The End Of The World As We Know It — Keep Swimming

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First a quick nod of thanks to R.E.M. for the song that’s been playing in my head for nearly a month.  Where would we be without our daily life soundtrack….

A few days ago, I posted a short piece to FaceBook that I later added here as a blog entry, talking about how I’ve finally managed to get past the election of Donald Trump, and get on with my life.  In that post, I said I’d had 2 “ah-ha” moments and I explained what I’d learned, then ended by saying there really was a 3rd big AH-HA — but it would take too long to explain in a FB status update.  After all the comments, Likes, private messages, phone calls etc from my friends & FBcontacts, I now realize that just about everybody I know — including even those who don’t live in the US or have US citizenship —  has been experiencing the same kind of PTSD reaction to this year’s election, and that maybe I should have taken the time and explained all three Ah-Ha’s.  Here we are, nearly five weeks after the fact, and people are still either in denial — still expecting some deus ex machina intervention or catastrophe to prevent the coming inauguration — or so deep into depression that they are considering a visit to their doctor to talk about SSRIs.  Or Valium.  or Xanax.  or medical marijuana.  or how to self-administer a lethal injection.

Not those who voted for the Don, I suppose.  But I don’t actually know anybody who voted for him.  Or who will admit to it, anyway.

The worst reactions are coming from those who have either been in abusive relationships and escaped — or those who have lived and/or worked closely with a narcissist.  (Not a slightly self-absorbed average person — a real, live, clinically pathological narcissist.)  For those people, the post-election season is a little like waking up in one of their own nightmare memories.  The evening news is like watching old home movies — playing out on a global scale.  People who have survived a marriage to a narcissist or a business relationship with a narcissist  know what’s coming.  It’s the Big Reveal.  Or the Big Run-And-Hide.  Enemies lists, revenge, retribution, long-game-I’ll-show-you, spiteful jabs, reputation destroying, enemies-closer, cyber-stalking, power-plays, victory laps, pep rallies, loyalty rewards cards, military parades, membership in Biggest Winner Fan Club, mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together….

And they’re right, of course.  All of that is more than possible.  It’s probable.  Likely.  Coming to a theater near you.  And a market near you.  And a street near you.  Everybody needs to have their exit strategy laid out.  Keep the tank full at all times.   Have at least 3-4 weeks of food and water on hand.  Keep blankets and water and an emergency care kit by the door.

This is not a test.

But here’s the other thing that’s just as true:

The model still holds.

I am not going to explain the model in this post.  That would be like explaining particle physics in 20 words or less.  (lol)  It would be a 50 page (conservatively) snooze-a-thon for most folks.  There is a full explanation of the Graves Model here in my blog (start here, if you want the full monty) – but the essentials are these:

  • There is a developmental pattern shared by all of us.
  • The same pattern of human development is shared by groups — families, societies, species.  From individuals to villages, companies to governments, to the global village — each of us, and each of the cultural groups we belong to, all follow the same pattern of evolution.
  • The level of the model an individual operates at is demonstrated by their motivations, beliefs, and behaviors.
  • When the “tipping point” of any level is reached, the person or society that has reached that tipping point moves on to the next level. (much like a simple game, where the tiny explorer fights all the creatures and solves all the puzzles on one level, then discovers the doorway into the next level and so moves on.)
  • The levels alternate between inward focus and outward focus.  That is, Level 1 is all about my own personal survival.  Once that survival is secured, we look around and say “Is that it?  Is that all there is to life?”  And of course, the answer is always, NO.  There is more to life that just my own survival — but I can’t see that until I’m good enough at surviving to look around my own little 2-square-feet of real estate.  And Level 2 is born — the family group or tribe is born.  Level 1 is inward — just me.  Level 2 is outward and inclusive — US.  WE.  We survive and we do it better together.  We take care of our own.  We share the load.  We help each other.
  • Each progressive step upward reaches its threshold asking a question.  Odd numbered levels ask, “Is that all there is?” before moving up to an even-numbered level.  Even numbers ask, “but what’s in this for me?” and then move up to the next odd-numbered level to do inward/individual focus again.
  • Each progressive level is broader and/or more complex than the previous level.
  • The group — the US — of each progressive even number is bigger than the last.  Level 2 is about protecting and building family and tribe.  Level 4 is about protecting and building social order — church, state, laws, written morals etc.  Level 6 is about protecting and building for all humans and other diverse groups, acting together and for one-another.
  • The individual — the ME — of each progressive odd number exhibits a wider range of power, control, and participation in self advancement than simple survival.  Level 3 is about competition, conquest, and winning on the battlefields of sport, war, and pre-capitalist economics.  Level 5 is about competition, conquest and winning on the bigger playing fields of capitalist economics, science, and technology.  Level 7 does not exist yet on a global scale —  we have not reached this level in the broader evolution of our species, but in individual terms, it is about the competition and conquest of ideas.  We are playing on the bigger field of human ideas and understanding.  It is a world of figuring out bigger questions.  Bigger patterns.  Patterns over time and distance.   L3 is pre-capitalist.  L5 is capitalist.  L7 is — you guessed it — post-capitalist.
  • The Graves Model itself, exists at Level 7.  And yes, there is an 8, but neither L1 nor L8 is really relevant or helpful for this discussion, so we’re just going to drop those for now and move on.
  • In general, the harshest critics of any level are those who have just moved to the next level.  Like someone who has just managed to kick an addiction to cigarettes is the first to insist that smokers are enemies of the state.
  • In general, odd numbers see both the previous even number and the next even number as enemies of all they stand for.  L5 tends to see L4’s laws, regulations, and morals as strangling and ridiculously rule-bound; and L6’s concern with “all-those-not-like-me” as wasting their time, money and energy on things that don’t matter to the bottom line.  L3 felt the same way about L2 and L4.  L7 will, if we last long enough as a species, feel the same way about L6 and L8.
  • In general, regardless of what level we exist at, we are able to operate at other levels when called for.  For example, anyone who has survived (L1) is able to shift into L1 when their survival is at stake.  Anyone who has lived at L2 will return to L2 for family gatherings.  Anyone can play tennis at L3.  Everyone probably attends church or balances their checkbook in L4-mode.  There are certain activities that pull us from our general operating level into a level that works best for that particular activity.
  • We all tend to believe that everyone is just like us — but that some are doing it very badly.  L2s think the entire world exists for them to use for their group’s benefit — but some individuals or countries  just don’t understand.  L3 thinks the whole world is there for them to fight, defeat, and conquer — the one with the biggest stick or gun wins.  L4 thinks the world just needs to follow their rules.  L5 thinks money will fix everything.  L6 thinks we are our brother’s keepers, and everyone is our brother — but (L5 especially) just doesn’t get it.  L7 believes they can fix it if they can just figure it out — and any other pursuit is a waste of time.
  • And — this is the important take-away — Every individual, regardless of level, and every social or cultural entity, regardless of level — has one belief in common:

