October 16, 2016 § 10 Comments
“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”
“We try to fix the outside so much, but our control of the outer world is limited, temporary, and often, illusory…achieving durable happiness as a way of being is a skill. It requires sustained effort in training the mind and developing a set of human qualities, such as inner peace, mindfulness, and altruistic love.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
On top of an already fraught, fearful & divided world, the approaching presidential election of 2016 has ramped up feelings of rage, alienation & despair across America.
In part, because social issues—race relations & sexual politics—are at the forefront of the debates between Clinton & Trump, this election season has invoked a truly personal, emotional response in us.
The advent of smartphones has given us the means to monitor our monitors, and footage of police abuse of power against black male bodies surfaces constantly, raising pleas for social justice to a fever pitch.
While many are listening to these raised voices of protest, large swaths of the conservative demographic are reacting with mistrust and shutting down. And so the #blacklivesmatter movement gives way to responses of #allivesmatter and #bluelives (meaning officers) matter.
Yes. We all matter. That is the point of the “black lives matter” hashtag—a reminder that a swath of our “all” is struggling and needs attention.
As if this issue weren’t fraught enough, it has become politicized. The left, being the party of social progress, has taken up this and other causes, attempting to “explain it” to the right; which has largely been perceived by conservatives as a buzzword-fueled lecture and accusation.
Although it may be difficult to understand why anyone with such superior social power would deign to listen to the struggling underdog, this reaction itself is framed in a certain view with specific assumptions. The people who aren’t hearing the message behind #blacklivesmatter, for instance, aren’t filtering it through the same set of reference points. The right perceives itself as the underdog under attack.
The “us” vs. “them” mentality is in full effect, raging across America like a wild fire. We seem to be in a Chinese Finger Cuff situation—the harder we pull, the more stuck we become; if the goal is ultimately peace and human unity. Which, come on, if we are to survive as a nation and a species, it logically has to be.
One important fact to remember is that the “us” vs. “them” mentality is literally hardwired into our neurology; the second we identify with a certain group, it has been proven in experiment after experiment that the brain begins filtering facts to skew the data towards the perceived “us.”
“Our tendency toward partisanship is likely the result of evolution—forming groups is how prehistoric humans survived,” remarks Brian Resnic (“How Politics Breaks Our Brains.”) “That’s helpful when trying to master an unforgiving environment with Stone Age technology. It’s less so when trying to foster a functional democracy.”
“Studies have shown,” adds Steven Handel, “that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions, for example: eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin.
This tells us that we can potentially separate ourselves from a certain group of people on any random and arbitrary characteristic. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to be a perpetrator and/or victims of social prejudice and ostracism.” (“The Us Vs. Them Mentality.”)
Although it feels like things are getting worse, this very well may be a time of national exorcism; the rock we didn’t want to look under has been overturned and we are staring directly at its maggoty underside. At least now we are facing it directly; the dank hidden pocket of darkness is being aired. And we are looking at it, talking about it.
A hundred years ago, only white men could vote in America. Today we have a black president and a female candidate. We have progressed! But we are still healing from historically recent wounds. Sociological blindspots, unconscious prejudice, glass ceilings and abuse of power still remain as a result of that past. The specters of oppression can not be banished so easily or quickly.
With emotions running high and so much dissonance in the air, empaths and highly sensitive people are particularly vulnerable to depression & anxiety—it is essential that we combat this by practicing steady, systematic, daily routines of self-care. We must stoke our own light in order to better illuminate this darkness.
As we all navigate these stormy times of controversy, misunderstanding, anger, alienation and above all the tendency to break off into warring factions, let us try to outsmart our biology.
When politics breaks our brains, let us turn to the heart. For our goal logically must be harmonious co-existence, and we are united by more than divides us.
November 26, 2011 § 35 Comments
“It is advertising and the logic of consumerism that governs the depiction of reality in the mass media.” ~ Christopher Lasch
“Who covets more, is evermore a slave.” ~ Robert Herrick
So named to imply the state of profit for retailers known as being “in the black,” Black Friday, which should perhaps be renamed Bloody Friday, is getting darker every year.
in 2008 a 34-year-old Long Island Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death by a crowd of product-and-savings-crazed customers who pushed the door off its hinges before the store was open, chanting, “Push the doors in.”
