Only the great generalizations survive. The sharp words of the Declaration of Independence, lampooned then and since as "glittering generalities," have turned out blazing ubiquities that will burn forever and ever.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Having been accused on occasion of indulging in generalities, glittering or otherwise, I take comfort in RWE's retort. In fact, I find in it the perfect name for my blogue. Since I'm probably the last person on the planet to begin posting regular musings for public consumption, I choose my own spelling. Blogues are not to be confused with blogs, which tend to be too frequent and slap-dash. Blogues are just old-fashioned essays - they've been fussed over.
The latest post is below. The previous post, Brother, Can You Spare the Time?, was published by Writers Resist.
Resolutions for Evolution - 2017
This is a good time for Americans to take stock and consider the way forward. As the dust settles from a highly contrived and ineptly reported election, it's clear that we live in a fascist oligarchy. There can no longer be any doubt about that. Government and industry are working together, not for the greater good, but for grand larceny. The political and governing mechanisms have been corrupted beyond their capacity to provide the justice and economic opportunity we took for granted a short time ago.
Consequently, as never before, cultural evolution depends on the daily behavior of each individual. Feeding the world you want to live in is the only real option, and that requires conscientious, concerted effort. The following suggested adjustments, taken individually, are minor. Taken collectively, they can and must be seismic.
Cut the Cable
Cable television providers in America are essentially a cartel – a group of companies that work together as a monopoly. In this case, subscribers of every cable company are expected to pay for hundreds of extra channels, simply to have access to a small amount of desired content. It’s like going to a restaurant and being told that you can’t have a cup of coffee or a piece of pie unless you order a full banquet. No one offers a smorgasbord of programming, which technology allows.
Choosing a cable (or satellite) company has all the appeal of a GOP debate because you have to work hard to find any appreciable differences between the candidates, and – oh, yeah – they’re all corrupt anyway. The cartel offers technological baubles here and there that make it seem as if you’re getting something special. But nothing comes close to simply offering affordable, customizable programming.
Further,corporate propaganda outlets are estranged from any notion of objectivity. Anyone who does not believe that corporations manipulate television news should watch the 2015 film TRUTH. Fox News is the least reliable cable news source, according to politically neutral Politifact. And it is also the most expensive. The cost wouldn’t be relevant, except that nearly all viewers are forced to pay for it. If you’re a fan of, say, Turner Classic Movies, you must pay for 200-300 channels, including Fox News, in order to receive it.
Our computers already tap the customizable content that cable companies refuse to provide. So it’s hardly surprising that beefy cable bills feed a formidable lobbying beast dedicated to restricting internet speed and access. It is certainly true that internet search engines are now totally skewed by professional manipulators. See, for example, “Google and the Miseducation of Dylann Roof.” But at least the possibility of finding good information is still there. We just have to work harder to find it.
Besides retooled search algorithms and further liberating legislation, the internet requires only our active participation to completely displace cable television. So let’s stop stoking the bloat. Richer, more targeted content is still, often, just a click or two away.
Break the Chains
Chain stores are not wholly, irredeemably corrupt. Some are laudable in various particulars. But they really do wield enormous leverage against mom-and-pop stores. As well-documented by Marc Levinson in The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America, small retailers a century ago successfully petitioned the government for protection against “price discrimination” – the ability of massive chains to buy in bulk and continually undercut mom-and-pop. Only in the 1950’s were these protections dismantled, as consumers became fixated on discounts.
Chain-store allegiance often surpasses understanding. In allegedly liberal Boulder, Colorado, several locally owned alternatives to Starbucks provide comparable coffee and much better food at competitive prices. Yet every Starbucks is often packed. For many coffee aficionados, predictability apparently Trumps originality. But we will not have alternative hangouts if too few of us are willing to risk new experiences. Even in Boulder, we’re nearly there. Yet local businesses do all the heavy lifting in sustaining the local ecosystem.
Nearly always, we don't know what we've got till it's gone. Boulder's Video Station, staffed by personable film experts and housing one of the largest, most eclectic video collections in the country, closed its doors for good on March 6th, 2017. This feels like a death in the family. It's amazing that the store lasted 35 years, all external pressures considered.
Be Here Now
In general, relationships should take precedence over experiences. Yet, throughout our short existence, we play Too Busy And Important with each other. Are we really so caught up in prosaic scanning that we cannot spare a moment for a fellow miracle of the species? I’d go so far as to say our survival depends on personal, everyday curiosity, which feeds problem-solving imagination. “I’ll let you go,” we say with pseudo-politeness, as if it’s not a rejection of life itself.
On a walking mall a few months ago, I saw a large Asian family seated at an outdoor table, apparently waiting for food. Every head was bowed and silent. How touching, I thought. They’re praying. But as I passed, I could see a phone in each lap. The electronic focus was neither unusual nor particularly reprehensible, yet I still wished they had been praying. Not for religious reasons, but because I wanted them to be connected rather than so very far apart.
The loss extends beyond our species. I know a good, hard-working woman who always talks on the phone while walking her magnificent dog. The dog hates that phone. For hours, he waits for her return, then must share her love. Dogs read us continually, picking up on even a millimeter shift of an eyebrow.
My wife and I are convinced that many other species also thrive on acknowledgment. The rabbits in our driveway wait for us to appear each morning before kicking up their heels. A platoon of wry crows seems to save its swooping aerobatics for just the moment we gain a local summit. We often express appreciation, hoping to extend these shows. It’s not difficult to notice, to acknowledge, to turn outward. Perspective and release are the rewards.
