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.

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….

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

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 its 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 “teetotalers” 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.

The Curse of the Internet

Not so long ago, I went on for a bit about people who use God, the gods, or whatever deity people think will give gravitas and the appearance of veritas to their own personal agenda, bias, belief, or politics. (See: A Few Words About Using God)

I have another holy bone to pick.  This one is about the bizarre American mind-fuzz on the subject of cursing.  That is cursing (as in: I call on the God of all that is right and just in the universe to damn you to a life of suffering and pain as the only righteous payment for the evils you have done….); not cussing or going on a God-damned rant.

Somewhere along the way after we came to the undergrown fork in the road between British English and American English, we immersed ourselves in intentional cultural amnesia, and forgot what cursing actually means.

When little hunched-over hags in fairy tales spit between their fingers into the dust of the road and pronounce a curse on someone — like “You will spin for a thousand lifetimes at your spinning wheel and the wool of your sheep will pass through your fingers until they bleed, and the bones wear down to nubs wrapped in shards of flesh — and not one inch of wool will ever skein into thread.”  Now THAT’s a curse.

Calling somebody an asshole — not a curse.

Calling on powers and universes and gods and demons and angels to inflict pain and torment and suffering and eternal damnation?  That’s cursing someone.

Telling somebody to go to hell — not a curse.  Just venting steam is not cursing.

Truly pronouncing punishment — passing judgment single-handedly and pronouncing the sentence for that judgment — that is pronouncing a curse.

And regardless of whether you are passing judgment in the name of your clan, the church, the party, the family, the brotherhood or sisterhood — no matter who you hold yourself up as speaker and judge for — unless you are the duly elected law or an actual god, pronouncing a curse is not your job.  And even if you are duly elected law, your job is not to curse.  –Your job is to exact justice — a punishment that fits the crime (after it has been proven legally), and then only punishment that is not cruel and unusual.  Payment of time, liberty, choice, possessions, fines, community service, the respect of your peers — that resonates as justice; the just payment for the offense is justice.

A curse rarely has the cool detachment of law.  And justice is rarely the goal of a curse.   A curse smells of revenge, emotion, and the heat of the moment.  It can even masquerade as fervor on behalf of the wronged.  A curse in the hands of someone out to avenge a wrong will never be just payment.  It will be born of hate, whether long-burning, or heated in a flare.  It will come of anger — unbalanced by grace, and fear — unbalanced by mercy.

We lost track of our history of using language to suggest to others their destiny.  We lost track of our ability to use language to emotionally hurt and metaphysically wound one another.   It’s no wonder we have such bullies in our schools, streets, and political debates.  It’s no wonder we spend hours of bandwidth on RANTS AND ANGER.  It’s no wonder we have music made of negative emotions, fears, violence and the injustice of the streets.

We’ve lost track of the power of what we create with our words, and the Pandora’s boxes we open with our words.

Worst of all, when we pronounce our curses into the airwaves, into the bandwidth of the internet or the twittering drivel of short-word damnation,  we are asking for agreement.  We ask for those we know to say YES! — and lend the power of their words, their upward-pointing thumbs, their LIKEs, their re-posts, their forwards, their shared empathy, their soul’s own energy, and their emotions — to our pronouncements.

Calling for agreement on a curse made of emotion in the moment —

That is not our job.

Curses — judgement — justice.  None of those things are our job.

You can observe and comment — always.  You can research and offer an informed opinion — always.  You can have an emotional reaction –as long as you acknowledge to others and to yourself that your words have lost their detachment and any hope of objectivity.  You can promise to look again with a cooler head and with more evidence.  You can promise to look at the situation from the outside, the inside, and every other side available.  You can step into the shoes of everyone involved.  You can be the cooler head, take the high road, use your faith or your intellect or your goodness to always forgive and move on.  There are a million choices.  There is always another choice besides naming yourself a judge, jury, and executor of the Will of God.

To claim to know the judgment of God — the way we’ve all see the folks at Westboro Baptist Church claim to know the judgment of their god — is to break the law of the god whose name one uses.

Go sit on a jury — and you can pass judgement.  Go to law school and you can plead for justice as you see it.

Otherwise — it really isn’t your job.

Dangerous Self Interest – the Divas of Bio-identical Hormones

Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 11:23am
I was home one day this week, and was watching something we’d recorded on the DVR. When it was over, the DVR switched off and the TV went to reg. broadcast. It was Oprah, talking to Suzanne Summers. You remember Suzanne Summers — the blond roommate of Three’s Company with John Ritter?

So here’s the setup. Oprah’s almost 60. She lost a bunch of weight, several times, and now she’s gained it back again. With a cook, a trainer, a gym, and a TV camera staring at her 180 days a year — she still gained it back. Then, once her photographers and dressmakers and wardrobe people couldn’t hide it from her any longer — she found out she’d gained it all back and she did a Jerry Falwell-like weeping confession on national TV. As if there were anyone in America who hadn’t noticed during all that 2008 election coverage.

