POEM: Censorship

The worst thing about censorship is

This short, one-line poem could be mistaken for half a poem.  This poem may leave the reader wondering what I, the author, consider to be the worst thing about censorship. This poem may even beg the reader to fill in the blank, the censored blank, for themselves.  Part of the point of the poem is that we will never truly know what we are missing when our ability to express ourselves in censored.

There are at least two types of censorship: self-censorship, and being censored by another.  Most often censorship refers to the latter, typically in objection to censorship as an unjust social relationship.  This type of censorship is important to identify and address because it is a direct threat to free speech.  This type of censorship creates a climate of fear among those whose expressions may be threatened, and a mistrust of authority among those who question the legitimacy of such censorship.  Censorship stands in almost direct opposition to free speech.  No doubt, some expressions should not be considered free speech, such as the proverbial shouting “fire” in a crowded theater.  Nonetheless, I suspect that such cases are quite rare.  The fear and social control generated by direct censorship ripples far beyond a person’s expression being squelched, and beyond potential recipients of that expression losing out on that expression.  The fear of some social sanction leads to countless forms and incidents of self-censorship.  This is the insidiously successful child of direct censorship.

If those in a position of power to censor can cow us to become sheep, then their mold of our culture will grow more pronounced in our silence.  I suspect self-censorship accounts for much, if not most, of the seemingly miraculous hold that the powers that be have over the masses.  Self-censorship allows the illusion that power comes from above, top-down, rather than power being derived from the consent of the people.  Of course, power from above, in the form of sheer force, is a scary reality.  Social sanctions for simply speaking out can be large.  In fact, the presence of a disproportionately large social sanction merely for speaking out is perhaps the surest clue that the underlying reality is unjust.  After all, talk is cheap.  But if questioning power structures is not dealt with early enough on, then the precarious illusion of top-down power masquerading as authority, and the seeming futility of bottom-up power, will continue unabated.  A little shock and awe is sometimes needed to remind people of who is in control.  Learned helplessness will do the trick the vast majority of the time.

Overcoming self-censorship is a necessary condition for a free society.  We can only deal well with reality if we know what that reality is.  This requires liberal self-expression.  Heavily redacted realities make poor citizens and sick societies.  This may be the best single reason for either avoiding most of popular media, or consuming it with a high degree of literacy, to see it for the spectacle that it is.  The images and messages, both overt and subtle, in media have a powerful effect on how we view reality.  The simple fact that there is a whole genre of “reality” television that has little to do with reality is probably the best illustration of how far afield we have become.  TV is a poor representation of reality.

Overcoming self-censorship requires courage and sacrifice.  As Amelia Earhart said, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”  We can flow with the idolatrous, heavily redacted realities that invade our consciousness unrelentingly through media and advertising.  Though such illusions are unsustainable in many ways, there is a lot of force applied to maintain them.  Adding your consent to those forces may benefit you in many ways.  Or, we can freely and courageously express our own realities which often differ profoundly from the heavily promoted narratives around us.  This may exact a price, but, at least it is a price paid in homage to reality, not illusion.  Who knows, we may very well find that the realities of the vast majority of humans on this planet have more in common with one another than the dreams foisted upon us.  This is the making of peace.  As Gandhi so simply and profoundly stated, “Peace is possible.”  This reality is so routinely obscured.  You can be a living expression of this reality.  You are the channel.

POEM: Model Citizen

Rowan was a model citizen
One-eighth scale
Painstakingly posed
With animating make up
Almost lifelike

This short poem, “Model Citizen,” is a reflection on the life-like which should only be mistaken for life at one’s own peril — or, in this poem’s case, at one’s community’s own peril.  The status quo and the powers that be provide a straightforward framework, including incentives and disincentives, to behave in a certain way.  This is a large part of what we call culture.  Busy-ness and business are dominant aspects of modern Western civilization.  Unfortunately, being busy, or just seeming busy, isn’t necessarily linked with human betterment or progress.  Like Gandhi said, “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”  Surely, the capitalist business and consumer culture feeds the need for speed, ever-increasing “industriousness” to grow the economy and standard of living.  Perhaps the best example of why this path is perilous is the reality that a “successful” growth of worldwide standard of material living requires an increasingly unsustainable exploitation and consumption of natural resources, and concomitant waste.  If such growth is not to be a fatal planetary cancer, there needs to be wholesale changes in the way we do business, and busy-ness, as relates to the urgency of the situation.  We cannot settle for life-light or lifelike.  Such citizen posers may be the death of us all.

