Self-Made Trump Has A Fool For A Maker

In Trumpian fashion, fool of irony, I quote myself: “A self-made man has a fool for a maker.”  The man-child known as Donald Trump runs roughshod over the boundaries of lesser fools.  He fashions his fashion as the boss of a collapsing world, his world, his collapsing world.  If Trump where to know God, he would know himself — he knows neither.  His self-masturbatory god head is a lonely impossibility, even in his hugely culpable hands and with such a big mouth — something is missing, however compelled he is to grab it.  The loneliness of this pitiful and pitiless man is captured well in the essay by Rebecca Solnit, THE LONELINESS OF DONALD TRUMP: ON THE CORROSIVE PRIVILEGE OF THE MOST MOCKED MAN IN THE WORLD, with excerpts below:

Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting, and wanted more, and got it, and more after that, and always more. He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires. He got a boost at the beginning from the wealth handed him and then moved among grifters and mobsters who cut him slack as long as he was useful, or maybe there’s slack in arenas where people live by personal loyalty until they betray, and not by rules, and certainly not by the law or the book. So for seven decades, he fed his appetites and exercised his license to lie, cheat, steal, and stiff working people of their wages, made messes, left them behind, grabbed more baubles, and left them in ruin.

He was supposed to be a great maker of things, but he was mostly a breaker. He acquired buildings and women and enterprises and treated them all alike, promoting and deserting them, running into bankruptcies and divorces, treading on lawsuits the way a lumberjack of old walked across the logs floating on their way to the mill, but as long as he moved in his underworld of dealmakers the rules were wobbly and the enforcement was wobblier and he could stay afloat. But his appetite was endless, and he wanted more, and he gambled to become the most powerful man in the world, and won, careless of what he wished for…

…The child who became the most powerful man in the world, or at least occupied the real estate occupied by a series of those men, had run a family business and then starred in an unreality show based on the fiction that he was a stately emperor of enterprise, rather than a buffoon barging along anyhow, and each was a hall of mirrors made to flatter his sense of self, the self that was his one edifice he kept raising higher and higher and never abandoned.

I have often run across men (and rarely, but not never, women) who have become so powerful in their lives that there is no one to tell them when they are cruel, wrong, foolish, absurd, repugnant. In the end there is no one else in their world, because when you are not willing to hear how others feel, what others need, when you do not care, you are not willing to acknowledge others’ existence. That’s how it’s lonely at the top. It is as if these petty tyrants live in a world without honest mirrors, without others, without gravity, and they are buffered from the consequences of their failures…

We keep each other honest, we keep each other good with our feedback, our intolerance of meanness and falsehood, our demands that the people we are with listen, respect, respond—if we are allowed to, if we are free and valued ourselves. There is a democracy of social discourse, in which we are reminded that as we are beset with desires and fears and feelings, so are others; there was an old woman in Occupy Wall Street I always go back to who said, “We’re fighting for a society in which everyone is important.” That’s what a democracy of mind and heart, as well as economy and polity, would look like…

…Some use their power to silence that and live in the void of their own increasingly deteriorating, off-course sense of self and meaning. It’s like going mad on a desert island, only with sycophants and room service. It’s like having a compliant compass that agrees north is whatever you want it to be. The tyrant of a family, the tyrant of a little business or a huge enterprise, the tyrant of a nation. Power corrupts, and absolute power often corrupts the awareness of those who possess it. Or reduces it: narcissists, sociopaths, and egomaniacs are people for whom others don’t exist.

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.

Equality keeps us honest. Our peers tell us who we are and how we are doing, providing that service in personal life that a free press does in a functioning society. Inequality creates liars and delusion. The powerless need to dissemble—that’s how slaves, servants, and women got the reputation of being liars—and the powerful grow stupid on the lies they require from their subordinates and on the lack of need to know about others who are nobody, who don’t count, who’ve been silenced or trained to please. This is why I always pair privilege with obliviousness; obliviousness is privilege’s form of deprivation. When you don’t hear others, you don’t imagine them, they become unreal, and you are left in the wasteland of a world with only yourself in it, and that surely makes you starving, though you know not for what, if you have ceased to imagine others exist in any true deep way that matters. This is about a need for which we hardly have language or at least not a familiar conversation.

A man who wished to become the most powerful man in the world, and by happenstance and intervention and a series of disasters was granted his wish. Surely he must have imagined that more power meant more flattery, a grander image, a greater hall of mirrors reflecting back his magnificence. But he misunderstood power and prominence. This man had bullied friends and acquaintances, wives and servants, and he bullied facts and truths, insistent that he was more than they were, than it is, that it too must yield to his will. It did not, but the people he bullied pretended that it did. Or perhaps it was that he was a salesman, throwing out one pitch after another, abandoning each one as soon as it left his mouth. A hungry ghost always wants the next thing, not the last thing.

This one imagined that the power would repose within him and make him great, a Midas touch that would turn all to gold. But the power of the presidency was what it had always been: a system of cooperative relationships, a power that rested on people’s willingness to carry out the orders the president gave, and a willingness that came from that president’s respect for rule of law, truth, and the people. A man who gives an order that is not followed has his powerlessness hung out like dirty laundry. One day earlier this year, one of this president’s minions announced that the president’s power would not be questioned. There are tyrants who might utter such a statement and strike fear into those beneath him, because they have installed enough fear.

A true tyrant does not depend on cooperative power but has a true power of command, enforced by thugs, goons, Stasi, the SS, or death squads. A true tyrant has subordinated the system of government and made it loyal to himself rather than to the system of laws or the ideals of the country. This would-be tyrant didn’t understand that he was in a system where many in government, perhaps most beyond the members of his party in the legislative branch, were loyal to law and principle and not to him. His minion announced the president would not be questioned, and we laughed. He called in, like courtiers, the heads of the FBI, of the NSA, and the director of national intelligence to tell them to suppress evidence, to stop investigations and found that their loyalty was not to him. He found out to his chagrin that we were still something of a democracy, and that the free press could not be so easily stopped, and the public itself refused to be cowed and mocks him earnestly at every turn.

A true tyrant sits beyond the sea in Pushkin’s country. He corrupts elections in his country, eliminates his enemies with bullets, poisons, with mysterious deaths made to look like accidents—he spread fear and bullied the truth successfully, strategically. Though he too had overreached with his intrusions into the American election, and what he had hoped would be invisible caused the whole world to scrutinize him and his actions and history and impact with concern and even fury. Russia may have ruined whatever standing and trust it has, may have exposed itself, with this intervention in the US and then European elections.

The American buffoon’s commands were disobeyed, his secrets leaked at such a rate his office resembled the fountains at Versailles or maybe just a sieve (this spring there was an extraordinary piece in the Washington Post with thirty anonymous sources), his agenda was undermined even by a minority party that was not supposed to have much in the way of power, the judiciary kept suspending his executive orders, and scandals erupted like boils and sores. Instead of the dictator of the little demimondes of beauty pageants, casinos, luxury condominiums, fake universities offering fake educations with real debt, fake reality tv in which he was master of the fake fate of others, an arbiter of all worth and meaning, he became fortune’s fool.

He is, as of this writing, the most mocked man in the world. After the women’s march on January 21st, people joked that he had been rejected by more women in one day than any man in history; he was mocked in newspapers, on television, in cartoons, was the butt of a million jokes, and his every tweet was instantly met with an onslaught of attacks and insults by ordinary citizens gleeful to be able to speak sharp truth to bloated power….

…The man in the white house sits, naked and obscene, a pustule of ego, in the harsh light, a man whose grasp exceeded his understanding, because his understanding was dulled by indulgence. He must know somewhere below the surface he skates on that he has destroyed his image, and like Dorian Gray before him, will be devoured by his own corrosion in due time too. One way or another this will kill him, though he may drag down millions with him. One way or another, he knows he has stepped off a cliff, pronounced himself king of the air, and is in freefall. Another dungheap awaits his landing; the dung is all his; when he plunges into it he will be, at last, a self-made man.

POEM: Hell In A Handbasket

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

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

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

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

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

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

POEM: Gift Hoarse

The dumb bell rang
As he looked
The present
Like a gift horse in the mouth
And in every witch way
Reckon as knot so fine
Looking forward and backward
Of what might be
Only seconds
As has been
A head and behind
And in know time
Looking down
The apple of his eye
Given in digestion
And looking up
The wrong end
As scene through faulty means
Only now
As passed tense
Or posterity perfected
As dumb founded

This poem is about living in the present, the eternal now.  Like they say: if you have one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you’ll crap on today.  In this poem, it happens by looking up the wrong end of a gift horse.  That was Zen - This is Tao - FUNNY SPIRITUAL BUTTONMany moral lessons are more easily grasped as cautionary tales, rather than straightforward instructions on wise weighs.  This paradox linking foolish and wise is elicited by the first and last lines of this poem, which, not surprisingly, employ puns to say two opposite meanings in a singular phrase.  The opening line, “The dumb bell rang,” signals both complete uselessness, a bell that cannot ring, and a call to silence, as a way to better experience the present.  The last line, “As dumb founded,” wraps up with the twin perplexity and wonder of realizing that silence can offer a quality of experience that will only be degraded by the static of past thoughts and/or the noise of unrealized futures.  May you find yourself, completely, in the present, that is your gift right now.

POEM: Keep Your Eye On The Ball

The red ball bounces
Like a metronome
But with less rhythm
Over every lyric uncomposed
Like a wrecking ball
But less harmonious
A juggernaut emblazoned
In fire engine red
But less melodious
Like a no alarm fire
But with less refrain
The only words aloud
Keep your eye on the ball
And you need not no
Its whirled of hurt
A bouncer of chorus
And ballads unkneaded

This poem employs the metaphor of the little bouncing ball over the lyrics in karaoke as a distraction from what is really important in life.  This poem sets up a double-take as it reverses the usual meaning and positive association with keeping your eye on the ball.  Karaoke is unoriginal mimicry at least.  At worst, karaoke is skin-crawling, nails-on-blackboard-scratching, cat-in-heat-howling torture.  The powers that be in life benefit from the distractions of “harmless” entertainment as opposed to mind-provoking and heart-expanding artistic endeavors which erode social control.  In modern Western civilization, the risk-averse obsession with safety and security routinely leads to a dull relationship with the precarious risks inherent in living fully.  At least karaoke offers an opportunity to put yourself out there and make a fool of yourself, a good skill to practice.  The whirled of hurt that characterizes a substantial portion of human existence is often enough to leave us overly defensive, even walled off, with untold, unwritten and unsung ballads.  Perhaps even worse yet, avoiding hurt, discomfort, and presumed foolishness, regularly provides ready-made rationalizations for even considering dreaming as dangerous, leading to trouble, and supplies built-in blinders to the fortuitous perks of risk-taking.  May you dare to write your own lyrics, sing out loud to your own tune, and discover deeper harmonies than simply pop culture.