ANYONE (or any society) NOT OPERATING ON THE SAME LEVEL AS ME IS
CRIMINAL, INSANE, SINFUL, STUPID, USELESS, and/or WEAK.

And that, boys and girls, is where war and aggression come from.


And that’s the shortest explanation of the Graves Theory of Human Evolution I can give you.  It’s not complete.  I’ve made some outrageous simplifications.  But that’s the crux of it.  It’s a really REALLY complicated big picture cut down to a page or two of generalizations.

I thought I’d live to see the shift from Graves Level 5 to 6 as the dominant world system.  After all, we’ve been here at L5 since the Renaissance.  Sure, there have been many individuals who have existed happily and well at L6 and L7 for years — but not enough of those individuals for any but a few tiny countries or organizations to move up into L6 en mas.  Large collections of L7s work in close proximity in  few really forward thinking companies, research institutions or colonies, but in general they are Lone Wolf thinkers who specialize in pattern recognition, theoretical scientific work, and systems analysis and theory.

But since the Renaissance, L5 has been the dominant and overwhelmingly persuasive bully on the pitch.  In many cases, it has persuaded us that it is the only game in town — that if it isn’t working, it’s because it is being played badly — and with enough effort and elbow grease, we can get it working the way we want it to work.

But here’s the truth — the pattern holds.

The next step will be the de-throning of L5 as the dominant social system.

We were closer than we’ve ever been to that flip into L6 in 2016 with the candidacy of Bernie Sander for President of the United States.  With Hillary Clinton, we had a candidate who had split her time going back and forth between L5 and L6.  After all, her social ambitions were based firmly in L6 ambitions, but she spent her entire career fighting from within the L5 establishment.  With Donald Trump, we had a candidate playing solidly in L5 (albeit in a significantly unhealthy way.)  HERE is a write-up on Health at any Level.

But Bernie Sanders was a horse of a different color in this race.  He makes no bones about being post-capitalist in a capitalist dominated world.  And he made no bones about pointing out the flaws in that system — for his entire career in politics.  This made him the ideal candidate for all those who have individually moved to the Graves Level where protecting and building a world where everyone is on equal footing — has equal advantages and opportunities — equal rights and protections under the law.  And for the first time in human history, one of the most powerful nations on the planet came very close to shifting from Level 5 to Level 6.  In fact, if the L5 US had been a healthy version of L5, rather than a panic-driven L5 running without the constraints of L4 morality, he might have succeeded.  But neither the Democratic nor Republican parties felt bound by right over wrong, legal or illegal, truth over lie, or fair and just over self-interest.

In short, Bernie Sanders felt bound by the rule of law and the fairness he was running to create.  Neither of the other two major candidates or their parties felt the same way.  Hillary and Trump were running in and for an L5 world.  Bernie was running in hope of an L6 emergence.

So again, THE PATTERN HOLDS.  L6 is where we are all heading, both as individuals and as a species.

One of the biggest bluffs L5 has run on humanity is the hyper-quotable: “Nobody ever said life was going to be fair.”

Really?

The idea that life isn’t fair  makes it easy for L5 to take what it wants, regardless of who it hurts.  So long as life isn’t fair — bullies reign.  If we start with the presupposition that there are winners and losers — then it’s okay within that presupposition for most of the population to be losers.  And it’s okay for winners to gloat.  And kick the losers in the butt to make sure they remember their place.

But the presupposition is a lie.  If life is sometimes unfair, it’s because its really really hard, not because it’s impossible.  And creating something that is really really hard and complicated and complex and far-reaching requires a higher Graves Level of complexity than L5 could manage.  It will take L6 — fully formed and reveling in the complications and tangles — to created fairness.

Expect justice to be the motive from healthy L4.

But expect fairness to be the motivation from healthy L6.

So if you are waiting for the  deus ex machina to drop down and save you from Donald Drumph, you can stop waiting.  This is all real and it is all going to happen.  His narcissism is going to be dangerous.  His ignorance is going to be a challenge.  But his presence is going to be.  Period.  The trick is going to be to survive it — both individually, and collectively as a country.  If there is homework, it will be waiting to see how far we can get the pendulum to swing.  Never mind “don’t let that pendulum hit you in the butt as you leave the White House, Donald!”  We want it to hit him so hard that L5 leaves with him as the dominant system in the US, and L6 is the only logical and reasonable step forward anybody can see.

