Dream with a win-win happy ending

I woke from a dream a few weeks back with a sense of wonder about how everything worked out much better than expected throughout. I still clearly remember the dream, the kind impulse leading to oddness and incoherence, the escalating danger, the surprise happy ending. There was every reason to anticipate the worst, things looked worse at every turn — instead, it turned out well for everybody, man and beast alike.

It used to be, prior to our current bellicose, threatening, highly infectious epoch, that sometimes grim-looking situations turned out fine. The unlikely thing happened sometimes and everyone walked away relieved instead of skittering sidewise like agitated crabs on the ocean floor. In our present moment, most of our hope for this kind of mutually beneficial outcome is forgotten.

The encounter where everybody comes away better than they were before was commonly called a win-win scenario, something that is almost impossible to remember, the black and white, toxic way things are now. Surprise happy endings are really not that rare, they certainly weren’t in the past, but this dream hit me with some force, reminded me how unlikely any kind of humane resolution to anything seems in our troubled, troubling, increasingly violent times.

I generally don’t remember dreams in any detail after I’ve had them, this one stayed around for a few days afterwards, is with me now weeks later. I intended to write it out and eventually made a note in my drawing book days that I didn’t need to even look at before writing this[1]. The only detail I forgot was the owner’s threat to call the local police on me — the law and common sense being completely on his side.

I was in the large enclosed porch, or maybe an unfurnished room with floor to ceiling windows. It was in a stranger’s house, a place I wasn’t supposed to be, I was trespassing. When I passed I’d seen there was a dog in there, alone, seemingly trapped, and in some distress, the door to the room was unlocked, or at least easy enough to pop open. The dog seemed traumatized, did not approach me, but watched me, cowering. There was no food or water anywhere to be seen. I was trying to figure out a way to help the poor devil.

As I puzzled over what to do about this dog, in a place where I didn’t know anybody (it seemed to be a small seasonal community, perhaps Cape Cod, during the off-season), a guy walks in the door on the other side of the room. He’s got a dog on a leash, he’s glowering and at the same time seems slightly sheepish. He was a short, stocky black man who reminded me of Cleveland on Family Guy, only he was angry and defensive.

As I began telling him about the dog he admitted that the dog used to be his, that he’d abandoned the dog. He looked guilty when he told me that, but also determined not to take any shit from me about about it. He didn’t know why he did it and he didn’t want to talk about it, was trying to be a tough guy but was obviously hurt, somehow. I told him I wasn’t from around here and asked him if he knew anybody who might be interested in rescuing or fostering the dog, maybe a local vet.

Suddenly the owner of the house, an imposing looking white man in a plaid flannel shirt, entered through the other door.

The scene was set for something bad to happen. The white guy was not happy to find two strangers in his place, trespassers, sitting, engaged in a tense conversation, as if one of them owned the place. He stood at the other end of the open room, demanded to know what the hell we were doing in his house. He may have had a shotgun, if not pointed at us, at hand, it might have been a baseball bat. He was about to call the police, told us he’d let us explain to the cops (his good friends) what the hell we’re doing in his house. I was at a loss for words, start gesticulating toward the dog, began to say something.

The man looks at the dog, as if seeing it for the first time, and it is clearly love at first sight. The dog immediately goes over to the guy who starts petting the dog and ruffling its fur. The man is happy, the dog is happily wagging its tail and gladly accepting the affection. The sheepish, angry black guy leaves quietly through the opposite door with his dog as this is going on. I’m sitting there, relieved to no longer be a suspect or in any jeopardy, watching the man and the dog happily enjoying each other. Everything is suddenly clear, the right thing is happening, no need to explain anything to the man and his new best friend. If anything, the guy will express gratitude toward me when I get up to leave.

I remember a great feeling of peace, of being in a universe where everything is in its place, for the right reason. The feeling was with me when I woke up. It is with me, a little bit, as I write these words.

I woke up (this was maybe three weeks ago) thinking “damn!” and feeling amazed about this dream long after I woke up. It has stayed quite vividly in my memory ever since, very rare for even my best dreams.

