Category Archives: social commentary

Shakespeare and Our Collective Madness

Shakespeare viewed the entire world as “out of its ever-loving gourd” mad.  Thus he would describe life itself as a “tale told by an idiot” as he was a keen observer of the human predicament and was bewildered by what he saw.  Therefore in Hamlet, he lamented, in so many words, “Why bother” in the first place, why “toil and sweat under a weary life” when one could take exit with a “bare bodkin” and escape to golden mansions and streets of gold.

But I think that Shakespeare recognized that he too was mad but took comfort in that he had in his heart “something else” than madness.  His plays and sonnets revealed the presence of “the pauser reason” which allowed him self-awareness enough to own his “madness” but to realize he was not totally mad as was so many people around him who lacked that self-awareness.

I’m curious what he would say today about Donald Trump.  I think he would have a field day as Trump is about as close to “nothing else but mad” as one can be and merit the label “functional.”  But the only thing that gives him this label are his handlers who often appear to be going mad in their desperate effort to make his daily insane behaviors and statements palatable to the press and public.

To illustrate our collective madness, I have read that our world has the resources to eliminate hunger.  If so, why don’t we?  It seems to me that failure to do so is totally irrational yet you can bet your sweet bippy it will not happen in mine and your lifetime.  This is because “reality” grinds relentlessly onward, mindlessly, heartlessly, mechanically like the “tale told by an idiot” toward some unknown end and “chooses” to be oblivious to egregious ills.  But I, like the Bard, do affirm that “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may.”

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Ta-Nehesi Coates: “Thinking They are White”

Ta-nehesi Coates’s book on racism was one of the most provocative books I read last year. Mr. Coates grew up an impoverished black child in Baltimore, Maryland, managed to escape with an education, and wrote this very revealing book about what it is like to grow up under the tyranny of racism in ’70’s and 80’s America.  One line that really grabbed me a class of people who learned to “think they are white” and the power that comes with that understanding.  For, being white in America did carry, and still does to a large degree, implicit assumptions of power, i.e. prerogative.  Growing up a poor white boy in Arkansas I clearly remember discovering early the “black-white” distinction in my culture, the blacks being known, of course, as “N…….s” and viewed with great scorn and contempt.  Looking back I now recall distinctly how important this was as a poor white, having a class of people who were lower on the totem pole than we were though we were very low socio-economically.  Learning to “think I was white” was one of the most important early discoveries of my life, very much a formative part of my identity the early stages of which involves drawing distinctions between self and others, including between my group and other groups.

But Mr. Coates’ observation, “thinking they are white” really cut to the quick with me, conveying to me what he had seen about the smug observations we make early in our childhood which become solid bedrock in our cognitive grasp of the world.  And with my grasp of my “whiteness” I knew that though I lacked many things, no one could take away from me my “whiteness” and with that status came the power of eating on the right side of the diner, using the nicer bathrooms, drinking at the white water fountains, and going to the better white schools.  It was nothing I thought about…consciously.  It was a given, a basic assumption, an implicit part of the template through which I viewed the world.  I had a power that many others did not have, regardless of how powerlessness I might feel otherwise in my life.

Though I have long since gone beyond this racist view of the world, I know the template is still there in the depths of my heart thought quite faint.  In the past decade as I’ve aged I have recognized faint racist imagery and thoughts creep into my consciousness, an experience which has not alarmed me because I see them for what they are.  The earliest imprints from our culture, even those “burned in” on our pre-conscious soul, never leave us.   People may vehemently deny being racist but very often their behavior and passing thoughts betray them.  For example, note the Republican Party which is quick to deny racism but has systematically and persistently sought to deny blacks the right to vote in recent years.

Racism is only the surface of a deeper problem, an intrinsic dimension of identity formulation already alluded to.  For an identity to begin to organize and to escape the matrix in which it first existed, that “blooming, buzzing, confusing world of sense experience” spoken of by William James…it must draw distinctions between it and the “other”.  Blacks in my early life, and in most of my generation, was one of the earliest “others” that we found and when we “othered” them it was done with great emotional intensity.

So racism is merely an essential part of American identity and all cultures and tribes have some similar process at the bedrock of their collective psyche.  But I’ve discoursed here only as an introduction to my next blog post, the Christian faith utilized as a contrivance for identity formulation and, devoid of maturation, serving only to “other” masses of people.