So to all my friends that are still having trouble figuring out how to move on with their lives in a Trumpocracy — just know we are all still here, and the pattern holds.  We may not live to see it, but our children and grandchildren may yet discover that the world really can be a fair place.  A just place.  An honorable place.  A complex puzzle of life rather than a jack-bo0ted torture of a life.

The task ahead — the one that really gets us ahead, rather than earning us a spot in the loony-bin — is to do our best to live lives of fairness and hope, rather than lives of fear and victim-hood.  Do your L6 best — volunteer.  March.  Protest.  Give things away to people who need them.  Donate to organizations with a clear L6 focus and structure.  Support random acts of kindness and fairness.  Participate in your community and group and religion and school.  Feed somebody who’s hungry.  Learn constantly.  Reinvent yourself daily.  Save the planet.  Save the animals.  Save yourself.

In evolutionary terms, the only resolution to advancing complexity is to move to a higher level of existence.   Problems cannot be addressed from the level that created them.  It took L2 to create a place for L1 to live out their survival.  And it took L3 to progress beyond the boundary of the village.  It took L4 to stop L3’s conquests.  It took L5 to reign in L4’s structure.  Similarly, L5 can’t fix L5’s hoarding and bullying.  Only L6 can fix L5 problems.  And only L7 can harness the energy of all those minds and ideas held dear by so many people thinking and creating together.

If we can keep the planet alive long enough, we might be able to all live here together.  The pattern holds, and the pattern is bigger than this election.  It’s also bigger than the US.  Certainly bigger than any one mewling politician or disrupted event.  If you’re still stuck in the politics, pull up higher so you can see the bigger picture.  — and hold on to that bigger picture.  It’s the one that matters.

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November — A Little PTSD In My Coffee

i-votedSo it’s no secret I’ve been having a hard time processing the 2016 presidential election. What I didn’t know was how many other people were having similar problems. Symptoms (mine, and symptoms gathered from others) include: disrupted sleep patterns, nightmares, problems with general digestion, specific problem with unusually high blood sugar or blood pressure numbers, pessimism, darker cynicism, generalized depression, absence of hope for the future, inability to talk about public policy and politics without panic or anxiety, extended periods of crying… you may recognize some or all of the list.

2 “ah-ha” moments in the last 2 days:
1. greed is predatory. that is, American capitalism has painted a very clear (and yet untrue) picture that for one person to have *more*, another person must have less. Greed says that in order for Person A to get more, it is okay to take from Person B — even if that *taking* means stealing from, lying to, tricking, bluffing, bullying, threatening, conning, tormenting, torturing, or killing Person B. Greed makes us into predators who do not kill-to-eat, or kill-to-survive — but who kill or do harm to others for the pleasure of acquiring more and more and more. For the clearest and most easily understood explanation of how this model is flawed, watch Ron Howard’s Oscar winning film “A Beautiful Mind.” It is specifically the notion that economics must be competitive and predatory that John Nash was arguing against.
It is greed (and not money or economics or capitalism) that is virulent and predatory. Greed is not an economic theory — but an amoral add-on.
2. politics is as addictive as gambling — and in much the same ways. The idea that you can’t win if you don’t play is very much like the idea that you can’t effect change if you aren’t actively involved in politics. Or the idea that the amount you participate in politics is directly related to your commitment to being a good citizen. –which turns out to be untrue. Like addicted gamblers, political junkies find it nearly impossible to resist the call to be angry, argumentative, defensive — and often ruthless — in their attacks on those who do not agree with their own personal ideology. It causes a myopic attention to current events. It demands absolute and obcesive focus. It leads to isolation and loss of outside interests. It requires an attention to narrow detail that obscures the larger (and often, the pleasures of) daily life.

even the dog was having nightmares and a big chunk of buyer's remorse after this election....  she would have voted for Bernie.

even the dog was having nightmares and a big chunk of buyer’s remorse after this election…. she would have voted for Bernie.

I’ve never been vulnerable to addiction before, but I’m pretty sure this is it.
And just realizing this has helped a lot. (that, and deliberately walking away from any more than 10 minutes of political news per day, and choosing to only read headlines and abstracts of in-depth political news)

There was a 3rd “ah-ha!” — but it’s very specific to the Graves Model (a social and cultural evolutionary model) — so I’ll keep that one for myself. It takes a while to explain, and I’m sleepy….

“An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A” — and the Dilema it Leaves Us

This is a letter by someone I don’t know.  But he represents such a vast number of people I do know and care about —

JOHN PAUL – An Open Letter to Chick-Fil-A.

This presents a dilemma.  I know why Chick-Fil-A is closed on Sundays.  Anybody raised in a fundamentalist protestant church knows why.  Because somebody wanted to “keep the Sabbath holy,” but didn’t know enough to realize that the Sabbath meant Saturday.  And besides, what fundamentalist wants to share a day off with a bunch of Jews?  And what lunatic would close a business on Saturday?

So we all knew that Chick-Fil-A was run by those kinds of arbitrary rules.  And I understand that.  There is and will always be a segment of the population who believe they have the one and only true truth in the world, and everybody else is either choosing to disregard the truth, is too stupid to know the truth, or have been persuaded of a lie.  They are a very absolute people.  Everything in their world is solid black and solid white — like the little cows in their ads.

And that’s fine.  They’re entitled.  It is, as they say, a free country.

And as long as I didn’t know all the things discussed in this open letter and the supporting documents linked in it — it didn’t matter.  They make good food for a fair price.  No MSG.  No trans fats.  Lots of fruit and veggies.  They’re reliable.  They have a gluten-free menu.  They try and treat their employees fairly.