I wonder how long it has been since I pictured anything besides troubling, dangerous things inevitably turning to shit, the worst playing out in an escalating death spiral, inevitable as the next bit of widely broadcast lying propaganda enflaming angry, stressed out people on both sides.

The possibility of love and connection and things working out wonderfully for everybody — it hasn’t really gone anywhere, odd to say. It’s just that we’re living in disorienting times, beaten down by a long relentless war to keep unfairness firmly in place and we can hardly remember a time when it wasn’t this relentlessly bitter and threatening, no longer even dreaming of the possibility of things not being exactly as angry as they are right now, or worse.

You’re in trouble, you explain (no words needed), you are understood, no longer in trouble. Instead you get to watch the first flush of new love playing in front of your eyes, everybody getting what they need. Not a bad win-win, I’d say.

[1]

NOTE (from my drawing book):

dog dream

happy ending

dog adopted by guy about to call cops

former owner had no excuse

The seeming slipperiness of the truth, and its value

Our defeated ex-president, seizing on the death of a man of great certainty of opinion and even greater influence, around whose neck he’d hung a presidential medal at his last State of the Union, reemerged into the public spotlight, on FOX, to repeat the familiar refrain that he’d won, in a landslide, the election he lost decisively. In support of his ongoing #Stop the Steal campaign he said that this great, recently departed American anti-Leftist had strongly agreed with him, the presidency was stolen from him, from all real Americans. The professionals and experts all know the truth, he said — that the presidency had been stolen from him and from America by a vast cabal of evil, sick, dangerous enemies of the people — the vast Leftwing, Antifa, BLM, Feminist, Homosexual, Liberal Jew media conspiracy.

The charge that he won the election he lost may be untrue, (reasonable people can argue about it, claims Lyin’ Ted Cruz, reasonably) but you have no right to call it a lie when tens of millions honestly believe it’s true that there was massive voter fraud that stole the election from the rightful winner. How dare you call the sacred dead former talk-show host with talent on loan from God a liar?!! Standing up for possible truth is the whole reason more than a hundred and fifty GOP members of Congress united to contest the “certification” of an election that nobody ever proved wasn’t massively fraudulent, the deliberate and systematic theft of an election, by lying traitors, that the “defeated” candidate actually won in a landslide.

Back for a moment to the personal, to the moment when somebody decides you will be in a fight to the death no matter what you think about it, no matter what actions you may take to try to prevent it. Certainty is a powerful force. I’m thinking about an old friend who called to angrily confront me about being unjustly angry after my health insurance was abruptly cancelled, (illegally as it turned out). He then escalated his indignation and challenges week after week, finally, after pressing me to just fucking move on from whatever my grievance was, snapped, cut me off mid-sentence with a snarl and hung up. Then texted me that he was done being reamed by me.

It seems petty, I know, to keep coming back to this same indigestible example of another old friend suddenly become a devoted, eternal enemy. I’m trying to wring something instructive out of the vexation of it. It seems like the lesson has to be more than that we can all convince ourselves of the righteousness of our own actions, once we construct the right frame. It may be no more than that, though that answer is as unsatisfying as the conclusion that homo sapiens are just a petty, quarrelsome, largely irrational species whose history is always written in the blood of the justifiably murdered.

Surely there is something like objective reality. If you have no dog in the fight you are generally able to look at what actually happened, trace cause and effect, and often assess who is basically correct and who seems to have things ass backwards. The answer is rarely that both sides in a heated argument (like the consensus of Climate Scientists versus for-profit Climate Change Skeptics) are equally valid. There is generally more truth, more fact, more data, more thought behind one position than the other. The genius of the long right-wing project to convert the GOP into a radical right-wing party, similar in its essential features to the one-time fringe conspiracy-based John Birch Society cult, described this way, by political scientists Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann in 2012:

is that today massive, repeated allegations of something, funded by tens of millions of dollars in ad buys to convince people of the allegations, suffice to back and fully justify any political move, including a righteous riot to disrupt the peaceful transition of power in the Capitol. You no longer need a shred of proof, evidence or any discernible facts on your side — the accusation itself is sufficient to fuel the righteous fight to the death.

