Testimony for National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service — END DRAFT REGISTRATION

I prepared the below testimony to present at a public meeting in Chicago before the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, a commission created by Congress to deal with questions of draft registration, most specifically, whether to end draft registration or expand it to women. The Commission designed the format for this meeting with severely restricted opportunities for general public input. I intend to submit this testimony in written form, but I do not anticipate that I will be able to present it in person. At the end of this testimony is a much shorter statement that I intend to present to the media in Chicago, and directly to the Commission, if possible.

FULL TESTIMONY

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, to be here today. I have come from 250 miles away to testify to you about service. I am volunteering my time to testify about that which is involuntary: conscience. I have come much further than 250 miles to be here today…

My testimony is rooted in family history predating the existence of the United States of America.  I am 12th generation in this land now known as the United States of America. In the early 1700’s, my ancestors settled on land given to them by William Penn, on what would come to be known as Pennsylvania. My Mennonite ancestors fled Germany to escape conscription and war.

With that wave of German immigrants and refugees, those that occupied the land had much fear about them ruining life as they new it. Newly-arrived German males age 16 and older were forced to take a loyalty oath to the British crown. The English oath was administered roughshod over the newly arriving boys and men, most of whom spoke only German upon their arrival. Apparently, a nominal and blind oath provided some comfort to those fearful residents already occupying the land.

As the Philadelphia harbor bells rang, signaling new arrivals, people gathered to greet them. Many gathered to welcome family or provide strangers with much needed assistance, knowing what it is like to leave one’s home and arrive in a strange land with little or nothing. Others gathered to enlist indentured servants. Here is my most important question regarding service. Serving freely or serving under coercion — which is the greater service? I submit that serving freely is greater. In this particular case, the free service of hospitality and welcoming outsiders is greater than enlisting indentured servants. In the shared scripture of The People of The Book — Jews, Christians and Muslims — a similar exhortation is repeated multiple times: “You must love foreigners because you were foreigners in Egypt.” This service of what may be considered radical hospitality is a time-honored practice of Jews, Christians and Muslims. The humble practice is at the heart of every great faith worldwide. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love because you were first loved. My ancestors, yearning to be free, wanted neither to be the cause of war as soldiers nor the tragic effects of war in its wanton destruction. This was at the heart of my ancestors’ journeys in life. This is my heritage.

More recently, in relation to war and peace, my great-grandfather, during World War II, ran an alternative service camp for conscientious objectors. As for me, I was literally born into service. I was born in 1961 in Haiti, while my parents were serving as medical missionaries, a doctor and nurse, with Mennonite Central Committee. Mennonite Central Committee has long encouraged and empowered years-long terms of service, often overseas. For my Dad, this was also as an alternative service to military service.

In 1979, the year I graduated from high school, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. In response to this, President Jimmy Carter instituted draft registration of young men my age, ostensibly to send a message of military preparedness to Soviet leaders. I was in the first batch of young men required by U.S. law to register for the draft. However, the prospect of draft registration conflicted with a higher law, my conscience and ultimate commitments. I could not and cannot, in good conscience, participate in war-making. As the clarity of my conscience emerged, I could find no way to register for the military draft, whose sole purpose is preparedness for war. My conscience also dictated that if I was to disobey an unconscionable law, then I was to openly take full responsibly for my actions while I worked to change such a law. I began by writing letters to Selective Service and my elected representatives. I may not have had been well-schooled — yet, anyways — on the politics of waging war or peace, but I was intimately familiar with my conscience and the legal duty that my young male peers and I faced. I was a teenager facing obedience to my conscience. This obedience came at the legal threat of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

I quickly learned that my war resistance is not dependent on geopolitical circumstances, political pendulums, or legal threats. I am already opposed to the next war. Unlike in the pragmatism of war, my enemy’s enemy is not my friend. For me, war is the enemy. Nonetheless, the nearly 40 years since my initial confrontation with draft registration affords me a certain perspective as I have lived through a full cycle of history.  While I was a skinny teenager facing taking on the United States government, the U.S. government was backing the soon-enough-to-be-notorious Osama bin Laden as a so-called “freedom fighter,” leading the mujahadeen in Afghanistan against Soviet occupation.  Of course, our support of Osama bin Laden, our enemy’s enemy, turned out to be a deadly lessen in the futility of weaponizing violent radicals in the vain hope that it won’t blowback in further violence on virtually all fronts. Today’s “freedom fighter” is tomorrow’s terrorist. Today’s war seeds tomorrow’s terrorist. Gandhi spoke frequently of the seamless connection of means and ends. War IS terrorism. How can we expect it to produce anything else — with it many “means” and “ends”? In the end, I cannot view warmaking as service to this country, or any country for that madder, certainly not to humanity as a hole. I find warmaking incompatible with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and to be peacemakers, the children of God.

In speaking with hundreds of Americans over the years about draft registration resistance, I have found that people’s objections to my objections are of two basic types. One type of response is basically that draft registration is such a minimal requirement that it isn’t worth much fuss. If this is the case, then why don’t we just get rid of draft registration, without much fuss? The other type of response is about the utter graveness of our warmaking, and usually something about our national doody. If war is so grave, perhaps the concerns around someone refusing to go postal should receive more thoughtful and consequential consideration. To add insult to injury, in a surreal show of moral farce, war apologists routinely cite “necessary evil” as their moral foundation. This is not the God I serve. Straddling these two poles of minimal and supreme concern, are the tired questions that are asked pacifists, such as: “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother in the ally?” I learned to answer such questions with: “I’d register for the draft.” If their perplexity persisted, they might suggest that I go back to Russia (where I’ve never been) or indicated their inclination to see me face time in jail; presumably, so I am not around to not protect them.

Mean wile, back in 1980, soon after winning the presidential election, Ronald Reagan broke his campaign promise to end draft registration. His campaign rhetoric about getting the government off the backs of people rang hollow, like a hollow bullet to my heart. The media wanted to do a story on this broken promise and how it affected the young men subject to the law, particularly those opposed to it. As it turned out, while there were millions of nonregistrants quietly in violation of the law, I was the only local public nonregistrant that they could track down, and I soon found myself highlighted in various media for years to come.

To make a long story shorter, in 1983, I was indicted for failure to register — I prefer refusal to register. In 1986, I was tried and convicted. My indiscriminate honesty more than compensated for their lack of investigatory skills. I served 107 days in the federal Community Corrections Center in Detroit, served two years probation, and served 200 hours of community service. I can’t help but note, today, since the theme is “service,” that the solution to my singular failure was to rip me from my community in order to integrate me back into my community. Plus, the court had to bean-count community service that you couldn’t have stopped me from serving anyway.

Of course, there were larger forces at work. I, and a select few others, had to be made examples of. I, for One, am proud of the example I served. In the case of The United States of America vs. Daniel A. Rutt, there was a focus on my failure/refusal. In the meantime, I had finished college, got married, finished graduate school, had a son, and got a job. I went on to serve in a public health career of almost two decades. I even got a national award from the feds for my work in health promotion — thanks for noticing, U.S. of A. For the last 16 years, I have run my own business promoting social justice.

I do not consider my time imprisoned or countless hours engaging in war resistance as any great burden. In fact, I consider this as service to my country and humanity. I do suspect that most any person who did a tour of active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan has suffered more than I.  Unfortunately, war is replete with suffering. Of course, suffering is of no great inherent value. Nonetheless, whatever we willingly suffer for is a good measure of what we truly value. I hope that more Americans, whether male or female, young or old, will volunteer to put more skin in the game and resist war in any way they can. I believe that the cost of freedom is found in not killing, rather than killing. As General Patton so infamously stated, “No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country.”

It is impossible for me to separate my service from my conscience. Conscience is that small still voice that emanates from the foundation of our existence, that calls us, at the risk of trademark infringement, to be all that we can be. My war resistance is deeply rooted in following Jesus, The Prince of Peace. The Jesus I follow was executed as an enemy of the state. He was executed at the behest of the religious elite. Today, the religious elite dutifully save themselves and their clan, more faithfully blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war, more conveniently blessing warmakers than counseling their youth to resist war. The first wave of martyrs in early Christendom were men who refused military service. The broader wave of martyrs were Jesus followers who refused idolatry, the literal and figurative “pinch of incense on the altar” to Caesar.

