Category Archives: conservativism

Salman Rushie Explains Trumpism

Natural disaster is here again, giving us a chance to look at the lunacy of cause-and-effect carried to the point of lunacy.  Jim Bakker, the former PTL tele-evangelist, now hawking the gospel and end-of-the-world survival food.  Meanwhile, Rush Limbaugh is blathering on his latest conspiracy theory, that Hurricane Harvey is implicated in a plot to increase sales of bottled water and batteries.  (For Jim Bakker story, see:  (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/jim-bakker-hurricane-doomsday-food_us_59af847be4b0354e440d93dd)

Cause-effect is important as otherwise the world as we know it would not exist.  There would be no possibility of a structured whole that facilitates human culture.  But when the spiritual dimension of life is missing, or at least ossified in meaninglessness, the cause-effect view of the world is devoid of perspective. This is very much related to the time-space continuum about which I pontificate often.

The time-space continuum, and its off-spring cause-and-effect, is basically the nuts and bolts of “reality.”  And I am certainly not against reality but I’m very much a proponent of another dimension of reality, which I will call it Reality, without which life will become meaningless.  This “Reality” is the domain of what some of us like to call “God” but unfortunately when the notion of God gets consumed by culture it too loses its value.  And I deliberately used the pronoun “it” for a deity that is confined to cultural conveniences, including language, is an “it.”

Let me put this phenomenon on personal terms.  It is easy to blame Trump and Trumpism for the ugliness that is abounding in my culture currently.  And, he certainly is a contributor to it.  But as Salman Rushie recently pointed out, Trump is only the symptom of the problem and when he takes his place in the dust bin of history the problem will still be with us.  For the problem is very much related to this notion of “Reality” that I proposed and the “god” intertwined in that dimension of human experience is not an absent, disembodied deity but one who lives in the very core of our being and, according to none other than Jesus, “is us” in a very critical fashion.  The problem is our intrinsic disavowal of that intrinsic dimension of our being, opting to focus on the external, one example being our hedonist consumerism. But as long as we continue to be externally oriented, given to blaming others…including God…we will not come to recognize and experience our own God-given human agency which would allow us to be better care-takers of this beautiful world we live in.  As Jesus told us, “The Kingdom is within.”  (Re Salman Rushie and Trump, see the following:  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/sep/02/salman-rushdie-interview)

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

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Marginality, Boundaries, & Racism

Marginality is a commonly used term in modern culture, referring to pushing certain people into the “margins” of our social body because of reasons that often amount to the simple fact they are “different.”  And I’m glad this term is on the table as it has produced such abysmal ugliness in our culture as racism, misogyny, homophobia, and xenophobia.

But here I want to emphasize the importance of margins even in the face of their common gross misuse.  These margins I’m speaking of are merely boundaries and without boundaries an individual, or a group of individuals, cannot cohere.  Boundaries, in the social terms I’m speaking of here, are at root the ability to draw the distinction between self and not-self, between “me and thee.”  The ability to draw this distinction is one of the most important phases of our development and only to the degree we have done this will we be able to function in society with some degree of success.

However, when this distinction-drawing has gone awry and is overly valued, the emphasis of boundaries will be excessive and the result will be an excessive push to marginalize people who are different.  This problem stems from existential insecurity as those whose grounding in reality, in the inner-most depths of their being, will find themselves overly emphasizing who is “them” and who is “us.”  Let me illustrate with the simple illustration of the immigration issue in my country.  Immigration policy is a legitimate and even moral need for the welfare of a tribe.  But when social tension is pronounced, often by socio-economic pressures, a matter like immigration policy will become a political football and rather than be resolved will be endlessly quarreled about. In present day, it gives rise to cries like “Build that wall” and “Keep those Mexicans out” which often amounts to nothing more than overt racism rather than the simple and legal right to set a boundary and control who can enter our country.  The foolishness of this “Build that Wall” cry was demonstrated with another Republican Presidential candidate, Scott Walker, responded immediately to Trump’s suggestion with notion of building a wall between the U.S. and Canada also!  “Trump got a lot of applause, so I’ll say the same thing,” Walker must have thought!

We are not rational human beings.  Never have been and never will be.  We are human beings driven primarily by emotion and our reason is subservient to these emotions.  That does not mean we deserve the label “irrational”…necessarily…it just means that our reasoning must be taken with a grain of salt, thus allowing for other perspectives.  Cooperation and dedication toward a common good would then be possible.  But it is easier to just go along with unexamined prejudices, biases and premises about life, giving to them by drawing distinctions rigidly when they could be drawn more graciously.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Epistemic Closure in Poetry

The political impasse in my country with the hijacking of the Republican Party by hyper-conservative voices has brought to my focus the topic of epistemic closure.  This is the idea of an idea, or group of ideas, that so captivates a group that any disagreement is forbidden as it would threaten their unconscious need for certainty.  Carried to an extreme this phenomenon always produces a figure head, someone extremely immune from feedback from external reality like Donald Trump.

