Water in the Hole

Kids like to dig holes in the sand. On vacation you have one week to get as much fun as possible from the beach. The daily digging of the hole becomes a vacation ritual of joy and discovery. Some days the kids make a hole and pour water from the ocean into it to see what happens and other days they dig deep enough to see it fill with water naturally which is so cool since that doesn’t happen in the sandbox back home. A channel for waves to fill the hole, or a tunnel under the sand is an exercise in engineering that may become the foundation for intellectual interests or possibly a career. Building a sandcastle or sculpting a face in the sand may lead to art and design. The process of collaborating with siblings and fellow vacationers to reach a goal builds cooperation and leadership skills. The success or failure of the attempt is secondary to the value of the effort, it is just sand; it may be gone by morning. Destruction could come from wind, rain or some other person.

So much of what we do as humans is transitory. We transform ideals into physical manifestations that return to abstractions with the passage of time and weather and other natural events. Stonehenge, or animal shapes drawn with the earth that are only visible from the sky, or the stone ruins of sugar mills dotting a Caribbean Island show us what’s left of previous efforts by humans. Some of the original thoughts of the humans who made the objects are clear, a mill processes sugar cane for example. Other remnants remain enigmatic after time passes and the constructions deteriorate. Nature does this in spite of the effort and labor that went into the creation. From a certain perspective it could all be considered futile.

All of humanity’s industry returns to a state of disintegrated miscellany. We make order while nature prefers a condition we perceive as chaos. It is our nature to seek coherence through structure. Should this be considered a rebellion against the natural world? We build cities and industries and automobiles and then we maintain them, giving them a form of resistance to nature’s desire. The more permanence we create the more nature fights back. Climate change is nature’s way of combating permanence.

We use the raw materials of nature to build order, but we are constantly deconstructing other forms of order at the same time. Just like the wind, we tear down human constructions. Sometimes we do it for sport, sometimes we do it for rewards, and sometimes we do it because of our of ideologies. We also tend to favor our own philosophies of order over another’s beliefs about what order looks like. People who emulate the dogma valued by one group are considered “good” and those who emulate another set of beliefs are often considered “bad”. The value judgments of good or bad have to do with the particular form of order we support. The form of order known as ‘Democrat’ supports diversity and compassion as personified in the actions of President Obama. The form of order known as ‘Republican’ supports a dogma defined in their election platform and personified by King Trump and The Royal Pence-men. Immigrants are ‘good’ in the Democrat’s ‘form of order’ and bad in the Republican system. You could substitute any number of issues or types of people for the word immigrants in the sentence above such as: LGBT, women’s rights, Muslims, minorities and so on.

In my lifetime we have moved from a culture that honors virtue as the measure of a person’s merit (regardless of political ideology) to a new priority: honoring allegiance to ideological structures over virtue. Commonly acknowledged virtues were fairly universal after WWII, but that unity has become polarized. Today we see Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind, (see note below) finding significance in the way certain moral foundations are prioritized by conservatives vs. liberals. Liberals consider Care and Fairness as the primary foundations of morality while Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity are primary for conservative morality.  So, if your loyalty is to Trump who sanctifies greed, then care of others and fairness in pay, housing, health care, equal treatment, etc. are irrelevant. The word ‘morality’ has no universal, common meaning.

Authority means allegiance to a code of hierarchy, Loyalty keeps you bound to the code of that authority, and Sanctity binds your allegiance to the abstraction of ‘holiness’ which usually is codified as Christianity for Republicans. Care and Fairness are based in empathy and compassion, while Authority, Sanctity and Loyalty are based in codes. Conservatives place moral judgments upon an individual’s inclination to follow the established code, or rules. A key feature of rules is that they are inviolable unless changing them can be shown to provide benefits. So, when President Obama evolved on his understanding of LGBT rights he grew in his ability to empathize with our struggles. He attempted to adjust the laws to accommodate the care and fairness of this minority. He tore down the unfeeling laws and replaced them with more humane rules as best he could. Within the liberal mindset this was the moral thing to do.

Conservatives value the old rules and disregard compassion/empathy for what they consider the foundations of morality – Rules. The sanctity of straight sex is a rule they must defend. (They seem to obsess on rules about sex for some reason. Especially rules about the plumbing of sex. Sad.) The rules they are willing to change, however, are the ones that address care and fairness such as environmental concerns. Those changes are motivated by greed. For some reason Evangelical Christians are willing to breath foul air and drink contaminated water in exchange for having the sexual plumbing rules put back the way they want.