For me, draft registration is that “pinch of incense on the altar” of the state. When it comes to military service, in the great U.S.A., there is no “one nation under God.” When it comes to military service, The United States of America is God. Specifically, The United States of America, does not recognize ANY Constitutional right to refuse military service for ANY reason, including conscience or freedom of religion. As we all know, the U.S. Constitution provides for many rights, rights that cannot be infringed upon by the state. There are many constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, freedom to petition for redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to equal protection under the law, among others. These are often referred to as natural rights or God-given rights. Such rights define the character of a state, and place limits on its sovereignty, recognizing a power greater than itself. The United States of America, does not recognize ANY natural or God-given right to refuse military service for ANY reason. If you are surprised by this, so was I. I count this as the singular lesson that I learned in my draft registration resistance. This sad and idolatrous reality was unmasked only by a federal judge citing a Supreme Court case in a legal opinion rejecting my motion for dismissal on the basis of religious freedom. Fortunately, I have found that God’s grace extends further than legislative grace or constitutional provision of this republic. I strongly suspect that tens of millions of Americans of faith recognize that holy obedience sometimes requires civil disobedience.

My male ancestors age 16 plus who arrived to this land so many years ago were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the government, even though most didn’t even speak the language in which the oath was administered. This didn’t even seem to matter to government officials. Why is this? I suspect that the nominal and incomprehensible oath was a “pinch of incense on the altar,” a ritual form of national worship needed by a resident populace afraid of strangers. The minimal content of the oath served as a safe and surefire way to maximize compliance and minimize resistance. Who would get back on the boat and return across the sea because they had to mouth or sign an incomprehensible swearing. Who would not submit their name and basic information to the Selective Service System? Well, most young men do not register when they first become legally required. Most young men, hoping to go somewhere, register when they need to secure a driver’s license, or when they reach the shore of an education, needing a student loan.

I suspect that the ritual obedience of a “pinch of incense on the altar” may be more important than an actually functioning, fair and equitable system of potential conscription. Conspicuously absent from the Selective Service annual report is the noncompliance rate with the requirement for registrants to update their address (within 10 days) every time they move. Every observant person knows that 18-25 year-old men move a lot. How many address updates do they get? How many address updates don’t they get? Surely, this can be estimated, and certainly it matters if one actually cares about being able to effectively and fairly enlist young men in a potential draft. The noncompliance rate for initial registration is 8% for all 18-25 year-old men. I strongly suspect that the noncompliance with current address is much higher than noncompliance with initial registration; probably, in combination, high enough to blow a hole in any contention that draft registration is effective and fair. By the way, those young men not complying with address updates are subject to the same legal penalties of up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. In FY 2017, 184,051 names and addresses of suspected violators to initial registration were provided to the Department of Justice. Does it strike anyone else as odd that the names and addresses of suspected violators are forwarded? If the Selective Service System has the names and addresses of potential enlistees, what else do they need?

I contend that what Selective Service is largely after is your assent to civil obedience, participation in a national religion of warmaking, your “pinch of incense on the altar,” if you will. This seems to be a better characterization of Selective Service’s function than, in the case of a military draft, to “rapidly provide personnel in a fair and equitable manner.” Oddly, if you find yourself a male age 26 or older, beyond the age requirement to register, and you failed to register, you could still run into trouble by being denied eligibility for federal student financial aid, federal job training, federal employment, or U.S. citizenship; yet, you may be in the clear if your can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that your failure to register was not knowing and willful. Just don’t be too conscientious; that is, until you have to prove that you were not conscientious. Apparently, the true crime is conscientiousness in not registering, more so than simply not registering. The selective prosecution of a few conscientious and public resisters while millions are noncompliant speaks volumes to this.  Certainly, a system where obliviousness is excusable and objecting conscientiously is a crime is a system that distorts our nation’s highest values.  I don’t object to Selective Service being shot full of holes regarding compliance. I do object to Selective Service dishonoring or punishing conscientiousness. As there is no way for a registrant to officially indicate any intent at conscientious objection, I would be very curious to see what would happen if conscientious objector status were a checkbox in the registration process. We might learn a lot about the state of conscientious objection in America. Of course, if Selective Service noncompliance is largely about non-conscientiousness, then I have to ask: What would such a level of non-conscientiousness say about what we might be fighting for and who might be fighting for it?

The draft registration system cannot account for true conscientiousness. The draft registration system cannot muster enough compliance, conscientious or not, to claim fairness and equitability. The honorable course of action, in both cases, is to end draft registration.

In truth, the actual practice of draft registration ignores conscientious objection. While there is no apparent constitutional right to refuse military conscription, there are some legislative provisions for what are called conscientious objectors. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism to indicate conscientious objection during the current draft registration process. This is objectionable to many conscientiously opposed to war. Somewhat oddly, the only legal way to make such a claim is to submit to a system, the Selective Service System, whose sole purpose is preparing for war, which you must reject completely. Plus, conscientious objector status is only possible as a military service classification, if and when a draft may occur. The longer a registrant is unrecognized as conscientiously opposed to war, the further the objection. Further, conscientious objector status can only be recognized for those who are opposed to all wars. If you in good conscience object to whatever current war in which you are subject to serve, this is oddly irrelevant. You could, in fact, turn out to conscientiously object to every actual war that comes down the pike in your lifetime and this is deemed irrelevant if you are not opposed to every theoretical war (or past war). This renders conscientious objection to a meaningless idea for what is perhaps the vast bulk of being conscientiously opposed to war. Finally, there is no real mechanism to truly count or officially value the service of conscientious objectors, meaning that men will be drafted until the military need is met, whether ten or ten million men have conscientious objection. The service of a conscientious objector is superfluous to the determining aim of the Selective Service System. This itself is offensive to many persons of conscience opposed to war-making. Let’s end the criminalization of conscience.

In truth, the actual practice of warmaking habitually runs roughshod over international law and human rights. The promise of some possible future alternative service as a noncombatant is little comfort to my conscience, and of many others. In a warring world, the distinction between combatants and noncombatants offers fantastical sanitization rather than actual sanity. The fact is that across time and across a myriad of modern armed conflicts, over ten so-called “noncombatants” are killed for every “combatant.” The first casualty of war is the truth; most of the rest are noncombatants. My duty is to oppose war, not escape military service. This is my service to humanity. This service is regardless of combatant status. Plus, the best way to serve warriors happens to be ending war.

In the age of terrorism, some will claim that we live in new era of war, not subject to the old rules of war. We do live in a different time than in the 1980’s, the decade when draft registration was initiated. I can testify to a profound shift toward anti-war sentiment since then. During the first Gulf war, in the early 1990’s, I never felt so isolated as an American, confronting palpable resistance even from liberals. When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, our local peace network, the Northwest Ohio Peace Coalition, initiated weekly Sunday demonstrations at busy intersections around town. These demonstrations for peace and against war occurred weekly for 15 years (and continue twice each month). In the early years, most of the feedback we had from passing motorists was angry yelling, middle fingers, and expletives flying. Over the years, this angry response has become rare, perhaps a couple a week, and the overwhelming positive responses are represented by hundreds of “honks for peace,” peace signs and thumbs up. Americans in the heartland of Ohio are tired of war and welcome peace. Draft registration is a relic of ages past. Why have draft registration when even the military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft?

One issue at the heart of draft registration and military conscription is what is the proper role of women in warmaking and peacemaking. I am delighted to see that women serve as 5 of the 11 commissioners. Surely, it is women who should determine what is the proper role of women, in this case, concerning warmaking and peacemaking. In my lifelong work across a wide range of social justice movements, I have found women to be the most reliable and most inspiring leaders and laborers for social justice. I strongly suspect that women will take up the mantle of even greater war resistance if they become subject to military conscription. I take inspiration to serve as a war resister from Julia Ward Howe. She, most famously known as the composer of the Battle Hymn of The Republic, was the founder of Mother’s Day, originally a day of war resistance. She issued this Mother’s Day Proclamation in 1870:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: “We will not have questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us reeking of carnage for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of a devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says “Disarm! Disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.