Trump Inauguration and Our Division

Yesterday, something happened in my country I never thought would happen.  Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President.  This has put the “right wing” (conservative) of the political spectrum in complete power of our government leaving those of us who support the “left wing” (liberal) scratching our heads in bewilderment.  This election has brought to a head a culture war that has building steam for decades and now the venom is so intense that I don’t see any immediate solution other than to hope that the fractious Republican Party and their mentally unstable leader will continue the internal meltdown that has been going on for decades.  And that would be a Pyrrhic victory as our country desperately needs a viable conservative voice.

I am one of those who has always been cursed with seeing at least two sides to every conflict, and sometimes more.  In this intense battle of collective wills, I’m passionately behind the liberal cause but I have been in the conservative camp for about half of my life and can see things their way.  I see that they have every right to see things through what I would call their very narrow view point but we liberals have the right to see things through our less narrow view point.  And here is where religion has gotten involved as conservatives have an enthusiastic support from evangelical Christians and their interpretation of their faith grants them the firm conviction that their view of the world, including politics,  is “right” because God is leading them.  I owe a lot to this background of religious fervor and understand the ardor.  It provides the basis of my very deep current faith though that ardor of my youth has taken a different direction which allows me to see that God is “big” enough to include different perspectives on this and all matters.  (God is so “big” that words like “big” are foolish!”)

Being right is such a pyrrhic victory.  For “right” is always determined by an external reference point and eventually one group’s definition of the term conflict gets in the way with another’s.  (Sounds a bit like marriage huh?)  Any group, any cause that gets too carried away with being “right” brings to my mind Isis; for there we have an example of what happens when “right” is carried to an extreme.  Isis has absolutely no doubt that “god” is leading them.

Here I have not provided an answer.  That is because I don’t have one. And that brings to my mind the profound wisdom of T. S. Eliot:

I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. (Four Quartets)

 

Thinking Outside of the Box With Comedy

I’ve always been blessed/cursed with “thinking outside of the box” though most of my life I’ve spent carefully trying and or pretending to do otherwise.  Here in this blog I like to focus on figures I have come across…past and present…who not only think outside of the box but often even dare to think outside of the box that the box is in!  Yes, that is a scary notion and can be dangerous as comedian  Robin Williams demonstrated so tragically.

Here I want to share a video link to another pair of comedians who push the envelope even further than Williams, at times venturing into anarchy or apparent nihilism.  But their intent is comedy and by sharing this skill of theirs they can certainly illustrate features of this human comedy that each of us plays a bit part in.

Keye and Peele here are spoofing President Obama, with one of them portraying Obama the straight man being very Presidential.  But then the other portrays another dimension of the President, an outlandish, outspoken, bombastic black man who is very angry.  In this spoof we see a good-natured illustration of the human comedy—we all have at least two dimensions to our personality, one in which we perform according to social convention and the other in which, if we had the liberty, we would say what we really would like to say.  This is very much related to the success of Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump who is at the top of the polls largely because he says things that more conventional candidates would never dare to say.

(http://www.cc.com/video-clips/0py5fm/key-and-peele-exclusive—obama-s-anger-translator—meet-luther—uncensored)

Here is another version of the same skit, this time featuring President Obama himself playing himself at a National Press Club Dinner.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6NfRMv-4OY)

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Stephen Colbert Comically Looks at Truth

My last post explored the famous question of Pontius Pilate as he presided over the trial of Jesus, “What is truth?”  In this post I brought emphasis to the profundity of the question and the humility and temerity we need to exercise as we ponder the issue.  But in the Stephen Colbert clip provided here, the ephemerality of truth is more clearly…and wittily…explored than I could ever do with mere use of “words.”  Note the self-referentiality that Colbert utilizes in making this epistemological observation and even his awareness of the narcisstic dimension of the enterprise.  Colbert has “self” awareness to a scary degree, the “scariness” mitigated with his ability to laugh at himself in the very enquiry he is making. This quality that Colbert demonstrates nightly…with the help of his talented writers…is the reason we so often find brilliant social commentary with this show which we do not find elsewhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxTDIPi_T-g