This morning I ran across a beautiful poem in the Times Literary Supplement which illustrates this phenomenon.  It then brought to my mind two other poems, all three of which I will now share:

Sleeping Dogs by Stephen Dobyns

The satisfied are always chewing something;
like eternal daybreak their smiles remain constant.
They think they travelled far to get here. In fact,
it was two or three steps. Their definitions
surround them like a kennel contains a hound.
Let’s say you rattle their gate. Let’s say you became
a flea nibbling the delicate skin of their belief.
One eye rolls up, a raised lip reveals a tooth.

Like a thrown stone imagining it will not fall
their explanations work to keep the world fixed.
And here you’ve come with your trumpet. Did you
think they would like your music? Your accusers
are blameless. They press their paws to their soft ears.
Why share their kennel if you won’t let them sleep?

And here is one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson who uses vivid, concrete language to describe the emphatic closing of a mind against any feedback from one’s private frame of reference:

The Soul selects her own Society —
Then — shuts the Door —
To her divine Majority —
Present no more —

Unmoved — she notes the Chariots — pausing —
At her low Gate —
Unmoved — an Emperor be kneeling
Upon her Mat —

I’ve known her — from an ample nation —
Choose One —
Then — close the Valves of her attention —
Like Stone —

And finally here is an excerpt from “New Year Letter” by W. H. Auden who poignantly captures the duplicity of the social contract and the courage it takes to explore beneath its facade:

…only “despair

Can shape the hero who will dare

The desperate databases

Into the snarl of the abyss

That always lies just underneath

Our jolly picnic on the heath

Of the agreeable, where we bask,

Agreed on what we will not ask,

Bland, sunny, and adjusted by

The light of the accepted lie?

 

Language is Nuanced and Contextual

Ben Carson is now on stage with Trump, playing his part in the daily clown show.  He almost immediately made a splash when in his first speech after taking office as Housing and Urban Development Secretary described slaves on slave ships as “immigrants.”   When he was immediately criticized over this statement, he responded with, “Look up the definition of immigrants.”

Carson is another demonstration of the Trump administration’s lack of appreciation of nuance in language, reminding me of the former Supreme Court jurist, Antonin Scalia who argued, “The constitution means just what it says.”  Conservative politicians, and theologians, are literalists and do not consider the contextual dimension of words.  Though these very same persons will readily argue that one who cries “Fire” in a theater does not have the right to do so, that venue being one one “context” which is relevant to the use of words.

Carson replied in response to critics of his observation, “Look it up in the dictionary!.”  He is right, “immigrant” means someone moving to another country.  However, the notion that a black person in the bowels of an 18th century slave ship was an “immigrant” is just absolutely ridiculous.  And, though this is only obliquely related, let me show you a photo of Ben Carson and Jesus in his household, the nuances of which are highly comical.

If only I was skilled with photo-shop, you would soon see a picture of myself with Jesus and Buddha on either side of me, arms around me and myself with a beatific smile.  This photo is such a stunning example of how Ben Carson, and so many of the Republican Party, have no idea of how they are coming across to the onlooker.

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/stats/day/literarylew.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

Hiking the Appalachian Trail.

In 2009 this phrase entered the English metaphorical lexicon as a synonym for having an extra-marital affair.  The Republican Governor of South Carolina, Mark Stanford disappeared from office for a suspicious amount of time and no one could fully account for his absence.  His staff at one point, under mounting pressure, finally explained that the governor was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” and could not be reached.  Shortly thereafter it was revealed that he was in Argentina cavorting with his sexy paramour.  Thus an apt metaphor for “cheating” came into our language. Stanford had to resign from the office and submit to the humiliation of the press, especially the late-night comedians who pilloried him for his hypocrisy.  Being an outspoken supporter of “family values” and moral propriety, his hypocrisy was apparent to all.  He was a broken man.

But now he is back in Congress as an outspoken Republican critic of Donald Trump while most of his party continues to cower before the “sound and fury” of Mr. Trump, all of which “signifies nothing.”  Sanford describes himself as a “dead man walking,” noting how that he lost everything and knows how it feels and so now has nothing to lose.  Circumstances of life, I like to call it that “bitch reality, slapped him in the face and he managed to find the courage to accept the loss of face and emerge with a newly found humility.

Disillusionment is painful.  It is particularly painful for those who are outspoken proponents of moral virtue and political correctness.  Such hypocrisy now abounds in the Republican Party and they have unwittingly elected as President the very epitome of dishonesty, insincerity, and moral depravity.  They now have the opportunity to use the words of the cartoon character Pogo and humbly lament, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Sanford declares he now has nothing to lose.  And he doesn’t.  The Republican Party needs to find that same humility and simply admit, “We made a mistake,” uttering the words that Trump is incapable of uttering.  And, furthermore, the entirety of our country needs to find this humility as Trump’s election is a reflection of the American soul and not merely the soul of those who voted for him.  We now have a learning opportunity before us.  Let’s see what happens.  Usually in these circumstances the wisdom of W. H. Auden is relevant, “And Truth met him, and held out her hand.  But he clung in panic to his tall belief and shrank away like an ill-treated child.”

(If you want to see more details about Govenor Sanford’s fall from power and rebirth, see the following link:  http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/02/mark-sanford-profile-214791)

Truth and a Mall Santa Claus

A street preacher, already notorious in Amarillo, Texas, disrupted a shopping mall’s Santa visitation with children recently, loudly announcing to them, “Santa Claus is not real.”  There is no doubt he was very sincere in what he was doing; for, yes, Santa Claus is not “real” but that does not mean his tradition in our country is not valid for little children.  But he demonstrated the wisdom of the bumper sticker I’ve been obsessed with recently, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

This gentleman believes he has the “truth” and that the “truth” most boldly proclaimed because hapless parents lack the spiritual depth he has or they would not subject their innocent children to this falsity.  And this illustrates the dilemma of “truth” and the danger that occurs when one is “filled with the spirit” and knows that he has the truth exclusively.  As admitted in the past, I write from experience and now realize just how arrogant I was, now seeing Truth as much more subtle part of a mystical dimension of human experience which we can never own.  But, oh is it tempting to think that we do!

I readily admit that I feel I am writing “truth” when I discourse here but have no illusion that it is axiomatic, written in stone, sent from on “high” Truth.  I have only a simple perspective, shaped by my biological and social past and for some unknown reason I am moved to “hold forth” in this venue, taking comfort in the knowledge that no one is being coerced to pay any attention.  And oh so many don’t!

The street preacher’s “truth-proclaiming” belied the certainty that consumes him about his beliefs and that certainty is now consuming American culture, especially the conservative element.  The braggadocio of Donald Trump and his promise to “Make America Great Again” appealed to a segment of the population who pines foe the days when life was more certain.  Furthermore, Trump’s rhetoric appealed to fundamentalist Christians who readily looked past his moral depravity in the hope that the “certainty” of their faith could be reassured.  Certainty is so much easier than faith.

But the certainty I’m exploring here belies a profound lack of certainty, a deep existential doubt that must be assuaged by addictively clinging to some dogma, even “dogma” that I have found to have great value once I had the courage to see the role my ego was playing in my immature and dogmatic faith.  When one is existentially insecure, he must find something to latch on to in order to alleviate the emotional, spiritual duress he would otherwise feel.

(See story about Mall Santa verbal attack, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2016/12/13/preacher-children-santa-claus-does-not-exist/95371826/)

 

Reason and Politics

I’ve followed politics closely for the past 28 years or so and I’ve noticed each time that on some level I merely want “my pony to win the race.” I merely want to be on the winning side and oh how disappointing it is when “my pony”, particularly in a Presidential campaign, does not win.  But in this same 28 years I’ve been increasingly conscious that the drama being played out is far greater than my youthful desire to be on the winning side and even in crushing defeats I’ve always maintained that there is some “method to this madness” or that there is a “Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”  In other words, the picture is always much bigger than I can see and the “picture” before me is always merely the latest screen shot of the historical drama that is ongoing.

I have a bevy of close friends here in Taos, NM  who I see quite often and we are on the same page, being fearful of what lies before us but having firm confidence that “the process” will prevail, even if we are disappointed on this occasion.  For life itself is a process, a “flow”, and it will continue even if catastrophe should come, be that a personal catastrophe and my life is suddenly snuffed out, or even if the whole species is wiped out!  The picture is always bigger than the one I see or even bigger than the one that humankind sees at the moment.  We are always caught up in the historical moment and have no idea of what actually is going on.

Of course, some think that they do and have firm confidence in their perspective, often vowing that God has declared it to them.  To them I would merely note that when the flat earth view of the world was crumbling, most people clung tenaciously to their antiquated world view and even put to death many of those who saw things otherwise.  And, of course, “God was leading them.”  We have only a finite view of the world, but understanding and experiencing this finitude is so frightening that we usually disallow it from every seeping into our awareness.

No one’s reason is autonomous.  We think we employ reason to draw correct conclusions but science has proven that reason is always under the control of our preconceptions so that we are inclined to see only what we want to see.  W. H. Auden emphasized the need of our reasoning being, “redeemed from incestuous fixation on her own logic.”  Auden recognized that our reason was subservient to an “incestuous logic” which always provides us justification for our conscious rational grasp of our world.  When we are subservient only to reason, we need to recall the wisdom of Goethe who noted, “They call it Reason, using light celestial, just to outdo the beasts in being bestial.”