This poem points to the role of good citizenship in creating, maintaining, and sustaining healthy communities and a healthy planet.  In good citizenship, democracy is the process and the common good is the goal.  Neither democracy nor the common good can reasonably be entrusted to elites, whether these elites are political, business, technocratic, or religious.  It is precisely these elites which have an interest in selling us something other than the common good.  The proprietary nature of modern existence, driven by the profit motive, has brought us to this place.  The common good is anathema to profit as king.  The unjust advantage held by elites is what keeps us on this perilous trajectory.  Nominal democracy is a common tool used to fool average citizens into accepting something less than the common good.  There is a great divide between elites, who are generally viewed as portraits of “success” — a mere fantasy for many — and the masses who would be greatly advantaged by securing the common good.  Of course, in affluent societies, the “middle class” comprise most of the so-called “model citizens.”  Their advantage in the larger scheme of things is sufficient to buy into the status quo, if not the powers that be.  The amorphous common good of some possible life is bypassed for the reasonable access to the concrete benefits of living in a materially affluent society.  Most simply put: if I’ve got mine, then risking that for something less certain seems like a bad bet.  So we settle.  In terms of democracy, made nominal, this appears as that oft-too-common choice of the lesser of two evils, choosing between two elites who have no real interest in the common good, other than to pacify the masses and maintain stability and predictability.  Just note the language used with the utmost importance regarding financial interests and “markets” needing “certainty.”  Predictability has many nice facets to it, but in this case, the greatest certainty is that the rich will grow richer and the poor will grow poorer.  When this almost-cliche formula receives little complaint or resistance, it is a sure diagnostic that you are richer than poorer, or at least a committed wannabe richer.  In the end, this poem is a call to the poorer masses to throw off the illusions brought by nominal democracy (in a plutocracy) and the modest temporary incentives to play it safe as a “model citizen” only one-eighth scale.  Then, we can join together in a much truer democracy able to secure the common good for all — yes, even the richer.

POEM: Disillusionment

You say that you’re disillusioned like it’s a bad thing

My whole life I’ve heard people talk about being disillusioned in one way or another.  Not once have I heard this with anything but a negative connotation.  This one line poem alludes to another way.  Some years ago, it dawned on me that losing your illusions is a great thing.  Disillusionment may, in fact, be one of the grandest goals in life.  What greater meaning can be attained than aligning one’s life with reality, as it is, not as we happen to think it is.  And how can this happen except by letting go of our illusions?  I would like to see humanity reclaim the term disillusionment.  Will you join me in claiming an attitude of gratitude when our illusions run into reality and those illusions lose handedly?  Let’s rejoice at this inescapable process of disillusionment on the way to enlightenment and more truthful living.  Alas, hope springs eternal, even in the face of determined cynicism.

Silence Will Not Protect You

Your Silence Will Not Protect You – Pink Triangle–Gay Pride Rainbow Shop BUTTON

Your Silence Will Not Protect You - Pink Triangle--Gay Pride Rainbow Shop BUTTON

Your Silence Will Not Protect You – Pink Triangle–Gay Pride Rainbow Shop BUTTON

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

View more Gay Political Buttons.

This gay pride design is a classic that was popularized during the gay community’s struggle to combat HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and 1990s.  There is a mode of being that is very common in life that if we just quietly get along everything will be alright.  This may work much of the time.  This definitely does not work all the time.

While this design is specifically geared to the gay community, with its issues of coming out, speaking out, and dealing with all the crap that comes with that, this design and saying is universal for all of humanity.  You might even say that breaking out of that common mode of just quietly getting along hoping that everything will be all right is what it means to be queer!  And one queer reality is that we are all queer in one way or another.  What I mean by this is that we are all minorities in one way or another.  We are all disenfranchised in one way or another.  We were all put down in one way or another, for who we are.  It is out of this universal queer experience that speaking out becomes necessary.