As men have forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his time the sacred impress not of Caesar, but of God.

 In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.

I would much prefer entrusting my conscience and fate to such “a general congress of women without limit of nationality,” rather than the currently constituted National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

Perhaps somewhat ironic, given my heritage, Germany now has a constitutional right to conscientious objection while the United States does not. When Germany ended conscription in 2011, the majority of those serving were conscientious objectors, and the debate had shifted from conscience to whether they should give up a huge pool of cheap labor. I believe that forced national service is incongruent with our nation’s highest ideals. I believe that volunteerism is at the core of authentic service. I suspect that lowering our ideals by forcing service is a poor way to nurture true service. Let us lead by example. This is why I am here today. If you want to gauge both the heart and the cutting edge of service in this country and for this country, look to those who volunteer, willingly, without pay, to live out their deepest values. This is the clearest view of our highest ideals incarnate, that service, that work, which cannot be bought and sold.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify before the Commission. From your bios, I can see that you are exemplary leaders in service. Unfortunately, I think that you may have an impossible job. I appreciate that Selective Service is technically considered under civilian control. Still, I can’t help but notice that both Selective Service and this Commission are heavily represented by persons from the military or traditional national security apparatus. This does not fairly represent America in the civilian service necessary to make for peace in the world. Also, about 4 in 10 Americans are persons of color, including many of those in the military. Why is this Commission even whiter than the overly white Congress who appointed it? This is not a service to America, and raises the question of whether white supremacy is part and parcel to your work. In tandem, the Commission’s overwhelmingly militarized representation and unduly whiteness, inspires little confidence that your recommendations can represent America. Perhaps it would be more honest to call this Commission an Omission. I suspect that this failure is rooted in the failure and cowardice of Congress to deal with draft registration in a changing world, that is, a world that recognizes women as equals. Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Instead, Congress kicked the can down the road for a couple of years by creating a Commission to address this question for them. Unfortunately, This Congress-created Commission is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, any hopes of sparking a national conversation on service will be sparks falling on damp firewood.  Further complicating the credibility of the Commission is the tightly controlled and choreographed public meetings in conjunction with severely limited open public testimony. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then using this input to shape additional “invited” testimony. This may already be too late to remedy. The chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic or representative. In my years of public service, both as a community planner and as a citizen participant in many public forums, I think that it is fairer to characterize the Commission’s public meetings to date more as “dog and pony shows” than as an open and responsive democratic process. For this Commission’s work to claim legitimacy, there is a lot of changes that need to be made. Lastly, having to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission. I hope that you have found worthwhile input in my testimony to move toward a peace-loving democracy in which every one of us finds ample opportunities, free of compulsion, for self-sacrificial service for the good of all.

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PRESS STATEMENT

My name is Dan Rutt. I have traveled from Toledo, Ohio, about 250 miles away, to be here today. I am one of the select few prosecuted and imprisoned for refusing to register for the draft, back in the 1980’s. We are here today for one reason, and one reason alone: Congress punted on the politically unpopular choices of just ending draft registration or expanding it to women. Congress punted by appointing a Commission to provide recommendations regarding draft registration a couple years down the road. That Commission is the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service. Unfortunately, This Commission’s work is so couched in generic service rhetoric that it is hamstrung in dealing straightforwardly with the singular issue that triggered its creation: draft registration. Until the Commission owns up to honestly and openly addressing the issue of draft registration as its core reason for existing, the Commission will be a failure. Draft registration continues to have no mechanism to accommodate conscientious objection. Draft registration is fraught with noncompliance by young men either not registering at all, registering late, or not updating their addresses. The military cites no scenarios where they would want a draft. This is no time to expand draft registration, whether to women or persons with select skills the military might want. Now is the time to end draft registration. Voluntary service is true service. Let’s keep it that way.

Today’s public meeting in particular highlights the failing credibility of the Commission. Previous public meetings around the country have had very limited opportunity for open testimony from the general public. Today’s meeting has even less opportunity. Previous public meetings have been billed as having opportunities to speak directly to the Commission; and when people get there they find out that there is a scheduled two minutes per citizen. This meeting is being billed as an opportunity for Q&A, not even to the Commission but to their invited speakers. Furthermore, the overall time for the public to even participate in this insular Q&A has been cut down to “20 or 30 minutes.” From the experience of previous public meetings, the chasm between the nature of “invited” testimony and uninvited testimony betrays a characterization of the Commission’s work to date as democratic. The Commission is moving in the wrong direction. A responsive democratic process would have began with generous opportunities for open public testimony, and then used this input to shape additional “invited” testimony as needed. This may already be too late to remedy.

Unfortunately, the Commission has other credibility problems that may very well make their job impossible. This Commission is dominated by members from the military or traditional national security apparatus, all the while trying to couch their work in a broader, more generic view of service. This Commission is extremely white, in a nation where people of color are about 4 of 10 Americans. This Commission is poorly designed to represent America. To make matters worse, the Commission has chosen to conduct its business in such a manner that citizens have had to make FOIA requests to find out about the basic public functioning of the Commission. This does not bode well for a culture of transparent, accountable public service by the Commission.

Originally, I planned my trip from Toledo to Chicago, for this public meeting, to deliver testimony to the Commission, offering a story of conscience and how draft registration fails to meet a broad range of America’s ideals. Because this public meeting cannot accommodate such open testimony, I stand before you, hoping that a free press will shine a light on the ill-conceived and poorly executed work of The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service.

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Listen here to the audio of my brief testimony against draft registration at 1:15:10.

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

POEM: Unleashed

As anger and grief morphs
Into the habits and vagaries of daily life
The heart is circled by its waggin’s
In loo of revolutions more roil
As if
Too be stuck
In
The mettle
Only to be
Haunted by cursory echoes
Of lives a custom to be frayed
Of what might be
Stranded
Into the unbreakable
Accord
As knot the tear or stricken
And still
The heart fastens
Awe that grows
Unleashed

This poem addresses the challenges of palpable anger and grief “normalizing” as time goes on.  The necessities and sheer habits of everyday living bear down on overflowing passions, often sublimating such powerful emotions into more comfortable or familiar patterns.  This can tamp down more revolutionary impulses for changes in life.  Such coping is commonplace.

Such a process causes me to reflect on the current post-election era.  The System Was Never Broken It Was BUILT That Way - POLITICAL BUTTONI remember the outrage when Baby Bush beat Al Gore only with the intervention of the Supreme Court, in the face of a popular vote loss and electoral college squeaker fraught with voting irregularities and inadequacies.  I noted how the un-sexy issue of the mechanics of voting and elections receded from consciousness in due course within a matter of months.  Multiple presidential election down the road, many of these election and voting deficiencies continue largely unfixed.  The electoral college has taken US to school again!  Plus, the striking down of key elements of the Voting Rights Act has left state-level shenanigans with voter suppression to run rampant.  Add in the increasingly surreal gerrymandering of voting districts and the democratic process is literally moot for most of America in national elections.

While our national democracy stays the course on being massively dysfunctional at so many levels, this election cycle, a vicious cycle, is a quantum leap in dangerous effect.  Stop Hate STOP Sign -- POLITICAL BUTTONThe sexism, racism, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant xenophobia reached for new heights and historic lows during the campaign.  Women, people of color, Muslims, and immigrants have legitimate reasons to worry on both a daily basis and what looms in the future.  Misogyny, white supremacy, and xenophobic nationalism are being baked into the Donald Trump regime.  While in many ways this is nothing new to disenfranchised folks, the stunning respectability of sexual assault braggadocio, scorn of Black Lives Matter, collusion with white supremacists, and a national fortress mentality could easily converge into the most authoritarian presidential administration in our lifetimes, if not ever, in America.

This poem is a warning of the dangers of “normalization,” and a call to the difficult, lifelong, trans-generational work that needs to be done.  Courage Trumps Fear PEACE BUTTONI don’t believe that such work can be done unless it is equipped with hope.  This poem culminates in the hope that by reaching deep and going long the solidarity of wholehearted people will supply needed power to resolute minds and steadfast hands to further incarnate seemingly impossible justice for all.