Even CNN carried her confession. How embarrassing.

So now (evidently) she’s willing to do just about anything to get her 40-year-old figure back. Including following in Suzanne Summers’ dubious stiletto footsteps.

I first heard about what SS was doing about 3 years ago, following what was either her first or second round of breast cancer. She was making the talk-show circuit telling the world about her miracle fountain of youth — bio-identical hormones. She rubs an estrogen cream on the inside of each upper arm (same effect as a patch…) every day. 14 days a month, she rubs progesterone on her other arm, She also does several other hormones as part of this topical cocktail — and takes over 60 (!) pill-form supplements a day. Oh — and she eats a diet of organic fruits and veggies.

And at 62 — voila! She feels so good (between bouts of breast cancer) that she’s written a book!

And she evidently spends her leisure time speaking to women’s groups about this miracle. How she’s escaped the insomnia, mood swings, weight gain, dry skin etc of menopause, by keeping her hormone levels equal to that of her younger body. How “bio-identical hormones have saved her marriage, How women shouldn’t blame men when they get tired of the grumpy, fat, rough-skinned, no-sex-drive women they’re married to — of course they’re going to start looking for a newer model!

And I don’t much care, really, if she wants to use herself as a lab rat. As actresses go, it won’t be that great a loss.

What I do care about is that poor Oprah — desperate to regain her “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” body is now giving SS a national microphone — THE national microphone — and the OPRAH seal of approval.

We’ve seen how previously unknown books become #1 best-sellers based on Oprah’s recommendation. Now, it’s SS’s book. And while the Big O dutifully had 1 real doctor in the house the day I saw the show — trying to inject real statistics and real medical concerns over SS’s highway to longer, happier, sexier, thinner life — she was given short shrift — and only allowed the microphone as an audience member — not as part of a real discussion on stage.

In her few brief moments on camera, the doctor did say:
1. “bio-identical hormones” is a made up term. These hormones are synthetically produced from plant extracts in Europe at the same (the ONLY) factory as all other hormones produced for women. In fact, they are the same product.

2. “Bio-identical hormones”‘s claim to fame is that a doctor matches the exact amount of each hormone to each woman — and the woman then takes those prescriptions to a “formulating pharmacist” (a pharmacist who mixes special dosages by hand like a chemist without a degree in chemistry, or a chef, following a pharmaceutical recipe) and then combines them with creams, makes them into pre-loaded syringes, fills capsules, or makes them into suppositories for his/her customer.

3. Health insurance does not cover anything called “bio-identical hormones.”

4. There are pharmacists/pharmacies who do nothing but produce these “bio-identical hormones.”

5. Because “B IHs” are not produced by drug companies under the scrutiny of the FDA, physicians and pharmacists can make any claim they like about their effects, side effects, or usage — without regulation of any kind.

6. “BIHs” carry the same effects as any other hormone therapy. Including all the concerns about breast, uterine, and cervical cancers, blood clots, heart disease, and stroke.

In response to all these facts, Oprah sad, “Thank you, Doctor.” And then went back to calling SS a “ground breaking pioneer” in women’s health and quality of life. In fact, I lost count of the number of times Oprah or SS said things like, “we’re not just talking about health, here — we’re talking about a woman’s quality of life!” and “it’s about having that energy — that vigor…”

I understand about Oprah’s concern over having gained back weight she’d lost so publicly. It’s always public unless you’re a hermit. She just happens to be a lot more public than most. Her and Bill Clinton. But I also know how powerful her microphone is. She is in many ways the voice of the female collective unconscious in this country. And the African-American collective unconscious. And the stay-at-home-mom/dad collective unconscious. and probably a few more — since I don’t generally see her but 2-3 times a year, I’m probably a little behind.

And I know that what I saw the other day was a woman desperate for a solution, giving her emotional support and stamp of approval to an idea and a medical treatment that is at best snake oil, and at worst — dangerous and even deadly.

The last 2 years have been the first to see a decline in women’s cancers, and it is generally agreed that this is a direct result of the overwhelming rejection of hormone replacement therapy as the preferred treatment for menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and insomnia.

If SS doesn’t get hot flashes because of her miracle treatment — okay. I get a few each month and they’re over soon.

If SS sleeps 8-9 hrs per night — okay. So do I. Sometimes it takes a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream — but I’ll suffer through it, This is where a lifetime of 1 drink a month moderation pays off. A thimble full of alcohol still puts me to sleep like a velvet hammer,

Dry skin? Aveeno. Avon, Clinique. Earth Therapeutics.

Mood swings? The Marx Brothers. Warner Bros. cartoons, Third Rock From The Sun. Three Stooges. Harrison Ford. Cary Grant. Steven Spielberg. Alfred Hitchcock. All in a handy compact disk format that can play in the corner of the computer monitor where I am now typing, And if that doesn’t work, There’s always a bicycle in the front hall, a Bloody Mary in the bar, or a nap in a lounge chair. Or an blog to rant on.