“She was competitive shopping,” quipped Los Angeles Fire Captain, James Carson. But it has apparently become a bloody sport.
In San Leandro, California, a family was accosted by two men demanding their recently purchased products in a park. In what could be called misguided attachment, the family refused to fork over the loot, and the assailant opened gunfire. The victim was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
In a less bloody but equally poignant example of the madness, a grandpa in Phoenix, Arizona, was slammed to the ground by amped up police for putting a game in his waistband to lift his grandson up over the crowd.
People are blaming the economy, but in this author’s opinion that’s a flimsy excuse. We’re not talking about food here. We’re talking about stuff. Gadgets, games, flat screen TVs. These are luxury items. And yet the madness is being framed increasingly in the light of class.
A conspiracy theorist might point out how much more convenient it is for us to turn on each other than to recognize the problem of our blatant overconsumption.
Yesterday, The New York Times, for instance, commented that,”Budget-minded shoppers will be racing for bargains at ever-earlier hours while the rich mostly will not be bothering to leave home.”
The rich, and also the wise, not willing to suffer the bloody sport of “competitive shopping” in the name of material acquisition.
In an article for Business Week elaborating on the class angle, Dan Beucke discusses the subject with Marshal Cohen, the chief industry analyst of The NPD Group, which studies consumers and retailing:
“Time and again, Cohen saw consumers whose shopping reach had exceeded their spending grasp. A credit card maxes out and a member of the shopping party is sent outside to collect another card from the waiting car. Or the cashier offers up a sub-total and the shopper starts striking items until the bill fits the cash on hand.”
The story is supposed to illustrate the budget-strained struggles of a pressured working class. But is there a deeper story going on?
It seems more symptomatic of a mentality that people are willing to spend their last dollar on, go into debt for, “stuff.”
Again, these are luxury items people are buying. They are not necessities. The perversion of the American dream has resulted in a bloated, yet ever-hungry consumeristic monster.
The only difference between the Black Friday people pinning sales clerks against the wall in their rush to snatch their plastic prize and the consumers who stay home and buy their shiny toys another day is spectacle.
To call this simply an issue of recession is to read the situation on a very superficial level. Rather, we must assume it is indicative of a gross misplacement of priority. What else can we call it when people become so crazed for things that a fellow human being becomes just one more obstacle between themselves and an XBox?
As economist Paul Heyne notes, “The gap in our economy is between what we have and what we think we ought to have – and that is a moral problem, not an economic one.”
“Experts in ancient Greek culture say that people back then didn’t see their thoughts as belonging to them. When ancient Greeks had a thought, it occurred to them as a god or goddess giving an order. Apollo was telling them to be brave. Athena was telling them to fall in love. Now people hear a commercial for sour cream potato chips and rush out to buy, but now they call this free will. At least the ancient Greeks were being honest.”
And so we, as conscientious dreamers, must ask ourselves, as the crazed shoppers of Black Friday do not, what are we really hungry for? And what should we truly be feeding that hunger inside?
I say feed it experience, feed it human relationship, feed it books (you don’t have to buy them, go to the library!) feed it art (every museum has a free admission day!) feed it good music (in the city weekly papers, there are always free music events!) Feed it the sound of the wind in the trees, and rivers running. Feed it campfire stories, the sky and the stars. Feed it significance through reading, thinking, dreaming. Feed it love. Feed it beauty. Feed it knowledge.
We are hungry, but as a nation we are stuffing ourselves with metaphorical and literal junk food. If you’re reading this, you already know this. So what can we do?
In the bracing and vitalizing words of fellow journeyer Terrence McKenna:
“We have to create culture, don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own roadshow. The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y.
This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
What form does this take? You decide.
For me it takes the form of writing this blog and informs the direction of my work. It takes the form of conversations with fellow journeyers and conscious decisions to identify, and sometimes curtail, the buying urge that’s been implanted in my brain via psychological programming. Of recognizing and celebrating my difference from mainstream consumer-based culture and its distorted value system, and in further investigating how I can be part of creating something better.
For George Carlin, it took the form of fantastically searing philosophical comedic diatribes: