what is the true nature of the system.

Within the last couple of weeks, Danny Brown, who was wrongly convicted of a murder in 1982, exhausted perhaps his last legal recourse to exoneration and access to just compensation for his nearly two decades in prison.  As he enters his fourth decade of this criminally just nightmare, Julia Bates, the county prosecutor, continues her intransigence, in keeping Danny on a suspect list, so he cannot be cleared.  The illusory case that she has held open for so many years denies Danny his chance at justice.  The last time I saw Julia Bates on TV about Danny’s case she spoke about her concern for the money he might get if he is fully exonerated — speaking of valuing money over human life.  Is anyone surprised that Danny Brown is a black man?  Is anyone surprised that a hugely disproportionate amount of people across the country in similar situations are black men?  Today, I call, again, for Julia Bates to close the case on Danny Brown or retry him.

Last year, U.S. Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, visited our fine city and had a meeting closed to the media and the public, securing an entire block to keep him safe from looming democratic forces.  He came promoting his initiative, unfunded initiative, to ramp up the failed drug war and get prosecutors to charge defendants with the maximum charges they can. This initiative is in direct opposition to an ongoing effort by our criminal justice system to seek ways to minimize sentences, particularly for nonviolent offenses.  This Sessions initiative has been plagued by secrecy, including foremost, by our own Chief-of-Police, George Kral, who has been less than forthcoming about how Toledo got roped into this initiative, and what exactly does this initiative mean for Toledo.  Does Chief Kral really expect that this hard-edged, law-and-order Sessions initiative won’t magnify existing racial disparities in our criminal justice system?

I am here today because I witness again and again evidence from top to bottom in our community that white supremacy is, at a minimum, poorly understood, and more importantly, in practice, widespread.

A view from the top may be most illustrative.  During the recent mayoral race, CSRN, The Community Solidarity Response Network, our local Black Lives Matter group, held a mayoral candidates forum. The first question was, “How do you define white supremacy?” None of the four candidates defined white supremacy as institutional racism or society-wide systems of injustice against persons of color.  This included our former mayor and our new mayor.  The answers touched on white supremacy as neo-Nazis or the like — the worst of the worst.  There were several versions of “a few bad apples” within society and some of our public institutions.  And there was the issue of implicit bias, a polite term for subconscious racism.

All in all, I was left with the distinct impression that racism was a peripheral issue, largely something in the past, that the still-existing remnants needed some sweeping up; though, alas, there was plenty of regret for the occasional but rare racist that still managed to survive into our largely post-racial society.  I was struck by the seeming apologetics around implicit bias, as if not intending to be racist largely mitigated the real-life effects of racism.  I was left with the impression that racism was more about impropriety than injustice.  Please remember that their answers were at a mayoral candidates forum within the specific context of the sponsoring group being an anti-racism group.  I am hard-pressed to believe that they were caught unprepared to answer such questions, and I strongly suspect that their weak answers came close to their best effort.

I must confess that I was particularly struck by such a weak response of our then-Mayor, the African-American holding the highest elected office in our city.  Yet, on further reflection this seemed less as some personal failure of hers than, in fact, as a rather apt example of how the powers that be, the status quo, is better characterized by the strictures and limits set by white supremacy in our body politic than by the life experiences of any given politician with a black body.

Our community is currently in the process of planning how to rehab our county jail.  I have heard much about location, dominated by “not-in-my-backyard” attitudes, and about cost — not the disproportionate human cost borne by communities of color, but money, money, money.  This is the present nexus and test regarding our true valuing of human persons over money.  We may not have confederate statues to remind us of our racist heritage, yet, if a new jail is built without a bold plan to combat the racism inherent in our criminal justice system, then the new jail will be a very expensive monument to our racism.  This is the $100 million question of the day.  Many of us may take some comfort, even pride, in areas where Toledo may do better than other communities, but let us assure that this in no way dampens a bold resolve to end white supremacy in Toledo.

To that end, I call upon our mayor, Toledo City Council, and the Lucas County Commissioners to come up with a comprehensive plan to eliminate racism from our criminal justice system.  THANK YOU.

FREE POSTER: GOP Greedy Old Perverts Sexual Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump and Roy Moore

Dirty old men, predominantly dirty old white men, are running rampant throughout our culture and politics. A long overdue push back is underway as many powerful sexual predators are finally being held to some account.  The cutting edge of this push back against patriarchy and hypermasculinity will likely be best measured by whether Prez Donald Trump, Sexual Predator-in-Chief, and Roy Moore, Senate candidate and former Alabama state supreme court justice, will continue with impunity. While sexual assault and sexual predation are not limited to any political party, Republicans manage to ascend to new heights of hypocrisy in the quests to maintain and grow their political power.  In their honor, I unveil my latest free poster: GOP Greedy Old Perverts Sexual Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Please feel free to share with friends and enemies.

FREE POSTER: GOP Greedy Old Perverts Sexual Predator-in-Chief Donald Trump and Roy Moore

Sexual harassment and assault is only one form of abuse of power. This op-ed, How Donald Trump Opened the Door to Roy Moore, connects the underlying political dynamics that Donald Trump and Roy Moore serve in prefiguring authoritarian or fascist politics:

In 2002, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a ruling in a child custody battle between a lesbian mother and an allegedly abusive father. The parents had originally lived in Los Angeles, and when they divorced in 1992, the mother received primary physical custody. But she was an alcoholic, and in 1996, she sent her three children to live with her ex-husband, who’d since moved to Alabama, while she went to rehab. Her lawyer, Wendy Brooks Crew, told me they had an understanding that the kids would stay with their dad for a year, but he refused to return them to their mother because she was living with a woman.

There was evidence that the father was abusing the kids, who by 2002 were teenagers. He acknowledged whipping them with a belt and forcing them to sit with paper bags over their heads. He refused to send the younger children to summer school, even though their grades were bad. When the kids called their mother, their father taped the conversations. By the time the case got to the Alabama Supreme Court, a lower court had ruled in the mother’s favor. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed the ruling, with then Chief Justice Roy Moore writing in a concurring opinion that a gay person couldn’t be a fit parent.

“Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature’s God upon which this nation and our laws are predicated,” wrote Moore. He added, “The state carries the power of the sword, that is, the power to prohibit conduct with physical penalties, such as confinement and even execution. It must use that power to prevent the subversion of children toward this lifestyle, to not encourage a criminal lifestyle.”

The man who wrote those words is now the Republican candidate for the United States Senate from Alabama. In some ways, this is an embarrassment for Donald Trump, who heeded establishment advice to support Moore’s opponent, sitting Senator Luther Strange, in the primary. But Moore’s victory is also a victory for Trumpism, a populist movement that has eroded normal limits on political behavior.

GOP - Greedy Old Perverts - POLITICAL BUTTONOn the surface, Trump and Moore couldn’t be more different. The president is a thrice-married former casino owner who let Howard Stern call his own daughter a “piece of ass.” Moore is a fundamentalist Southern Baptist who writes rhyming verse denouncing wanton sex. “Your children wander aimlessly poisoned by cocaine/Choosing to indulge their lusts, when God has said abstain,” he wrote in his sarcastically titled poem “America the Beautiful.” Trump described himself, during his campaign, as a “real friend” of the L.G.B.T. community, even if he hasn’t behaved like one in office. Moore has said that gay sex should be illegal.

But read the rest of “America the Beautiful,” and you start to see where Trump and Moore’s worldviews overlap. Both see a nation in apocalyptic decline, desperate for redemption. Whereas Trump spoke of “American carnage” in his dystopian inauguration speech, Moore calls the country a “moral slum” awaiting God’s judgment. Like the president, Moore is a conspiracy theorist who demonizes religious minorities; he once wrote that Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, should not be allowed to serve in the House of Representatives because he is Muslim.