But now, having read and searched out to be sure of all the things in this letter — I know of other things in their black and white world which are counter to my own beliefs and practices.  And I can’t ever un-know what I know about Chick-Fil-A.  And I don’t think I can ever drive through one of their outlets again without being reminded where my dollars may get applied through their charitable giving.

And I have no idea how to resolve this.  No amount of boycotting is going to change their black and white beliefs.  They would rather lose profits and even go out of business than waver one iota from their absolutes.

And I know that I (and we — my family) inadvertently support other businesses who channel money into things we wouldn’t approve of — if we knew about them.  But we don’t — and so life goes on.

And we DO know about Chick-Fil-A.  And it makes me a little sick to think such a well manged and honestly good little eatery will be off the list of choices — but it has to be.  Because I can never not know these things about them again.

If I cared so much about the crimes being committed by banks that I would move my money to a small, locally owned bank or credit union — if I care so much about the business practices of other institutions that I would take my business elsewhere , then it’s not really a choice.  This is like leaving a country club that wouldn’t allow people of certain races to be members.  Or choosing a different university based on prejudicial admittance policies.

It’s such a little thing — but little things are important.

The High Price of Moral Growth: Prohibition, Civil Rights, and the 99%

The High Price of Moral Growth: Prohibition, Civil Rights, and the 99%

by Lynn Whitlark on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 2:15am

Before we were the United States, we were a colony of the British Empire.  We drank tea, because the British had fallen in love with the Chinoise of the tea found in some of their other ports — tea was the drink of the day.

 

That ended with the Boston Tea Party, in part because our access to tea was through the Empire, in part because coffee was closer and due south, and in part because we wanted to forever blow a big raspberry at the Empire, and not drinking tea was a good way to do it.

 

Enter the United States of America — a colony no more — with it’s expanding and enveloping philosophies.  Suddenly we had farmland, and thus grapes, corn, barley, rye, hops, and wheat –and all those good things that let the brew-masters and vintners immigrating from all over the world could use to make wine, beer, and all manner of alcoholic beverages.

 

So coffee was moved to the back burner — and beer, rotgut, sour mash, and bathtub gin were in every glass and on every table.

 

Yes, there were “tea-totalers” but for the most part, we were a pretty hefty drinking nation.  The stats from the early 1800s through the early 1900s tell us that the average consumption of hard liquor was upwards of 40 quart bottles per year.  That’s more that 2/3 of a quart (about 20-25oz) per person-per week.

 

Let me put it another way.  That’s an AVERAGE of 3 shots of hard liquor every day of every year for every man, woman, and child.  And we’re pretty sure the kids weren’t drinking their share, so it must have been their parents.  And times being what they were, that would be mostly the men.  So we’re talking about 6-8 shots of liquor a day.

 

And that’s a lot of booze.

 

Then — along comes prohibition.

 

It’s a little hard to imagine what would cause an entire nation to go along with Prohibition, unless you think about what a world would be like with half or a third of all the people consuming 8-12 oz of whiskey a day.  Is it any wonder there was so much wife and child abuse?  Is it any wonder there were so many industrial accidents in the early part of the century?  Is there any question about how so many people “died of drink” in those days?

 

But Prohibition cost the US a lot.  Before it was done, our politicians and police were corrupted by pay-offs.  Organized crime was so organized that it had permeated every major city in the country.  Our economy was based on police who turned a blind eye, and bootleggers who made their fortunes on a tax-free money stream.  If it’s not legal — it can’t be taxed.

 

When the folly of Prohibition finally became too obvious to suppress, the society that emerged was very different that it had been only a few years earlier.  There was, in fact, a single — lonely — but clear change in our attitude toward over-consumption of alcohol.  Before Prohibition — constant drinking from morning until night was the norm.  After Prohibition, it became a sickness.

 

A sickness.  A disease.  Alcoholism.  We didn’t clearly understand the mechanism of addiction — but we’d figured out that constantly altering our physical chemistry was not only altering our morals, our consciences, and our inhibitions — it was also deadly.  Drunks — with their continually altered state — were having unbridled emotional experiences; loss of physical and emotional control; loss of consciousness; and complete alienation from the world around them.  They could not hope to have an honest emotional relationship.  They could not hope to enter the world daily and be safe — or without being a danger to others.  They could not see themselves or their own actions as they were seen by others.

 

Before Prohibition — this state of being was everywhere, common, and part of the “normal” world.  After Prohibition, this state of being was a sickness, and something to be seen as a medical and physical abnormality.  Drink was a sin and a weakness as we entered Prohibition, but afterwards, it was a treatable and cure-able illness.  It was no longer “normal” and accepted to be addicted to drink.

 

———-

 

Back up now to the 1800s.

 

After slavery ended, the US changed.  Well…. In some ways it changed — in many other ways, it never did.  The deep south adopted the KKK as it’s cover story for anger, racism, and hatred.  Segregation was everywhere — and in some ways was as heavy a chain as slavery had ever been.

 

Then we went to war.  We ALL went to war.  In WWII, there were black troops in the same uniform as white troops.  Navajo.  Hispanics.  Immigrants from every corner of the globe fought in US Army and Navy uniforms.  We weren’t exactly sure what Hitler was up to, but it was obvious that he had far-reaching goals — so we entered the war (much later than many countries) and went off to fight in the name of freedom.

 

It was only after the war was over, when Hitler was dead and the war in the South Pacific was drawing to an end, that we marched into the camps across northern Europe and realized that there was more evil to Hitler than anyone had imagined.  Gas ovens.  Mass graves.  Horror stories.  Nightmares.  Tattoos on the arms of thousands of people  we didn’t even know were missing.  Medical experimentation on living subjects. Gulags to rival hell itself.