POEM: Can She Be Eunuch?

She stated
No one else can do what I do
To witch
They rejoined
Realing in whore
Accept that you are a cog
You intractable wrench
Unfit for cloning round
And unstranded
She cut out
From the puppet tier
Knot to be
Am ployed
As if
She were eunuch

This poem is about breaking away from the artifice and inhumanity of the machine, aka, capitalism, which is designed to monetize you in any way possible.  When someone discovers the passion of their unique role and contribution to the world, the machine pushes back as it has difficulty incorporating one’s soul eccentricities into it’s standardized system and dehumanized algorithms.  Generous portions of creativity easily overwhelm “the way we have always done things” as well as distant, disconnected orders from big bosses.  Creativity is so unnatural to the machine that it ultimately creates huge inefficiencies, even amidst its seeming devotion to efficiency.  The machine typically finds it much more expedient to grind cows to hamburger than even milk them for all that they are worth.  Workers’ humanity routinely suffers the analogous outcome.  Creativity that cannot be easily plugged into the machine is ignored, discounted, or actively stifled.  In this poem, the sheer stupidity and foolishness of a system that fails to adapt to the unfathomable creativity of the human spirit is represented by the rhetorical question that is the title: Can she be eunuch?  Beside the overlayed meaning of the pun eunuch/unique, the definitional absurdity of a female being a eunuch (a castrated male) illustrates how the machine fundamentally misunderstands and misuses the very people it is alleged to serve.  The machine is indiscriminate in its castration!  Of coarse, such crudeness does serve some people, just not workers within the system.  Even though a system well designed to incorporate human creativity and eccentricities could unleash incalculable efficiencies and productivity AND be well aligned with the desires and needs of each of those working within such a system, the capitalist system is not intended to produce the greatest good, particularly the common good, but instead is geared and cogged to produce material wealth for an elite few who pull the levers of so-called industry.  Private profit at the expense of human potential and the common good is the only real order of the day in capitalism.  The common good is reduced to foolhardiness as it is wide open to being robbed by the capitalistic princes of virtue, greed being the organizing principle of capitalism.  Human attributes not easily monetized atrophy in capitalism.  Turning humans into cogs for personal profit may very well be one of the better definitions of evil.  Robbing others of their God-given creativity and eccentric passions for a few bucks and a cynical acceptance of a diminished humanity is a pathetic way of honoring the countless gifts humanity brings to the world.  Courageous creativity, the bold commitment and determination to find a way to be who you were created to be, is the answer to the dehumanizing capitalistic machine.  Reveling in the infinitely greater portion of life that is not easily monetized assures a home and hearth for your own humanity and all those who take the time to be present to such gifts.  May you find your unique passions and the courage to boldly follow them in their many serendipitous consummations.

POEM: Nothing New Under The Sun

There is nothing new under the sun
Though in the shadows
The same old same old
Is more mournfully familiar
Settling for reality-lite
Too at home with night
Groping with eyes open
Instead of lightly touched
Even with eyes closed seeing
Age-old must
And vexing knot
A bout
Bitter medicine as won’s savor
Know silence
Too be heard
Where the sun don’t shine
As passing vapor
In stubborn renouncing
Not eye
And such fancy
Still too much
To be taken
In completely
The spell overcast
Eclipsing the census
Of awe that counts
More than won could
Ever bask for

This poem weaves the themes of our everyday blindness to deeper realities, the mystical third eye, and gratitude.  Things are not always as they appear.  Things are more than they appear.  Those who round reality down to mere appearance settle for a more finite and uninspiring perspective on reality.  If it isn’t obvious that life is blisteringly miraculous in the sunshine occupying roughly half of our earthly existence, then there is a deeper, ever-present way of seeing that enlightens awe of reality, more than one could ever bask for.  Sadly, many prefer to manage dwelling in the even more roughly half of our earthly existence, darkness, despite its propensity for inducing fear and despair.  This poem plays with these two interwoven aspects of reality, dark and light, mere appearance and meaning full experience.  These dual, and dueling, aspects of reality are not contradictory; rather, they are different levels of reality, one including yet transcending the other.  The prosaic and miraculous are only divorced if our perspective is committed to irreconcilable differences.  The oneness of reality eternally woos us if wowing us is too transparent for our mode of perception.  Nonetheless, the lure of the manageability of the world of mere appearances is powerful, to those limiting themselves to such parochial power.  Unfortunately, those limiting themselves to the scarcity and paucity of the world of mere appearances will feel compelled to compete, even brutally, for control over this lesser realm.  Security and freedom become mortal enemies and even the asleep don’t sleep well.  Those suffering such blindness and obsession insist upon their powerful incites.  The ensuing fetish with control and manipulation extract a brutal price from anyone actually exercising freedom.  More liberal-minded manipulators will insist that you have all kinds of rights but they will get nervous if you actually exercise them!

My experience informs me that peace and freedom can exist together if gratitude is the uniting reality. This gratitude-powered peace is both an internal peace and external peace.  Gratitude-powered people are the least dangerous people in the world; that is, except to those whose job is to convince others of their lack, especially if linked to selling you a product, service, or idea that will make them gain money or status.  If gratitude unites your world view, then you could say that gratitude is your religion, a religion of “Thank God for thanks!”  As you might guess, my worldview is profoundly influenced by grace, a recognition and respect for undeserved gain that overturns a barren capitalistic view that at best can offer a fair and equal exchange, where generosity is a foolish inefficiency and the bounty of life is jacked up to yield the highest price possibly bearable by humanity (or by “the market” if “humanity” doesn’t compute).  The bounty of life becomes fodder of our folly, as “Wanted — dead or alive,” runs roughshod over life itself.  I strongly suspect that the consuming disease of controlling others is a failure to answer the question of how much is enough.  At the heart of this disease is fear and inescapable greed.  I believe that a responsible freedom, a freedom that is informed by gratitude, can operate amidst fear and greed without distorting its own nature and consonance with life, that comes from who knows where, but, as a dyslexic and a mystic, I find naturally super!

POEM: The Death of Poetry

A critic posed
A question
Is poetry dead?
But for the piles of dead poets
Worth only one read assent
A qualm comes
Over me
As death summons
Unwanted clarity
Between write and throng
Stern and bow
A demanding curt see
In deifying gravity
Those eternal questions
Only to pass a weigh
Into yawning darkness
And for what must be left
To others
Making light
Of unfathomable depths
Know less than a resurrection
Uplifting that which cannot be lifted
To be more
Than a fly by knight
Scrounging heir to inspire
Till the finality of our daze
Whatever
You call the question
Too the cynic
The answer begged is “yes”
To the forged quest in
At best a loan victory
To the poet
There is know
Question
And undying rejoin

This poem was inspired by an article, from no less than the New York Times, entitled, “Is Poetry Dead?” that was sent to me by my Dad. Fortunately, the subtitle was “Not if 45 Official Laureates Are Any Indication.” Nonetheless, that even posing such a cynical question can inspire poetry is answer enough to such a foolish question.

When the eternal questions wrought from the foundations of reality can no longer summon the slightest awe from which any human dare speak, then poetry may be declared dead. The death certificate will be signed by absolute prose. Such last writes will have no need of a wake, and nothing human need be bared. THE END.

POEM: Never Wanton Too Leave

In the tree of life
I take my leave
Looking not
To politicians, generals, celebrities, or philanthropists
For salvation
Re-lying not
On triangulating hourly opinions
In gluttonous cynicism
That fuels no bodies everywhere
But their own
Leaning not
On skulking intelligence
And hulking legions
Bulwarking the eternal fewed
With the shock and awe of epic fauxs
Not giving my nod
To looking glass likenesses
Endorsing make up
For broken weighs of life
Nor counting on
Oversized purses
Itemizing riddled coffers
Curmudgeoning us to death
Only bequeathing
Close-fisted sermonettes
Instead
I look to
Neighbors
As well as I kin
And friends in deed
Awe ways in courage
So gorge us
Prone to gentleness
To won another
A parent
And a peer
In our wake
We gather intimately
Cultivating our bounty
Where everyone is a head
And strangers honor guessed
Only kneading dough
To break bread
Round the table
At know time
Turing on us a test
Knot on your life
Leaving no one behind
Never wanton too leave

This poem strikes again at my frequent theme of the inane versus the meaningful, pitting the superficial and dehumanizing forces of the powers that be against more intimate and personal ways of relating to one another.  The poem also intimates the bounty of healthy human community that wins hands down (and fists down) against lesser machinations of the political, military, famous, and monied.

I feel obliged to disclose the most obscure pun in this poem, lest it be gravely mistaken as a typo or such.  Turing on us a test is an alliterative pun for turning (e.g., turning the tables), but also a reference to the Turing test which is used to distinguish a human being from a machine (human intelligence versus artificial intelligence).

I find the notion that humans are just complicated dirt as both bizarre and dangerously foolish.  If humanity cannot distinguish between itself and inanimate matter, then we should hold very little expectations for humans and any higher potential.  The rationale that seems compelling to some, that we are merely some type of biological computer, leaves the human heart empty, sterile, out of reach, and puzzlingly irrelevant.  Anyone committed to reducing all human friendship, love, joy, hope, and faith to deterministic factors (mere machinations) is an amputator of humanity and a denier of the mystery of life.  My hope with this poem is to remind folks that living into the mysterious grace of life, particularly human life, when shared, not denied, leads to growth of said life.

The title of this poem, and its final line, Never wanton too leave,beckons the metaphor of the tree of life.  We are each a leaf on the tree of life, we cannot live alone yet we are an important part.  There is both a profound humility and sacred value in being human.  May we never be less than we were created to be, nor overblown, in finding our way in life.

