What Is In A Name

When I was a freshman in college, before Jerry Falwell demonized it, I called myself a Secular Humanist. I did this to ward off questions from people who wondered why I was no longer a Christian. My plan was to use terminology that was so obscure the questioners would be embarrassed to show their ignorance of the subject. It usually worked. I ran the risk of encountering someone who knew what it meant but I was willing to cross that bridge if I ever got there.  Anyway, I liked the sound of the words together, lofty and poetic. I did have a modestly informed understanding of the term; Philosophy 101 taught me all I needed to know!

SecularHumanismLogo3DPrideRainbowColorsLook at the root meanings of the word secular – ‘generation’ or ‘age.’ If I say: “I am of this age” I am usually defining myself without implying any moral quality. However, another root meaning exists, it may be used to suggest: ‘the world.’ So, if I say: “I am secular” then I have given myself a label that is not so clean. If I am secular then I am not ‘sacred’ which back in George Bush’s ‘with us or against us’ America implied that I am profane. The world is a place for sinners; it is not like heaven (or presumably the White House), which is clean of sin. The world is secular and therefore it is less than good.

‘Secular’ is wrought with negative connotations; add on ‘humanist’ and you have made the whole thing much worse. Our society would rather put faith in a myth than in its fellow humans. The humans are the sinners for goodness sake! Why would you put your faith in sinners? This works out well for most people until they need a doctor or mechanic or something … real? Secular humanists have two strikes against them for their name alone. They might as well call themselves ‘profane sinners’ for all the PR value in the name. Can the premise of ‘secular humanism’ ever become as clear to the Trump voter as say, ‘God is love’ is to Christians?

How does one assert their secular humanistic ideals without confusing the issues via a misunderstood name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Or, is it even possible for this ideology to achieve clarity of understanding through a name? Christian, Hindu, Jew are simple names that are clearly identified by anyone. Secular Humanism is a phrase, a phrase that requires an explanation. Can the premise of secular humanism ever become as clear to an every-day person as say: God is love?

I’m mentioning all this as a prelude to a discussion about names and the ways in which we distinguish a rose from a carnation, or whatever. The longer Trump stays in office the more pundits, columnists and bloggers try to define him with currently available names and categories.  “Populist-fueled democratic backsliding” is the term of art being used by David Frum in the Atlantic today to describe our current condition.  His article https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/ is a must read point-of-view.

13991024189_243d8eed92_bDavid Frum used a couple thousand words in his Atlantic article to bring us, “Populist-fueled democratic backsliding;” that’s a four word phrase found in a quote he provides identifying the problem he discusses. Will his point ever be synthesized into a single word? One that Trump followers can understand? One that can be used to express the depth and breadth of the complicated monumental degradation of the state of our government from what it was two weeks ago. Words like kleptocracy or kakistocracy, chrysocracy or plutocracy, argentocracy or moneyocracy have meanings that require a dictionary to understand and even that is not enough. How do we make known the problem if its name is four words long? It doesn’t come trippingly off the tongue.

Mr. Frum spells out for us the issue so I won’t try to do that in detail here. Basically, he says that the fight for control of the government has shifted from tanks in the streets to the internet and that a well-told lie will have the power of a massive bomb. The virtuous gentlemen’s approach to the presidency is gone and so are the ethical codes of the past. The newly installed virtue of greed usurps all others. There is still time to combat this as he states:

And the way that liberty must be defended is not with amateur firearms, but with an unwearying insistence upon the honesty, integrity, and professionalism of American institutions and those who lead them. We are living through the most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United States that anyone alive has encountered. What happens next is up to you and me. Don’t be afraid. This moment of danger can also be your finest hour as a citizen and an American.

So, I support this idea in theory, but what shall we call it? Christian, Hindu and Jew are simple names that are clearly identified by anyone; so is “Trump”.  Democracy used to be a glorious ideal until Trump pointed out its flaws so blatantly. The Frum resistance effort takes place on an ephemeral plane, it uses a complicated system of abstractions: honesty, integrity, and professionalism. This strategy appears to simply insist that everyone play nice.

Even so, defining “nice” is crucial to clearly understand our objective. People can have a strong sense of integrity and actively use that characteristic quality honestly to reach different conclusions. Professionalism is not easy to define and it has no morality clause. A business person is obligated to get the greatest profit possible even if it means cutting jobs and closing mills and upending people’s lives. An obligation to business professionalism is not always an obligation to the country or even morality unless those things have an effect on sales.

I place a lot of faith in “integrity,” I’ve written about it in my new book, Billy’s Moral Adventures. I describe “honesty” as being a child’s introduction to the concept of what is holy. “Professionalism” is neither a uniformly meritorious nor a consistent concept and should be disregarded. A better concept in its place would be ethical behavior. 

So, now that the aggression of our bully, Trump has set his sights on Mexico and Australia of all places, and religious bigotry orders are in the works, how do we identify his actions with one simple word that both acknowledges the problem and suggests the solution?

We need a flag to rally around, a new image to follow (as Vaclav Havel says), a clear mission that we can define with precision. If we don’t fix this soon it will take decades to repair. It needs to be done quickly and arrive with a figurehead of opposition. We need to keep caring and fighting for an ideal or watch it all backslide away. Who will our savior be and how long till they get here?

BTW, I call myself an Existential Humanist now.


A moment or moments of time, where habitual or regular actions are repeated for a purpose. Frequently, rituals are used to formalize official activities, instruct or have a religious purpose.

Statements, ceremonies or other organized or improvisational proceedings can be rituals. We may participate in them automatically if trained to do so like genuflecting or saluting an officer. Rituals serve the purpose of bonding people through a unified activity. They build cohesiveness even amongst dissimilar participants and reinforce a shared ideal or sense of virtue.

A trial in court begins with the assembled folks rising for the entrance of the honored judge. In doing so, there is an acknowledgement of the authority and power accorded a judge by society. An oath is sworn by participants ritualistically to agree to the unifying elements of justice. The judge wears a robe and sits behind a desk, above and facing the other participants and controls the proceedings.

The peaceful transfer of power from one political entity to its opposite demands a formal ritual to clearly define the exchange. Our structure of governance would crumble without it.

Bureaucracies are composed of a series of formal rituals created to serve the purpose of running a business or government. The filling-out of a form hardly seems to be a ritual but the ritual of filling out forms is. I used to tell my students that half of their education was to learn how to deal with the bureaucrats administering the State-run University. I know that government procedures lack the symbolic significance of, say the ritual of a funeral, but tell that to the teenager getting his driver’s license or an immigrant becoming a citizen. Those folks place a lot of value on the ritual. Rituals here are rites of passage.

The power of the ritual comes from the symbolic meaning we give to it. In the Sixties, the ritual of burning one’s draft card was far more powerful than going to the county seat and registering for the draft. The formalized qualities of ritual can define a culture. The highly structured rituals of live theatre is evident in a European-style performance. The audience sits and watches a structured formal event performed upon a stage. Altered Conscience Theatre, and other tribal rituals sometimes known as “unconscious drama,” in contrast seems to have almost no formality. Its purpose is not solely entertainment, but intends to involve participants in the formation of self-transcendence. The event may have no plot or formal structure, its significance comes from the individual experiences of those participating.

A key element of these cultural rituals is improvisation. The story isn’t clear until the end of the improvisation, and it may never seem coherent at all to Western eyes. The act of doing provides the ecstatic emotional surge. I’ve rarely ever seen speaking in tongues so I can only surmise that it is a western-style simulation of a similar phenomenon. The goal of unconscious rituals is to leave the confines of the flesh and create art through that ecstatic state of being – like the Whirling Dervish in Turkey transcending the earthly plane through dance. Can you imagine the focused attention required to spin like a top yet leave your mind totally exposed to sensation? A western style preacher inserting gibberish into his sermon is not the same thing at all.

Let’s consider the expectations of the audience, in Western style theatre the audience will be entertained, edified, and humanity exalted, not through participation, but by observing and reacting. When the boundaries between performers and audience are broken, people become visibly upset. Say, as an example, the actors leave the stage and speak directly to audience members, insulting them for their looks. The conventions of the ritual have been broken causing alarm. Now, think of the first week of the Trump administration; he is upending all of our moral traditions and rituals isn’t he!

Obama, during his time in power, broke two of the most honored rituals favored by uneducated white evangelicals, the wedding, and fag-bashing. Trump was elected by white evangelicals as revenge for that violation of their privilege. Their response is that, since you broke our ritual we’ll get a rich professional doofus to break all your rituals until there’s nothing left to break. Then they stick their tongues out and blow a raspberry. “See how you like that!”  The flaw in the “reasoning” is that the doofus isn’t really on their side.

He is more like the preacher spewing nonsense syllables as if in a state of ecstasy. Really folks, look at the artifice! The preacher is speaking to you through a microphone with a prepared script in the European tradition, in a well structured and choreographed production. There is nothing spontaneous about it. Even the moments of ecstasy of the audience have a scheduled beginning and ending point. You may call it speaking in tongues but it is truly FAKE NEWS.  If you fall for it in church you’ll love it in a President.

When all the rituals are destroyed by Trump, his supporters will be worse off than before. The new rituals he creates in their stead will be incomprehensibly spoken in the tongues of the wealthy.

Our show must go on, but we should be aware of the artifice of theatre:

  • Unconscious drama is a genuine experience that changes the participant through a true and personal ritualistic experience of self-transcendence. How that individual interprets their moment of ecstasy is another matter.
  • Western Theatre (movies, TV) relies upon the willing suspension of disbelief. It’s fake, but observers know that and acknowledge the artifice, and expect to grow intellectually and emotionally from the experience.
  • Faith causes you to ignore the fake and pretend it’s all real. Big mistake.

The Power of an Image

I posted two blog posts on his inaugural speech at https://freethoughtblogs.com/odgraphix/, and a ton of time reading: his words, the news and other opinion pieces trying to figure out what Mr. Trump is all about. One thing is clear – if he knows he doesn’t want us to know.

So much for seeking first to understand. Let’s move on to a solution. The Trump modus operandi is to disorient on stage then act behind the scenes. This is the Big Lie. It is meant to obscure the truth through misdirection and deceit. The only image he has representing himself or his ideas is his clownish hair, a dark suit and an extra long tie.

To achieve significant change in politics one must change the image according to Vaclav Havel the past President of Czechoslovakia, and eventually the Czech Republic, “If we are to change our world view, images have to change.”  That happens to be the process we are going through now with Trump, only in reverse – Havel fought a repressive regime and Trump is installing one. The new image of government is clownish hair, a dark suit and an extra long tie.

Trump is removing the image of a magnanimous government that is ready to share its knowledge and research with free access. He is replacing it with barriers and restrictions. By befuddling the media and lying to us he is preventing the growth of knowledge and intellectual well being. The image of Trump signifies hidden knowledge, exclusion, secrets and bafflement. If the government speaks only through one mouthpiece and edits new knowledge out of the discussion, they gain more control. Knowledge is no longer free, so it becomes a commodity to be sold.

82290-004-9B7D3012Vaclav Havel began his rise to fame as an artist: a playwright, during the Communist rule of Czechoslovakia. His plays and essays were quite popular because they pointed out the flaws of a communist style oppressive regime. He became a dissident (and occasionally jailed) for merely expressing his point of view. His works were suppressed by the government, but there was such demand that individuals would hand-copy his writings and pass them on through an underground of dissidents. That, of course, was well before the internet; a different strategy is needed today.

Bloggers will become the new dissidents if we find a way to channel our verbiage into action. The diversity of our opinions and the normalcy of our witty rejoinders may gather a crowd of resistance protesters, but that action is more symbolic than actual. We have all become so jaded that The Joker can walk right in and take our stuff while we laugh at a cartoon of him doing it. How do we resist in this condition? True action must evolve at a ground level and swell into a movement. This has nothing to do with democrats, they are irrelevant now; the republicans will follow suit after Trump destroys them.

3e7c9523e02677ef46879f377b8f2a84If we follow Havel’s advice to form a new image, the image will have to be more significant and powerful than the Guy Fawkes mask used by Anonymous. That is a tough standard to exceed. It has been a successful piece of iconography used to convey the message of an anarchist political movement. It’s right up there with the red, white and blue Obama campaign logo, or the pre-Trump significance of The Statue of Liberty as an iconic symbol for a political idea. Its political significance comes from an anarchist movement adopting the mask image from a movie  (V-for Vendetta) based upon a graphic novel that came from the artist, David Lloyd’s mind while illustrating a story by Alan Moore of a futuristic dystopian England and the vigilante who attempts to overthrow an authoritarian government; it’s based on a moment in British history where a militant (Guy Fawkes) in 1605 failed to force the return of Catholic leadership to London.

obama-08-logo-18The Obama campaign’s logo was sheer genius. This was the first time such a soft, feminine graphic was used to symbolize a male candidate for US presidential office, even though there were similar  examples of the look elsewhere in the world. Most political graphics were military in nature like McCain’s solid rectangles with military wings and block letters. Fighting imagery had strength but the military look had been done too many times in the past to feel new and exciting. The “O” felt inclusive, it told a story through symbols that could be read many ways. A new landscape representing the circle of life, the plowed fields, the suggested sunrise, the new day dawning, the security of home, the heartland, even the comfort of the womb, etc. If you look through art history you will see a commonality through all cultures of an ideal landscape. It includes a path into the picture for the observer to get to the optimistic and idyllic place in the painting that contains a stream, growing plants and plenty of sky. It says: hope and illustrates the potential for sustainability. That was the message of his campaign and the symbolic text of his logo.

Our new “image” is going to have to exceed these two brilliant examples of the graphic arts. It will need to express the rebellious, self assured and ironic nature of the mask and the optimism of the Obama logo. It should speak of reformation, not anarchy. It should be about inclusion not exclusion. It should be about the search for a new order, not just complain about the current order. It should be joyful but deadly serious. It could be historic or a new creation or a combination of both.

Years ago, I went to the Occupy Pittsburgh rally. On the edge of the crowd were two girls wearing Guy Fawkes masks. They didn’t talk or move or interact, they just stood there together. I smiled when I first saw them. By the end of the event they had gained significance equal to a stone monument of the event. Each time I looked in their direction I had a new visceral reaction that was akin to awe. They projected back to the crowd all the ideas of all the speakers and performers. They became the event itself, re-made, manifest in living symbolic flesh and mask. The transformational power embodied in the use of an image is supreme.

I’ll post appropriate suggestions if you reply on the https://freethoughtblogs.com/odgraphix/.

So, America First, huh?

Where do real people fit into this plan? Is the hierarchy established yet? Who are we talking about when he say’s America: America the ideal, America the land, the laws, the constitution, the buffoon in charge, or does Mr. Trump have any of this mapped out yet? If his purpose is to include all people then great, but if he means only selected people then he should just say so as he did while running for office. Otherwise, why the change in tone? His generic word ‘people’ may not include me; I am gay.

The central idea of his speech is to “re-build the country” and to “restore its promise for all of our people.” Not all people, our people. Who are “our people” exactly? Trump has given us the duty to be skeptical of his words due to his previous behavior. He does not call out any specific category nor mention any subgroups. The only description of ‘people’ takes place in this odd sentence: “You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.” What movement is he talking about? When and where did it happen? Who was part of the movement? He doesn’t say. Is he including only ‘those who came’ meaning his voters – white evangelicals, or is everyone else in the country included too? Just prior to that statement he said: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Does this mean the minorities he has worked so hard to exclude in the past? We don’t know. If we give him the benefit of the doubt we’d be foolish due to the ridiculous lies he comes up with, like the most recent lie about attendance records at inaugurations.

There is the occasional poetic phrase plopped into the speech by someone who knows what they are doing, just not often enough to matter. He mentions protection a lot. He says: “You will never be ignored again” as if he is only speaking to middle class whites and evangelicals who believe they were ignored by Obama and vulnerable to all things ‘foreign’. Races, religions, nationalities and sexual identities were protected by Obama in addition to whites; but whites, who’d, in their own minds, had sole ownership of that protection, suddenly were required to share it. So, they came to doubt its value and felt ignored.

Here is another curious section lacking in clarity: “We are one nation – and their pain is our pain.”   Who’s pain are we talking about here? “Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success.”  Notice how dreams ‘are’ but success ‘will be;’  why change tense within the same sentence? Will ‘we’ take ‘their’ success once it occurs to make it “ours”? The use of the word ‘their’ suggests he is talking about some group other than us which he tries to equate to us while keeping a separation. Kind of separate but equal. Since he never specifies anyone outside of the nebulous group of “our people” the audience feels unsure about whom he is discussing.

The vulgar imagery of bleeding races was startling; it arrived without context. He promised to “eradicate completely from the face of the Earth”Radical Islamic Terrorism.” Terrorism is an idea and a collection of techniques not a thing; you can’t eradicate a technique no matter how radical or what religion it comes from.

He stole this sentence from proselytizing Christians: “When you open your heart to patriotism (Jesus), there is no room for prejudice.” Why suggest that allegiance to a political philosophy is the same as an allegiance to a religious belief? Is he saying that politics is holy? Maybe his own politics are!

Trump seems to endorse a form of diversity that becomes homogeneous: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.” This makes sense for a labor union fighting corporate overlords but a democracy relies upon compromise. Diversity of thought and conviction merged through compromise into a solution seldom leads to unanimity. The only solidarity represented by his election was the massive Women’s March.

If there had ever been any  attempts on his part to include blacks, Mexicans, or any minority, then I would just chalk this up to bad writing alone. The speech is total crap, obviously written by amateurs. There is no reason to trust any part of it. What makes me nervous about it is this: he is cheerleading for an ill-defined country that is populated by some undefined group of followers. He wants total allegiance to whatever he may mean by ‘America’ and suggests that we will be rewarded with camaraderie through this total devotion.

The speech is just another attempt to gaslight us. He is directing his minimally masked comments to an alt-right audience who will be his loyal comrades – “our” people? Could be!



Warning, Warning, Danger Will Robinson!!  A massive alarm went off when I heard this part of Trump’s “American Carnage” speech yesterday: “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.” Dolores Umbridge anyone?

What is total allegiance? What is totalitarian allegiance? And what is the difference between the two if it is the bedrock of politics?  I certainly have no problem with loyalty to country, but he’s got it backwards. We won’t ‘rediscover’ loyalty to others through total allegiance to anything. Total doesn’t leave room for another allegiance. Total means adding up all your capacity to ally yourself and giving it all up to Trump’s version of America. Allegiance is derived from the French, liege which means the relationship between a feudal superior and a vassal: an oath of fealty and liege homage. Allegiance is the foundation of authoritarian regimes. Total allegiance is Totalitarian.

Trump’s America homogenizes all the diversity of humanity into one worker/consumer/vassal identity, identical to all the rest. If you have lots of money you are exempt from this classification. As Trump said in the speech, “White, black or brown we all bleed the same red blood.” Race doesn’t exist. We all pray in Jesus’ name like Franklin Graham did at the inauguration, ignoring those who don’t. It’s like returning to the 1950’s only scarier.

He goes not the way to persuade; quite the opposite, Trump demands our al-LIEGE-ance.  I’m not looking forward to the arm-twisting.


A fish stinks from the head down.”

an old proverb

I once designed the lighting for a play that was being directed by an opera director. He was trying his hand at directing something completely different from opera. The play was Harvey about an eccentric man who talks to a giant imaginary rabbit (Jimmy Stewart did the movie version). I shouldn’t need to mention that this play is a comedy, unless, that is, you had actually seen the production; the audience walked away from it slightly bemused and uncomfortably sad. The experience of working on this production caused me to put forth a theorem:

Art will always reflect the emotional state of the lead artist who creates it – usually, the director – despite their best efforts to hide said emotional state.

This director couldn’t get past the melodramatic influence of opera, his home art. He kept his head in the seriousness of the events, not the humor. Think of Opera Buffa, comic opera, have you ever seen the audience rolling on the floor with laughter at say The Marriage of Figaro? Sure, its light and humorous, there may be some moments of perplexing confusion, the music is great, but the effort required to perform the music leaves little room for the relaxed enthusiasm of comedy too.

There was more to our director’s emotional state than operatic intensity. He had just broken up with his partner of seven years and wasn’t speaking to us about it. It’s hard to be funny when your heart is broken. The design team would occasionally watch a rehearsal and wonder why it wasn’t turning out to be as happy as it should be.

Theatre has an authoritarian structure where the director is the boss and everyone helps the director achieve their goals. As a designer I work to understand the emotional elements of the director’s work. When I see the efforts of the director and performers at rehearsals I do my best to reflect those emotional choices with the lighting of the play. This was the saddest comedy that e’er I saw, my lord. And, consequently, it was the darkest lighting of a comedy ever.

I confirmed my theorem with every theatre company I worked for, so it holds true for art but what about other groups? Does the leader set the tone for other businesses or organizations? At my last university position the head of the faculty union was able to get the President of the University fired by using the same sneaky techniques everyone hated about the President. That event leads to a corollary of my theorem:

underlings adopt the behaviors of the leader, and the leader’s qualities are reflected in the workers and their output. 

In other words, we follow the bosses lead. We do this in subtle ways which means we are not always aware of the process. We experience the culture of the boss and it becomes part of us without our being aware of the influence.

This is why I worry about Donald Trump. We are the body of the fish and he, the head, waiting to be attached. His head was odoriferous long before we elected him, so very soon, every part of the fish will stink too. Do we really want to smell that way? Do we want to adopt the behaviors he exhibits and follow in his ways? Do we want the products we produce to be Donald-like? Our kids?

The more we behave like him the less we remain ourselves. Everybody would have to become petty just to survive.  We lost the first and most important battle, the election and now we’re stuck. Tyrannicide would leave us with The Pence, so that’s not an option.

As Trump’s underlings we might gradually start emulating his personality by:

  • blaming helpless immigrants and others for our problems,
  • hiding from the press,
  • and tweeting, too.
  • And lie.
  • And dissemble.
  • And pretend that so-and-so has committed…voter fraud, or something, even if it isn’t true.
  • Label those with conflicting opinions as our enemy,
  • register them
  • then limit everyone’s civil and religious liberties.
  • We’ll stack the military on our side
  • and make torture a virtue, like greed.
  • We’ll give our families un-earned positions of power
  • and become best friends with other tyrants.

I don’t like the solution I am about to propose.  I have studied bullying for some time now. The only solution to beat the bully is to be better at the bully’s game than they are. You have to forego your own reputation and descend to their level to try to win. It is stupid. Most people can’t play that way so they quit and leave while the bully moves on to another target. Look at all those republican officials who simply got out of the way rather than stand up to the bully. Many film and TV stories about bullying show the dad teaching his bullied kid how to fight as “the solution”. That may work for some people, but it lowers the victim to the bully’s level. It’s not a civil choice, but it is expedient.

The flaws inherent in capitalism seem to warrant democracy’s destruction now they have become so magnificently illuminated for us. A soulless demagogue can easily up-end an idyllic Democracy – Who Knew? Our ideals had been based on the assumption that virtue would remain important in society. No one could prevent the damage commerce would cause as a result of the cultural supremacy of greed.

So, are we doomed to become a nation of bullies? Shall we either:

  1. blindly accept, then adopt, his malicious customs, or
  2. lower ourselves to his childish level, or
  3. shall we flee?

All of these choices lead to the degradation of our civility and our culture. They are not tenable choices. Put those options aside. We should begin the rebellion now. We’ll build something better when it’s over. Why wait for a slow, painful collapse? Democracy, obviously, isn’t going to work without virtuous leaders who maintain a solid moral compass. Tear it all up and start again.

This ain’t gonna be no tea party, that’s for sure.

See why I don’t like this solution?

It may already be our destiny.

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.




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.