 

And those who came out of the death camps were jews with yellow stars of David sewn onto their clothes, and homosexuals with pink triangles sewn onto theirs.  Enemies of the State (of Hitler’s regime.)  Dissidents, misfits, and downtrodden souls of every stripe — all but exterminated by a madman and his jack-booted brown shirts.

 

And our troops were there.  ALL our troops were there.  And many of them died in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific.  Men of every color — and every stripe.

 

And suddenly it began to be difficult here at home to make those same distinctions that Hitler and the Nazis had made — without feeling a twinge of familiarity.  How could we segregate and label and ostracize and hate people whose only crime was in being NOT LIKE US.  Hitler’s crimes were so abhorrent, that I believe the American (and the global) consciousness shifted — and we changed our moral minds in the 20 years that followed those days at the end of the War in Europe.  I think we, as a nation, could no longer stand the thought that we might be as guilty of something like racism or prejudice — as Hitler had been.

 

Because his name would forever be linked to murderous bigotry — what had been “normal” here in the States before WWII, was beginning to be seen as a kind of illness.  Prejudice, like addiction, could no longer be accepted.

 

Before WWII, antisemitism was so widely embraced that children learned it in school.  Jews were the “other” known to be the bottom rung of acceptability.  (Shylock at least had his “Hath not a Jew eyes…” speech in the Merchant of Venice.)  But WWII made it completely unacceptable.  65 years later when the West hears arab nations and people of the Middle East espouse hatred of the Jews and of Israel as a nation, we still cringe, even though their wars and strife have been going on for centuries, and we know their institutionalized hatred is more than a passing tiff.  Still — Auschwitz is the image we carry in our heads.  Smokestacks churning out the greasy stench of death.  Children hiding in latrines.  Pink triangles, yellow stars.  Blue, green, white…symbols of hate and of Hitler’s own self-loathing.

 

The moral change happened slowly for those living through it because it truly was an internal shift first.   Marches and bus-rides and speeches made on the National Mall came long after the initial change in the morality of our country.  It seemed to take forever, but it was lightning fast in terms of the arc of history.

 

And even though it was much slower, there has been a difficult and welcomed change in attitude toward people of various sexual orientations, I believe it was the same association with the outright evil, hatred, and ambition of the Nazis in WWII that began to soften the American heart and mind — and throw off the prejudice against these people as well.  It happened (is happening) more slowly — but it is happening just as surely.  The man who shouts “God hates fags” might as well just grow the toothbrush mustache and wear a swastika armband, because he has no more chance of being heard than Hitler would if he were out on the streets today.  He is the moral grandson of a monster.  We have seen that injustice before, and we are growing up to be a people who will not stand for it.

 

Like Prohibition, the lessons of WWII came at a very high price.  Outrageously high.  Unthinkably high.  Unforgivably high.  Thousands and thousands of lives.  Millions of lives.  Millions of lives paid.  And the world saw and memorized the sounds and images — the results of anger, hatred, fear, and prejudice.

 

 

And — I am persuaded that we may be looking at that same moral “growing up” about to happen now.  Right now.

 

We have lived with people drunk on their own money for a while.  We see people who don’t look twice at a hungry child, or a homeless veteran.  We’ve seen the addiction called GREED, and the amoral behavior it produces.  We’ve seen the pathology of greed, and the hardness of heart, the selfishness, and the inhumanity it leaves like a footprint.

 

We’ve seen people standing tall and proud in churches and synagogues and mosques — then begrudging children foodstamps and school lunch programs.   We’ve seen the Madoffs and the Enron Corporation stealing the life savings of those about to retire and calling it “high finance” and “natural selection.”

 

We’ve seen people willing to pollute rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, and even oceans without a second thought — in order to up the bottom line on a quarterly report.   And we’ve seen them evict hard working families from their homes through dirty tricks, and then, out of pure meanness, dress up as the homeless for a Halloween costume party.

 

And we’ve reached the point where we can no longer call it normal, or acceptable behavior.  Greed, like addiction and prejudice, is an illness.  A sickness.  An excess of something poisonous in the body.  Something that needs to be addressed by professionals who can help the greedy come to terms with what must be done to live in our society.  More profit at any cost is the creed of madmen.

 

Greed can no longer be seen as a quirk or an overactive and adrenaline-soaked habit.  The Church of MORE has to come down, and the addiction to money has to be seen as a character flaw and a pathology so un-American and so inhuman as to be driven out of society.  This is an obcessive compulsion that cannot be allowed to harm another generation.

 

Greed, corruption, addiction, and prejudice are the maladies of a society committing slow and narcissistic  suicide.  In the same way that addiction to alcohol will kill you by rotting your body–   In the same way that prejudice and anger and hate will kill you by inches as it destroys your heart, and strangles your mind–  Greed, and the selfishness that it demands, will create a wall too high and too thick to ever have contact with civil society again.

 

Greed is the moral addiction and prejudice of the 21st Century.   And we know that simply pointing out to the greedy that they no longer fit into civil society will not make them suddenly generous and kind — any more than pointing out to a drunk that he has alienated everyone who ever loved him will turn him sober.  Addicts fight back.  In fact, they can be vicious and more self-destructive than any wild animal caught in a similar trap.

 

I expect the same will be true with the greedy.

 

And since money is the object of the dependency — that money can be played as power.  The power to fight back harder and longer and stronger.   The power to destroy those who want to lock the liquor cabinet.  The power to strike out at those who hold the mirror (and the camera) up for all to see.  Drunks may be physically strong and able to put up a hell of a fight — but the greedy are armed to the teeth with media, lawyers, lobbyists, ad agencies, private security firms, and accountants.