POEM: The Meaning of Vex Lex

In a universe beyond apprehension
She caught herself
Vexing once again
Is there meaning?
Looking above
The stars just winked
Looking below
The grass said
“How can you stand it?”
Looking forward
Her next meal said
“Eat me.”
Looking back
She grasped so many broken peaces
Looking in
She divined an unfathomable whole
On her look out
Giving weigh
Too eternal vigilantes
Buy passing awe
The enduring
Rejoined her
Instead fast
As kin
Neighboring on
Know ledge
And good will
In solid-air-ity
Surfing
With lonely
A stout bored
For a pair a docks
To weigh anchor
In what was meant
For sailing
Weather a loan
Or going on and on
Con currently
Now and again
Making head weigh
When put to see
Awe to gather

This poem was inspired by a facebook post asking, “Is it the human curse to be constantly seeking meaning in life when there really isn’t any?”  This poem is for you, Polly, and all of angst-ridden humanity.  Of course, looking for ultimate meaning on facebook may be analogous to looking for love in all the wrong places.  Joking aside, I feel the existential pain of such questioning.  My conservative Christian college roommate warned that I shouldn’t take the philosophy course: Existentialism.  In a display of prudent Calvinistic theology, he said this is a place you shouldn’t go.  I was raised to question and explore.  One surefire way to raise my curiosity is to say you shouldn’t go there!  Banned books should probably well populate our reading list.  I never seriously questioned not taking the class.  Existentialism, nihilism, and the oft-elusive quest for meaning are frequent themes in my poetry and associated rants.  I would never say to not go there.  I would suggest that you not build a home there.  The profound freedom expounded upon by existential philosophers bids us travel widely and put scarce stock in a cozy number of questions or answers.

Rather than giving another pages-long rant on existentialism, or an extensive apologetic on meaning, I will let my poem due most of the work.  I will point out that I find some humor in this most serious of questions.  This poem launches with a series of anthropomorphisms, the stars, the grass, even your next meal, begging some equal standing with you to answer your question.  This is meant to be funny in multiple ways.  I find funniness a particularly good antidote to excessive seriousness.  However, for you philosophical types, projecting human qualities onto inanimate or “less animate” nature is often a first line of critique on the question of God.  I would agree that limiting your search for the supernatural in nature is setting the bar too low.  The mismatch in the adequacy of question to answer makes for a laughable pair of foolishnesses: looking to dirt to enlighten us and considering ourselves to be just dirt (albeit very complicated dirt).

Surely, we can fill a lifetime with learning about nature and its wonders, but we should look up the proverbial food chain rather than down it to find higher meaning.  Or, at a minimum, we should focus on the apparently most evolved life on earth, human beings.  If by happenstance humans are the most evolved conscious beings in our known universe, are we reduced to permutations of cannibalism, or is there some higher power to nourish us?  I find the metaphor of cannibalism as quite apt, since the first monarch of existentialist philosophers, John Paul Sartre, spoke forcefully and eloquently about two subjects never being able to connect, forever trapped in alternately being a subject and making the other an object, then being reduced to an object by the other.  Of course, any philosopher that claims that two subjects can never connect as subjects, besides permanently disabling human relationships, certainly precludes any human-God relationship (subject-Subject).   It is worth noting that later existentialist philosophers claimed that subjects can actually connect without reducing the other subject to a mere object.  Not to get caught in intractable discussions of God, it will suffice to say that I believe this, that subjects can connect with one another.  First, this recognizes that human relationships are the everyday stuff of subjective beings living out their nature.  This seems to imply that human community is foundational for human fulfillment.  More provocatively, this opens up the possibility, dare I say hope, that we can connect with some higher power (Subject) to facilitate our spiritual evolution and find greater meaning than that which can be deduced from mere facts/objects of the physical world/nature (or intuited from individual human subjects).

You may note that I consider subjects/subjectivity in the realm of the supernatural, transcending the natural (not negating it).  As confirmed by quantum physics, observers (subjects) influence and change the natural world without any evident contradictions in the deterministic aspects of the scientific world.  In short, at least some form of transcendence of the merely physical/deterministic world is allowed; in fact, necessary to account for quantum physical evidence.  Of course, this brings us full circle to where we began, leaving open the question of the nature of the indeterminate (e.g., free will) and determinate (e.g., physical) aspects of reality.  Basically, the accepted convention of modern science is that the indeterminate has no nature, which is represented by the concept of “randomness.”  Randomness is an indispensable component of the current understanding of Darwin’s evolution of species.  A relationship with nothing is necessary to stir up possibilities allowing for new configurations of life-forms [I don’t think that it was an accident that Sartre’s foundational work was titled, Being and Nothingness].  If evolution was fully determined then some form of God as a first cause with a specific nature would be necessary, and there could only be one outcome, the present reality.  I think this sort of view is rightly rejected as a poor representation of life as experienced and as any notion of God.  However comfortable you feel with the notion of randomness, evolution, as presently expounded, does a masterful job of explaining the origin of species.  However, evolution is silent, even impotent (which is key in any theory so thoroughly wrapped up in reproduction), in accounting for the origin of life itself.  This concept of randomness strikes me at least as problematic as assuming that there is any nature within the realm of indeterminacy.  While the concept of something coming from nothing has often been used to mock those of a spiritual inclination, this is an essential conundrum of modern physics, both in quantum indeterminacy and in a unifying theory for quantum physics, Newtonian physics, and the theory of general relativity which applies to astronomical scales.  The assumption that all truth lies within reductionistic science has been disproved by Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, which is a mathematical proof that there are always predicates (true statements or facts) that lie outside any possible mathematical or rational system.  Those positing some form of metaphysics (spirituality) simply claim that there is some nature outside of facts and truths that can be ascertained by reductionistic science and assembled into any rational system.  Further, many claim that we can ascertain truths about the nature of reality through subjective experience, not fully verifiable by science.  This connection to other subjective/indeterminate realities can bring about a fuller understanding of reality.  In such ethereal undertakings, I seek in solidarity with others to incarnate such realities in our lives, thus making our lives fuller, more congruent with reality.

I posit that life itself encompasses the subjective, and that there is a nature to nature, a nature that transcends and lovingly gives birth to countless wonders.  Transcendent.  Loving.  Giving birth.  Wonder full.  This is the God I seek.  We need not leap from essential uncertainty to an abyss of meaninglessness.  We need not build arbitrary prisons to some cruel god of logic, while others walk and explore a world brimming with life and meaning.  Nor do we shrink from visiting those in the darkest of places, for even God overflows there.  I seek to worship a God that cannot fit in any box anyone can construct.  I leave such gods to the dustbin. The present is evident, even if the future is not.  Life is a gift.  Pass it on.  This is the nature of life.

For those of you who waded through my rantings, or those who were wise enough to read the last paragraph first, you are now titled to learn the meaning of vex lex.  Vex lex is a takeoff on rex lex, which means “Law is king.”  Vex, of course, means to distress or bother.  Thus, vex lex means to be distressed or bothered by the prospect of law ruling our lives as our ultimate authority.  Most of us recognize that legalism often strangles life.  The law can be government or any system of thought (ideology).  We are born to be free.  Our room to grow is unending…which can be vexing.  Game on!

 

 

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: Unemployed Stat

Unemployment hit a 5-year low
Still, Bob remains 100% unemployed

This short poem highlights the difference between statistics and people.  Statistics can estimate probabilities with some accuracy of how a large group of people may act, or be affected by something.  Statistics cannot reliably predict stuff on an individual level.  The farther we get away from individuals, the greater “power” statistics wields.  Of course, we could compile all the statistics in the world and estimate what the average or typical human would be like, yet never actually know anything meaningful about any individual human.  That typical human being would be a 27-year-old, Mandarin-speaking, Christian, female agricultural worker.  Those researchers might well learn more about humanity by going to lunch with their other researchers.  To take a simpler example, suppose researchers measured the foot size of every person in the United States and calculated the average value.  If leaders used this information to provide everyone with a pair of average-sized shoes, there would be a lot of shoes thrown at such foolish leaders.  Except for the exceptional genius of baggy pants, one-size-fits-all often doesn’t work well. In many cases, the truth is closer to one-size-fits-none.  The point is that the farther we get away from knowing individual human beings the less we know about humanity.

Statistics is impersonal.  Statistics knows nothing of intimacy.  Statistics treats human beings as deterministic objects.  Only by studying huge numbers of people can statistics succeed at sufficiently washing out individual differences.  Granted, most human systems are very complex and many of these differences are, in fact, “material” or deterministic differences.  Nonetheless, the grandest fallacy or illusion brought by the power of statistics is that human free will is insignificant and can be ignored or rounded down to zero.  The greatest fact that can only be ignored only at the peril of losing our humanity is that human freedom is the very reality that most defines humans.

Bob is not a statistic.  Bob is not simply something to be tallied up, or experimented on for other people’s edification.  For those who actually care about Bob, statistics provide little human warmth and limited meaning.  Without human caring, which is ultimately rooted in intimate human relationships, statistics serve to dehumanize us.  The issue is not whether to abandon statistics as a human tool to help understand the physical world around us.  The issue is whether our humanity will wield tools for our betterment, or such tools will wither our humanity.

People who seek great power need to scale up their individual power through tools.  If the scale of power sought exceeds one’s ability to exercise their humanity, by growing their own humanity and the humanity of others, then tools become weapons against humanity.  The exercise, and even threat, of such power exceeding a human scale can tempt others to react in an equally inhumane way.  This “self” defense is often justified as an equal and opposite reaction.  However, unless inhumane treatment is met with humane treatment, then the interaction is nothing more than physics — every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction.  If humanity doesn’t respond to inhumanity out its own higher nature, humanity, then it is reduced to inhumanity.  Part of human existence is physics.  However, if we don’t recognize and live into our higher nature, in the realm of metaphysics, then humans will closely resemble billiard balls, albeit very complex billiard balls.  The ability to react in a humane way to any situation is, in fact, what human response-ability is!  Newton’s third law of motion, that every reaction has an equal and opposite reaction, is not adequate to explain human behavior.  Though, ironically, the less free we become, the closer this seems true.  I don’t know about you, but for me, as a free range human being, that’s not the way I roll!