Dealing with endemic injustices calls for a demanding balance between daily coping and cultivating a long-haul way of life that shrewdly generates and regenerates, creates and recreates, produces and reproduces just and heartening habits of behavior and ways of being in the world.  Will the better side of America prevail over the genocide of America?  We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools--Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONAll I can say is that when sides are drawn, I know which side I hope and plan to be on.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. so plainly observed and prophesied, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”  Though I would update this a bit and expect to see sisters steadfastly leading this fight.  Some things don’t change.  This can be a good thing.

 

SHIFT HAPPENS POLITICAL BUTTONThe Ones Who Are Crazy Enough To Think They Can Change The World Are The Ones Who Do POLITICAL BUTTONAll the darkness in the world could not put out the light of one small candle. Jewish Holocaust victim's epitaph POLITICAL BUTTON

The Enemy Is Fear. We Think It Is Hate, But It is Fear -- Gandhi quote POLITICAL BUTTONFear does not prevent death; it prevents life --Nagub Mahfouz quote POLITICAL BUTTONLife shrinks or expands according to one's courage --Anais Nin quote POLITICAL BUTTON

POLITICAL POEM: Among Politicians For Sail

In the art of politics
We are the wind
Awe that madders
To those who sea
Among politicians for sail
Transcending them to helm
In their infernal riggings
And whatever weigh
As such politics
Blows
And how ever along winded
Wee will
Prevail
Sow go a head
Win
Be my gust

Q: What can transcend the riggings in the political system?  A: The strong winds of political movements derived from the consent (or resistance) of the people.  Perhaps the most reliable characteristic of politicians is their ability to do most anything to gain power or maintain power.  Politics is often referred to as the art of compromise.  Power Requires Consent POLITICAL BUTTONPolitics is as often at the heart of selling out.  Power requires consent, the consent of the people.  This is the foundation for nonviolent resistance and noncooperation with evils in society.  Fortunately, the malleable morality of politicians can be harnessed by the exercise of power directly by the people, without relying on simply moral appeals.  In the body politic, the moral state of the state is mediated by the people either exercising their values which manifest political realities and shape power, or by the people delegating moral behavior to politicians (sic) and/or relinquishing morality altogether.  The people define the political realities by which politicians must navigate.  The pragmatic malleability of politicians makes them far better suited to follow than lead, to reflect current political realities rather than challenge and change them.  The notion that power is fundamentally derived from political elites is mistaken and not what the founders of the constitution understood of governance as derived from the consent of the people.  Likewise, moral behavior is derived from each person as a moral agent, a responsibility that cannot be relinquished and a privilege that each human shares.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World -- PEACE QUOTE BUTTONAuthentic leadership, by being the change you want to see in the world, is often punished by the powers that be of the status quo, whose interest is in maintaining things the way they are, that is, to their own advantage over others.  Your resistance and its equal and opposite force applied by the powers that be is exactly the measure by which your values are valued.  Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you've found out the exact measure of injustice which will be imposed on them. Frederick Douglass quote POLITICAL BUTTONMore simply put, your values are values exactly to the extent that you are willing to pay a price for them.  Many good things in life come cheap, either through the work of others or the grace of God.  The luck of the draw in possessing such good things that come to us without us personally paying the full cost is what is often called privilege.  Good things are, well, good.  But, when we haven’t paid the full cost, or worse yet, someone else is involuntarily paying the cost for you, such an imbalance in the balance sheet requires moral action to assure fair treatment of others.  It is exactly such imbalances in the balance sheets that fundamentally amoral ideologies such as capitalism cannot produce balance.  In fact, amoral ideologies such as capitalism act to leverage inequalities and unfairness into further inequalities and unfairness.  In short, it takes moral force, truth force, what Gandhi referred to as satyagraha, to set the world right.  Those experiencing the short end of inequalities and unfairness most fully experience the material conditions suited to such enlightenment.  Those experiencing the long end of inequalities and unfairness find that their the material conditions are rife with easy denial and low-cost rationalizations suited to maintaining their advantage, their advantage over others.  This is another way of describing the “preferential option for the poor” in liberation theology, recognizing that the dispossessed are naturally better positioned to exercise moral leadership since their personal interests and social justice interests are better aligned.  Surely, the poor have their own special set of temptations to choose the low road in morality.  However, the privileged are only required to give up privilege over others for justice’s sake, which is a nominal sacrifice compared to coping well or poorly inside chronic injustices.  This is particularly true since the powers that be exact a price disproportionately higher to the dispossessed than what would represent a fair price for their personal, individual justice.  In other words, the dispossessed must invest in social justice to experience personal justice.   If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor -- Desmond Tutu quote POLITICAL BUTTONThe privileged are free of such costs, and worse yet, are personally advantaged by injustice, a cruel incentive to unjust action, or more often than not, inaction.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere -- Martin Luther King, Jr. BUTTONAs can be seen through the lenses of power derived through the consent of the people and the material conditions conducive to acting morally in the face of social injustices, the hope for a more just and moral world is founded in actions of solidarity with and among the disenfranchised of the world.  Expecting the privileged to relinquish their privilege — or manage the poor justly (sic) — is a lame substitute for disenfranchised peoples acting in the interest of both themselves and all people.  May we act in solidarity with one another to overturn injustice anywhere.

Feel free to browse Top Pun’s designs about social justice and a huge choice of political action issues.

POEM: Awe That Is Fine Her

Sheez
Know more than
Know less than
Then any won ails
In whatever
Whirled
Privileged to breathe at awe
Fenced buy abets
Dis regarding
Weather grate her
Or less her
As any won object
Is any thing worth wile
Over looking
Hi her
Or lo her
More than
A parity girl
Beyond sum
Sublime whole
As summon to be respected
As things aren’t
As they peer
And with won voice
Even as winsome and surrender some
Make us as we were
Mend to be
Engendering awe that is fine her
In every weigh

This is a poem about a certain sublime equality to any path toward enlightenment and more particularly about the struggle of a female protagonist engendering courage and healing in a patriarchal world.  I am grateful for women sublimely manifesting the so-called feminine virtues.  This helps me achieve balance in my own masculine existence.  Of course, I am in particularly awe of folks who can transcend socially prescribed gender roles and model the full range of virtues and vices that whole human beings embrace.  May we find wholeness along the serpentine and twisted paths of our lives.  May you eagerly welcome whatever may be coming around the next bend.

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.

POEM: Enlightenment Not Worth Beings

Conversing in the street
At a protest
We had a very enlightening pow wow
As too in form me
He stated with qualm assurance
“Protest before enlightenment, protest after enlightenment”
A parity of action
Like I had never seen
To which I yack knowledged
You mean like
“Child abuse before enlightenment, child abuse after enlightenment”
And parently flailing attest
Of means
And states not worth beings
As well as dis coarse
With know end incite

This poem was inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester on the street.  As not subject to small talk, we touched upon the nature of enlightenment.  The undiscerning tautology of “[insert action] before enlightenment, [repeat same action] after enlightenment,” struck me as a perfect representation of New Age gobbledygook.  Hopefully, the palpable absurdity felt in one’s soul with my succinct parody: “Child abuse before enlightenment, child abuse after enlightenment,” should be enough to dismiss such nonsense.