Silence is not enough.  We need to communicate and assert who we are to others, particularly when who we are is different from others.  Otherwise, who we are will never be adequately taken into account by others, that is by the majority or so-called norm for any social group.  How could we expect otherwise?  This is just the groundwork and footwork that needs to be done for us to live in community, which is inherently diverse, no matter how much we may try to homogenize things.  Communicating who we are with one another is the only way that we can live together in a way that truly honors one another.  Otherwise, while we may be technically living together, we are just in the same vicinity, living in our own little realities.  Doing the hard work of speaking out and communicating with one another leads to a lot of disillusionment, that process of shedding our illusions.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that we have a choice in this matter.  Living authentically, that is, in consonance with reality, demands that we learn about the reality of others and communicate our own reality to others.  The difficulty in this is rooted in the fact that in those areas of our life where we experience fitting into the dominant norm, we have little built-in incentive to do the work of learning about minorities, those ways that others are queer.  Thus, the incentive, or burden, falls to those who are in the minority, the queers.  This will always be an uphill battle, with the less powerful doing their duty to inform the more powerful.  Fortunately, acting in consonance with reality is ultimately the most powerful way of being.  In this case, the less powerful are doing double duty by serving their own palpable interest and the less recognizable but equally important interests of those in a particular dominant norm.  If this seems somehow unfair, please remember, again, that we all have areas in our life where we are living into the dominant norm, and we all have areas in our life where we are living into a queer norm.  Thus, by recognizing this, there is a solid basis for compassion toward one another and ourselves.  In this sense, we are all in the same boat.  Normal is not normal.  We are all queer.  The seeming paradox of a queer norm is only paradoxical if we don’t recognize that we all experience one or another queer norm.  It’s just a matter of doing the hard work of sorting out our experiences of difference, and truly appreciating that difference, diversity, is as valuable as it is inescapable.  I do not believe that reality is cruel.  There is a beneficence to reality that favors the beneficent.  May we heed this reality and live into it joyfully whoever we may be.  Let the process of self and other discovery continue!

POEM: I will not insist that you misunderstand me in a certain way

POEM:

I will not insist
That you misunderstand me
In a certain way

This short poem is a mere dozen words, yet, it touches on many themes.  The primary theme of the short poem is about understanding and misunderstanding.  The secondary themes are about not insisting on one’s own way, and letting go of how others perceive you, and as the case may be, mis-perceive you.

It may seem that there are few certainties in life, but you should be able to chalk off being misunderstood as one of those eventualities.  I believe that being misunderstood is a certainty because there is an intrinsically private nature to our inner life of who we are.  In fact, I don’t believe that complete self-knowledge is even possible, so we are stuck with the least a certain amount of misunderstanding of who we really are.  The trick I suppose is to recognize this and accept it.  The poem focuses on being misunderstood by others because this is a common and palpable source of pain and confusion in our lives.  Also, from a psychological perspective, I think that there is a tendency for humans to focus on other people’s’ deficiencies and limitations, rather than to do the oftentimes difficult task of recognizing our own deficiencies and limitations and dealing directly with them.  The “not insisting” part of this poem is intended to lead the reader to let go of focusing on others.

The mention of “a certain way”, hopefully, elicits in the reader a certain sense of foolishness in our frequently vain attempts to be understood, when actually the best we may be able to do is to be misunderstood in a particular way.  Again, this foolishness is a result of not accepting the irreducible reality that some misunderstanding is inevitable.

This poem is not intended to be discouraging. It touches on an awareness of a theme that I’ve noticed in my life in recent years.  That is, that disillusionment is actually a good thing.  After all, shouldn’t we be shedding our illusions?  The negative connotation of disillusionment is pervasive.  Accepting the reality for what it is, not simply what we would like it to be, is a sign of maturity and health.  I love paradoxes!  I believe that truth lives in the neighborhood of paradox.  Paradoxically, learning to accept our own limitations and deficiencies, and the limitations and deficiencies of others, is necessary to experience and live truly free.  Just because I can’t run 100 miles an hour, doesn’t mean that I’m not free.  We should let go of illusions that distract us from actually accomplishing and living the magnificently great things that actually are within our own power.  This may not be easy, but I find it helpful.  And it gives me something to do, to pass the time with.