 

The price of moral growth is always high, and doesn’t always take the path we imagine.

 

But it is inevitable.

 

There are still drunks — but we call them alcoholics and they are seen universally as the “other.”  We all are able to spot the symptoms and tell-tale signs.  We all know that Amy Winehouse really should have gone to rehab.

 

There are still those who live everyday with their prejudices and anger and hate.  But their behaviors and beliefs are not those of mainstream America.  They are isolationists.  They retreat to their own little worlds and block out all those that they hate and fear.  They live in dark and curtained worlds.  They are not really part of America.  They live their lives with their fists clenched and their jaws set and their teeth grinding.  Hate is its own punishment.

 

And in the end so is greed.   I suppose a rich and greedy man could live a long time locked up, far away from the America that grew up and forgot his American Dream.  If you look at the saddle-leather face of Bernie Madoff, he looks for all the world like an alcoholic.  His circulation is slow and his heart barely beats.  His hands are like meat-hammers, and his eyes are only focused inward.  As well manicured and coiffed as Madoff and Ken Ley were — there is no tan, no haircut or dental work, and no plastic surgery that can hide the addiction and the selfishness of greed.

 

Moral growth — especially on a global scale — has a price.  So be ready for it.  I don’t know what the price will be; but I know as sure as I am breathing that there will be one.  Hopefully it will not cost as many lives as it cost to expose the wickedness and evil of prejudice and bigotry.  Hopefully it will not so corrupt the system it hopes to change as Prohibition did.

 

Sobriety and equality are good for the world.  Loving our neighbors and being our brother’s keeper will be good for the world, too.  Having a government  that is free of corruption and greed will be good for the world.  Just know as we go into this that it won’t be free.

Art, and Artists Making Art

This is a copy of my paper on the relationship
between art and brokenness.


Brilliant Insane Genius Lunatic Creative Mad-as-a-March-Hare
Inventive Abnormal Artistic Nuts Innovative Just Plain Crazy

I am writing this, in part, to satisfy my own curiosity.  I have heard the idea that genius and insanity were linked, in one form or another, all my life.  Whether people claimed the two were flip sides of the same coin, that the relationship was cause–>effect (though it is never clear which is the cause and which is the effect,) or that there is some as-yet-unknown neurological or genetic link; the effect is the same. Both the general public and artists of all stripe seem to buy into this notion at some level – if not consciously – then lurking somewhere just below the surface.  This presupposition changes the way we, as artists, think about our work and our existence; and it certainly has an effect on how we, and our work, are perceived by the public.

I believe the best potential counter argument to this culturalized belief is the claim that humans are, without exception, all broken or damaged.  We all experience pain, loss, damage, broken faith, unfortunate circumstances and misunderstanding; of the world around us.  We all experience death, fear, anger, and sadness – and some experience much more than others.  We all enter the world made of chemicals, genetic patterns, electricity, water, and breath – and the world being what it is, we all enter with glitches, skips, breaks, gaps and holes.

In reading about and considering the very full lifetime of work by artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), it is brokenness and the damage of her early life which is trackable in her art – not insanity. In fact, her genius is tied most closely to her handling and expressing her own past, rather than some Freudian suppression of it.

According to Leonard Cohen’s poem Anthem: “There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”  (This is a kinder and more optimistic view than Yeats’ entropic fatalism of The Second Coming, which observes that “things fall apart.”) It’s true. Things do fall apart. Entropy is a real thing – but the more complete truth is that as humans, we have some say in how and where entropy moves, and whether we are engulfed by it or ride it like a wave.  If our inevitable brokenness is where “the light” gets in – whether it is the light of innovation, invention, and creation; or the light of faith and hope; it is this shared crack in everything that makes it possible for us to minister to each other by way of cathartic Dionysian ritual (theater/art), the spiritually cleansing catholic confessional, or the psychologically purifying  therapist’s couch.  We may not be able to control what happens in the world around us, or what happens to us; but, we can control how we respond to it.

And it is that response which makes Bourgeois such a glorious counter-example to the presupposition of insanity/genius.  In her own words,

All my work in the past fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood….  My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.

At first glance, we might assume from this that Louise lived an enchanted childhood. The reality, however, is that the magic of her childhood was made up of a revolutionary feminist mother who did her duty by her husband and had two children, then left him to find himself a mistress. Further encumbrances of motherhood were not on Madame Bourgeoise’ list of coming events. The mistress also served as a live-in caretaker for the children, tutor, and governess.

Strident and independent Mother was foreign, cold, and absent; the Mistress was a villainous pseudo-stepmother; and father was not just cold, but abusively cruel to the children born so dutifully by his ultra-social wife. This was a house full to the brim with angry, self-serving adults, and a couple of clueless children who only pieced together the truth of the arrangement as they entered puberty. The only magic I found in this childhood is the near miracle that there were no poisoned apples, huntsmen, or cinder-covered hearths involved.  Louise left home in her teens to paint live in a house full of surrealists in Paris (the house full of surrealists.) Not surprisingly, hardly anyone noticed she was gone.