New Age philosophy and other forms of “immaterialism” view life as simply a spiritual process where specific ends literally don’t matter, and one meaning is as good or bad as the next meaning — and what meanings might follow from such inanity and insanity!  While such a whirled view may seem an intriguing balance, or even antidote, to postmodern materialism, the reactionary amoral forces of materialism are mirrorly replaced with eerily similar nonreactionary amoral farces, conveniently well-suited to First-World privilege and god-like individualism.  Such absurd amorality rejects any set of collected knowledge about good and evil, leaving society with no landmarks to navigate progress in manifesting goodness over and above evil. There is no right and wrong, only differences.  And while this may lead to a certain profoundly uncommitted form of tolerance, it leaves human rights awash, and human wrongs unaccounted for.  Such a perverse viewpoint is only inviting inasmuch as we trust in our own godness alone.  New Age spirituality’s OCD lock on “life as process” does reflect an incomplete truth related to the redemptive nature of essentially every world religion or perennial philosophy; that is, good can emerge from evil.  Fortunately, these esteemed traditions do not collapse good into evil.  These age-old spiritual traditions value transformation in society and of society, not simply the fate of one soul divorced from all others — a lonely god fore better or worse.  In fact, if personal transformation means nothing in particular, then such spiritual progress is limited to oxymorons, and no one else.  Further, if there is no accountability to others, no legitimate demand of others on us, then even the sparsest just us is untenable and unattainable.  I have long been intrigued by Buddha’s choice to remain present in this world to help others rather than blow out into nirvana, as he was do.  The good news of a social gospel should not be tossed into a fiery dustbin from which nothing is retrievable — leaving only nothing as retrievable.  The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict MLK BUTTONWhile there is much wile in discerning good and evil, to reject such efforts out of hand is far more dangerous.  I will gladly give a pass to my fellow protester, who may have simply been a victim of fuzzy thinking.  Of course, we can meditate on such unprophetable ruminations until the cows come home.  Still, it is passable to do the right thing for the wrong reason; just as doing the wrong thing for the right reason is culpable of mends to the othercide of a fence.  Intentions and actions are two sides of the same flipping coin.  Means and ends are inseparable as attested to by anyone subject to any given mean or any fatal end.  To harmonize is the objective, not to monotonize the subjective. May we all benefit from both good intentions and right action.

POEM: Love Making

I was mistaken
All those years
Those sweetest ours
Thinking I was making love
When in truth
Love was making me

This love poem, as most of my poems, can be read several ways.  Of course, the simplest reading is a testament to the transformative power of romantic relationship love.  Love is more than something that we, as individuals, “make.”  Love is something larger than ourselves that we participate in.  Love makes us better humans, much more so than could be designed by our minds however clever, or imagined by our hearts however large and open.  Certainly, love makes us better than we could ever be outside of human relationships, on our own.

When thinking of poetry, I suspect that thinking of love poems is the most common and iconic.  Love, the mystery of mysteries, is at the heart of poetry, trying to put into words that which can’t quite be put into words.  I have described writing poetry as the heart and mind making love.  The melding of the workings of the heart and mind is a struggle for balance and wholeness that pervades every human endeavor.

Psalm 85:10 describes this as peace and justice kissing.  My intent in writing this poem was also to allude to such a wide theme, that of loving the world in a way that makes the world a better place for all.  Peace and justice kissing is the way this becomes a reality in the world.  Practicing that discipline of love makes us better humans, even if the reciprocity of that love is not immediately evident.  Describing such ventures as love of God — love of Love — is a common spiritual discipline to carry us through the dry patches of of unrequited love on earth.  Such love lives in the hope that the way of love (God’s will) will be “on earth as it is in heaven” (from the Lord’s prayer).  Of course, the demands of justice are trans-generational, perhaps perpetual, requiring a patience and perspective beyond our own life.  We don’t work simply for ourselves, that is if we are working in love and for justice.  It strikes me, sometimes in the face, that love of enemy is the gold standard spiritual practice for melding peace and justice, holding fast to perfecting love, in creating a world where one side fits all.  Every loving act brings us closer to peace and justice, no matter how far off they seem.  Every loving act engenders hope and courage for both the gentle patience and bold courage needed for peace and justice to kiss.  May you find love in every personal relationship, within your community, and in every conception of God you may have.

 

 

POEM: A Ledged Fall

The leaf let go
Releasing awe that had given it life
In what could have bin
A swan dive
Or a butterfly prancing
But it was doing its own thing
Lining up for know one
Little did it no
But more than enough
That more than one eye
Was watching this spare row
To unseen shores
A boat
To sale free
From cosmic banks
Or goaled claims
And if sow temp
To try land
Wee may very well
Witness yet another
Perfect forum
And only those dolefully miss taken
Call
The fall

This poem is in honor of Fall, and the beautiful seasoning Fall affords.  This poem as a tribute to the perfection of nature and that which gives rise to life.  As might be expected, this poem also slams ingratitude in the face of such awesome and good graces.  Nature revels in itself and God sublimely desires to be holy full of oneself. Witnessing such goings-on strikes me as perhaps the primary purpose of consciousness.  The supreme blessing of consciousness is often overrun by negativity, falling short, the vain grasping of ephemeral realities.  Some of this falling out of the oneness of consciousness is poored in concrete, wanting to secure solid stuff, which also tends to be the most lifeless aspects of creation.  Merely collecting bits and pieces of reality often represents a very poor showing — showing being the complement of witnessing.  The division of conscious experience tends to be an imbalance between the inner and outer life aspects of life.  Some of this falling out of the oneness of consciousness is confining ourselves to our mind, making life academic, hoarding theories and ideologies, dissecting life until life disappears — though much less mysteriously than life peering.  If, instead of witnessing the passing beauty of a butterfly, you prefer collecting their carcasses pinned to specimen cases, then you may fall into this category — being the unchange you want to see in the world.  I strongly suspect that God desires us to experience the fullness of life, not to merely attempt to dutifully collect and accurately describe life’s moving and unmoving parts. Nonetheless, in theology-acide, I would say that the fall is beautiful.

POEM: Breath of Fresh Heir

Each mourning
Brings that which is light
Though wanting to rest
As the whirled spins under my feet
I am
Still
Razed
Too my feat
Standing on
Perhaps a singular word
Mysteriously helled
Together
In God-ordained gravity
Until that thirst
Breath of fresh heir
As awe is knew

This poem is about coming out of the other side of mourning.  We all experience loss.  Experiencing loss challenges our ability to see both the good things awe ready in our life and good things coming over the horizon.  After experiencing enough loss, at some point I realized that many good things in my life are because of previous losses.  Weather something is ripped from you involuntarily or let go intentionally, this creates a new space and new opportunities.  When you are going through hell, keep going --Winston Churchill quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONI don’t want to minimize the pain and suffering of loss, but the mysterious crucible of change is described as Mysteriously helled in this poem.  Mysterious and depressing that there is such a thing as hell in our experience, and hopeful that larger beneficent forces are at work, where the painful stage of loss sets up something better.  Of course, as Winston Churchill so aptly said, “When you are in hell, keep going.”  The ability to work through the mourning process strikes me as one of the most important skills in life.  The skill of detachment as propounded by Buddhists is paramount.  You can only lose what you cling to. Buddha quote SPIRITUAL BUTTONAs Buddha taught, “You can only lose what you cling to.”  This is the foundation for moving freely in a whirled of impermanence.  Still, the despair of mourning needs a counterbalance.  I see this counterbalance as cultivating an attitude of gratitude.  Deeply appreciating the grace in life can remind us that not all is lost, and that life finds a way.  Loss and death happens as surely as new life is borne.  Of chorus, life perpetually invites us to partake in its awesomeness.  May you find new life rising like a phoenix out of the ashes of what once was.

 

POEM: Cold War Thawing in Caribbean Stile — Owed to Cuba

An America
Speaking Latin
Builds a wall around an island
And like a 54 year old chide
So unbecoming
Fool groan
Wont a puerile of grate wisdom
After a long wile
Seeks counsel late
And all that
It takes
To get
Over throw
The towel in
Razing red flags
And daze gone buy
As sew frayed
Of hem us fear
Going south
Among nations
In compassed
By assembling freely
And recollecting those wanton amendments
To won’s original constitution
Paying the bill of rights
Forward
Thinking
Equals
Begetting a pier
As its a boat time
And plane simple
As refreshing allays
See cure
Regarding shared problems
Of their common wealth
And selves determined

This poem goes out to awe of those who worked so many years to establish normal diplomatic relations between the United States of America and Cuba.  The reopening of embassies after a 54 year hiatus is long overdue and a harbinger of more good things to come, such as the end of the embargo and a return of Guantanamo back to Cuba.  The U.S. in its long and twisted non-diplomatic road found itself isolated from all of the other nations in the western hemisphere.  Rather than isolating Cuba, the U.S. bullying of Cuba became a rallying cry for other nations to set rational diplomatic boundaries and conduct an intervention on the U.S., stubbornly addicted to knee-jerk anti-Cuban policies.  While opening normal relations resonates with the liberal impulses of many Americans, it took the power play of such an intervention to get the U.S. to reform its ways.  Sensible international policies can only be achieved if there is some balance of power among equally sovereign nations.  Thank you to the rest of the nations in the western hemisphere for providing needed feedback and boundaries to bring some sense and sanity to U.S. policy toward Cuba.  May the future bring increasing enlightenment and equality among the common wealth of nations.