Imagine Other Lives
Years ago, I heard a Buddhist monk speak of four meditations: loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and impartiality. I’ve come to think of these as steps. Loving-kindness is the first, because it’s simple: turn outward and love unconditionally. Compassion is a step beyond that. It requires interest and action – the desire to find out more about others. But a degree of imagination is also essential – the simple capacity to put oneself in someone else's place. Compassion is not possible without imagination.
Imaginative compassion is the lynchpin of the four meditations. It facilitates the final two – joy and impartiality. Joy is, after all, a replenishing gratitude – the natural result of new relationships and broader possibilities. Impartiality is achieved though the progressive abandonment of faction fights in favor of discovering what each of us has to offer. It expresses fully the lively curiosity fired by compassion.
I did not use the word “compassion” in the title of this section because the word is too rote – overused, and little analyzed. But you cannot fail to be compassionate if you actively spend a part of each day imagining lives that are unlike your own. Donald Trump targets all sorts of groups for persecution because he will not imagine himself in the shoes of another, and perhaps has never tried. Narcissists are not capable of imagintive compassion, because they see others only as extensions of themselves. Ruthlessness and greed often fill the vacuum.
At a granular level, imagining other lives can do much to restore common courtesy. We live in a culture of ignoring, of unresponsiveness. We tend to be plugged into the spewing media cornucopia to such a degree that filtering has become a primary survival skill. Most of us do it poorly, forgetting who and what is important. But humane imagination empowers even the busiest of us to efficiently track contacts and discern intention – the facilitating heart of all interactions.
Develop Subtlety of Mind
I’m appalled at the resurgence of black-and-white thinking these days. If, for example, I say that I will not shop somewhere because the company is extremely conservative, someone is likely to point out that the company also donates to the Democratic Party, as if that should allay my concerns. But the devil is in the details. As it turns out, the company gives more money to the GOP than to the Dems, has a history of opposing LGBTQ rights, undermines union organizing efforts, and pays its employees poverty wages. Furthermore, the two major parties now overlap to such a degree that giving to the least offending hardly offsets giving to the most offending. Everything is a matter of degree, so understand the degrees.
Similarly, half-truths have gained currency. Many conservatives like to point out that polar bears are more numerous now than they were one hundred years ago. Well, that’s because the bears were over-hunted until regulations were put in place decades ago. And modern polar bears are much smaller than bears of the 19th and 20th centuries, primarily due to food scarcity. The bears are classified as “vulnerable” for good reason, as at least three subpopulations are on the decline. That’s the whole truth.
Media conditioning certainly plays a role in this idiocy. During the Iran-Contra Affair, I didn’t watch television, but believed, from newspaper accounts, that an impeachment of Ronald Reagan was in the offing. But all of a sudden, my television-watching acquaintances began saying, “We don’t need another failed presidency.” My answer, of course, was that we need as many failed presidencies as it takes to get it right. But the damage was done. Everyone was parroting this important-sounding but meaningless pronouncement. I hope never to underestimate media influence again.
Humans are efficient rationalizing machines. If you are determined to pick up a bargain at a store in which the employees are mistreated, you will grasp at anything that seems to mitigate the crimes. B&W Brain – Teenage Brain, essentially – facilitates this. It’s important to recognize when the teeny brain is trying to take over. As we tell kids, “everyone does it” is not a proper excuse for anything.
The fear of Trumped-up controversy, and of speaking out, seems epidemic. The last two Christmases, many people were clearly afraid of responding to my innocent "Happy Holidays!" (Sure, if I know you're Christian, I say "Merry Christmas.") The impulse to stifle ourselves and equivocate has become automatic. This is attributable to the poor economy and overexposure to tempest-in-a-teacup media. Anyone looking for a job does not want to alienate a potential employer by expressing a "wrong" point of view – or even a non-mainstream one. And for good reason.
I understand that it’s hard to take chances when you’re sweating out the mortgage every month. But tolerances are now extremely narrow, and the stakes are high. If a company is inclined to bully you for your political beliefs, then you owe it to yourself to examine whether working there makes you part of the problem. Perhaps it’s time to launch a more enlightened competitor. In any case, nothing will improve until we stop enabling mediocrity and corruption. Sometimes that takes the heart of a lion.
A friend of mine, a world-class poet and essayist, displayed the first INVADE IRAQ? NO! bumper sticker I saw back in 2002. He was subsequently vilified by neighbors and even colleagues for years. How dare he not “support the troops?” Many would agree with him now, of course. In general, if you ask people whether we should listen to poets, the answer is “absolutely.” But when it comes to politics, something strange happens. The same people are not just deaf to, but disdainful of visionaries. That’s when courage comes in handy.
Fortunately, with a little effort, it comes easier. Emerson said, "The great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before." We are creatures of habit and therein lies the key. If you can find courage once today, it will find you twice tomorrow.
I’d like to see a re-forging of the American spine to its once-proud proportions. Often the right stance – the kind stance – is difficult or unpopular, but it is our birthright to challenge authority. Let’s begin by ignoring all the bugaboos trotted out by Trump and others with impoverished imaginations. As Plato said, courage is simply knowing what not to fear. And no one fights injustice alone.
The Calls To Surrender
The calls to surrender are roaring, the
walls of new splendor shot away, but
turn outward with me and remember
that patience cannot lead astray
That consensus blooms in compassion,
in our desperate need to be more; that
we have been here now and forever,
and ever the heart finds a door
The calls to surrender are roaring, the
force to choose meanly contrives, but
as we look to each other for courage,
the bond is a truth: Not on our lives.