Sadly, the temptations of great power, whether to secure great power for oneself or to react in “self” defense against such dehumanizing power, seem to be an everyday reality for most humans.  Modern-day success often seems to rest on either wielding dehumanizing power over others, or, at best, reaching a form of detente, where we react in equal and opposite ways, hoping not to reduce humanity any further, but not willing to risk our humanity to up the game.  Unfortunately, any slightest miscalculation will degrade humanity.  And the calculating humans required for even the best detente have already sacrificed their humanity to play a game of billiards.  In fact, without higher aspirations, people become tools — or at least begin to appear as tools.  Yet, people are not tools.  Hope springs eternal.

Reintroducing human scales, necessarily smaller and decentralized, resting on a rich and robust foundation of human intimacy, is the greatest challenge humans face in responding to globalization and cancerous capitalistic and consumer culture.  We need to get over the notion that modern civilization’s institutions are too big to fail.  We need to get over the notion that wee, the people, are too small to make a difference.  The truth is the opposite.  Western civilization is deeply dependent on dehumanization and continues to race unabated past natural limits, most notably by destroying the very environment we depend upon.  Humans depending on dehumanization and doggedly insisting that we “shit where we eat,” is unsustainable.  Either humans transcend such dehumanizing dependencies or we will descend into fascism.  Either humans learn to live in harmony with nature or nature will “select” us, or at least our cancerous globalized civilization, out of existence in some Darwinian extinction.  Nature may be kind enough to simply scale us down a bit, doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves, in a Newtonian third law of motion tour de force.  We can do better.  Not through hubris and ever more precise power grabs.  I suspect the seed of a successful human future will be rooted in personally nurturing Bob and singing songs of humanity rather than bowing to the steady hum of a wickedly efficient bureau of labor statistics.

POEM: Less Taken Now

It was an eve to remember
The surf was swell
Giving rise to him
Way above his peers
He cried out mightily
“I’m on top of the world!”
Just moments later
Crashing onto the rocks
Baring him
No ill will
Nor give
A lessen too great for won
What remains
Borne by less fêted peers
Less taken now
By swell futures
Rocking on
Before the rising dawn

By accident or design, by great will or serendipity, we may find ourselves in epic places. This poem addresses issues of humility, grandiosity, and risk. A desire to be above our peers carries inherent risk. In both humans and the material world at large, there are natural limits. The organic nature of life does not easily support parasitical relationships. Even a parasite must take some care not to kill its host. I view humility as being right-sized, neither being too big, puffed up, nor being too small, shrinking to life’s demands. This poem addresses the puffed up half of the humility equation. Nature is not mean. Nonetheless, nature has laws. When nature’s laws are broken, such a lawlessness creates chaos rather than harmony. There is risk inherent in chaos. In pushing natural limits, we can reasonably expect push-back. Some might call this karma. Sometimes it is simply gravity.

To some degree, we must all deal with some form of chaos, if simply the unknown, or even unknowable. Life requires some space for give and take to thrive. Nonetheless, even gifted surfers of chaos would be better served by respecting grander surges. Living life in harmony requires a balance and a deep respect of the danger of extremes. A harmonious life, in contrast to a parasitical life, often demands from us to be “less taken.” This phrases double meaning encompasses both the material world where hoarding of nature’s bounty, or its destruction creates imbalance, and the transcendent world where our undue attachment to material wealth and power originates such imbalance.

Humans seem to have quite peculiar, even unique, role in nature. If we learn and respect natural laws, we can navigate the world in a nearly infinite number of ways, symbiotically glorifying both nature and the highest human potentials. If we live in ignorance and conflict with natural laws, in essence being parasites, nature may very well take us down, crashing us on the rocks from our foolish heights. There is great wisdom in understanding the simple and profound gravity of such situations. There is plenty of room for harmony. Nature is not miserly. Our own greed and blind grandiosity is the greatest threat to humanity. As Gandhi so wisely summed up, “There is enough for everyone’s need. There is not enough for everyone’s greed.” This is the most basic natural limit that humans face. It deserves the highest respect.

POEM: Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Eat Your Heart Out, Skepticism

Jaden’s skepticism
Was like a cannibalism
That learned to crave
The taste
Of it’s own flesh and blood
And could settle for nothing
Less
Then a connoisseur
Of embalming
Empty vein hopes
Of immortality
In some unremitting pâté
With every golden goose cooked
In a dish best served cold
A first course
Able to stave off
Most kind of appetites
With well-bread relish
Where one helping
Is too much
For the rank and file
Of such a prison
Making ciao of anyone’s best guest
Too have your cake
And not eat it
For what may be
Inside
And passably left

I am very skeptical of skepticism.  Skepticism is most warranted when exploring empirical truths, those facts of the physical world, the realm of reductionistic science.  Skepticism has diminishing returns, and can even become cannibalistic, when applied overzealously to metaphysical or subjective truths.  While skepticism has its place, it can blind ourselves to subtler, higher truths, those of our subjective realm.  Many of such truths in life can only be taken in with a measure of grace.  Those refusing to risk being taken in are at risk for missing out of some of the best things in life.  Hope, love, and faith will wither in the face of unrelenting skepticism.  If your quest is for passable reasons to bypass hope, love, and faith you will almost certainly be rewarded with their loss.  Reducing them to mundane forms of psychological or sociological constructs will strip them of their transcending power.

Unrelenting skepticism is perhaps most dangerous at home, in one’s inner life.  Our own experience is the direct access we have to the world of subjectivity, a world mold-able to our free will.  This direct personal evidence cannot be shared in a verifiable or provable manner with others, as the methods of reductionistic science follow.  This does not mean that such realities experienced do not exist, or that subjectivity does not exist.  It simply means that they fall outside the methods of reductionistic science to examine.  Nonetheless, our experience, or consciousness, is at the center of our lives, not just some afterthought.  Plus, it can offer insights into others, as experiencers of their own human subjectivity.  Knowing thyself is the foundation for knowing others, the most important aspect of navigating the human world.  Metaphysics deserves our attention.

Some committed cynics consider free will an epiphenomenon, a mere shadow, illusion, or ghost, in a deterministic world.  Such determination is unwarranted, and cripples our abilities to perceive the world.  Of course, most people, and most philosophers, recognize that metaphysical realities exist.  To move from perceiving physical realities to perceiving metaphysical realities, one needs to move increasingly from skepticism (doubt) to openness (faith).  Such a move is not blind; it is based on experience.  Still, it requires a growing acceptance of uncertainty.  This veil of uncertainty is somewhat analogous to the veil of uncertainty in reductionistic science.  As our observations and experience grow, the veil moves.  The key difference is that science moves to include knowledge that we can know with scientific certainty, whereas metaphysical knowledge always includes a much greater degree of uncertainty, and the metaphysical veil can never be fully lifted, since it represents an intrinsic limit to human knowledge.  The metaphysical veil has a mysterious nature that becomes self-fulfilling in our approach to it.  If we approach the veil with too much skepticism, our knowledge of higher truths will be stunted and the resulting ignorance will appear as justification for a too constricted veil.  If we venture down the rabbit hole of such things as hope, love, and faith, we learn much more of such higher truths, and the territory once bounded by the veil will recede, even revealing vast expanses previously unimagined.

Fortunately, the payoffs of metaphysical knowledge are well worth the uncertainty and risk. As Saint Thomas Aquinas famously pointed out: “The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.”  Exploring our own hearts, and risking relationships with others’ hearts requires courage, one of the highest things.  Clinging only to dead stuff, inanimate matter, because it is the most certain is the height of human foolishness.  Here the truth lies, in this grave of lifelessness.  Wisdom resides elsewhere.  Find it and you will find yourself, and a whole world as well.

POEM: The Game of Life

One day
I realized
The game of life
And going back
In the box
Only to find
The rules had been lost
Long a go
And still
The game goes on

This short poem plays with the notion that life is a game.  Of course, there are many different types of games, each with their own set of rules.  Even if there is one monolithic set of rules that defines reality, it appears that there are countless games that can be played within that set of rules.  A wise person realizes that each of these sets of rules, for whatever game chosen (or implied in one’s actions), possesses a certain arbitrariness.  Such arbitrariness lacks a full claim in ultimate reality.  Any such partial claim, when lifted to sacred status, deserves and invites mocking.  Such playfulness and mocking delves into the wondrous paradox that irreverence can be the highest form of reverence in a given situation.  Irreverence playfully invites us to a fuller and more sacred view of reality.  And such playful invitations can harness the awesome character of pointing out high truths without the downer of overzealously demanding obedience.  Such playful invitations abide by a sacred respect for higher truths as demanding obedience in and of themselves, without contrivance or brute force.  In the games of life, there is often a negative connotation with playing in the sense of “games people play” — when we treat other players as objects in the game, not an equal or full players.  I prefer a more positive connotation, as elucidated by Zen Buddhism’s nonseriousness, apparent foolishness under-girded by wisdom:

“There is a certain quality of foolishness in a real wise man. Why? Because a real wise man contains the opposite. He is both together. He is more comprehensive. A wise man who has no foolishness in him will be dry, dead. His juice will not be flowing. He will not be green. He will not be able to laugh; he will be serious; he will be a long face. A wise man who is just wise and in whose being the fool has not been integrated will be very heavy. It will be difficult to live with such a wise man. He will be very boring. He will be boring to you and he will be boring to himself. He will not have any fun; his life will not know any joy. He will be completely unacquainted with laughter. And when laughter is missed, much is missed.

And one can never know God without laughter. One can never know God without joy. One can never know reality just by being wise.

The fool has something to contribute too — the laughter, the joy, the nonseriousness, the quality of fun, delight. The fool can dance, and the fool can dance for any reason whatsoever — any excuse will do. The fool can laugh. And the fool can laugh not only at others, he can laugh at himself.

When the wise man and the fool meet together in a consciousness, then something of tremendous value happens. There are foolish people and there are wise people. The fool is shallow; the wise man is serious. The fool does not know what truth is, and the wise man does not know what joy is. And a truth without joy is worse than a lie. And a joy without truth is not reliable. A joy without truth is momentary, cannot be of the eternal.”