 

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: Metings, I’d Rather Do Without

I listen
To that which speaks
A bigger
In feeleds of dreams
Wanting more
Then words
Aloft from fences
Of unsatisfying breadth
And stealy calculation
Dis passionate mines
As inevitable ballbusters
Descending from bona fide guise
Even handed lines
Powerless as me pick-up
As I have not
There be little left
Of right
And wrong
Targeted means
As I am
Made to feel
That I have
Gone nuts
Sow detached
Over looking
My groan
Up cast
For what have wee
To sphere
On earth
Like broken vassals
What have I too loose
As a flea wagging doggedly
In treating me too stay
As a thorn in my pause
As if I was lyin’
Or some thing
Crying out
Give it arrest
Only wonting
Hang round
Like sum constellation price
For nebulous reasons
Orbit
The bull it points
Forsake of the cause
Professoring each reaction err he
As if
I am
Missing inaction
And it’s time
To grow a pare
Seceding where others have flailed
More than a head
Of their times
Boosting their future
For this is how
They roll
Off the curve
Into the streets
Overwhelming every buy way
And what have anew
Thorough fair for all
And rout in justice
As we due it owed school
Where truth metes feat
In tuition
Of life

I’m publishing this poem and blog post instead of going to a meeting.  I’m not big on meetings.  And I’m getting smaller with each passing day.  About the only meetings I go to are activists planning one thing or the other.  I tend to avoid even these meetings.  Unfortunately, I generally find them unsatisfying.  Fortunately, the outcomes of these meetings are not sorely changed without my presents. Over the last year or so, after the occasional meeting, I have quipped that I only go to a meeting once a season just to remind myself why I don’t go to meetings.  I have been to countless meetings in my life, as a recovering professional planner.  These activist meetings fare above the average level of meeting satisfaction — though that might not be setting the bar very high.  This situation is captured by another saying of mine: that isn’t beneath me; it’s behind me.

Of course, when I refer to meetings, I mean formal meetings.  I like meeting with people, just more informally.  I like planning, more like conspiring, for activist actions.  I’d rather meet and conspire with activists at actions or in social settings without any driving agenda.  Or, afterwards, just catch the gist of what may been accomplished, in a few moments.  Then, see how I might participate.  I find myself on a steady path of wanting to live more organically; that is, with a minimum of man-made organizational structures.  My bullshit meter has become quite powerful.  I find that formal meetings, by either design or effect, draw out our more base instincts of wanting power/influence and control over others.  This tendency enmeshed with what I view as an over-intellectualization of the issues at hand poisons my experience.  Of course, I am a recovering abstract intellectualist; and I deliberately practice avoiding taking that first proverbial drink of the ever-sought perfected ideology or strategy.  I feel that I have found some balance between my head and my heart.  I find most meetings stifling to my heart.  My deepest yearnings are for our broken hearts to pour into the streets for the healing of the world.  I suppose this is way too messy for the powers that be.  I have studied the ways of personal and social change for my whole adult life, and with increasing frequency my heart overturns my distinguished head.  I guess that am slowly gaining my anarchist credentials, which, of course, means not relying on credentials.  I am deeply intrigued in exploring collective action without relying on cumbersome formal power.  I am finding increasing peace on the margins of power, even the margins of activists’ power.  I strongly suspect that nurturing the ability to sustain peace even at the margins of formal power is, in fact, a form of informal power of which humans could use more.  May you be empowered to follow your dreams.

POEM: The Taoist Dowager

The Taoist dowager
Bends gently to that before her
Inclined to bless
Those below
Indivisible
To the high and mighty
Wholly touched
Braille beyond the see
Maid of tender harmonies
Composed
Of one, a chord
The maladies of life joyfully singing
Farming the music of our years
Covered by perfect lines
Of what may be
Momentarily forgotten
Only later recalled
By progeny
And prodigy
And even those
Occupying there posterity
Like some kind of bum
Or a baggy lady
Udderly fool of it
From cradle to grave
Fully pampered
Content
To cede generations
For a moment
For hour
A muse meant
This consummate ode lady
Siren from beyond hear
A thirst only quenched
By water on the rocks
Having strung out
Countless improbable moments
A mist
An impossible life
Beyond contemplation
Not getting bent
On 100% proof
With a taste that smacks of grace
A singular savor
Unpalletable to sum
Treated like a fragrant
Bye others
Having
Perfected that groovy hide
From a rash
Of uncommon sense
Fore hers
Such an inconceivable vehicle
As chary it
Like the wind borne
In quiet the mine
A sentience unabridged
Having awe ready arrived
A slow motion ninja
Only to be
In what will be
Carried away
In eternity

This poem emanated from the title phrase, Taoist dowager, that emerged from one of my many ruminations.  As is often the case, a phrase that is too good to pass up grows into a complete poem.  I am drawn to Taoist philosophy and Eastern thought in that it seems to quite reliably offer balance to Western modes of thought and being.  The dowager metaphor is apropos in that it is typically a feminine sensibility that is the antidote to afford balance to dominant and domineering Western male culture.  Plus, wisdom is often rightly associated with increasing age and experience, not the least of which is experiencing and reflecting on the vulnerability inherent in senescence.  Buddhists make a practice of meditating on their own inevitable death, not as popular a practice among the young and seemingly invulnerable.  Nonetheless, Taoism claims the ever-present and eternal as accessible in the now, a certain holy equality, a pathless path, perpetually wooing us with enlightenment experiences that cannot be grasped but hold the key to living in harmony with reality and all living beings.  The folly of every age is to try to reduce such knowledge and wisdom to some type of elixir that can be bought, or more to the point, sold.  Even after being taken countless times, the allure of the latest snake oil quite reliably rouses our more base instincts.  The basest instinct blocking our experience of the Tao, the Way, is to take, for our self to acquire something from an other.

Clearly, in the Way of things, things come our way.  However, being given, to receive something, and taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, are opposite perspectives.  Being given, receiving, is an attitude of gratitude and selflessness.  Taking is an attitude of greed and selfishness.  Now, Taoism is lauded for its mastery of complimentariness, the understanding that opposites interpenetrate each other and are only conceivable in contrast to one another; e.g., you can’t conceive of light without dark, or tall without short.  There is little doubt that a deep appreciation for the complimentary nature of reality is a powerful tool to keep us honest and on track in perceiving and aligning our life with reality.  Still, there are clues within each opposite to their relationship to the Whole, the Tao.  Its conceivable to me that people could live in perfect harmony, without contradiction, with an attitude of gratitude. It is inconceivable to me that people can live as greedy takers without contradictory and irreconcilable selves.  In the mysterious light of the Whole, gratitude is more consonant with reality.  Further, taking, claiming something as one’s own private possession, without any claim upon it from elsewhere is simply self-assertion.

There seems to be a consensus among philosophers and theologians of all stripes and perspectives that human beings cannot be the ground of their own being.  On one end of the spectrum this was most famously articulated by John Paul Sartre in his book, nay tome, Being and Nothingness, which built the intellectual foundation of modern existentialism.  On the other end of the spectrum, most human beings throughout human history have claimed life to be a gift from God (or gods).  Sartre and some others are content to contend that human freedom is condemned to naked self-assertions, however well-clothed in rationalizations.  God-seeking humans have sought a source of life, a ground for their being, a giver who is also a subject, not a happenstance collection of stardust within a serendipitously profoundly ordered universe.  The harshest and most minimalist existentialists settle for an existence where subjects cannot truly meet, or, if taken most strictly, cannot even be confident that other subjects even exist.  Such a bizarre assertion is welcomed by God skeptics who cannot fathom a Subject, but the corollary laughable denial of other human subjects’ existence is kept conveniently and shamefully out of public consciousness.  Taoists and many philosophers of consciousness posit something akin to a Consciousness that all consciousnesses partake in, a whole in which each part is inescapably in relationship with, even if well-clothed in ignorance and plausible deniability.  Christians speak of being made in the image of God.  Taoists, perhaps the least literal in their claims, allude to a dynamic Whole that informs our being of the Way.