It is only been in the last 200+ years that painting could be thought of as self expression.  As soon as the self, the mind, and the intentions of the artist began to become important players in the making of art, all sense of trade and craft disappeared from all the arts. Meaning became the subject of a work of art rather than some object or model being copied.  Since this was happening just as the unconscious mind, mental health, and general psychology were creeping into everyday the 1st World cultures, it’s no wonder that artists were perceived as breaking the rules and wandering into the sinful landscape of the criminal and insane. Vincent van Gogh was the poster-boy for the insanity/creative genius camp right up until the culture of the 1st World grew and discovered he might have been bipolar or schizophrenic. Then he became the poster boy for physical chemical imbalance. Whether it was a serious food allergy, and/or PTSD/abuse/neglect-induced fugue states, those are late 20th and early 21st Century understandings of his life.  The more we learn, the less insane, criminal, sinful, and weak van Gogh looks. (see Wilfred N Arnold’s  Chemicals, Crises, and Creativity for more on van Gogh’s relationship to his own biology.)   At the beginning of the 21st Century, Vincent is an unfortunate victim.  If we could choose for him and pick a different century for him to be born, would we give up his art works in order to allow him a peaceful, balanced life?  Is it a fair trade?

Louise Bourgeois, on the other hand, turned those magical, mysterious, and dramatic bits of her childhood into art by choice – by all evidence, fully aware of the metaphorical connections between her art and her past.  Her cold, alien mother became Maman (colloquial fr. for mother)

"Maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

the giant spider that seems to wander through forests of cement and steel.  Her installations are   experiences to be fashioned between the individual and the place/object.  They are her home.  Her rooms.  Places of memory and rite, built to elicit feelings and ideas to be shared between the artist and the single audience member.  She has built these places and made this art so people will understand and build relationship through these intensely personal conversations. We all experience her isolation and loneliness with her – and we recognize it because we have felt it, too.  Bourgeois’ father appears in her art – though not in the dramatic and shocking form of her monster mother.  Instead, his presence is felt in these rooms and in many of her other installation. He is a tangle of objects and a claustrophobic lie of a room.  He informed Bourgeois through every action and word that being a girl – a woman – was to be grotesque, useless, ugly, ungrateful, unwanted, foolish, stupid, and disgusting.

Red Room installation, by Louise Bourgeois

Listening to Bourgeois as she demonstrates her father’s trick with the tangerine reveals a pain so deep that after 7 decades – it still reduced her to a weeping child.  There are some pains – some breaks and rips in our being – that, like a wicked witch’s spell, never lose their magic.

The Father and the Mother are responsible for Louise Bourgeois reaching out to communicate with the rest of the world.  Had they been loving and affectionate – she might never have picked up a paintbrush or sculpted a frail hand.

Why?  Because there is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.  It’s the light (energy,) memory, and emotion that travel through those cracks that connect us. That’s where we meet –and where communication happens.  Those universal cracks are where art does what art does, and where artist and audience share and survive together.

I believe that the question about the relationship between genius and insanity is an old, out of date question.  It presupposes that what is not normal can be labeled criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless and/or weak. But that’s a 19th century understanding of normal – and a 19th century understanding of insanity.  By starting with the wrong question – there is no chance of finding a right answer.  The real question artists, critics, audience, and history have to start asking has to do with understanding and choosing how to express and relate to our own individual and cultural breaks, cracks, quirks, skips, and bumps.  What is the relationship between brokenness, health, and the making of art, invention, and creativity?

I know that we must have care with the words we choose and the presuppositions we make.  If we start with the question: What is the relationship between brokenness and making/creating (or just between brokenness and art), then we have changed the playing field of presuppositions.  Brokenness carries a few negative bags of its own – but it also carries the solution for itself: it carries the presuppositions of repair, mending, re-finishing, correcting, and healing. A broken pot can be fixed.  A broken window can be replaced and made good as new again.  A broken person can be brought back to health.  An insane person just gets more insane until s/he finally succumbs.

Some people presuppose that artists and other creatives somehow experience more deeply.  They are especially sensitive and have a stronger emotional life than an accountant or a short order cook.  I have no idea how true/not true those assumptions are.  But I know that artists in all the arts find a way to express what is inside their own minds and guts in a way that is recognizable and creates a link to others through Leonard Cohen’s cracks.  I don’t believe artists make art as a means of self-therapy (though it may sometimes happen as a side effect) – but I do think there is something to be said for extending a helping hand to all those accountants and short order cooks through art, music, story, poetry etc.

Art requires us to be generous and to be able to need without shame, simultaneously.   This is a very great evolutionary step.

As for how my own thoughts and self expression relates to the life and art of Louise Bourgeois, I suppose the first point of contact is that we share some of those “magic” childhood experiences.  There is something about profound neglect and intentionally inflicted pain that is, as Bourgeois says, never lost.  What we choose to do with those experiences makes the difference between her building giant, alien looking mother-spiders, and Van Gogh at his most disturbed eating tubes of chrome-yellow paint.  While Louise Bourgeois spent the first 30 years of her 70 year career just learning to use her tools and talent to express what was going on in her mind; I spent those 30 years learning what was going on in my mind, and about the minds, motivations, and puzzlements of others.  It has only been the last 5 or 6 years that I have begun looking for materials to start creating expressions of those things.  I am just now comfortable with the tools of the trade.  But like her, I know the language of metaphor.  I understand the layers and pieces of the puzzle, and I have a long-running intimacy with opening boxes.  Communication, in whatever form, has always been the crux of what I have done, said, made and searched out.  Whether that ultimately makes art or not is another question.  But it is certainly fun trying.

Lock step and barrel….

I heard a woman’s voice on TV saying these words yesterday (9/13/10.)

Today, I found the footage on the internet.  She is Christine O’Donnell, and is a candidate of the Tea Party running for the senate in Delaware.  The US Senate.

The clip doesn’t link directly, but you can find it at ABC News.

Before I knew who she was, I wrote this on Facebook:

what? what did that woman just say on TV? I don’t know who she is or what the context was, but she said she wasn’t going to just do what was expected of her and jump in all “lock step and barrel.”I know why education is in trouble — we hand microphones to people too stupid to know their own language.