Nonseriousness and humorlessness are linked to fundamentalist religious faith and militancy.  Militancy — including militarism — and violence are anathema to good humor:

The overarching difference is between the mental rigidity of religious faith and the mental flexibility of humor.

1. The first contrast is between the respect for authority in religious faith, and the questioning of authority in humor. In faith-based religions, people believe what they are told, and do they do what they are told, by a leader, typically a patriarchal leader. God himself is pictured as the ultimate patriarchal authority, the Lord, the King of the Universe.

The psychology of humor, by contrast, involves questioning authority. The humorist’s role, from the court jesters of ancient China to today’s standup comedians, has been to think critically about people’s language, about their reasoning, about their actions, and about the relations between all three. From the days of ancient Greek comedy, the creators of humor have looked for discrepancies between what political and religious leaders say and what they do. Aristophanes poked fun not only at political leaders but at intellectual leaders like Socrates, and even at the gods.

2. The second contrast is between the simple, often dualistic, conceptual schemes of religious faith and the more complex conceptual schemes of humor. Faith-based religions offer believers simple concepts with which they can classify everything they experience. Master categories include “good and evil,” and “us and them.” Osama bin Laden’s speeches and George W. Bush’s speeches are full of name-calling based on such simple dualistic categories. As Bush has admitted, he “doesn’t do nuance.”

Comic thinking, on the other hand, is more complex and messy. The world doesn’t separate neatly into a few categories. In comedy, there aren’t any all-good people, nor any all-bad people. Even the best person involved in the best kind of action is likely to be tainted by some selfishness, foolishness, and maybe even hypocrisy. When characters appear in comedy promoting simple conceptual schemes, they are often satirized as fanatics or fools.

3. The third contrast is between the militarism of religious faith and the pacifism of humor. Religions based on faith tend to feel threatened by other world views and so tend to want to eliminate the proponents of those views. And so they often justify violence against “the heathen” or “the infidel,” as General Boykin and Osama bin Laden do.

From the beginning, however, comedy has been suspicious of calls to eliminate those who think differently, and has been suspicious of violence as a way to solve problems. Aristophanes’ comedy Lysistrata satirized the insanity of the constant fighting between the Greek city states. In modern times, the futility of war has been the theme of dozens of comedies, which have lampooned the willingness to kill or die on command. Comic heroes are usually good at talking their way out of conflicts, and when that fails, they are not ashamed to run away. The comic attitude here is captured in the old Irish saying “You’re only a coward for a moment, but you’re dead for the rest of your life.”

4. The fourth contrast is between the single-mindedness of religious faith and the willingness to change one’s mind in humor. The person of faith treats alternative viewpoints as possible sources of doubt, and so something to be suppressed. Once they make a divinely sanctioned choice of action—as in George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, they “stay the course” no matter what happens. They do not look for mistakes they might have made, they do not try to think of how they might proceed differently, and they tend to be defensive when they are challenged. Faith-based religions tout what Conrad Hyers (1996) calls “warrior virtues”: courage, loyalty, duty, honor, indomitable will, unquestioning obedience, stubborn determination, and uncompromising dedication.

In comedy, by contrast, the person who has an idée fixe is portrayed as foolish. Comic heroes do set courses of action, but they are adaptable after that. As situations change, they can too. Their plans are not set in stone but are contingent and reversible. Often, the comic hero has not even determined in advance what will count as success or failure.

5. The fifth contrast is between the idealism of religious faith and the pragmatism of humor. The rhetoric of faith-based religions is full of abstractions like Truth, Faith, and Freedom. On the enemy side are those who love Evil.

Comedy, on the other hand, is based not on abstractions but on concrete things, people, and situations. Comic heroes are concerned not about Truth and Freedom but about their next meal, and getting the one they love to love them in return. Not longing for some utopia, they are at home in the world as it is.

6. The sixth contrast is between the convergent thinking of faith-based religions and the divergent thinking of humor. Convergent thinking aims at reaching the correct answer. In divergent thinking there is no single correct answer, but dozens, maybe hundreds of possible good answers. A standard exercise in divergent thinking is to think of thirty uses for a building brick.

With their simple conceptual schemes and their emphasis on thinking in traditional ways, faith-based religions do not encourage creativity or cleverness. A good example is George W. Bush and his wife Laura. On a TV interview program, Laura Bush was asked if she and the President had pet names for each other. She said, “Oh Yes.” “What is your pet name for him?” the interviewer asked. “Bushie,” she answered. “What is his pet name for you?” “Bushie,” she said again.

Unlike such unimaginative plodders, people with a rich sense of humor are creative. The master skill of the comedian is to look at something familiar in a new way.

7. The seventh contrast is between seriousness and playfulness. Faith-based religious visions of life are paradigms of seriousness, and humor is a paradigm of nonseriousness. It is persons, I take it, who are serious in the basic sense of the word. Issues and problems are called “serious” because they require persons to be serious about them. For us to be serious is to be solemn and given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. It is also for us to be sincere in what we say and do. We say only what we believe, and act only according to our real intentions.

Seriousness is contrasted with playfulness. When we are playful, we are not solemn and are not given to sustained, narrowly focused thought. We are not bound to sincerity in what we say and do. We may say something outlandishly false for the mental jolt it gives us and others. We may impersonate someone, or feign some emotion, just for the fun of it.”

I suspect that an accurate reading of reality would call out for more Irreverends than Reverends.  Religion, institutionalized spirituality, must perpetually wrest with its own laughableness.  For any institution branding itself with any given set of “authoritative” creeds, must be able to laugh at itself, and accept mocking in good humor, to even hope for greater authority — an authority forever lying outside any gaming.  Yet, the show must go on!

POEM: Guarding God

He stoutly guarded God
From an unruly world
An unreveling creation
And in such earnest
He, and millions others, were
Relieved of their doody
Perhaps only a small relief
For God above
Yet for such bellow
Refuse-ing
To be passed so easy
As some foul gag
Unyielding unearth
As unheavin’
A feudal gesture
In such an unholy rupture
Leaving behind
All the crap in religion
Until vomit us

Does God need guards or protectors?  Is God unable to fend for God’s self?  Can God create such a mess so big that even God can’t clean it up?

It seems to me that God and godliness are incarnated by our lives reflecting what is good, as opposed to enforcing precepts or ideas/beliefs.  I view means and ends as inextricably linked.  How else could it be?  Love begets love.  And God is love.  Violence begets violence.  And while many might be skeptical of love, of God, few doubt that “means” lead to “ends.”  It strikes me that the separation from living in the foundational nature of God, that is unconditional love, is the beginning of sin.  Similarly, trying to take  shortcuts to God’s reign by “enforcement” strikes me as the birth of idolatry, wanting to lord over others.  This approach strikes me as feudal!  This approach is futile in the same way that expecting violence will end violence is foolish.  Both our materialist and spiritualist aspects can unite around this necessary order.  Unless your view of reality is wholly absurd, there is lawful order in the universe — certain things lead to other certain things.  Now, not everything is certain.  But uncertainty is not a license to ignore those things which are certain.  For example, you can ignore the law of gravity, but, quite predictably, this will not serve you or others well.  Likewise, you can ignore the laws of love, or violence, but don’t pretend that such lawlessness will bring greater order and harmony in the world.

Back to this poem’s theme of “all the crap in religion.”  Organizing love can be a perilously backwards approach, since love is the prime mover.  Trying to franchise God — that is, franchise love — will fail inasmuch as: 1) love is not what we preach, and 2) we don’t practice what we preach (regardless of what it is that we preach).  The first is being on mark with the purpose of religion.  There is plenty of disagreement here, on what love means.  The second is about authenticity and authority.  Authority is undermined inasmuch as you preach one set of rules and live by another.  This perilous law is where law-giving and law-preaching most commonly fail.  Preaching lawfulness while practicing lawlessness, well, just doesn’t do much for lawfulness.  The Lord of all has authority because God’s nature is unconditional love, manifest in grace, generosity, mercy, patience, and joyful freedom.  In Christianity, Jesus is lifted up because he came as a servant leader.  Jesus is the way inasmuch as Jesus melded the sacred nature of God as unconditional love fully into his way of living.  That’s the kind of leader worth emulating.  And all who stand against this, will fail.  But like gravity, the law of love seems weak and slow, particularly in narrow contexts and short time horizons.  Still, gravity, as love, will work its way, its purpose, in a sure and steady way.  Ignore such laws at your own peril.

POEM: Jumping From The Ledger

Rejoin the rat race
And all that chasten
Daring to make
A rodent in the machine
Which is all the rage
The bounty on your ahead
A golden hamster wheel
Retard after 50 years
Left dumb
Lips pursed
For so many years
Metering out your daily pillage
From shallow pools
Having waded for your due appointments
Not with standing
That grim reaper having
Sacrificed so much
For what
Spoils
As prophet in titles
Epitaphs
Ridden in stone
Forcing loved ones loanly
To visit what you once were
Suckling on memories
Dreams stoned
Starving
To full
Fill awe that is hollowed
Having
Lived once
Now never more knew
Daze passed
And by what means recaptured
How sew frayed
Of day’s passion
And once with
In is capable rejoinder
To finish this sentience
And not mirror animation
A resounding echo
No longer revere berating
In empty chambers
Wanton listless solutions
Having dropped the bawl
Bored stiff of what lame meant
Drawling on passed experience
Yakking on a bout
Scaling steep mountains
Out of mole hills
Trying
To get your goat and make you want to yacht
And in the end unmoved
Buy the blubbering of beached wails
Strewn by brown shirts and matching knows
Muted lives
Sullen everything
You can possibly think
Trading marks
And in proprietary secrets
May clinch some laconic inc.
Be rift of checks and balances
And should you withdraw
The hush of money
Prepare for it getting even
Silencer
Yet before your time
Sing
Like just
Another grammy
Inexplicably quite
Never herd again
A spoke in word
Unburden some
To pronounce
In that speakeasy of freedom
Drunk with poise in abating
From a salutary utter
After which you could hear a heart murmur
That could with stand a beating:
You can have your bigger cages
And longer chains
Be damned the shareholder value
of Cages and Chains, Inc.
I will jump from the ledger
Even if you won’t
Searching for the perfect pitch
Surpassing everlusting sirens
Till a gentler rock
Finding my voice
In a free Fall
Fallowing a summer
Fueled by that eternal spring
Hoping for more than allege
And giving know pause
To winters and losers
Sharing the good news
Freely
Never put out
To pastor

This poem is a reflection on the rat race of state-of-the-art employment, where even winning the rat race probably signifies that you are just a rat more than anything else.  Even though the productivity evangelists tout great success, the more than tripling of material wealth during my lifespan, has done little net good (mostly trapped people in nets) for workers.  With the wealth of experience and history, it doesn’t take a prophet to understand that ever-growing profits spells a cancerous existence in America.