A beloved metaphor often employed by Taoists is water, with all of its life-giving and unusual properties yet part of daily, seemingly-mundane experience.  The one who lives fluidly like water moves easily around that which is hardened.  Yet water, given time (an equally mysterious aspect of life), wears down mountains [see patience as the mother of all virtues!].  This poem gives a tip of the hat to this water metaphor with the lines: A thirst only quenched/By water on the rocks.  Thirst cannot even be conceived without quenching — unless perhaps you have the brutally masochistic tendencies of an orthodox atheist existentialist who braves permanent and absolute alienation (from even one’s self).  The line, Siren from beyond hear, intimates the dangerous half of thirst.  The water on the rocks alludes to the sober attention needed to recognize that water and ice (on the rocks) are fundamentally the same stuff, just in a different form.  Having strung out/Countless improbable moments/A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation.  When faced with conundrums and uncertainties, there is a common tendency to hear beguiling Sirens and throw ourselves against the rocks.  Sober minds recognize this as A mist/An impossible life/Beyond contemplation/Not getting bent/On 100% proof.  In embodying an attitude of gratitude and selflessness connected to the One, one can quiet the mine/A sentience unabridged/Having awe ready arrived/A slow motion ninja/Only to be/In what will be/Carried away
In eternity.  May it be so.

 

POEM: Cautionary Tail

Shadow pays homage to light
In a place beyond compare
And as a cautionary tail
May you not be doggedly wagged

This short poem is a tip of the hat to the Taoist idea of complimentariness or yin-yang, such as light/dark, good/evil.  That light can only be understood in relation or contrast to dark is a deeply embedded reality in human experience.  While the Tao, or the Way, is beyond compare, good and evil often show themselves in stark contrast.  In relation to human development and enlightenment, our dark side, our shadow, can provide powerful insights and cautionary tales as landmarks to help us to move along to a better place.  Of course, a fixation on or brooding over our dark side can imbalance the good it serves to enlighten and demarcate through contrast.  While good and evil have a complimentary aspect, good and evil are not equivalent.  If our perceptions, attention and will are not seeking the good, then the tale of woe and darkness may wag the dog.  Seek ye first the good and all else will follow — even that wagging evil so doggedly attached to all of human endeavors.

POEM: A Full Life

Charlie’s life was full
Every available space laden to wrest
His productivity well suited
To his interests
Taxidermy and robotics

This short poem offers a challenge to what it means to have a full life in modern Western civilization, where increasing speed and productivity are worshiped as the means to a good life.  I am a big fan of rest and empty spaces as an essential way to fully round out one’s life.  Our culture’s addiction to productivity, fitting in (“well suited”), and a focus on narrow interests has most of us bamboozled.  In this poem, the inane and the productive meet in the metaphor of taxidermy and robotics, representing the deadening and dehumanizing effects of an overfull life.  This metaphor also juxtaposes vocation and avocation, where it is unclear what is a job and what is a hobby.  While this may be confusing, it hints at the underlying connection that a capitalistic culture makes.  Capitalism works best when we devote ourselves to both work/productivity AND inane consumerism.  Capitalism wants to own both vocation and avocation.  Of course, an endless array of inane avocations are offered, as long as they support the consumption of some product or service, hopefully in the service of distracting you from the emptiness of your “full” life and the avaricious nature of endless “growth.”

Emptiness can be revolutionary.  This is why capitalism works best when it crams every available space with inane crap.  Capitalism’s very life depends on it.  Surely, capitalism must provide abundant avenues to distract us from our emptiness.  However, emptiness is not empty!  If we sit with our emptiness, in the sense of lack of fulfillment, this will foment unrest poorly suited for capitalism.  Even further, in experiencing empty spaces and silence, we expand our perspective, the framework upon which we see things, allowing us to truly grow.  Buddhists and Taoists are particularly adept at exploring such realities.  Deists might frame this as silence being the language of God, that small, still voice.

After experiencing a period of relaxation, have you ever then experienced increased anxiety or dread when “going back to work” appears on the horizon?  In a life abundant in balance and wisdom, while work requires effort, it does not require dread.  Dread is a sign of imbalance.  Chronic dread signifies a shortage of wisdom.  Dread speaks to us.  One of the central concepts (the first of the Four Noble Truths) of Buddhism is often stated in English as “Life is suffering.”  I have heard this elaborated upon as realizing that life requires effort (work).  Work is not the enemy.  Work is an integral part of life — as is rest .  The issue becomes how to achieve balance and minimize suffering.  I like the image of breathing in and out as a metaphor for balance.  Questioning whether breathing in or out is better misses the point — as is often the case in Western convergent thinking.  If you do ask which is better, the only sensible response is “what did you do last?”  If work causes anxiety, then rest.  If rest causes anxiety, then work.  If everything causes you anxiety, then look to emptiness.  Of course, emptiness often looks like rest, but there is good work to be done there…

POEM: My Brand of Value

My brand value
Has plummeted recently
So says sum consultant
As some seer into my pristine hide
Speaking a bout
Clashing symbols
In the mark it place
Some limbic game how logo
Soliciting every thing
That can be taut
As I must be
Scarred for good
Pimping my horrors
To a void
Tear attacks
Or fiscal fits
In a world lackeying so much
I’ll pass
Perhaps in tact
Or knot out live
Still
Forever chaste
Know thanks
I do believe
I’ll steer clear
Of dis figure or dat figure
And risk being
De-filed

In order to sell ourselves for a high price, we need to pay homage to our brand.  We often need to distort and simplify our deepest passions and interests so others can easily recognize our “value,” that is as such value may be determined at any given time and culture.  In the marketplace of our modern world, this typically means configuring our lives to maximally monetize ourselves.  Reducing our lives to money is a dangerous undertaking for our humanity.  This poem takes issue with the assumption that we should spend much of our life trying to sell ourselves.  What exactly would be a good balance?  Perhaps 15% slave, 15% whore, and 70% free range human would be a good compromise.  After meeting our basic physical needs, it strikes me that we should be devoting ourselves to the things that money can’t buy.  Even meeting our basic human needs can be much more human than often offered by modern, so-called civilization.  In fact, if we can trade, have mutual aid associations, grow some of our own food, build or repair our own stuff, we can loosen the grip that the moneychangers have over life, trading currency for the gloriously ineffable now.  Humans are not machines to be ever more standardized, even in the most complex and beauteous contraptions.  Rather than leveraging the seductive, money-making enterprise of simplifying and reducing humans to means to some financialized end, we should develop human relationships that harness the curiosity and appreciation of the unfathomably deep eccentricity and beauty of every human being.  Then, we can move from boredom and cynicism to enthusiasm and bounteous hopes.  This glorious movement from the bowels of an uncaring machine to a feral existence may be messy, even pricey.  Nonetheless, the value of living undomesticated lives is boundless, offering more than any mechanized existence, no matter how tamed, how well-trained, or how profitable.  Branding is not for the benefit of cattle or humans, and it is painful and scarring to boot!  Branding is for the ease of those who want to own and trade you and every commodifiable aspect of your existence, rather than taking the glorious time and robust effort to see you fully for who you truly are, worthy of avoiding all mean ends, and courageous enough to face being de-filed.

POEM: An Oasis Scarcely Better, Then a Mirage

From oasis to oasis
Straw men
Hiring suckers
Living under
Dissembled bridges
Until it’s over
Troubled waters
What’s the hold-up
Living for weak ends
And long vocations
Until
Down
Under
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
One foot in front of the other
A hexing feat
A plod
Bought and paid for
Buy decisions made years a go
Putting off family
For eternal wrest
Friends only gathering in your wake
A bout time
Spent
Pourly
Until
Can’t take it
With them
Passing on
An assuming manor
And a partiality
For a stylized life
And conspicuous consumption
Wear cleanliness is next to gaudiness
Awe made passable
By a peacocky overcompensation
Surpassing one’s station
In life
A haven untaxed
In death
A surety
As won might
Have guest it
A regretful time share
As when the first homme isn’t enough
Always returning
Too more earnest dwellings
Harping on
The good old daze
Not even
For a second
Helping
But for the hole shebang
In unremitting a morality
A temporary re-treat
From the fire down below
Feeling the heat
Strokes of genius
Clever ruses billed
On foundations of sand
Offering slim hope
For the porous
As liquid assets evaporating
In a desert temp
An oasis scarcely better
Then a mirage
For those sitting on the parch
A weigh station
To check their baggage
Perhaps pick up some more
Souvenirs
For the trip
Over their own feat
Plunging an unquenchable thirst
Skewering with spit
Sweating bullets
In humid climbs
Yet like fish out of water
No matter how hard
They dry
Flailing to inspire
In any such reckoning
And knot on your life
Will they settle
For sum thing less
And weather they come
Ergo
For the wrest of US
Their goes
The neighborhood

This poem is an ode to so-called living from oasis to oasis rather than living sustainably in one oasis.  I find that the so-called “carrot” of getting to the next oasis is actually more of a “stick” to nature and our humanity.  Americans have suffered from a frontier mentality for centuries, ratcheting up suffering in increasingly exponential ways.  Instead of doing the work of learning about and living within natural limits, humans race toward extinction, with a lengthy prologue and rate of over a hundred species a day.  Living in harmony, sustainably within our natural environment, may very well be the most important lesson humans need to learn within the next few generations.  There is little reason why we shouldn’t be able to learn this lesson, but whether we will avail ourselves of the benefits of learning this lesson is unclear.  There is a classic, somewhat cynical exposition from the character Agent Smith in the movie, The Matrix, which gives one perspective on the human race and human nature:

“I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet.”

I find this description accurate.  However, this history leaves unanswered how we will respond in the future.  The relevant conundrum that I see in human nature is that the unprecedented capability humans have in making choices undetermined by nature is a serious double-edged sword.  This very capability to stretch nature, even human nature, can lead to large, unsustainable ventures which bound over natural limits in which other living entities would be much more “naturally” restrained or contained.  Perhaps paradoxically, this very same capability leaves open the potential to adapt quickly and recover a sustainable balance.  I find hope in our ability to adapt.  Still, humans have a long history of only doing the right thing after exhausting most every other possibility.  The stakes are high, and realizing the high stakes may be the necessary impetus for humans to make necessary adjustments.  Hopefully, we can restore a level of sanity and balance in time to avoid a catastrophic collapse of civilization and/or the environment.  Either way, living in harmony with nature is a better choice.  We can vote with our lives and lifestyles.  May we embrace our evolution, even revolution, to avoid devolution or extinction.

POEM: Changing Kings

When I was a child
I crapped in my pants
Today I am a king in the world
Now I make others crap in their pants
This is the indigestible truth
Of too much power
That cannot be changed
Even by changing kings

Few people disagree that absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Still, most people will gladly accept a little corruption, if it is backed by a little power swinging their way.  Of course, corruption seems much worse if we are on the short end of it!  Power is not distributed equally among humans, and those privileged to possess it, routinely wield it for their own advantage.  Whether through unconscious bias and egocentricity or just plain selfishness, imbalances of power in human relationships leads to corruption.  Even with good intentions, those with greater power end up molding the world into their image, at the expense of the reality of other people’s lives which are disproportionately discounted.  Who of us would not want the magic wand of power to mold the world to fit our ways?

Relinquishing power is not common, and might even be considered foolish by conventional wisdom.  The point is not to relinquish any and all power.  The point is not to have substantially more power than others.  This is rooted in recognizing that power differentials lead to human corruption; or, perhaps better put, lead to a corruption of human community.  In fact, relinquishing power in order to help establish a more healthy balance of power in human relationships is a form of exercising power.  This form of exercising power witnesses to an understanding of a higher power present in reality, that more egalitarian balances or power produces better humans and human community.  The sad truth is that most people have more faith in fascism or other forms of concentrated power than they do in egalitarian human relationships.  This is almost universally true when those with lots of power are aligned with our own particular interests. Even better yet if I am the benevolent dictator!

Large power imbalances typically result from and are maintained by violence.  A relative surplus of power quite predictably leads to a lazy humanity perpetuated by force, routinely re-“making” humanity in the mold of those wielding the power.  The purview of power is expediency, playing into our bias for our own ease rather than than often difficult work of building healthy human community.  The natural ascendency of the masses rooted in their common and democratic (in the sense of majoritarian) everyday reality can only be put down by large power differentials driven by elites.  Historically, there have been numerous rationalizations by elites to justify their minority rule over the masses.  None of these rationalizations can stand as they are founded on the bankruptcy of violence.  Violence is not persuasion; it is overwhelming force.  Violence is what people rely on when reasonable persuasion fails.  Of course, violence is persuasive in the sense that any human act carries with it the power of modeling how humans should act.  However, violence does not lend itself to reasonable human relationships.  Violence is the lowest form of community.  It should be no surprise that violence leads to more violence.  I actually like surprises!  If we meet violence with non-violence, there can be some really cool surprises made possible.  If we want something more than violence, the inevitable outcome of large power differentials, then we need to do something else.  We can do better.

 

POEM: A Befitting Size, That Matters

Starring on the big screen
Used to dominate young dreams
Super-sizing them for mass consumption
Today, celluloid immortality miniaturizes
So five minutes ago
Small screens test us
As we flail miserably
In a feudal limbo
‘Tween
Puffed up images
Flickering about
And atrophied soles
Going nowhere fast
No longer facing
A true converse
Of penetrating I’s
Present minds
And supple lips
Flush of heart
Given to a musing gesture
Deflating kings
And giving commoners rise
Surpassing hands shaking
And awe that follows
Neither settling
For collapsing our highest hopes
Nor minute fits
As souls meet the street
And welcoming nature
Banishing the might he
Of lesser woulds
And inspiring fresh heirs
To real feat
Baring our soles
Grounded in realty for all
A shared fete
A fare commune
Wear each mourning
Met lightly
With a celebration of the hearts
No longer idle worship of images
Every won an original
Not merely deference
Bland tolerance
Or thumbs down devolution
But powered by appreciation
You can bank on
A currency turning led into goaled
A redeeming alchemy
The most handsome ransom
For our ugly whirled
A watery swell so grave
Or a cowering inferno
Mything the point
With such hocus pocus
And uncounted allusions
To awe that would suitor
A befitting size
That matters
And keeping it
Reel
Never having too obsess
What’s the catch

This poem is a call to more real and human-scale relationships.  Social media technology, celebrity, and widespread shallow images of ourselves projected to others is robbing us of better ways of being.  We can easily be overwhelmed by images of celebrity, status, and wealth, tempting vainglorious dreams.  We can easily feel inadequate and too small by a juggernaut of Photoshopped images and word processed personalities.  Humans are best suited to face-to-face relationships.  As such real-time, real-world relationships are edged out by other more nominal relationships our humanity and satisfaction suffers.  Nobody wants to be multi-tasked, no matter the purported claims of efficiency.  Long-term, face-to-face, human relationships better reflect the awesome depth, complexity, and eccentricity of humans.  It is by far the best place for healthy intimate relationships to thrive.  Such relationships also keep us humble, rooted in reality.  I see humility as being right-sized, not too big or too small.  Perhaps the greatest threat to humility is technology and institutions which depersonalize human interactions.  Powering up through technology and institutions is a powerful temptation to become too big, overpowering human scales with impersonal agency and concentration of power among elites.  This is dehumanizing.  This creates persistent structural temptations to value things and concepts/ideologies over actual people.  The seductive drive of scaling up power disconnects us from our own humanity and the humanity of others.  I suspect that Western civilization is far-flung from any balance between being rooted in healthy, human-scaled relationships and powering up to “get things done.”  Further, I suspect that there may be a nearly proportional relationship between getting things done and getting humans done.  May we keep things real and not finish off humans.  I kind of like them!