I met Moore over a decade ago, when I was researching my first book, “Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism.” By then, Moore had been forced off the bench for refusing a federal judge’s order to remove a 2.6-ton Ten Commandments monument he’d installed in the state judicial building. This martyrdom made him a cult figure on the religious right. A group of retired military men had taken the monument on tour, holding over 150 viewings and rallies; at an event in Austin, Tex., one of them spoke bitterly to me about the outsized power of American Jews. (Moore would later be re-elected to his seat, only to be suspended for the rest of his term in 2016 for ordering judges not to comply with the Supreme Court decision overturning bans on gay marriage.)

In trying to understand the movement I was reporting on, I turned to scholars of authoritarianism and fascism. If their words seemed relevant then, they’re even more so now. Fritz Stern, a historian who fled Nazi Germany, described the “conservative revolution” that prefigured National Socialism: “The movement did embody a paradox: its followers sought to destroy the despised present in order to recapture an idealized past in an imaginary future.”

His formulation helps explain the overlapping appeal of Trump and Moore, who thrill their supporters with their distinctly un-conservative eagerness to destroy legal and political norms. What Moore’s critics see as lawlessness, his fans see as insurgent valor. Trump’s most prominent nationalist supporters, including Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, lined up behind Moore, describing him as part of the Trumpian revolution. Nigel Farage, a right-wing British politician and Trump ally, flew to Fairhope, Ala., to speak at a rally for Moore, saying on stage, “It is getting someone like him elected that will rejuvenate the movement that led to Trump and Brexit.”

Whether or not that’s true, the movement that led to Trump has brought us to a place where Moore will probably soon sit in the United States Senate, something I could hardly have imagined when I first encountered him. Back then, anti-gay prejudice was far more acceptable than it is today, but Moore’s messianic denunciation of a lesbian mother was still shocking. Trump is not a pious man, but by destroying informal restraints on reactionary rhetoric, he’s made his party hospitable to the cruelest of theocrats. Moore’s success is bound to encourage more candidates like him. The Republican establishment’s borders have been breached. Its leaders should have built a wall.

FREE POLITICAL POSTER: Sen ROB Portman and The DON Dreaming of a Green Christmas with Tax Cuts for Rich

The Republican tax scam, noted for its practically psychotic connection to reality, came closer to crashing into reality as Senate Republicans passed their tax bill, huge tax bill, in the middle of the night.  Senators had four hours to try and digest the bill before put on the floor.  The indigestion could last much longer. In honor of this fiasco, I am publishing yet another free poster in my series, “Parity or Parody.” Sen. ROB Portman (R-OH) and Prez Donald “The Don” Trump don their Christmas attire only hoping to be the psychosis they want to see in the world. Please feel free to share or print out this satirical poster, Sen. ROB Portman and The DON Dreaming of a Green Christmas with Tax Cuts for Rich:Sen ROB Portman and The DON Dreaming of a Green Christmas with Tax Cuts for RichMother Jones got the story right with their articles: Senate Passes Sweeping Tax Bill That Overwhelmingly Benefits the Wealthiest Americans: Corporations receive a permanent tax cut, while everyone else gets a smaller temporary cut:

Just before 2 AM Saturday morning, Senate Republicans passed the most sweeping tax legislation in 30 years. The final version of the three-week-old bill was not released until four hours before the vote. There have been no hearings on the bill and none of the bipartisanship seen during the last major tax overhaul in 1986.

The bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, is projected to add more than $1 trillion in deficit spending over 10 years, but passed a Republican caucus that spent the Obama years obsessed over the national debt. There was just one dissenter in the party, Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. The final vote was 51 in favor, 49 against, with all the Democrats and Corker voting no.

There were a smattering of last-minute changes tucked into the nearly 500-page bill, but the core of it is quite simple: a permanent tax cut for corporations combined with much smaller, and temporary, benefits for everyone else. Over the next decade, the $1.4 trillion tax cut would disproportionately reward the wealthiest Americans while piling on the national debt—which in turn will likely be used by Republicans as a justification for cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The House, which already passed its own tax bill last month, and the Senate are expected to work out the differences between their bills in conference meetings. Then each chamber would vote again, and send the final product to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature. Trump hopes to sign what he has called his “big, beautiful Christmas present” to the American people by the end of the year.

Before the individual cuts expire in 2026—ending the bill’s most charitable years—the top 1 percent would receive slightly more of the tax cut than the bottom 60 percent of Americans combined. Without the individual tax cut, the top 1 percent would get start getting 61 percent of the benefits. And at that point, the vast majority of middle-class taxpayers would receive essentially nothing, or end up paying higher taxes.

Republicans say they’ll eventually extend those individual cuts. But there is good reason to doubt that. The United States will be facing unprecedented debt levels when it comes time to renew the cuts. The annual deficit would be $1.4 trillion in 2025, up from about $700 billion today. The Senate bill asks Americans to trust that a future Congress, comprised of different members, will continue to ignore deficits.

While the Republicans have waffled in their concern for the national debt, the bill shows that they have steadfastly committed to trickle-down economics. Focusing on the corporate tax cuts, the White House Council of Economic Advisers has said the average family would see their income jump by up to $7,000 per year as businesses pass on their windfall. Tax experts have called this forecasting “absolutely crazy,” “absurd,” and “deeply flawed.” On Thursday, Congress’ nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that the bill would add $1 trillion in deficit-spending over 10 years even after taking into account economic growth. But Republican leaders continue to maintain that the bill would pay for itself—despite there being almost no economists who agree with that assessment.

This all begs the question of why Republicans are pushing a trillion dollar corporate tax cut at this particular moment. Corporate profits are near record highs, the rich are richer than they’ve been since the Great Depression, and the incomes of average Americans are in a four-decade slump. Tax reform could have eased that hardship by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit or making working-class families eligible for Republicans’ expanded Child Tax Credit.

Adding to congressional Republicans’ dubious claims about the fantastical benefits of the bill is the president himself. Trump has regularly claimed that he will not personally benefit from the tax plan. That is almost certainly false. The president, and his children, likely stand to gain tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars. But, conveniently for Trump, it is impossible to know for sure without seeing his tax returns.

So why are Republicans are in such a rush to pass a bill that just 25 percent of Americans approve of? For one, there seems to be fear that the bill will only get more unpopular if subjected to further scrutiny. And then there are the donors. “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again,’” Rep. Chris Collins said earlier this month. Many have already closed their checkbooks, and Republicans are keen to see them reopened.

Along with restructuring the tax code, the final bill is also likely to advance a broader culture war. Both bills at least partially block the parents of undocumented children from claiming the Child Tax Credit for their kids. And the House bill would let churches and nonprofits endorse political candidates for the first time since 1954. Mega-donors like the Koch Brothers would get a taxpayer subsidy for campaign spending if the provision makes it into the final bill. Campaign finance groups warn that it is another Citizens United in the making.

None of these provisions fit neatly with Republicans’ stated goal of making the tax code postcard-simple. Nor have the bills’ inclusion of carveouts for everything from citrus trees in Florida to tuna canneries in Pago Pago, American Samoa. (On Friday afternoon, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted out a list of about 30 forthcoming amendments that had been passed from Republicans to a lobbyist to Democrats.)

Speaking on the Senate floor earlier in the night, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday was one of the “darkest, black-letter days in the long history of this Senate.” He held up an amendment, which went on to be defeated just before the bill passed, that was added “under the cover of darkness” by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) that exempts a college connected to Education Secretary and billionaire Republican donor Betsy DeVos from a new tax on university endowments. Schumer said the last-minute move was the “metaphor for this bill and how high the stench is rising in this chamber.”

Schumer moved to adjourn the Senate until Monday so that his colleagues had time to review the “monstrosity.” He argued no one could possibly know what they were being asked to vote on. McConnell, well aware that he had the votes to knock down the motion and pass the bill, listened and smirked.


POEM: Awe The Less

I woke up
Knot a moment too soon
My values dying on the vine
Just realizing
In efface of
Every dollar
Awe the less
I had to urn
And in that mean time
Aaah, lined my values
Every little thing on the table
Like the crack of daze break
In hail
Of every thing of late
That interminable rush
Expressly beyond reach
Eclipsing will
To simply be

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Leonardo da Vinci quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONclock with NOW at all times SPIRITUAL BUTTONThis poem is an ode to less is more, aligning life to our deepest values, and slowing down in helping us get there.  Speed kills, substituting urgency for importance.  We rush to accomplish never present values, getting nowhere but in record time.  Rushing to dreamed futures we outrun life’s manifold presents, that which is fixed in unbroken attention to timeless values and awake to now.

This day, may we each experience a deep presence to that which is awe ready present.

Bull Shit Meter - FUNNY POLITICAL BUTTONOr…in countering every pretense dropping, cut through the stuff that makes life grow.

POEM: That Cursory Savor

As present
Did not add up
As if
A zero
Sum game
The passed getting bigger
The future getting smaller
That good buy
That eminent lessen
As holy for gone
As refuse
As waive that fortune
Having only
Too come to wrest
With that cursory savor
The eternal

That was Zen - This is Tao - FUNNY SPIRITUAL BUTTONHere is yet another poem on the theme of the eternal now. Life can seem to pass by so quickly with so many distractions, perhaps wondering where it all goes. Know madder how attached we are to things, they seem to pass.  The present, arisen from the past and cascading into the future, is awe we have.  And we find ourselves, moved by weigh of this exquisite mystery, in the mist of where the passed and the future are knot won or the other.  Long the weigh, most of us look for a savor of some sort, weather short and sweet or lingering and rarefied.  Not with standing, we are prone to cling on, fighting increasingly alien forces, light years beyond any measure of good taste.  Our salivation dries up before our face, caught in a scrunch, as whither every fecund moment reseeds in a parent mummification.  And in spite of everything, the Tao jones arises again and agin…

POLITICAL POEM: In Daze Not To Follow

The plantation had fallen
Into this repair
As fore many
Over and above
The well, known
Too deep scars
And familiar ditches dug
Subject to an other privilege
However bound
Too knew found freedom
And worldwide travails
In daze not to follow
As anew master
What is foremost if not awe
As the perennial struggle
Only partially one
Pregnant with possibility
Poised as a new virgin of reality
Offering womb to grow
And inescapably bringing labor wince again
As tender feat must come to terms
With maturity
Of awe that is
Never still
So exceptionally sow

While I wrote this poem long before Donald Trump’s election, I am offering this poem as an inauguration poem.  This poem addresses two major realities which are often met with conflicting attitudes.  The first reality is that we live in a nation and a world far from justice for all.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONThere are endemic, chronic injustices which bear heavily on the daily realities of countless millions of people.  This can be dreadfully depressing and diabolically disheartening.  The second reality is that every disappointing condition can be met with our higher, better selves and serve as an invitation to build solidarity with others experiencing injustice to create a better future.  Also, there is hope in the fact that persons who have experienced chronic injustice, for years or generations, have developed hardy and hearty abilities to cope and combat protracted injustice.  This reservoir of collective experience, skills, and hope for a better future may very well be the most positive force on earth.  This poem’s opening line alludes to the centuries-long battle for racial justice fought by the descendants of slaves against virulent racism and ever-morphing Jim Crow laws.  The Black Lives Matter movement is yet another creative continuation of this ongoing struggle.   Truth is on the side of the oppressed. Malcolm X quote POLITICAL BUTTONIn the short run, those living by the short run seem to have the advantage.  However, in the long run, those committed to the long haul, transgenerational justice, are greatly advantaged in bringing about better answers to the eternal human questions.  The apparent reality that eternal human questions can not be fully and finally solved on this earth is not an adequate excuse for cynicism.  Better is better and worse is worse.  Apologists preying on divisions in humanity for their own easy profit are as shortsighted as they are inhumane.  Donald Trump may be the king of profiting off of easy-to-divide scenarios where the well-heeled are well suited to make a killing from the ensuing chaos and trauma.  Globalize THIS - RESISTANCE [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONThe answer to the stupid question that is Donald Trump is unyielding solidarity with the whole of humanity and transform the cowardly profits of injustice through the courageous cost of justice borne by all people of good will.  May we find the courage to put whatever skin is necessary into the game to assure overwhelmingly abundant opportunities for justice to prevail.  May our labors give berth to wondrous new realities.

POEM: Sum How Present In A Stupefying Flash

Creation groans
In pregnant expectancy
More than
Any one
Ever anew
In a singular couplet
The quest in
And the call out
For who
Abel to hear
Blood from ground
Crying in relation
To the curse of can and will
Uncoupled from good judgment
Yearning for just us
Unearth as in heavin’
Our daily bred
Sow here
Those who have years
And those a loan
Willing to live in a wink
A parent to child like
In a second
As in tended
Present in a stupefying flash
A berth pleasing to awe
And sum how with unremitting accountability

	 New Beginnings Are Often Disguised As Painful Endings --Lao Tzu quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONThis poem reaches into the depths of our yearning for justice and calls us to seize the daze with every new moment.  This poem invites us to go where no won has gone before and yet travel in solidarity with countless courageous and creative comrades who have plowed the grounds of rectitude.   Where the eternal metes the now, we reap the overwhelming presents beyond just us.  As awe weighs, something anew is happening.  As we surf troubled waters, can we sea it?  May we discover a knew that which ever refreshes.


POEM: Hell In A Handbasket

I would rather live…
In a trailer
That proverbial mobile homme
Seeing stars when roofs are razed
And nothing but realty at my back
As awe of creation is present
As I am
Looked down upon
Wading patiently fore that noonday star
When every real Job calls it a day
…Than exist
In a fool length feature
That mansion of a handbasket
With mirror interior decorating
Magnificent all the same
In funhouse pleasures
Overlooking up
In efface of the bottom of men’s soles
Knowing not what frees us

Foolishness and wisdom look different and produce different results.  Better to have a life well spent than merely saved.  Conventional wisdom often mistakes comfort for happiness, a grand foolishness.  High success and high status are virtually indistinguishable.  As the addled adage goes: winning is everything.  Wise souls are far too ardent and awe encompassing to abide only within the rules defined by one culture and one generation, one place and time.  Faith Trumps Skepticism PEACE BUTTONWisdom is necessarily counterculture, precisely because it seeks to move that culture, any culture, to a greater wisdom.  Acting within such a greater wisdom, not yet carrying the day, perhaps even amid night, often appears foolish.  Acting “as if” something is true is an existential conundrum we all face if we want to be more than what we are now, if we want the world and the rules by which it acts to be more than what they are at any given time.  Suspending disbelief is part and parcel for acting to perform its human artistry, and all of the world is a stage.  There are great truths in stories that never happened.  There are great truths in lives whose stories are bigger than one soul can live.  Faith is taking the first step, even when you don't see the whole staircase. MLK QUOTE BUTTONAbout now, the postmodern brain must choose between serving only that within its reach or venturing to awe that the heart compasses.  Fools are conventionally portrayed as having an addled brain, which is infinitely better than having an addled heart.  This poem compares wholehearted living with merely existing — whatever the sum of our daze.  A willingness to be viewed as a fool by the conventionally wise may very well be the difference between heaven and hell.  Fools invite others into a better possible world, however improbable, not a theater of the absurd.  Typically, others are busy doing something else, absurdly similar to those around them.

In contemporary times, live theater has largely been replaced by movies [dead theater?].  This poem compares living, in a movie trailer, to merely existing “In a fool length feature.”  And as we all know, movie trailers are quite reliably better than the full-length feature.

FAITH is greater than FEAR SPIRITUAL BUTTONOne of the great dramas on life’s sufferings, unfulfilled longings, and doubt versus suspending disbelief is the story of Job in the Bible.  As the ever-hopeful person that I am, I was reminded of Job 11:17 “Life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.”  Such poetry!  Here is the whole chapter, as the lineup of doubters mock Job’s enduring faith:

Are all these words to go unanswered?
   Is this talker to be vindicated?
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence?
   Will no one rebuke you when you mock?
You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
   and I am pure in your sight.’
Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
   that he would open his lips against you
and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
   for true wisdom has two sides.
   Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.
Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
   Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above — what can you do?
   They are deeper than the depths below — what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
   and wider than the sea.
If he comes along and confines you in prison
   and convenes a court, who can oppose him?
Surely he recognizes deceivers;
   and when he sees evil, does he not take note?
But the witless can no more become wise
   than a wild donkey’s colt can be born tame.
Yet if you devote your heart to him
   and stretch out your hands to him,
if you put away the sin that is in your handYou will not enter paradise until you have faith, and you will not complete your faith until you love one another. Muhammad quote PEACE BUTTON
   and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
   you will stand firm and without fear.
You will surely forget your trouble,
   recalling it only as waters gone by.
Life will be brighter than noonday,
   and darkness will become like morning.
You will be secure, because there is hope;
   you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
   and many will court your favor.
But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
   and escape will elude them;
   their hope will become a dying gasp.

May we awe find, life during whatever daze might be present.

POEM: Unforgettable

She was a spark
Spanning but instant generations
Clothed in stardust
Naked to that place before birth and after death
As thought of God
Less of a dream
More of a smile
Merging within that space-time continuum
On the face of awe that is
A hopeful fuel
In the tinderest of worlds
As an owed flame
Meeting for the first time
Caught up
Not in making memories
Sow much as the unforgettable

This poem is about human life lived in the presents of our mystical or divine nature which is both immediate and ceaseless.   To love another person is to see the face of God. Victor Hugo, Les Miserables quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONThe joy and assurance of ever-fresh possibilities and abiding, sublime companionship sets the bar much higher for what a full life encompasses.  A full life is leavened by unforgettable experiences more sow than a mere collection of memories.  Life is more fully characterized by lively experiences than sheer existence.  This poem seeks to present a daringly dual encounter of both first love and oldest friend, the simultaneous experience of the freshness of emerging love and the comfort of a steadfast confidant.  May your life be steeped in such marvelous moments.

Being A hopeful fuel/In the tinderest of worlds speaks to the vulnerability of unabashed hope and irrepressible joy in a world that is far too fixated on command and control, and is busied with armor more than amour.  May love overwhelm your every defense.  May your life be less about getting and more about un-forgetting.


POLITICAL POEM: The Bus of Times, The Worst of Times

His political career
Hung in the balance
Throw a certain number under the bus
Or see bus production drop precipitously

This short poem recognizes a brutal utilitarianism in politics, which is present at most any level.  Using people as means to another end is the Achilles heel of a utilitarian ethic so popular in Western so-called civilization and particularly in its politics. People Before Profits POLITICAL BUTTONThe sacred worth of people, in which human rights are secured, is anathema to the commonplace horse-trading that politicians participate in as business as usual.  Universal respect for human rights would grind the meat and potatoes of politics to a halt, and cripple the usual business interests which are better suited for corporate persons than actual human persons.  A deep appreciation for human rights that are not subject to some currency exchange is at the core of an anarchist radical critique of capitalism or any other large scale human endeavors willing to trade humans for cash or securities.  The economy and economies of scale (meaning large scale efficiency) serve as the gods of modern America, or simply as idols in owed time religion.  The impersonal and distant relationships present in global capitalism provide convenient cover for amoral/immoral behavior, all the wile habitually greasing the wheels of commerce with the lifeblood of humanity.  Money is the Root of All Politics - POLITICAL BUTTONThis disconnect between humanity and economic production is directly related to inhumane politics, as economics and politics both serve as fool for the same engine.  In the bus of times, the worst of times, career politicians can even manage to do miracles, by throwing people under the bus AND opposing public transportation.  Perhaps it’s time to travel another way, recognizing that such politicians don’t behave as if we are in the same boat, and, as a rule, don’t even ride the bus.

Feel free to browse more anti-capitalist and anarchist designs:

 GLOBALISM Pits Workers Around The World Against Each Other In A Race To The Bottom POLITICAL BUTTONI'd Boycott Everything Wall Street Made, IF They Made Anything POLITICAL BUTTONAnarchism is founded on the observation that since few men are wise enough to rule themselves, even fewer are wise enough to rule others. Edward Abbey quote POLITICAL BUTTON

HOPE POEM: Why God Invented Dark

God invented dark
As a respite
From high noon
That searing sun
Of which mortal men are made
To see
Sow much more
Innumerable lofty stars
Unseen in mere day dreams
Beyond won’s highest hopes
Awe at once
A mist unbelievably rare life
Thou dust hold together
Awe that matters
When noonday returns

Here is yet another poem about hope, just in case you may need to re-stock, or stock up.  Life is replete with cycles.  Only in the darkness can you see the stars. MLK QUOTE BUTTONDay and night, sleep and wakefulness.  Opposites teem in a paradox packed reality.  Belief and skepticism are life-long dance partners.  Our quest for unity requires acceptance of diversity.  The immeasurable value of life is most evident in the face of death.

Taoists seem to have the keenest awareness of the importance of opposites and their complimentary nature.  That the nature of something is inextricably bound to its opposite, or even comes from its opposite, is mind-boggling.  The mind reaches one of its natural limits when it comes to logical contradictions.  Of course, the Taoists’ purpose is not to jar the mind, but un-jar the mind — and free up the heart.

Hope is the purview of the heart.  Hope may not make cents for those demanding a foolproof return on their investment.  Delving into the vital depths of paradoxes and life’s necessary contradictions is not for the fainthearted.  Wholehearted living demands assent and even gusto in the thralls of uncertainty and unpredictability in order to make the most of life.  Hope is the life-blood of an entrepreneurial life spirit.  The attachment to conventional power — those well-known levers of control — and the insistence on dominion over others, is the nemesis of hope.  Hope arises from a place beyond mere control.  Hope, awash in possibility, is an existential reality ever-present on the threshold of human life.

For many, the contemporary context for this poem is a looming Donald Trump presidency.  Many fear that their existence may be taxed beyond bearing.  This is undoubtedly true for some.  Still, the contrasting values brought forth by the Don’s cartel will as surely offer high relief.  Once Game Over King and Pawn Go Back in Same Box -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONStarker choices can favor moral humans as much or more than amoral or immoral humans.  If you want presumed victory, take the sociopath, limiting the struggle to the well-worn levers of control.  If you want more, let your heart take hope, take time to see the light amidst the darkness, and listen intently to whatever maybe herd for the duration of human game.

POEM: Gordian Knot — Owed To Mother Hope

Reality can be a mother
Halving given
Cynicism wide berth
Big brother
Too hope
A mist
Crying incessantly
And the crapping of won’s pants
Flanked by sterility and fertility
Fenced buy utility and futility
Until something
Something all inspiring
Ever knew
But barely seed
It happens
As springing from dis illusion
And groan together
From that exasperating brood
In awe
That kin be done
And what might be
A parent
Or knot

This poem arose this day from the comment of a friend who did not see hope where I saw some, and yet he still hopes.  As a poet, I often see humanity in an epic struggle between cynicism and hope.  Idealists Raze Hell -- POLITICAL BUTTONHell is where hope is abandoned, to allude to Dante.  Heaven is where hope flourishes.  Hope Trumps Despair PEACE BUTTONAs John Paul Sartre, the existentialist philosopher and author, wrote famously in his play, No Exit, “Hell is other people.”  Know argument here.  Of course, I wholed to the other half of truth, as well: Heaven is other people.  Solidarity trumps alienation.  Hope is the better portion of reality, that mother that teaches us sow much.  Those caught in the mine of this earth may argue quite rationally that hope is the leanest in the efface of the meanest.  Still, hope strikes me as both the lightest and most profound portion in the efface of darkness.  Life and death.  Heaven and Hell.  Hope and cynicism.  The thin line between genius and insanity is less of a border than a union. Stuart Hayes quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONWho dares dance in their mist?  Many people at most times choose to fight over merely what they halve — that is given.  Fortunately, we don’t have to live in most times.  We only have to live in the present.  Let hope be the present.

As I am prone to obscure references, I must note the meaning of Gordian knot, though you may myth the point with or without it.  A Gordian knot is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an “impossible” knot) solved easily by loophole or “thinking outside the box” (“cutting the Gordian knot”):

In Greek and Roman mythology, the Gordian knot was an extremely complicated knot tied by Gordius, the king of Phrygia in Asia Minor. Located in the city of Gordium, the knot came to symbolize a difficult problem that was almost impossible to solve.

According to legend, Gordius was a peasant who married the fertility goddess Cybele. When Gordius became king of Phrygia, he dedicated his chariot to Zeus and fastened it to a pole with the Gordian knot. Although the knot was supposedly impossible to unravel, an oracle predicted that it would be untied by the future king of Asia.

Many individuals came to Gordium to try to undo the knot, but they all failed. Then, according to tradition, the Greek conqueror Alexander the Great visited the city in 333 B . C . After searching unsuccessfully for the hidden ends of the Gordian knot, Alexander became impatient. In an unexpected move, he took out his sword and cut through the knot. Intellectuals solve problems; geniuses prevent them. Albert Einstein quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONAlexander then went on to conquer Asia, thus fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy. Alexander’s solution to the problem led to the saying, “cutting the Gordian knot,” which means solving a complicated problem through bold action.

May you live in the won reality where everything is knot as it seams.

ACTIVIST POEM: Our Ayes Will Have It

She had
Of half-baked politicians
She kneaded democracy
Here and now
As the yeast she could do
Sounding off
To those who might
Wee choir not
A grand stand
To lift every voice and sing
Wringing well
The harmonies of liberty
However aloud the rolling sees
Our ayes will have it

This poem is a tribute to the enduring importance of movement politics as the truest driving force for social and political change, working for justice for all.Justice: Some Assembly Required -- POLITICAL BUTTON  This poem is a tribute to political activists who do most of their work outside formal electoral politics.  Such action is centered out of the direct lived experiences of broken hearts and broken lives as opposed to white papers and think tanks.

Most people of privilege and power will roll their eyes when hope dares rise from despairing circumstances to demand justice, aka “too much.”  “They just don’t get it” the condescension goes, as if people on the short end of power don’t know how the world works.  “Not getting it” may be true inasmuch as the powers that be have “it” and don’t give anything but a shit.  Mainstream politics is almost by definition reactionary.  The first duty of society is justice. Alexander Hamilton quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe fear of losing “it” at best and organized greed at worst, short-circuits justice in our so-called democracy for countless minorities (disenfranchised folks of every stripe), which deeply ironically comprise a majority of our nation.  If the 1% are masters of anything, they are masters of dividing an overwhelming majority of the populace against each other to assure that none of their many legitimate grievances are fully redressed.  Human progress is neither automatic or inevitable...Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle. MLK QUOTE BUTTONFear of losing whatever one has sides with frightening regularity with the increasingly routinely vain hope of “upward” mobility, aligning itself with organized greed, all to avoid earnestly casting one’s lot with the poor and disenfranchised.

All of this breaks my heart — not my will or hope. This poem alludes to the rousing song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is often referred to as the “Black American National Anthem.” This song beautifully embodies and honors in music and lyric the undying hope and ultimate commitments arising like a phoenix out of countless inhumanities and death itself to keep our eyes unwaveringly on the prize: justice for all.  This song was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in 1899 and set to music by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954) in 1900, the lyrics of which are:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list’ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest, our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee,
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.

May our native land, and every native land, be blessed with the spirit of this song.

Feel at liberty to browse my justice designs:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONKnow Justice, Know Peace with African American Flag colors POLITICAL BUTTONIf you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor -- Desmond Tutu quote POLITICAL BUTTON

Globalize THIS - JUSTICE [earth graphic] POLITICAL BUTTONMarch For Justice - and every other month -- PEACE BUTTONPower at its best is love implementing the demands of justice -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTON

The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONJustice Is Less Expensive Than Injustice POLITICAL BUTTONConscience is the Chamber of Justice--PEACE QUOTE BUTTON

	 Liberty and Justice for White Rich and Connected (LIBERTY BELL) POLITICAL BUTTONJustice Is No Yoke - Isaiah 58:6-PEACE BUTTONJustice for ALL POLITICAL BUTTON


POEM: Mad Happy

I never
Happy to be mad
Mad too be happy
This might be crazy
That maybe fitting
Ante this and ante that
Given fighting chance
And unbelievable odds
Of uncounted to won
Beat up and up beat
Pleased as punched
As if
To be found in rare form
A sure fire Job
Employing awe
Mourning and knight
A play full
Of blowing people’s mines
Seeing red
And knot blue
Sow far fetched
As inconceivably making merry
Like straight out gay
Tickled pink
In efface of one’s enmity
Having enough
If only
Mad happy
To get with it
Awe the rage

The origin of this poem emanates from a conversation where I found myself declaring an intent to be the happiest angry person and angriest happy person in the world.  The Truth Will Set You Free - But First It Will Piss You Off POLITICAL BUTTONSuch paradoxical conundrums are emblematic of my life experienced internally and presented to the world in awe its parent confusion.  Such a paradox is close kin to my persistent existence as both an intensely serious person and a person practically incapable of being serious.  I feel that I have a fare grasp of the systems of pain in plays in this world.  I also feel a keen sense of the unbearable lightness of being.  In short, perhaps too short, my life is weigh existential.  I have a deepening appreciation for anger, even rage.  I strongly suspect that to be a highly conscious person on this planet might require an intimate relationship with outrage.  	 If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention POLITICAL BUTTONOutrage can be a profoundly humanizing experience, providing energy to respond to palpable injustices.  Also, simply experiencing the anger over loss present in all injustices, whether mourned passively or actively, seems to represent a form of connection, even solidarity, with persons experiencing injustice. May my madness deepen my connection to others and synergize my commitments and capabilities to struggle for justice for all.



He was steeped in the slippery slope of violence
An idol escalator
Heedlessly powered by gravity and gravitas
A climb it denier
Of the worst breed
Not giving won ascent
A bout others
In spite of the accost
It takes
Dispensing that too summit madders
Impoverishing awe
With Sisyphean tacts

Our animal instincts present us with the “natural” reaction to hit someone else when they hit us.  Fortunately, we are not limited to responding mirrorly as animals.  Violence First Refuge of Incompetent -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONSuch reactionary responses, unchecked by higher human functioning, quite easily escalate into wildly disproportionate harms to parties involved and routinely inflict harm to nearby parties.  Creative and humane responses to violence help limit the worst effects of violence before it is too escalate.  This poem is a metaphor for the interplay of the reactionary nature of violence and the creative human spirit yearning to be free of domination.  Hate is the Utter Lack of Creativity -- PEACE BUTTONLike Sisyphus, violence rocks this world so palpably feudal.  Nobody likes to suffer hurt.  Of coarse, meting hurt with hurt only brings a bout hurtful means and ends.  The truism of hurt people hurt people is a starting place to understand such hurtful cycles and connect us to one another’s dislike of suffering hurt.  Unfortunately, the only way out of vicious cycles of violence is to experience hurt without inflicting further hurt.  The accost of experiencing violence without returning violence is how a nonviolence world is necessarily and legitimately built.  Other wise, gravity and gravitas will perpetually, endlessly, forever, unceasingly, repeatedly, in perpetuum, till hell frees us over, lock us into violence as a weigh of life.  The creative human spirit willing to put skin in the game is the antidote to the least creative, least human reaction of violence for violence.  Nonviolence isn’t easy.  Of coarse, violence isn’t easy either, except in that we may be able to put the accost on an other.  Nothing enduring can be built on violence. Gandhi quote PEACE BUTTONIf nonviolence was easy, everybody would be doing it.  In fact, most of us practice nonviolence much of the time.  Nonviolence could be argued to be our natural state.  However, when violence and nonviolence meet, violence temps a seemingly easier solution — the cause AND solution to all of our problems.  Violence challenges the creativity of nonviolence with its well-warring familiarity.  Grooving to a mesmerizing Sisyphean chant, violence offers a bizarre, homie comfort to tribe and clan, with a kin do attitude wrapped up in moral doody.  Violence Is A Bout Means And Ends ANTI-WAR BUTTONIn both means and ends, violence is the antithesis of creativity.  Choosing nonviolence may not be easy, but nonviolence does offer an infinite abundance of alternatives other than “they made me do it.”  Yep, those proprietors of violence have it made, made for them, the creative human spirit lying fallow.  The human spirit exists for more than an infinite chain of sow called necessity, made to yearn its way to freedom and higher consciousness.  Non Violent Revolutionaries Raze Hell--POLITICAL BUTTONThe human spirit most fully manifests itself when it creatively draws from the wonderfully precarious reservoir of possibility.  This udder cistern is void of Sisyphean guarantees, yet those daring to surf its prospects may just find the truly fare life a mist a world of suffering.  May our spirits renounce domination over others through sheer force and patiently invite others into the high stakes game of fare play.