We can’t fault nature, but we must continue to behave in the manner of humans; it is our natural state of being. We must fight for our own definition of order whether in a religious, political, or philosophical framework, hell, it could simply be self-interest such as greed, (and plumbing?) the iconic element(s) of the Trump Cabinet. We are obligated by nature to assert our definition of order. Free thinkers will become the new opposition and promote the destruction of Trump-ism as Republicans build their hypocritical version of order.

Tomorrow, we’ll get up and dig a new hole.

 

 

Note:

I have to confess that I threw Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind away a little past 3/4 of the way into it. I never do that with books, especially ones I refer to often but it made me mad. I felt a very smart man who writes well was making a clever argument very slowly and with a lot of words, hoping that we wouldn’t notice he forgot some stuff. I am not a psychologist, but I have studied persuasion. My reaction to the book was that I was being manipulated. Sorry if I manipulated his 5 foundations into something he may not like.

The Bully Hole

The speech is written, but the accompanying slides are mere concepts at this point. Something has happened to halt the completion of the project. There is now an overwhelming presence from an almost ideal illustration of the topic of my speech. Its arrival has just ruined everything. If someone were to dream up a metaphor for my topic, they couldn’t begin to achieve the magnificence of this real-life example. It’s such an over…well, I’ve already used ‘overwhelming’ so let’s say very strong personification of the topic of the speech that alters the context and distorts every discussion of it into a political argument.

My first introduction to the issue of anti-bullying activism was back in 2005 when I was chairperson of the Gender Issues and Social Justice Committee of my faculty union. As a gay rights activist I was quite familiar with the topic. We published several emails informing people about the general topic of workplace bullying. It did little to change anything at the time, but the discussion had begun. There was no satisfying solution to the bully problem to give people, so things just sat around. There isn’t a solution now either, but the insights gleaned about how institutions are structured to protect the bully still astonishes me. I won’t go into this any more than to warn folks that the Social Equity (or equivalent) office at your workplace is there to protect the bosses and the institution, not the worker. They will put on a facade of caring and empathy, but that is mostly a mask. I plan for my next book to be about bullying.

Anyway, this Trump guy is the best example of a bully ever. You’d think this would be a godsend to someone speaking about bullies, but it’s not. Every mention of the man is political. Hiring a person to speak on the topic of workplace bullying is not something a business is thrilled about in the first place so any hint of political advocacy (especially anti-republican) would kill the gig. I’d have better luck doing pro-gonorrhea speeches.

If the speech were to be given as it is written, the audience would be distracted by the orange-headed elephant in the room anyway; he’s too obvious. If the speech is re-written to include him, he would dominate the event and that wouldn’t necessarily help workers deal with bullies. Workers need to address this issue in a very intimate way and that can’t happen when everybody jumps to thinking of a presidential bully. His presence in the discussion obscures the vile nature of an attack by a bully at work. He turns the topic into a cartoon of the issue so that you can’t convey the depth of devastation a bully inflicts.

A bullied person is humiliated by the situation, so you can’t just have a cartooned, purple-caped Batman nemesis to represent ‘the bully’; that makes things worse. Bullies always have the upper hand and they are intent upon destruction. The targeted worker is often innocent and unaware of what’s happening until late in the process. If you compare this bully’s assault with all its emotional impact, to the media-class antics of a clown/bully like Trump you will go too far beyond the worker’s reality. Bullied workers are experiencing the biggest, undeserved slap-in-the-face of their lives. It has nothing to do with politics or world events; it’s just the worker in the workplace. That tiny social environment where they spend eight hours a day, where many of their expectations and self-conceptions are made, where everything they knew to be true has suddenly been flipped upon its head. This is personal.

One of the problems a speaker has teaching about bullying is that everyone already believes they know what it is. He (not she?) is the coonskin-cap-wearing redhead with the mossy wire braces who beats up Ralphie in A Christmas Story, right? Well, no. Some children who bully may behave like that, while adult bullies tend to be smart and sophisticated in their subtlety. They are patient plotters who use strategy and time to their advantage. They persuade co-workers and bosses to their side of things. They manipulate circumstances behind the scenes and remain hidden even after the target is gone. They are wily and wicked and often they are motivated by envy and feelings of inferiority.