Low sex drive? (mind your own business….)

Weight gain? I’ve lost or gained weight every day of my life since my parents first put me on diet pills back in junior hi. If you don’t like my round body — that’s fine, as long as you don’t bitch at me. I’ve probably lost 2K in my life — and I’ve gained about 2K+10. I lose it, then I gain it back pus a few more. over and over and over. Just like our friend Oprah. The big difference is that I heard what SS actually said about her “B I H”s — she doesn’t have any more problems with weight gain — just like when she was younger. So guess what — if you DID always have problems with weight when you were younger — YOU STILL WILL!

And you get the breast cancer as a bonus.

Oprah should stick to teaching people to be thankful and generous, and leave medicine to medical professionals.

What Happens When Someone Dies?

It’s one of the ironies of modern life that we have become so much more healthy than our grandparents and great grands — and yet in spite of our longer lives, we haven’t managed to overcome the short-sightedness, internal conflicts and stress of grief.

My great-grandmother had 7 children who all lived into their 70s and 80s — but she also had 4 children that either were born dead or died in childhood. She talked about the children she lost with the same vivid memory she exhibited when talking about my great aunts and uncles and their children.  And out of all those great aunts and uncles, only 1 of them lost a child under the age of 20.  If you look at my parent’s generation in the same family tree — only 1 child out of 70 died before the age of 20, and that was due to drunk driving.

It really wasn’t that long ago that more than half the children born died of basic infections that are now a simple (and usually free) prescription for narrow spectrum antibiotics!  Combine that with the taken-for-granted vaccinations for pertussis, tetanus, pneumonia and diphtheria, and the far less deadly bouts with measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox, and others members of the previously deadly childhood diseases gang, and children have now moved on to other more human monsters to haunt their dreams.

It has always been a dangerous world for children.  We just don’t experience losing our children at the same rate that previous generations have.  As a result, we tend to think it’s normal for parents to die first. The truth is slightly different — everybody dies.

Losing a child, a partner, a friend… is everything it’s cracked up to be.  There’s a space that person previously occupied. Both the physical space and the time spent together are now empty.

Period.

Except that other people and ideas and adventures and activities flow in to fill the vacuum.  Other children have stories and games and emergencies to demand our time. Other people move into to fill the space.  Or most of it.  It doesn’t happen right away, but it does happen.

Like generations from 200 years ago — or 2000 — we still fill some of the spaces with sleep, conversation, liquor, and busy-work. Death and loss are probably why busy-work exists at all.  There can’t be any other reason for it, because there’s more than enough real work to go around.

My Great-Grandma talked about each child she gave birth to as though they were just outside playing ball or hunting for horn-toads.  Each one was an individual with their own sense of humor, their own ideas and escapades, their own favorite places, and their own talents– and that’s how she remembered them.  The trap that some people fall into is made of clustering all loss together. The fallacy is in thinking it’s one enormous hole where all loss resides, that keeps getting wider and deeper as our lives go on and others’ lives end.  It’s not true.  Each person we love occupies their own space — and when that person is lost, it’s a one person-sized space that’s left behind.  We may have a checkerboard dotted with those person-sized spaces that are slowly filling in with other adventures of life, but that is far easier to deal with metaphorically than a Grand Canyon full of blackness.

Which is not to say that losing someone we love is a casual or a common thing.  The pain is real.  The emptiness is tangible.  No amount of dread or fear in advance can lessen it. Pre-grieving doesn’t do any good.  Real grief — the opening and stitching of a wound — only really happens after the person is gone.  Pre-grieving in anticipation of real loss is its own kind of self-inflicted wound that can fester — if we allow it — for years.  Grieving needs to be kept sacred — as an appropriate response to death before life goes on.  And there is a lot to be said of celebrating the lives of those we love, both before and after their deaths.

I knew a man once who made it his life’s mission to torture his wife with the threats of and preparations for his impending death.  He wasn’t dying of anything — he was just aging and couldn’t stand to fear his own death alone. So in the grandest tradition of “gifts that keep on giving,” he trained her to spend every day making her own bed of nails so she could sleep in it and demonstrate her suffering and grief for him.  It was abuse, torture, and masturbation.  It was King Lear but without the eventual recognition of Cordelia’s love. And 15 years later, he’s still alive.

Pre-grieving is a good way to prolong the pleasure of death and loss, but not much of a way of life otherwise.

Building a national monument-sized pit where you can swim in all the sadness and losses that you accumulate in a lifetime isn’t such a grand idea either.

The way to grieve is to wait until after the loved one is gone, then weep, wail, scream at God, curse the slow progress of modern medicine, promise to live a better life — and then move on.  Anything less, anything more, and anything else is theatrical and makes for a luxurious bed of nails — but is not life — much less life going forward. Grief must be given the respect it deserves — and still, eternal and everlasting sacrifice of self and happiness is more than is required.