Please feel free to browse Top Pun’s other creative nonviolence and lovely peace designs.

Look Ma No Arms (Peace Dove picture)--FUNNY PEACE BUTTONNon Violent Revolution--POLITICAL BUTTONPractice Nonviolence PEACE BUTTON

got creativity? SPIRITUAL BUTTON

POEM: Sow Much For Multi-tsking

People looking down
As electronic devices
Looking up
Over hear
Over their
Owned buy virtual realty
Sum wear
Hole heartedly
Parting from wholly presence
How due they pay
A tension
So what? Sow what?
Driving us up the wall
As a madder of fact, into the wall
Tsk, tsk, tsk
Sow much for multi-tsking
As we reap life into little pieces
Too fee’d a hire mindfuelness
Who says you can’t halve it

This poem is about one of my favorite pet peeves: multi-tasking.  My annoyance ranges from bleeping devices and blank presence to threats of life and limb from distracted drivers within striking range of me while I am biking.  Multi-tasking, by its very nature, is bad for the brain.  In technical terms, multi-tasking turns your brain to mush [see here for a summary of multitasking problems].  The mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time.  When we switch our concentration back and forth we necessarily lose something in the process.  Accomplished multi-taskers can train their brain to lose less during transitions but there is always a loss.  More importantly, extended concentration trains specific regions of the brain to deal with specific tasks.  When we chronically divide our attention, vacillating quickly between multiple tasks or activities, brain activation becomes diffuse and nonspecific.  This results in more poorly developed brain functioning for each activity (compared to doing each activity for an extended period of time).  In the runs of post-modern civilization, multi-tasking is the enema of concentration — full presence — and highly developed brain expertise.  Further, assuming that a distracted multi-tasker doesn’t kill or maim you, the greatest challenge of multi-tasking is to simple presence, or mindfulness.  Perhaps the most important gift humans can give one another is to be fully present to one another.  Even when others aren’t around, mindfulness is perhaps the most awesome gift we can give ourselves, simply to be fully present for our own lives, whatever the external circumstances.  Got Awe SPIRITUAL BUTTONMulti-tasking divides and degrades our ability to be fully present, both in any given moment, or long-term by undermining the disciplined ability to be mindful.  I suspect that the fear of missing out on something underlies much of the drive behind multi-tasking.  My suggestion, for those that truly want awe of life, is to recognize that you can’t halve it, awe.

POEM: Pirate Queen

Wile the sands of time
Make some wail and blubber
In the aye of the storm
You could sea it
In the wides of her eyes
Shown as bright as a thousand stars
Her pupils
As deep and rapturous
As awe
The sorrow in the whirled
Helled in a black pearl
The grid
And passing lifeless commerce
On to
They’re game
For her
The sky her hood
And at her feat
Scintillating gems
To the world’s end
And yon unknown
Beyond where the sleepy wrest

This poem is a tribute to a wild and free anarchist spirit anchored in nature and at home around kindred spirits, with little use for civilization’s offerings of money, status and power.  Free range human beings surf present reality and choose their own adventures a mist life’s boundless bounty.  Choose Your Own Adventure [anarchism symbol as A] POLITICAL BUTTONThe metaphor of a pirate may stretch for sum the sensibilities of pondered — and often ponderous — proprieties.  The deep harmonies of free spirits in touch with nature run far deeper than superficial constraints of law and order.  Free spirits acting outside the bounds of one or another’s tribal laws would be hard pressed to do more damage to the human soul than the many machinations of so-called civilization, harboring dark unconscious farces in the tallest of social orders.  The metaphor of royalty — a queen — may seem queer as a descriptor of an anarchist, even a rank description.  Free Range Human Being - POLITICAL BUTTONStill, throne to the wind, such captains of destiny are happy presiding over surfboards rather than commanding Titanics.  Such a precarious existence may be too exhilarating for many, but may very well be better suited to the human spirit than the many comfortable cages and designer chains so fashionable buy civilization.  May we each wake to our incalculable futures and sail far beyond whatever fears we may be harboring.

Feel free to browse anarchism and radical freedom designs:

Anarchy is Not What You See on TV - POLITICAL BUTTONWALK Around Like You Own Yourself, It's YOUR Life, Take Control Of It POLITICAL BUTTONThis is What an Anarchist Looks Like POLITICAL BUTTON

I Think, Therefore I Am Dangerous POLITICAL BUTTONhe only way to deal with an unfree world is to become is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion -- Albert Camus quote POLITICAL BUTTONI Want A Future That Can't Be Bought (Heart Cloud) - POLITICAL BUTTON


POEM: Rousing Fresh Fortune

To no what is possible
Sum look too the passed
To undertake certainties
Too due dreams untested
Some are moved
Bye this present
Liberating futures seized
And undo
The knot tied
And never tried
Ever prospecting possibilities in awe that is mine
From now on in
Rousing fresh fortune
Or die
Try in

The past is the best predictor of the future, except that will always be wrong.  Unpredictability is an essential aspect of the future.  Like Yogi Berra noted: predictions are difficult, especially when they are about the future.  It's kind of fun to do the impossible. Walt Disney quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI am fascinated by existential possibilities, trying something and seeing what happens.  This is perhaps the truest life science: taking action and paying attention to what happens. Somewhere between overanalyzing the past and dreaming about what things could come the present unwraps the future.  Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Soren Kierkegaard quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONAs Kierkegaard observed, “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.” And as Homer Simpson might say: “Mmmmmm…the present.”  Dreaming with your eyes open is not merely realism, but the basis for enlightened action. Surfing the future is at least as much an art as a science.  Of course, this present reality is not meant to be some exacting, and perhaps depressing, data collection in a notebook, but rather the experience of rousing fresh fortune.  May you discover much joyful anticipation and spirit rousing serendipities as your present unwraps the future.

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s many spiritual and life philosophy designs:

Make Peace With The Future PEACE BUTTONBe willing to give up what you are for what you can become SPIRITUAL BUTTON 	 Don't let your victories go to your head, or your failures go to your heart. SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't Look So Hard At My Past, I Don't Live There Anymore SPIRITUAL BUTTON 	 If you are in control, then you are going too slow. SPIRITUAL BUTTONAnd in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years. Abraham Lincoln quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Find Your Own Way -- Buddha SPIRITUAL BUTTONHe who never walks except where he sees other men's tracks will make no discoveries. J.G. Holland quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONWhy not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is? Mark Twain quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

Don't take life so seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway. SPIRITUAL BUTTONExperience is what you get when you don't get what you want SPIRITUAL BUTTONBe daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers. Sir Cecil Beaton quote SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The Beginning is Near SPIRITUAL BUTTONThere Is No Gift Like The Present SPIRITUAL BUTTONExpect Miracles SPIRITUAL BUTTON

The cure for boredom is curiosity - There is no cure for curiosity --Dorothy Parker quote SPIRITUAL  	 Life Isn't About Finding Yourself, Life Is About Creating Yourself SPIRITUAL BUTTONEver Wonder? SPIRITUAL BUTTON


HAPPINESS: Hedonic Happiness Versus Meaningful Happiness

I have long been interested in happiness and happiness research.  I recently stumbled across one of the most fascinating scientific articles of any kind that I have read in recent years: Some Key Differences Between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life.  This happiness research focused on the crucial differences between happiness attributed simply to one’s pleasurable experiences — hedonic happiness — and happiness attributable to experiencing meaning in life.