While I’m happy to hear she is Pro-abortion rights, and Pro-gun control, I maintain my position.  I live in a country that actually had at one time a political party called the Know Nothing Party.  If we go that route again, then we deserve what we get.  While this woman has an education (in marketing – one of the great capitalist inventions) she fumbled her phrases like a drunken quarterback in front of the big microphone.  And as anybody in marketing knows — perception is everything.

Let’s be clear.  LOCK STEP is what soldiers and marching bands do.  Close formation, identical steps.  A good metaphor for those who “fall in” and obey norms and become part of a machine.  The most negative connotation has to do with Nazi troops goose-stepping their way to oblivion — an allusion that both Republicans and Tea Party guests would like to call up at every opportunity.  However, it works well not only for the military and marching bands, but also for medical professionals, law enforcement, fire departments, and any field where consistency, agreement, teamwork and cooperation are important.  Goose Step is the unmistakable negative reference to the Nazis — lock step is the softer allusion.

LOCK, STOCK, and BARREL is a gun metaphor — not unlike THE FULL MONTY.  ALL IN.  HEAD FIRST.  It is a full commitment and requires that every aspect of your resources are fully engaged.  Not holding back because of doubts, embarrassment, pride, or any other reason.  You put everything into every action when you go in lock, stock, and barrel.

To blend these 2 perfectly good metaphors into one mistake is called a MIXED METAPHOR.  Like, “killing two birds with one in the bush.”  And yes, that is an intentional reference to W.

“Why is this a big deal?” you ask.  It’s a big deal because it indicates that this speaker — with a national microphone — didn’t think before she spoke — or if she did, her motivations are more nefarious than should be tolerated.

Either she didn’t think at that moment, and so “slipped;” or, she intentionally tried to make both points without enough grammar to pull it off; or, she didn’t think as a matter of habit and so had not thought through the meaning of either “lock step” or “lock, stock, and barrel.”  They are not the same.  They don’t belong together unless linked by grammar and context.  They are both part of defined American English — and she either didn’t know the correct phrases, or didn’t think ahead and use them correctly.

“Maybe that’s what she meant…” you say.  And that is the most troubling of all the possibilities.  If it was not a case of jittery-mouth stumbling, or mouth-running-without-brain-fully-engaged, and was instead an intentional blend (which is possible, considering her marketing background) — then you have to assume malice.  If she was intentionally trying to forge the idea that those who respect and participate in the expected norms of society (lock step) and those who dive in with full commitment (lock, stock and barrel) are the same — two sides of an undesireable thing to be avoided at all costs  then there is a problem.  Her implication is that she will never fall so low as lock step and barrel.

Once again let me say I do understand the impulse to fight against the bad politicians of the past and the present.  That’s not my problem with this message.  But to intentionally try to fuse the negative associations of military lock step and the positive associations of lock, stock, and barrel (all in, the full monty, jumping in head first – or feet first) into one negative characteristic is an attempted manipulation of perception that I am not willing to accept.  Not all lock step equates with goose-step; and not every all-in is a leisure activity or a fool’s leap.  That’s the pleasure and the tripwire of metaphors — they are complex and carry the baggage of centuries.

This kind of error is a lot like intentionally mispronouncing a word (like nuclear) out of stubbornness or ignorance.  Regardless of which cause is true, it isn’t cute, it isn’t intelligent, and it belies either an inability or a contempt.

Because we glorify, elect and reward ignorance, we continue to slip in the global marketplace and global authority.  What incentive is there to become the best and the brightest, when the second-rate, the narcissistic, and the proudly ignorant continue to occupy the microphones and cameras of the media?

Scholars, creative minds, explorers, inventors, and brilliant innovators should be what we aspire to and what we emulate.  Instead, the media feeds us a diet of racist Florida sheep-dogs and politicians unable to think 5 words ahead of their mouth.

Even in schools, we place a higher value on being pretty, running fast, personal charisma, and wealthy parents; instead of high academic achievement and innovative thinking.  Nerds, dweebs, bookworms, freaks — we’ve got a lexicon full of insults for the kids who don’t fit the popular, jock, or rich-kid mold.  In every aspect of our society, we boost those who are part of the social norm, and exclude those who are exceptional in ways that don’t fit the mold.

I don’t want to be led by the ignorant, the ordinary, the emotional, or a guy with whom I’d feel comfortable having a beer (if I liked beer.)  I want to be led by the exceptional, the thoughtful, the brilliant, the creative, the innovative, and the courageous.

My friend Carrie asked what patriotism is.  I think it’s the courage to take the difficult high road to make the country better, rather than the easy, foolish, selfish, racist, sexist, greedy, self-serving, intentionally unread, intentionally ignorant, delusional, proud-to-be-common low road.  I don’t want an Ordinary-Joe in the White House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, or even the House of Representatives.  I don’t want to be led by someone who is financially successful at any cost.  I don’t want to be led by someone who prays on street corners, on his/her way to a board meeting that will cheat millions out of ten or fifteen cents a day and call it capitalism.  I don’t want to be led by people who make it their primary goal to turn a profit at any cost.

Don’t get me wrong — there are noble, honorable, honest, hard-working, loving, generous, loyal, clever, creative and good people of all kinds and in all walks of life.  But those who lead millions have to be exceptional.  If they are not — then their leadership simply won’t hold up to the negative pressures and overwhelming prevalence of what is easy.  How simple it must be to slip from painful honor to easy dishonor when thousands of people and millions of dollars bear down upon you, telling you, “It will be okay just this once.”