POEM: Enlightenment Not Worth Beings

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

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

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

POEM: Trust is the Glue

Trust is the glue
Sticking me to you
The favored few
The spoils of many
Consume mating
The fool
Faith and credit
Of US
Divining
Kindly mirror
Or unwelcome truth
A confidence game
And quiet passably
Escaped convictions
Sow what
Is the catch
Having been borne
Into a flimsy throng
With shortcomings taut
Exposed arrears
And know weigh out
From what hangs in the balance
And scaling up intimates dread
Both
Give and take
Be for you
A present
A forward looking gift
Offering as such
Promise
Seasons swimmingly
A rested development
And good grief
Those early mournings
In one’s out look
As prodigal hearts aplomb
And despite awe
One knows
Turning out
To be
Better than goaled
And silver locks fall away
Any hitch
A mere trailer of coming attractions
The untangled web weave
And too the our
Looming cleave

Trust is the real currency of human relationships and civilization.  True community can only be built upon trust.  We are born vulnerable, and vulnerability remains at the center of human intimacy throughout life.  Authentic human intimacy can only be achieved through vulnerability.  Exploring our vulnerability with others, and sharing our burdens of vulnerability with others, is a necessary process for building trust.  If we put ourselves out there and we are accepted and embraced, the space where we can truly be ourselves and truly learn about others grows wider and deeper.  This knowledge and experience of ourselves and others is essential for reaching our full human potential.  In its most simplest terms, we need others to be fully human.  Trust is an invitation to trust.  If another reciprocates that trust, then trust grows.  If another shuts us down or hurts us, then trust stagnates or recedes.  Similarly, mistrust becomes an invitation to mistrust.

We have all experienced rejection and hurt, and many have experienced outright trauma.  These facts of human existence provide the baseline for how much trust we might expect at any given time.  However, building trust or healing from mistrust can only occur by inviting others to trust, which requires a vulnerability from anyone inviting another to grow trust.  These are the true heroes of human community, not those who “make” things happen (the purview of force).

Without trust we devolve into isolation and fear.  Individualism can only be maintained by increasing control over others whom we do not trust and consider threatening.  This does not play well with the people sought to be controlled.  This is the most fundamental division in forming, maintaining, and building human community.  There may be a nominal alignment of interests within social classes to secure common goals, but these interests will remain forever in tension and at risk of erosion if the primary driver is individual security.  The perpetual warring of competing interests, and continual realigning of interest groups, is an inescapable result of an unwillingness or inability to share vulnerabilities with other people, to invite mutual trust.

Further, the drive to control others emanates directly from a subjugation of the common good to our own perceived good.  Whether conscious or unconscious, this drive is based on the calculation or assumption that, as an individual, one can fare better by competition against rather than cooperation with others.  While this may be true in limited contexts and time-frames, such competition and subjugation erodes the potential for human progress or evolution at any given moment.  There are many things that a trusting community, of two or more people, can build than an individual, no matter how much force they can apply to others to control others according to their own will.  If you have any doubt about the benefits of trust, consider the simple advantages of unlocked doors versus locked doors.  A fortress mentality, built on mistrust, is costly both physically and psychologically.  Of course, physical security for one’s person and property is perhaps the crudest manifestation of trust’s benefits.  At the heart of trusting relationships is self-discovery in the safety of accepting and loving others, and deep knowledge of others; both of which vastly improve our functioning in the human world in realistic and effective ways.

Since community builds from a growing trust in others, it is not surprising that families and close personal relationships are the building blocks of community.  Even the trust of institutions near and far is powerfully mediated by our personal experiences and from the example, character, and opinions of those whom we trust, those closest to us.  For this reason alone, building community is a bottom-up enterprise.

You can’t legislate trust.  Trust is synonymous with authority, not power to coerce but that which we believe has a legitimate claim upon us.  Institutions seem to have a life of their own, a self-replicating or self-perpetuating nature.  However, human institutions are dependent on humans.  Any authority that an institution has is derived somewhere down the line from the “street cred,” the level of trustworthiness of that humans associated with that institution.  Institutions are comprised of a set of humans associated with it, and a set of impersonal “corporate” relationships that govern its behavior.  The consent and trust of humans determines the legitimate authority of institutions (as opposed to simply force), not the other way around.

At the nexus of the personal relationships of humans and the impersonal corporate relationships of an institution, is the next level of human community where trust and mistrust manifest themselves.  Institutions guided by trust are mere tools, a technology to be used, by humans, to achieve some common good.  They act in accord with the will of the people associated with it, and demonstrate authority in as much as it behaves in ways with legitimate claims to creating common goods.   Institutions guided by mistrust are those plagued by humans who value the tool more than the people it was designed to serve.  Such human plague trusts tools, things, more than people.

The difference is between humans using a tool or the tool using humans.  Of course, the tool does not have a life of its own, but its character is derived from the humans associated with it.   Used appropriately, institutions serve as a tool to magnify the common good, and they both deserve and build trust.  Used inappropriately, institutions are weaponized by some to control others, magnifying the invitation to mistrust, and degrading community.  This weaponization of institutions hinges on a mistrust that chooses valuing “things” over people, in a quest for individual security.  In essence, such institutional abuse is a form of dehumanization, reducing people (and their institutions) to things simply to be used for one’s own advantage.  This tension or outright conflict within institutions greatly magnifies the dividing line between people and things.  While institutions can leverage the common good, I suspect that the ease of hijacking institutions compared to the great effort required to build healthy institutions does not bode well for the total net benefit of large institutions in human life and community.  Large institutions with their relative ease of weaponization sets up access to perhaps the greatest area of power differentials in human society.  Perhaps the best basis for securing human equality is minimizing large institutions which can magnify power differentials between people.