The bully’s target is usually innocent of misbehavior and often good at their job. The target makes friends easily and gets along with others. The bully becomes enraged at the ease with which the target fits in, and excels at the job and at life in general. They target this person for imagined revenge and seldom let up unless caught or the target leaves. Many bullies are serial bullies, they move from one target to the next.

I’d prefer to have my audience conceive of the bully as Shakespeare’s Iago rather than Batman’s The Penguin, but look who’s stealing the show. His “act” includes the school-yard bully caricature all grown up into a used car salesman. His splashy act is for show, to misdirect everyone from the sneaky Iago-like stuff he does behind the scenes. For me, the spectacle steals focus while the serious job of instruction is left floundering.

It’s like the backhoe digging a bully hole outside a first grade classroom window, are the kids paying attention to the teacher?  If the Principal is the one driving the tractor, how do you explain to the kids that what he’s doing is wrong, without diminishing the office of ‘Principal’? It diminishes the school and the teacher and the students and the whole community.

The pendulum, it swings

They say the cells in our bodies replace themselves every seven years or so. I’ve never noticed these changes taking place, but at the cellular level, I’m told, it’s obvious. So, why doesn’t a scar disappear over the course of seven years? I mean, has the body forgotten its original shape and color?

Should we take this phenomena as a message from nature telling us that we are the totality of our current shape? If that is the case, nature’s job would be to maintain the person we have become, not the original prototype. We progress with what we have. If we no longer have a gall bladder or a thumb or a wart on our nose due to choice or accident then we continue to exist as the sum and total of our current parts. We will continue to exist as long as the remaining organism can function.

What about our brain? It remembers the wart, gall bladder, and thumb doesn’t it? What place does that memory have in the scheme of things? Shouldn’t the brain, as it grows each new cell over seven years, erase the memory of the excised organ, appendage or blemish? Well, it doesn’t. The brain retains knowledge over the course of its existence without regard to its apparent usefulness. It knows what we are and what we were.

If we think of our nation as a body, and we consider politicians as the replaced cells of the nation we can use this metaphor to consider our current political state of being. The new ‘president’ cell of our nation is preparing to excise part of our body. Now, that missing wart was cancerous, the gall bladder came out due to medical necessity, and the thumb was an accident, but this new excision will be an intentional detachment of an essential component for reasons that are not so clear.

An accident is happenstance, an operation does what is best for the patient,a cancerous virus is counter productive to good health. All of these extractions from a body make sense. The dubious amputations proposed by Donald Trump will remove essential organs from the nation’s body so it is worth a close examination of his proposals and behavior. We will want our body to continue functioning after he is gone.

The nation is basically healthy, but it could lose a few pounds around the middle. Attempts to reduce the bloat make sense but a doctor would suggest a different diet rather than the proposal from Mr. Trump. A medically sound choice would be based on science and pragmatic choices. The Trump approach is based in raw emotion. He feels some of our appendages are unattractive so he wants them removed. These appendages have functions that are integral to the body and its operation, but from his perspective they don’t look good and removing them would reduce weight, so “off with her…whatever”.

The reasoning functions of our new leader are severely lacking, as is the moral compass we expect in our leaders. As a result the choices he makes may cause us to lose some toes, a finger and perhaps a leg if he is in the mood. Our body will have to limp along in its new condition forever. The resultant nation will remember what it was like to be whole because the brain doesn’t forget, but the cells won’t regenerate the leg that used to be there. The brain doesn’t get away unscathed because it is where the body’s moral center exists. The moral component of the body will be chopped down to fit our new leader’s shape. We may remember the old moral standards but we will be destined to live in the remaining moral shell of bigotry, vengeance and petty emotionalism.

Does our nation want this future? Our political pendulum swings between conservative and liberal over the course of time giving each extreme a chance to lead. I was in awe of the massive three story pendulum I saw on a class trip to a science museum as a kid. The big weight at the end of the string had a point on the bottom that drew a line in the sand on the floor as it swept back and forth. It was a beautiful sight to behold as the pendulum drew new lines coinciding with the rotation of the earth. A fellow student who was jealous of the movement of the pendulum and its lines in the sand climbed over the ropes protecting it. He hit the weight, throwing it off course, drawing new, irregular and haphazard lines, destroying the previous symmetry. The museum intended the display to teach a lesson, but that lesson was no longer evident. Donald Trump is that jealous child; his actions will alter both the liberal and conservative swing of the pendulum. Our body and our moral center will be permanently altered in the process.