This particular happiness research peaked my interest because I have been accused of arrogance or hubris in claiming that some people with high levels of happiness may be missing out on substantial aspects or portions of happiness.  My alleged “second guessing” of peoples’ subjective state is substantially confirmed by this groundbreaking happiness research.

From the authors’ abstract:

“Satisfying one’s needs and wants increased happiness but was largely irrelevant to meaningfulness. Happiness was largely present-oriented, whereas meaningfulness involves integrating past, present, and future. For example, thinking about future and past was associated with high meaningfulness but low happiness. Happiness was linked to being a taker rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver rather than a taker. Higher levels of worry, stress, and anxiety were linked to higher meaningfulness but lower happiness.”

The pleasure of satisfying needs and wants (hedonic happiness) has little to do with leading a meaningful life.  Plus, worry, stress, and anxiety are linked to higher meaningfulness and lower (hedonic) happiness.  The developmental tasks of integrating meaning into and across one’s life can be stress-inducing.  Fortunately, to cut to the chase, leading a meaningful life contributes substantially to a happy life, often accounting for losses in hedonic happiness.  Though the stress of leading a very difficult but meaningful life may result in lower overall level of happiness.  From my perspective, risking or sacrificing hedonic pleasures for a life of increased meanings strikes me as, well…meaning full.

From the introduction:

“The wishes for happiness and for a meaningful life are two of the most widely held goals by which people measure and motivate themselves. A breathtakingly broad variety of other common goals and strivings — as examples, the desires to be healthy, to be loved, to succeed at work, to raise children, to serve one’s religion or country — can be subsumed under either or both of those broad wishes. The present article addresses the relationship between the two. Although undoubtedly happiness and a meaningful life have substantial overlap, our focus is on the differences. More precisely, we shall develop theory and provide data about what factors differentially predict happiness and meaningfulness.

Positive psychology took off in the 1990s as a corrective to psychology’s heavy emphasis on illness, suffering, and misfortune. It sought to enrich human life and enhance human functioning. The study of happiness has received a tremendous boost from the advent of positive psychology. Research on what makes life meaningful has increased as well, but perhaps not nearly as much. This special issue of the journal may be a useful corrective in that it undertakes to call the attention of positive psychologists (and other interested researchers) to issues of meaning and meaningfulness. The present investigation was intended partly to clarify some key differences between happiness and meaningfulness.

We shall argue that although happiness and meaning are important features of a desirable life and indeed are interrelated, they have different roots and implications (MacGregor & Little, 1998). Happiness may be rooted in having one’s needs and desires satisfied, including being largely free from unpleasant events. Meaningfulness may be considerably more complex than happiness, because it requires interpretive construction of circumstances across time according to abstract values and other culturally mediated ideas.”

I deeply appreciate an integrated middle ground between the all-too-frequent pathologizing in modern psychology and a common superficial view in both research and everyday life of happiness as in essence simply pleasant emotional states.  This research seems to get at the heart of integrating our understanding of the interplay between “positive” emotional experience and the genuinely difficult search for experiencing meaning amidst the hardness in life.  Such an understanding seems critical to a more holistic view of happiness, fuller of our best shot at living amidst ultimate realities (objective realities?) than the surreal view of happiness potentially, perhaps even ideally, disconnected from and unmediated by objective reality, i.e., happiness as a purely subjective state.

In defining happiness:

“Happiness is generally defined as subjective well-being, which is to say, an experiential state that contains a globally positive affective tone. It may be narrowly or broadly focused: A person may claim to be happy to have found a lost shoe, happy that the war is over, or happy to be having a good life. Researchers have conceptualized and measured happiness in at least two quite different ways. One is affect balance, indicating having more pleasant than unpleasant emotional states, and is thus essentially an aggregate of how one feels at different moments. The other, life satisfaction, goes beyond momentary feelings to invoke an integrative, evaluative assessment of one’s life as a whole.

Meaning can be a purely symbolic or linguistic reality, as in the meaning of a word. The question of life’s meaning thus applies symbolic ideas to a biological reality. Meaningfulness is presumably both a cognitive and an emotional assessment of whether one’s life has purpose and value. People may feel that life is meaningful if they find it consistently rewarding in some way, even if they cannot articulate just what it all means. Our focus is on meaningfulness and the meaning of life.

Operationally, we let participants in our studies define happiness and a meaningful life in whatever way they chose, rather than imposing specific definitions on them. We also assumed (and found) that the two overlap substantially…In particular, it should be possible to have a highly meaningful life that is not necessarily a happy one (e.g., as religious missionary, political activist, or terrorist).”

These researchers anchor their theory of happiness to the idea that happiness is natural and meaning is cultural.  Of course, these two constructs overlap and interrelate.  How they are related was the purpose of their research.

“We assume the simpler form of happiness (i.e., affect balance rather than life satisfaction), at least, is rooted in nature. All living creatures have biological needs, which consist of things they must obtain from their environment in order to survive and reproduce. Among creatures with brains and central nervous systems, these basic motivations impel them to pursue and enjoy those needed things, and the satisfaction of those needs generally produces positive feeling states. Conversely, negative feelings arise when those needs are thwarted. Hence affect balance depends to some degree on whether basic needs are being satisfied. Possibly life satisfaction too could be swayed by whether, in general, one is getting the things one wants and needs. Human beings are animals, and their global happiness therefore may depend on whether they generally get what they want and need.

If happiness is natural, meaningfulness may depend on culture. All known cultures use language, which enables them to use meanings and communicate them. There is a large set of concepts underlying language, and these concepts are embedded in interconnected networks of meaning. These are built up over many generations, and each new person comes to learn most of these meanings from the group. Appraising the meaningfulness of one’s life thus uses culturally transmitted symbols (via language) to evaluate one’s life in relation to purposes, values, and other meanings that also are mostly learned from the culture. Meaning is thus more linked to one’s cultural identity than is happiness.

Although this special issue is devoted to “personal meaning,” meaning itself is not personal but rather cultural. It is like a large map or web, gradually filled in by the cooperative work of countless generations. An individual’s meaningfulness may be a personally relevant section of that giant, culturally created and culturally transmitted map.

One crucial advantage of meaning is that it is not limited to the immediately present stimulus environment. Meaningful thought allows people to think about past, future, and spatially distant realities (and indeed even possibilities). Related to that, meaning can integrate events across time. Purpose, one important component of meaningfulness, entails that present events draw meaning from future ones. The examples listed above of meaningful but not happy lives (e.g., oppressed political activist) all involve working toward some future goal or outcome, such that the future outcome is highly desirable even though the present activities may be unpleasant. Meaningfulness may therefore often involve understanding one’s life beyond the here and now, integrating future and past. In contrast, happiness, as a subjective feeling state, exists essentially in the present moment. At most, happiness in the form of life satisfaction may integrate some degree of the past into the present — but even so, it evaluates the past from the point of view of the present. Most people would probably not report high life satisfaction on the basis of having had a good past but while being currently miserable.

Consistent with that view that meaning integrates across time, Vallacher and Wegner (1985, 1987) found that higher levels of meaning were consistently marked by longer time frames. As people shifted toward more concrete and less meaningful ways of thinking about their actions, they became more focused on the here and now. Thus, a wedding can be described both as “making a lifelong commitment to love” and as “saying some words in a church.” The former invokes a longer time span and is more meaningful than the latter.

Indeed, Baumeister (1991) observed that life is in constant change but strives for stability, and meaning is an important tool for imposing stability on the flux of life. For example, the feelings and behaviors that two mates have toward each other will fluctuate from day to day, sometimes even momentarily, but culturally mandated meanings such as marriage define the relationship as something constant and stable. (And marriage does in fact help to stabilize relationships, such as by making it more difficult for the partners to dissolve the relationship.) Such ongoing involvements undoubtedly contribute to the degree of meaningfulness a life has. Put another way, the pursuit of goals and fulfillments through ongoing involvements and activities that are interlinked but spread across time may be central to meaningfulness.

Again, we assume there is substantial overlap between meaningfulness and happiness. Humans are social beings, and participation in social groups is a vital means by which people satisfy their basic needs in order to survive and reproduce. Hence interpersonal involvement, among other things, is surely vital for both meaning and happiness. We do not intend to dwell on such things as interpersonal belongingness, because our focus is on the differences between meaningfulness and happiness, but we acknowledge their importance. Although both happiness and meaningfulness may involve interpersonal connection, they may differ in how one relates to others. Insofar as happiness is about having one’s needs satisfied, interpersonal involvements that benefit the self should improve happiness. In contrast, meaningfulness may come instead from making positive contributions to other people.

Although needs can be satisfied in a selfish fashion, the expression and development of selfhood tends to invoke symbolic relations and is therefore more a matter of meaning than happiness. MacGregor and Little (1998) found that the meaningfulness of individuals’ personal projects depended on how consistent they were with core aspects of self and identity. Many animals have the same basic needs as humans, but the human self is far more elaborate and complex than what other animals exhibit. Part of the reason is that the human self is created and structured on the basis of the cultural system (see Baumeister, 2011). On that basis, we predicted that selfhood would have different relationships to happiness and meaningfulness. Happiness would mainly be linked to whether the self’s needs are being satisfied. Meaningfulness would be far more broadly related to what activities express and reflect the symbolic self, some of which would involve contributing to the welfare of others (individually or in general) or other culturally valued activities.”

In more simple term, culture is what separates humans from other animals.  Much pre-existing happiness research focused too closely on the animal (natural) aspects of humans and not adequately accounting for meaning (cultural) aspects.  I can’t help but notice that modern science, with its mechanistic models, often leaves the heart and soul — meaning — of humanity unasccounted for, and therefore devalued.

To conclude and integrate these happiness researchers’ findings:

“Meaningfulness and happiness are positively correlated, so they have much in common. Many factors, such as feeling connected to others, feeling productive, and not being alone or bored contribute similarly to both. Yet the two are distinct, and the focus of this investigation has been to identify the major differences in correlates of happiness (corrected for meaning) and meaningfulness (corrected for happiness). Correcting highly correlated variables for each other can reverse effects, which may contribute to some inconsistency in the literature. Future research should distinguish happiness from meaningfulness, because many ostensible contributors to happiness are in fact mainly associated with meaning and have little or no direct contribution to happiness except by way of increasing meaning. For example, helping others may actually increase happiness because it increases meaningfulness, which in turn contributes to happiness, but when we corrected for the effect on meaningfulness, the pure effect of helping others was if anything the opposite: a reduced level of happiness.

Our findings suggest that happiness is mainly about getting what one wants and needs, including from other people or even just by using money. In contrast, meaningfulness was linked to doing things that express and reflect the self, and in particular to doing positive things for others. Meaningful involvements increase one’s stress, worries, arguments, and anxiety, which reduce happiness. (Spending money to get things went with happiness, but managing money was linked to meaningfulness.) Happiness went with being a taker more than a giver, while meaningfulness was associated with being a giver more than a taker. Whereas happiness was focused on feeling good in the present, meaningfulness integrated past, present, and future, and it sometimes meant feeling bad. Past misfortunes reduce present happiness, but they are linked to higher meaningfulness — perhaps because people cope with them by finding meaning.

The Highly Meaningful But Unhappy Life

Our data enable us to construct a statistical portrait of a life that is highly meaningful but relatively low in happiness, which illuminates the differences between happiness and meaningfulness. This sort of life has received relatively little attention and even less respect. But people who sacrifice their personal pleasures in order to participate constructively in society may make substantial contributions. Cultivating and encouraging such people despite their unhappiness could be a goal worthy of positive psychology.

Our findings depict the unhappy but meaningful life as seriously involved in difficult undertakings. It was marked by ample worry, stress, argument, and anxiety. People with such lives spend much time thinking about past and future: They expect to do a lot of deep thinking, they imagine future events, and they reflect on past struggles and challenges. They perceive themselves as having had more unpleasant experiences than others, and in fact 3% of having a meaningful life was due to having had bad things happen to you.

Although these individuals may be relatively unhappy, several signs suggest they could make positive contributions to society. High meaningfulness despite low happiness was associated with being a giver rather than a taker. These people were likely to say that taking care of children reflected them, as did buying gifts for others. Such people may self-regulate well, as indicated by their reflecting on past struggles and imagining the future, and also in their tendency to reward themselves.

One can also use our findings to depict the highly happy but relatively meaningless life. People with such lives seem rather carefree, lacking in worries and anxieties. If they argue, they do not feel that arguing reflects them. Interpersonally, they are takers rather than givers, and they give little thought to past and future. These patterns suggest that happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided.”

I am so delighted, even happy, that I stumbled across this happiness research.  May the deepest harmonies of nature and human culture conspire to bring about profound happiness for us all.

Toledo LOVE Fest: Anti-Trump Rally

As Donald Trump brought to Toledo his caravan of hate, bigotry and xenophobia, Toledoans met him with a LOVE fest, declaring resoundingly that his fear mongering is not welcome in Toledo.  Here is my favorite picture from the rally:

Top Pun Loves Muslims, Welcomes Immigrants, and Works to End Racism

Earlier, I met these two women while they were circling the block in their car.  I witnessed them being harassed by a cop for reportedly not turning immediately on a green light and holding up traffic. Ironically, the biggest lineup of cars that I saw at the corner were produced by the cop stopping them for a couple minutes. Not pictured is a sticker on my back that says, “I LOVE MUSLIMS.”


We had someone else take a similar picture of us with one of the women’s phones (you can see this on the left of this pic).  I asked if they could share the pic with me on facebook.  They responded that they don’t do social media.  They prefer to keep it simple and real.  I LOVE THIS!  This is WAY better than getting a copy of their pic.  And, as it turns out, the love karma and sharing mojo, sent this picture my way anyways.

In unrelated karma, the police were out in force, the only ones dressed for a riot.  I couldn’t help but notice that the vast majority of the police for the vast majority of the time were facing the LOVE fest participants, not the Trump designated side of the street.  Hmmm…who do the police think are the threat, and whom are they focused on protecting?

Police Lineup

I was instructed by two separate police officers at two different times to return to the other side of the street, the protesters’ side.  There were plenty of legal observers (lawyers) present.  I spoke with several of them.  They confirmed that it is illegal, an unconstitutional limit of free speech and peaceable assembly, to partition public spaces into partisan zones.  In years past, the police set up “free speech zones” (sic), areas cordoned off with police tape to box up and control protesters.  Such “free speech zones” have  been ruled unconstitutional.  The legal observers are making a report, and, hopefully, this experience will add to the training of law enforcement officers as to their legitimate, legal duties.

Thanks to a grant from Homeland Security (emblazoned on the side of the armored vehicle), a military-style armored truck was parked adjacent to the demonstration area.  This was accompanied by a set of more-heavily-equipped police officers ready to leap into action if there was some type of invasion that a couple dozen policemen (there were no women cops) couldn’t handle.  This all strikes me as a great opportunity to normalize the militarization of local police forces.  Would we call a nation patrolled with armored trucks the “land of the free?”

Military-style police armored truck

If you would like to see more photos from Toledo’s LOVE fest and anti-Trump rally, check this out.  There were plenty of beautiful Toledoans and wonderful signs of love and anti-Trump messages.  May peace and love break out everywhere!