I suspect that widespread trust is much more efficient and effective than the widespread large institutions, the hallmark of Western civilization, at bringing about healthy, happy, and free human communities.  The fulcrum between trust and mistrust is compassion, or love.  Without compassion toward ourselves and others regarding our vulnerabilities and imperfections, we will forever fall short of being whole human beings, who can only be made whole in community.  Compassion builds trust and can banish fear.  I am hopeful that the experience of authentic, healthy community is more powerful and attractive than fearful isolation and individualism.  May it be so…

Army of One

Army of One – I’d Settle for That – FUNNY ANTI-WAR BUTTON

Army of One - I'd Settle for That - FUNNY ANTI-WAR BUTTON

Army of One – I’d Settle for That – FUNNY ANTI-WAR BUTTON

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This antiwar design is a take off on the army slogan touting the apparent power of an Army of one.  This seems to play on some steroidal individualism, which is a little ironic since the Army is hardly a bastion of individualism.  This parody is actually based on taking the slogan literally.  Wouldn’t it be great if they were just one person in the army rather than millions?  I’d certainly settle for that!  Of course, the compromising attitude of such a statement indicating that one is just settling, adds to the power of the parody.

What Are Conservatives Conserving?

What Exactly Are Conservatives Conserving (Earth) POLITICAL BUTTON

What Exactly Are Conservatives Conserving (Earth) POLITICAL BUTTON

What Exactly Are Conservatives Conserving (Earth) POLITICAL BUTTON

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What exactly are conservatives conserving?  This is a great question!  Of course, I love the play on the similar root of the words conservative and conserving.  Conservatives love talking about freedom.  However it seems that if we listen to conservatives we would be free to live in a world that is being consumed by all of its so-called free human beings, and all these human beings would be competing to no end against one another.  Sounds like a crappy version of freedom to me.   Freedom without understanding and honoring the limits of the natural world seems to me to be simply a license to ignorantly destroy the planet and all of its inhabitants.  Of course, the shared reality of the natural world, if it is going to be protected for the benefit of humanity, must put demands and limitations on human freedom.  Human beings, though seen as the pinnacle of reality by many, are certainly not exempt from the feedback or karma that the rest of reality causes in response to our actions.  Oftentimes, when I hear conservative speaking of freedom, it sounds to me like some immature fantasy of being free from anything and everything (or anyone).  However, I believe that true human wisdom lies in discerning what we should do, not simply what we can do (or get away with).  Reality gives plenty of good feedback about what we actually can’t do, so the obsession with freedom seems to me to be a sort of moot question.  Like the existentialist philosopher John Paul Sartre says, “we are condemned to be free.”  Freedom actually isn’t even a choice; we are born free.  Certainly, living in community with other human beings is a complicated and difficult thing.  However, it strikes me as foolish to ignore or greatly discount all the great things that we get from community as somehow too fuzzy or somehow reducible to some  individualistic form of math (the whole equals the sum of the parts, not more) that need rely only on some “invisible hand” to do the difficult and messy work of creating and maintaining a healthy and functional community.  In the end, it seems to me that what conservatives are conserving is the right to be selfish – more of an excuse than a human right.  Then, to get out of this amoral or evil conundrum, they claim that selfishness is the highest form of selflessness or benefit to the common good.  I suppose it’s very difficult to argue against an ideology that creates both its central tenet in its exact opposite.  Let them eat cake and keep their cake to.  What could be more conserving than that?

POEM: Financial Wizardry

Steal from one
You are called a thief
Steal from many
You are called a financial wizard

I like this short poem because it plays with the idea of how we interpret personal or individual acts versus impersonal and large-scale actions.  This poem fits the same format and tone as:  kill one and they call it murder, kill many and they call it foreign policy.  Each of these highlights the apparent bias that we have against individual or personal harmful acts, and our apparent bias in favor of impersonal and distance actions.  On the one hand, this makes sense since you can more easily see and connect the dots to the harmfulness of someone stealing directly from you in person, or assaulting you in person.  Yet, on the other hand, by stealing little bits from many, many people in an impersonal fashion and across great distances, Western civilization has frequently decided to term this financial wizardry or good foreign policy protecting our national interest.  It seems to me that much of the so-called success of Western civilization has been a drive toward maximizing impersonal and large-scale relationships to avoid accountability.  However, beyond avoiding accountability, such crimes actually become laudable and bring many benefits, such as wealth, control, and status.  An alternative to this facet of Western civilization would be to move toward and value more highly personal, local, and more organic human relationships.  Some of us might call this anarchism, the free association of individuals to come together and determine their common destiny.  This concept of anarchism is less about individualism than is about maintaining the ability to forge a common destiny, mediated by a shared reality.  Community is necessary since we have a shared reality.  This type of anarchism is democratic, but is skeptical of so-called representation by others, and favors direct democracy where people represent themselves.  This poem is a quick way to highlight the dangerously wrong direction that scale and impersonality or dehumanization can bring.  My own view is that if we don’t humanize so-called civilization, then so-called civilization will dehumanize us.  Most importantly, a humane world will not need a lot of financial wizards.

How Much is Enough? Enough is Enough

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

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

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

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

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