Ah, a,a,a,AH VIRTUE! Gesundheit?

Has virtue become a mere sneeze in the world of politics? Something gushed out with no warning that receives a polite, ‘good health’ (gesundheit) in return, never to be mentioned again? If so, then we should be forewarned by this.

Robert Westbrook has a wonderful article in The Baffler No. 33:Virtuous Reality Link where he laments the decline of virtue as a criteria for high public office as evidenced by the recent presidential election. There is no real need to list Trump’s disinclination towards virtue when all one has to do is look at his Cabinet nominees and advisors, so I will leave that for another day. There is a sense of fatalistic futility pervading the air, but its stench has been evident well before the symptom: the sneeze of Donald Trump, was forced upon us. The only virtue he values has dollar signs on it.

Many have taken to blaming the media for this frightening dilemma but it is deeper than that. At the core of our being as a species on this planet is a shared biology that has lost the ability to register the message coming from the Earth. The more primitive brains of animals are better tuned-in to these messages. I recall enjoying a Renaissance Festival in Moscow, Idaho on the day Mount St. Helens blew up. At the Festival I noticed some dogs on leashes behaving strangely and barking in unusual ways. A bit later I noticed, in the West, a sharp line of clouds with total darkness behind them. It reminded me of Tolkien’s description of the dark clouds of Mordor advancing to block the sun at the start of the war with Gondor. By the time we got home the white silica ash falling from the darkened sky was beginning to coat the sidewalks, grass and trees. Cats and birds and squirrels were making an awful lot of noise. I suddenly realized – the noise had been going on since dawn. There was an edge to that day; I barely sensed it and normally wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

If we humans had been tuned-in to whatever the signal was making the animals behave strangely, what might we have done? Hopefully, we’d say more than just gesundheit. I believe we are capable of sensing what the animals sense, there is nothing supernatural about it. We have the mechanisms necessary to perceive the signals, our senses, but we are too de-sensitized to understand the signals. Yet, the perception of Earth’s message alone makes us behave differently, as if by instinct, even if we can’t understand the reason for it. I believe this is what’s happening on a global scale right now: we sense the impending destruction of the environment, so, deep down inside, we are squawking like a squirrel before the darkness comes.

However, the changing environment is not foremost in the minds of people who are disadvantaged. For them, immediate priorities are urgent while lofty ideals are frivolous. So, the poetic values of ‘virtue’ fade when danger is at the door; this becomes the time for desperate acts and irrational panic, does it not? Some of us who are more measured may see the problem and attempt a solution. Others operate at a more primal level. They become selfish and protect their own; altruism disappears as fear and survival instincts kick in. The panicking crowd dispenses with polite discourse, and eliminates the bonds of civility. They cackle like crows at the silica snow: “Keep those immigrants out! My race is better than yours.” Hidden bigotry is revealed and fear of the stranger takes hold. In the back of their minds is the attitude that says: “I’d better get what I can, while I can, before someone else does, screw them. The more I have, the greater my family’s chance of survival.” This appears to be the justification for electing Trump. It was an act of desperation on the part of white middle America.

The lofty ideals being lost in this process are the elemental foundations of civility. The new priority for virtue is money. “I want people who made a fortune” [in my Cabinet] said Trump. What? The most important virtue is making lots of money? During his campaign he promised to bring in “the best people” to staff his government and apparently by ‘best’ he means money-grubbers, the people Jesus threw out of the temple. I have trouble seeing greed as a virtue. It is certainly not an elemental foundation of civility. Truthfulness, respect, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness rank much higher than greed. Hold on, sorry, I just re-read the last sentence and can’t go on. How did greed ever get the status of VIRTUE in the first place? It doesn’t belong there. Greed should never be the measure of a nation’s virtue!

I get that the planet is warning us, and that message, whether we heed it or not, is stimulating a panic response. But, giving the authority of the most powerful government on the planet over to greed is the opposite of rational behavior. Our doom is at the door; we seem to be asking for entertainment whilst it consumes us.