Fortunately, since I quit my “regular” or “real” job, almost a decade ago, I’ve been able to live on less than what the average American would make with unemployment benefits (though I didn’t receive unemployment benefits because I quit).  I haven’t received food stamps or other government “welfare” assistance.  I have not been a very successful taker, with my frugal leanings and pride in autonomy.  Though Republicans have tried hard in Ohio, under Obamacare, I may not be able to keep my uninsurance, ending a decade without health insurance.

At best, it seems that this increased material wealth has little to do with increased happiness.  In fact, Americans work more hours and are no more happy.  Even having to point out that working more hours doesn’t make you happier is perhaps the best illustration that the productivity police can quite effectively rely on self-enforcement!  Our minds have been so effectively colonized that other options seem barely even thinkable.  The notion that your life can actually be profoundly better living with less is heretical in capitalistic America — if such a crazy notion were even given the time of day!

It seems that Western civilization has reached a point in its existence, where workers are functionally illiterate in life, meaning that they cannot adequately articulate and effectively navigate life outside of money/wealth as their measure of value.  Newsflash potential illiterates: money isn’t everything!  As the saying goes: you can’t buy love.  And, if you can’t tell the difference between love and a comfortable home with a trophy wife, then you might be an illiterate!  Worse yet, most workplaces are better characterized as places where we sell ourselves than places where we come together for our mutual betterment.  And if you can’t tell the difference between love and selling ourselves, then you are definitely an illiterate!

In the great exchange debate of values, circulates the notion that time is money.  Capitalists have effectively dominated this debate, demanding perpetual focus on the centrality of money.  Now, you may be able to exchange your time for money.  However, money can’t really buy time, otherwise the rich would live forever!  More to the point, money can’t buy life.  Money may be able to carve out more “leisure” time — that time when you are not selling yourself — or even buy some edge of health compared to others, and perhaps increasing your lifespan.  However, no matter how effectively we manipulate our material environment, through the proxy of money, this, at best, only offers the opportunity to live, not life itself.  Our time represents this opportunity for living.  While money has an interplay with how we experience our time, the very quality of our life, it is subordinate to time.  In youthful, or just plain oblivious, denial of our limited time, i.e., eventual death, we may convince ourselves that we have more time than money.  This perception influences our judgments about the time-money exchange rate.  I suspect that the best way to reflect on this is to ask yourself which is better: to have more money than time? or, to have more time than money?  In the end, ultimately, time will win this debate.  Nonetheless, many, if not most people waste a lot of time before realizing this, that time is more important than money.

Of course, living with a lot of money or very little money may confound this realization that time is more important than money; the rich thinking that their time is founded on money because they have it, and the poor thinking that their time is dependent on money because they have very little.  This is one aspect of the destructive reality of huge income inequalities, of greed and poverty.  This confounding of reality serves well neither the rich or the poor.  Wealth and poverty are conjoined twins, seemingly destined to believe that their life is best served by the machinations of material existence, to the deficit of a more full and complete life.  Both excess and lack, especially when conjoined, can lead to fearful and alienating lives.  The rich can become disconnected, unempathetic with lack, even paranoid of losing their excess (sic).  The poor can become discouraged and desperate, lacking in the face of plenty.

The apostle John offered the simplest, though apparently quite difficult, solution to the conjoined twin fates of excess and lack, by proclaiming: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).  This would put a lot of liberal think tanks out of business.  This would put a lot of conservative think tanks out of business.  In the end, thinking about such things, particularly if you are the well-clothed one with a full belly, does little to address our lack, our common fate: poverty.  Of course, this is America, so there is more than one brand of poverty: material or spiritual.  For the particularly unfortunate, you can have both brands.  Fortunately, God has the preferential option for the poor, the central tenet of liberation theology, founded by Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez:

 “The preferential option for the poor is much more than a way of showing our concern about poverty and the establishment of justice. At its very heart, it contains a spiritual, mystical element, an experience of gratuitousness that gives it depth and fruitfulness. This is not to deny the social concern expressed in this solidarity, the rejection of injustice and oppression that it implies, but to see that in the last resort it is anchored in our faith in the God of Jesus Christ. It is therefore not surprising that this option has been adorned by the martyr’s witness of so many, as it has by the daily generous self-sacrifice of so many more who by coming close to the poor set foot on the path to holiness.”

The preferential option for the poor is a perspective God’s grace giving special favor to the poor.  The way that God has created reality actually favors the poor more than the rich.  This doesn’t glorify material poverty, but it recognizes that the experiences of poverty more directly connect us and open us up to the deep importance of mutual aid and genuine, caring relationships.  The poor’s very survival depends on it.  The rich are insulated from this palpable, ever-present reality of the poor.  The rich can “afford” to make the mistake of buying their way out of this deeper and more difficult (yet rewarding) way of being.  The rich are more easily fooled into thinking that they don’t need others.  The injustice maintained by the rich is that as conjoined twins, the rich twin foolishly acts as if they can do whatever they want without the other, even when faced with the heart-wrenching realities of material poverty wracking his world.  Such heartlessness is a failure at intimacy with other human beings and reality writ large.  Perhaps a better formulation of a universal constant of metaphysics for the betterment of humankind would be the directly inversely proportional relationship of material and spiritual poverty.  Of course, this would turn capitalism, and its reliance on endless greed and profit, upside down, or more aptly, right side up!  Skeptics might ask if it is possible for the rich to spiritually prosper.  This is an ancient question:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Matthew 19: 23-24)

I love the common interpretation of this passage as a reference to a gate into Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that was opened a night after the main gate was closed, and this gate was so small that the camel (the rich) would have to unload all of their baggage and crawl through on their knees.  Yep, Jesus was one of the greatest poets I ever metaphor!

May you live into the reality that spiritual wealth is more directly accessed with less rather than more material wealth.

 

 

POEM: It’s About Time

One day
I had a dream
God came to me and said
Meet me tomorrow at 4:32 pm
On the bench
In the small park
At the corner of Ashland and Collingwood
Near your home
You have something I want
My first reaction was
Doesn’t God consider all of the riches of the world
As but a penny?!
Doesn’t God consider a thousand years
As but a second?!
What could God possibly
Want from me?!
My second reaction was
Isn’t that time and place
Awefully specific?
I closed shop a little early that next day
And I sat there
In the park
Lots of traffic
But not a soul
It seemed somewhat foolish
Know one there
Accept the neighborhood homeless guy
And, of course, me
So with perpetually bad timing
The homeless man blurts out
Yes, all of the riches of the world are as but a penny!
Yes, a thousand years is as but a second!
So be aware!
Now
A well dressed passerby
Shakes his head
Without breaking his gait
I was stunned
Buy the time
I could
Muster a thought
He was walking away
So I
Blurted out
So, if all of the riches of the world are as but a penny
And a thousand years is as but a second
Can you spare a dime!?
Without turning
He lightly raised his hand
Giving a somewhat dismissive gesture
Just
Saying
Sure
In a sec

This short poem is an elaboration of a joke I once heard.  I liked the juxtaposition of the sense of wealth and time from a divine and a human perspective.  The “better off” human(s) in this poem find themselves ironically betwixt the divine and “worse off” humans.  The joke exposes the gap between God and humans, as well as the gap between “better off” and “worse off” humans.  To someone with an immediate need, like the homeless, putting them off temporarily is essentially putting their need off essentially forever.  If not now, when?  The sad rationale that “better off” persons use regularly is that “the poor will always be with us” (to bastardize Jesus’ words), so we can help them occasionally when it is convenient for us — thanks homeless people for presenting that ongoing opportunity!  Unfortunately, this typically falls far short of meeting the need of many persons at any given time.

It is no accident that I wrote and published this poem during the Christmas season.  Jesus was a homeless man without worldly riches.  If we were to look to Jesus as a model manifestation of humanity and divinity, then celebrating Christmas would look little like modern Christmas, with its commercialization and focus on getting and consumption.  For at least centuries, humans have had the resources to meet every basic human need.  Yet, a painfully huge proportion of “present day” humans go without basic needs.  This fact of abundance stands as an indictment on the scarce and barren worldview that carries the day for most of us much of the time.  This is a worthy reality to reflect upon this “present day.”

POEM: A Farcical Foundation

A Farcical Foundation

An abundance
Of people
Build
Bank accounts
And resumes
In lieu of a better world
In the face of scarcity
Hoarding ourselves
Leaving our shares as chump change
Our resumes bankrupt
In grate sell deception
Talked into ahead in arrears
Left behind as good as a rite
A pauper wresting place
For a loan and a fraud dwelling
Only in habiting the largesse heart
As a lust resort
Fabricated upon a farcical foundation
Unable to settle what has been billed
Dropping all in loo
Of a better world
Too mulch
To imagine
For those with
The lyin’s share
Only as per jury
Of one’s peers

This poem gets to the heart of the matter.  The great divide in life is between wholehearted living and heartless living, which, of course, is not really living art all.  Choose life, not lifelessness!  As Jesus aptly put it, “You can’t serve both God and money.”  The love of God is the beginning of wisdom.  The love of money is the height of foolishness.  Of course, you only need to worry about this when God and money compete for your allegiance, say, most of the time you are awake! In modern monetized existence, a rather full assessment of what one values can be ascertained by how one spends their money (or not spends as the case may be).  Unfortunately, such an assessment process happens to be accurate precisely because of the great poverty in our lives which focuses on money (not God). A better accounting might include looking at how we spend our time.  Not surprisingly, in a culture which seems only to serve money as its highest value, Western civilization has managed to bastardize the typified 1950’s quest for leisure time by increasing work hours (and decreasing leisure time), even though productivity has grown by multiples.  There is way more money and “stuff” in the world than a few generations ago.  Still, the quality of life for the majority of the world’s population languishes.  As has been true for centuries, if not longer, there has been enough “stuff” to live good lives, except for the stubborn fact that humans have not learned to share well.  When will we accept the sociological and spiritual reality that beyond meeting our basic needs, money contributes little to happiness.  Perhaps more aptly put, if we hoard money for our own use beyond our basic physical needs, we will pay a social, political, and spiritual price for it, which will negate the perceived benefits of hoarding or consuming more.  In choosing disciplined simplicity for ourselves and generosity toward others, we can build more than bank accounts and resumes, and experience the most valuable stuff in life, the stuff that money can’t buy.

POEM: Lovers of Dirt

Lovers of Dirt

Wile in cathedrals
The atheist
Dares claim
The title
Of mass debater
As little comes
From behind the veil
That doesn’t exist
In the slightest
Hint elect
To believe
Methods to their madness
Seemingly beyond approach
However rue derangement
Identifying any genus
By its feces
So commonly specious
In its origins
By means
Naturally selective
Preserving favored races
In the struggle
For life
As fashioned
From flights of fancy
For the birds
In plain English
Triggering an evolution
Of rapacious masculinity
Vanquishing femininity
As it sees fit
Too survive
And nothing more
As awe is derived
As so much
Ground Chuck
No longer
A yin without a yang
A homme with only half a story
In tell gents design
New ways of poker
Without reason
Fueling themselves
With fantasies
Of being porn again
Any come hither looks
Reduced to contrivance
Goddesses none
Any go whither looks
Annunciating to the world
A piece of class
A coy that must be played with
Bastards and bitches all
Wed to nothing but progeny
Incesting that the best demands it
Endless reproductions
Preying for deviant genes
To a god of chance
Just for the novelty of it
Tails you win
Heads you lose
Either way
Stuck only
By wieners and losers
How fare
Abet
Between fancy pants
And the un-gaudy
Next to uncleanliness
Soully lovers of dirt
However complicated

This poem is a commentary on atheism, evolution, and gender.  Of any belief group in America, those unaffiliated with religion are the most male, 60%.  As much as religion may be a problem for women, it seems that lack of religion is even less attractive.  If reproduction is the key to human evolution, then perhaps unbelieving men should pay attention to the keyholes.  Both atheism and evolution often strike me as dominated by male pattern balledness.  Reducing human evolution to sexual reproduction strikes me as some form of porn, a way to partner sterile abstract thinking with screwing, an unproductive mating of reductionistic thought and base sexual impulses.

I find the conundrums of atheism well captured in this poem’s title: Lovers of Dirt.  Atheism may be the most poorly equipped belief, or disbelief, system to deal with love.  Perhaps because God is love.  For whatever reason, atheists cannot bring themselves to believe in God, fortunately, I have met many who quest for love.  This poem is partly inspired by a conversation I had with a fellow protester outside the Toledo federal courthouse, when we were protesting corporate personhood, as promoted and reinforced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United.  This man was clearly offended by considering corporations on the same level as humans, and willing to hit the street to make that point.  In the course of our conversation, it became clear that he was an atheist.  He could clearly tell the difference between the legal fiction of corporate personhood and actual human personhood.  However, he could not articulate the difference between people and dirt.  A parently, people are simply complicated dirt. This claim to be able to make higher level distinctions while being unable to make lower level distinctions seems to strike at the ultimate heartlessness of atheism.

Maybe there are other forms of atheism, but I have found this creep of distinctionless infecting virtually every atheist with which I have ever had a conversation.  Now don’t get me wrong, while I don’t believe in atheism, I do believe in atheists, certainly inasmuch as they embody love.  Plus, I am a big fan of distinctionlessness.  However, I view distinctionlessness as a spiritual aspect of reality, by definition outside the realm of science which only deals with distinctions.  Distinctionlessness might be cited as unity consciousness, the oneness of all reality (which includes consciousness).  Now, to give props to John Paul Sartre, the great atheist existentialist, and author of Being and Nothingness, he might consider distinctionlessness to be represented by nothing.  Sartre dealt in-depth trying to explain the structure of consciousness which necessitated a relationship with nothingness, a perilous journey where we are reduced to alternating between subject and object.  I am a subject and you are an object of my subjectivity.  Then, you are a subject and I am an object of your subjectivity.  And never the twain shall meet. Ad inifinitum!  Perhaps not surprisingly, Sartre was famous for saying, “Hell is other people.” (see No Exit, a one-act play). According to Sartre, other people, in the experience of subjectivity, must reduce others to objects.  Sartre believed that there can only be NO connection between subjects, no underlying unity.  I am at a loss how Sartre can even claim that other subjects exist, if he can only experience them as objects!?  Of course, this self-contradictory assertion is the basis for his atheism.  In this case, God would be Subject with a capital S.  The logic goes like this: if God existed, we would experience God as an object, and since there is no convincing evidence that such an object exists, then God does not exist.  Of course, this same logic, applied to other humans, would necessitate concluding that other people (if you can call them that) don’t exist as subjects.  These are the foolish places that highly rational and completely unreasonable men end up.  Except Sartre was not a fool.  He acknowledged that other subjects existed — only that these subjects existed outside his experience!  He could only experience their objectively ghostly apparitions masquerading as subjects, and occasional buyers of his books.  By beginning with an assumption of nothingness, he ends up with much, much, much, much, much less than if he had begun with an assumption of somethingness.  Both are assumptions, mere propositions or assertions.

Descartes launched modern Western philosophy off with “I think therefore I am,” taking existence as evidence against nonexistent.  Simple but compelling.  Sartre breaks this tradition in a striking way, he appears compelled by nothingness, nonexistence, perhaps quite appropriately, for no apparent reason.  By Sarte’s same logic and assumptions critiquing God’s Subjective existence, Sartre could just as easily made a profoundly good theist had he only explored the logical sequence of knowledge unveiled by allowing that just another subject may exist, another Subject may exist.  This seems a great leap of faith to some.  How could you equate little old me, a subject with a lowercase s, on the same par as God, a Subject with a capital S?!  Yet, this is exactly what Sartre did with his chosen path.  By Sartre’s own logic and apparent experience, he is the only subject that exists!  If there is only one subject, then this is the closest to God one can expect.  Sartre had no basis for distinguishing between a subject with a lowercase s and a Subject with an uppercase S.  Sartre was God!  And God is dead!!  Case closed — and it was a very cold case!  This should come as little surprise, that God was so little.  When being must have a relationship with nothing in order to generate consciousness, subjectivity is necessarily imprisoned: condemned to be free; with nothing to ground its being.  Now, to be fair, Sartre has nothing to stand upon.  By claiming that it was the relationship to nothing that generated consciousness, the breath of subjectivity, he allowed other subjects to exist (spookily as God allows).  All you have to do is believe in nothing.  How hard could that be?  Except that the other ethereal pillar holding up Sartre’s world is that nothing can be the ground of our being.  So, our being comes from nothingness.  Is this magic less objectionable than our being coming from somethingness?  I would agree that God is a no thing, in that the fullness of God, what God IS, cannot be ascertained from studying objective things, anymore than the fullness of human subjects can be understood by simply studying their junk.

In my book, Sartre should have devoted his keen intellect to a masterpiece call Being and Somethingness. In studying Sartre’s Being and Nothingness in my college existentialism class, what I most keenly remember is a footnote, and perhaps the only ultimate foothold in my book.  This footnote stated that his arguments did not preclude the possibility of hope, but that his purpose was not to explore that possibility.  This existential choice on his part left his work despairing.  John Paul Sartre was intellectually clever and outside of his formal philosophy, in real life, fought to be compassionate to others, though chronically despairing and doubting that he could ever really connect with them as fully human.  Perhaps Sartre’s greatest distinction is how well his worldview resonated with those cynical enough to be satisfied with studying the nooks, crannies, and shadows of this deeply pessimistic, foundationless-yet-sold-as-foundational worldview.  He created a lifetime of available preoccupation in his self-proclaimed hell.  And if there truly is no exit from this deadly state of affairs, aspiring to screw some less cruelly than others; then, being right will have to serve as a poor substitute for happiness.  Religion will be reduced to self-fulfilling prophets.  Humanity will never graduate from preoccupation to the much harder vocation of bringing hope to an obviously hurting world.  Hope requires the study of human nature, of which Sartre is so absolutely skeptical, even of its existence.  Such absolute skepticism begs for a different perspective, in that it worships subjectivity, our apparent ability to will one thing over another, either assenting to or rejecting preconditions.  Sartre aspired to build the slimmest possible precipice from which to perch looming subjectivity, a philosophy with as few assumptions as possible, resting on as narrow an objectivity as possible.  But rather than finding a holy grail, he found himself, and apparently the whole world, on a throne of spears. This creates perhaps the largest overreach possible in underestimating both objective reality and subjective reality.  Unity consciousness is the oneness of all reality, which includes consciousness.  Sartre’s arena was human consciousness, and declining to leave that arena, shortchanged the fullness of reality.  His reality lifts human consciousness beyond its ken.  Though he was perhaps within grasp of an occasional barbie — no offense to Simone de Beauvoir, his lifelong lover, to whom one day while they were sitting on a bench outside the Louvre, said, “Let’s sign a two-year lease.”  They never married.  Near the end of her life, de Beauvoir said, “Marriage was impossible. I had no dowry.”  In fact, there was no dowry that could cover the deficit in Sartre’s worldview.  Sartre’s reality became, through his own volition, human consciousness married to nothing, and no divorce laws.  His denial is nearly unfathomable.  His consciousness only unifies with reality in some zombie apocalypse fashion — which seems enduringly fashionable for some reason.  Sartre strips objective reality of any subjectivity but his own, except for those ghostly apparitions (that would be you) who are condemned to walk the earth, a living hell, negating his subjectivity with a moments notice.  His justice: he returns the favor, jousting with lifelike windmills.  This farcical, impossible dream, leaves Sartre riding his knight mare in a one horse town.  His reward: he is the grand marshal and sole entrant in this ludicrous parade.  Though quite miraculously, Sartre ends up joining an elite pantheon of self-fulfilling prophets of epic disproportions.

I can see how many people are deeply reluctant to believe in God.  What I find much more difficult to understand is people’s deep commitment to disallowing for even the possibility of God. In other words, agnosticism seems justified (though a bit indecisive), whereas atheists must take on a mantle of hubris unbecoming to open minds and open hearts.  Sartre proclaims that there is no exit in a house that he built with no doors!  In the end, using Sartre’s arguments against God, the Subject with a capital S, one must argue against subjectivity itself, all subjectivity.  It is to this that I object!  Sartre built an inhospitable house, a testament to his objectivity (or testament to his lack of subjectivity), and he has nothing to blame.  By leveling subjectivity, he finds, least of all, himself.  Not by humility, but by hubris.  And from nowhere comes a call, “Philosopher heal thyself!”  Yet, the great metaphysician, Jesus also begged the question of the physician healing thyself.  Jesus is recounted to have said in Luke 4:18-28 (NIV), in launching his public ministry, by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him.  He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.  Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”  “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown.  I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”  All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

People are lazy enough to want miracles.  Some just want to be entertained enough to provide a break in their existential ennui.  A rarer few are happy being unhappy.  Jesus’ hometown crowd called for him to reproduce for them the miraculous events that they had heard transpired elsewhere.  Surely he would put on an even better show for the hometown crowd, they thought.  When Jesus implied that his prophetic acts would not get any traction amongst this hometown crowd, accurately citing history, the crowd got pissed.  They bypassed the good news and didn’t even get a good carny show out of it!

Interestingly, the crowd was incredulous even when the heard good news — “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips” — asking “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”  You remember, that snot-nosed kid who used to run around here some years back.  And we all know about Joseph, don’t we?  They just couldn’t believe that such good news and authority could be present in one from such humble and ordinary beginnings.  Jesus made it clear that enlightenment or salvation cannot just be handed to someone like an everyday object, miraculous relic, or even apprehended through the world’s best philosophy.  In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the condemned rich man upon his death and agony wants a heavenly message sent to his sons on earth, so that they might be saved, he is told: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:21)  The good news that Jesus proclaimed was to the poor, not the “successful” in society who have mastered the conventional wisdom.  Jesus proclaimed that freedom for the prisoners is possible, and that recovery of sight for the blind is possible, that setting the oppressed free is possible.  The miraculous is not concerned with overturning the impossible, but with the possible not yet manifest.  This is the realm of faith and hope.  This is the realm that Jesus calls us into.  Some hear this and are deeply moved.  Some hear this as a carnival barker.  Some more recalcitrant few hear this as a carnival barker who never even existed!  There are few problems that denial won’t solve, eh?

I think that Sartre’s cynicism ultimately lies in this fact that you can’t force people to be enlightened.  Jesus understood this.  Sartre knew that our choices literally create meaning by placing value behind some actions and not others, all within the realm of the possible.  Jesus understood this.  Unfortunately, Sartre neutered himself when it came to the realm of the possible, the worst form of self emasculation, with militant atheism — which ironically seems much more popular among men.  The attraction to overt force and militancy seems more hegemonic among men.  Though please note that I don’t think that spirituality is better suited or more fully manifest according to gender.  Nonetheless, I do think that there are specific forms of foolishness that are predominantly occupied by men.  The same goes for women; but that’s another story…

I commend Sartre for trying to tackle the immeasurable perplexity of the relationship of objectivity and subjectivity.  Such a task should vex even the greatest minds, of which I consider Sartre among.

Atheists typically claim to be concerned solely with science.  Fair enough.  Science is about understanding and manipulating the outside “objective” world, the visible, measurable world which makes the world more conducive to usefulness, or better means to some end. Spirituality is about understanding and experiencing the subjective world, the oft invisible, oft immeasurable, typically elusive world conducive to elucidating what are good ends and worthy states of being.  What unkind of world could we possibly expect if we studied only the ways to get places but refused to ponder the full range of places or states of being which are better to move toward?

The study of subjectivity includes understanding ourselves, others, and at least offering a shot at discovering or understanding God, if such a present manifests at any time.  The legitimate existence of metaphysics, the area of study beyond the physical world measurable by reductionistic science, surprisingly to some, is not really controversial amongst professional philosophers.  Of course, in the ever-changing, heated climate of rampant spirituality, there are always some climate change deniers in the crowd.  In the end, reducing the transcendent or spiritual nature of subjective existence to mere objectivity — i.e., humans are complicated dirt, nothing more — is amputating half of one’s existence, and the only half that can ascertain which is the “better” half (which is the one that can make us whole).

To advance metaphysics we must ponder other subjects – you, me, and even God.  Harkening back to the discussion of distinctionlessness, atheists with which I have conversed, seem to be pulled back to distinctionlessness.  I would like to draw a distinction between two forms of distinctionlessness.  There is the ground zero of distinctionlessness that atheists default to, apparently in the face of nothingness, the abyss.  This casts a pall over any ability to discern good from evil, or to carve out any solid ground for our subjective being, even going so far as to doubt whether others or oneself even exist (as a subject), let alone whether God exists!  I contrast this with unity consciousness which is present in the oneness of all reality, which happens to encompass consciousness.  I think that this distinctionlessness of unity consciousness is a fuller representation of reality than the atheist existentialism a la Sartre.  Oneness can only be present with consciousness because if consciousness was not encompassed, then consciousness would be separate, and there would be two disconnected realities, not one.  If these two disconnected realities seem familiar, it might be because they are eerily parallel to Sartre’s alienating description of alternating subject-object, object-subject relationships between so-called subjects — more like objects masquerading as subjects.  Sartre cleverly avoids the problem of two separate realities by defining nothingness as one of the two disconnected realities.  Many people might be willing to agree that nothing is not separate from our one reality, which seems somewhat different than saying nothing is separate from our one reality.  This clever configuration jury-rigs the vexing question of something coming from nothing.  Recall that Sartre views consciousness, a necessary aspect of subjectiveness, as arising from nothingness.  Or put somewhat differently, subjects are dependent on nothing. So which makes more sense: subjects are dependent on nothing OR subjects are dependent on something?  If subjects are dependent on nothing, then they should have no constrains on their freedom.  Deeply ironic, if Sartre is correct that a subject is dependent on nothing, then he has accurately described God!  Further, he has described a monotheistic God, because there could not be two absolutely free God’s operating in the same reality without clashing and limiting each other’s freedom.  Back to human-scale experience, I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is dependent on nothing.  Clearly, any coherent account of human experience testifies that human freedom is bounded, dependent on something.  If subjects are dependent on something, then an accurate account of reality must include a description of Being and Something, not simply Being and Nothingness.  Of course, existentialist thinkers following Sartre claimed that subjects could actually meet, dare I say, without distinction.  So, the limitations on our freedoms could arise from other subjects (as well as from objects).

But could Sartre be correct?  Yes, if you expect to learn the full truth from an incomplete truth that is factually accurate.  No, if you consider half a picture the full picture.  I think that Sartre is a freaking genius, and that his facts are correct.  Of course, I take some of this on faith, since he was wicked smart, perhaps too smart for his own good!  After all my critical analysis and occasional mocking, I will say that Sartre had all his facts right, he just didn’t have all the facts, or the full truth.

Like I enjoy saying, “Truth lies in the neighborhood of paradox.”  There is a persistently perplexing dualism present in human contemplations of reality.  I think that Sartre nailed down half of this dualism.  On one hand, the nailing down of hard facts was old-school, meaning it was completely consistent with the 400-plus year tradition of the enlightenment and the chain of progress that is Western civilization (as distinct from the contributions of the ancients).  On the other hand, his intellectual work was cutting edge and timely, even before its time.  Seriously, he was working with NOTHING!  This anchored the accomplishments of the enlightenment in a new way.  Of course, for those ultimately not happy with his militant focus, it could be viewed as the last nail in the coffin that is postmodernism. I think that the answer illuminating the full truth involves pursuing both-and answers rather than only either-or answers.  In this light, I would slightly restate an earlier proposition: I don’t think that any sane person would claim that their freedom is ONLY dependent on nothing.  Sartre was ahead of his time, and prescient of modern quantum physics, which has shed light on nothingness.  In quantum physics, particles arise out of nothing, seemingly independent, though subject to probabilistic behavior when viewed as waves.  And the best answer we have about which state of affairs is true is: both.  Subatomic physical behavior is best described as both waves and particles.  This answer, which is as perplexing as the original question, rests on the fact that it depends on how you look at it.  Literally, observing something changes it.  Conscious awareness affects reality in predictable ways (that is, probabilistic).  Translating this into our larger discussion, the freedom present in human consciousness arises from BOTH nothing AND something.  Possibilities collapse into specific actualities based on our observation and intent.

To be fair to Sartre, I’d like to think that had he lived much longer (he died in 1980), he may have been able to incorporate some insights from modern physics into his worldview.  However, the wisdom of the ancients was available to him.  As Jesus pointed out, witnessing miracles won’t necessarily make someone a better, more whole human being.  The power of skepticism and cynicism is strong.

Sartre was correct: Hell is other people.  But, Sartre was only half correct, for: Heaven is other people.  If you can relax your skepticism and cynicism enough, you may just find that others are both your curse AND salvation, which is way better than being mirrorly a curse.  Jesus was a teacher of all subjects.  When Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40, NIV)  Attention all self-fulfilling prophets: seek and you shall find — but, if at first you don’t find, keep seeking…many subjects await you…and perhaps only one…

POEM: Sinking Ship

When a ship is sinking
It may be wiser to follow the rats
Rather than the humans
That is, if you can tell the difference

This Titanic poem juxtaposes the zeniths and abysses of humans, created only a little less than angels, and rats, a generally unappreciated part of the human experience.  This poem sets up a contrast of the ingenuousness of Western civilization and the oft underappreciated wisdom in nature.  Amidst the myriad of human-created crises, looking to nature for wisdom can cut through a lot of foolishness.  Rats are less complicated creatures than humans, not as prone to confused and conflicted decision-making.  This simplicity can be lifesaving in life threatening situations.  Of course, when humans are at their lows they are less reliable guides for behavior than rats and exceedingly more dangerous.  Calling a human a rat is considered derogatory, but in some situations rats exceed human performance.  Maybe we should cut rats some slack.  Similarly, in our foolish scurryings about, perhaps we should refrain from the term “rat race,” as this also may be unfair to rats.