Proponents of the need to contest the results of an election they claim (without evidence) was massively fraudulent, even after results have been certified fair by bipartisan officials, votes recounted, challenged dozens of times in court, left in place by the courts (for lack of evidence of fraud) need only site the ALLEGATION of fraud, believed by millions, to support their right to contest the election. Regardless, of course, of whether there is or isn’t, or has ever been, actual evidence of significant voter fraud found, even by the Koch-funded Heritage Foundation or Trump’s Presidential Electoral Fraud Commission headed by Hang Mike Pence and defeated voter-suppression expert Kris Kobach.

The project of convincing tens of millions of fraud that didn’t actually happen is vast power at work, and successful propaganda instilling belief in something that is based only on the needs of maintaining that power. It is our job going forward to make a humane case for the 99% as emotionally undeniable as these Koch-funded geniuses have made on behalf of the 1%. It saddens me to see the Democrats resorting to Lincoln Project-style attack ads, which they are now (the Lincoln Project proudly claims credit for Trump turning on his loyal retainer Pence) and I keep thinking there has to be a better way to make the case for fairness, although maybe not at the moment.

Back to the personal. This long-time friend, no matter how clearly I set out my issues, my specific concerns about our long “argument,” insisted that we can’t ever really know what is in anybody else’s head or heart, even someone we’ve known well for half a century.

It seems an untenable and depressing position to me, one that inevitably leads to estrangement, but this man is very smart, an accomplished lawyer, and he rests his case for this unshakeable belief on the fact that in the end, after my many attempts to be analytical and nonviolent in stating my concerns (concerns he repeatedly asked me to clarify, no matter how clearly I’d already made them) I admitted, in a very hurtful way, that I was frustrated, angry and disappointed in his limitations as a friend.

After all, from his point of view, every one of his attempts to make peace was met by my stubborn refusal to simply forgive, even after he made it clear that he truly didn’t understand what he’d ever done to me that was hurtful. Instead, he pointed out, I kept struggling, stubbornly and incoherently, to make him understand what was so “hurtful” about his conduct.

When I hear that Tucker Carlson, for example, said, of the police killing of George Floyd (bracketed by Brook Gladstone’s commentary from her excellent On The Media:

BROOKE GLADSTONE Later that evening, Fox primetime hosts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity drew on increasingly deranged conspiracy theories to denature the evidence [in the impeachment trial –ed].

[CLIP]

TUCKER CARLSON They’re just flat out lying. There’s no question about that. The question is, why would they lie about this? For an answer, think back to last spring. Beginning on Memorial Day, BLM and their sponsors and corporate America completely changed this country. They changed this country more in five months that it had changed in the previous 50 years. How’d they do that? They used the sad death of a man called George Floyd to upend our society. Months later, we learned that the story they told us about George Ford’s death was an utter lie. There was no physical evidence that George Floyd was murdered by a cop. The autopsy show that George Floyd almost certainly died of a drug overdose. Fentanyl. [END CLIP]

BROOKE GLADSTONE Right. A full autopsy report by Minneapolis police found that Floyd had fentanyl and other drugs in his blood. He also had Covid-19. None of that killed him. His death was ruled a homicide. Maybe Tucker will move on to flim-flam less foul, but why would he? 

source

my blood instantly boils.

I don’t often listen to FOX, or Cucker Tarlson (or whatever the well-born, entitled prick’s name is) but hearing him smugly intone a transparent and incendiary lie, calling the story of Floyd’s (who he called “Ford” at one point) homicide a lie, made me ready to fight him, as it was intended to. I immediately felt a violent urge to put my knee on Tucker’s neck and kneel on him for as long as it took him to stop kicking and begging, letting him up a second before his death. The whole FOX/Murdoch right-wing exercise is “triggering the libtards” and thar’s gold in them hills (Rush Limbaugh died with a net worth of over $600,000,000). The Minneapolis coroner who ruled that a grown man, armed with a gun, supported by three armed colleagues, kneeling on the handcuffed George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, the last three after Floyd lost consciousness after begging for mercy and calling out for his mother, had caused Floyd’s death? A fucking liar and traitor, a tool of the fucking lying libs.

Hearing Carlson’s inflammatory hate speech I immediately, and involuntarily, flashed on my former friend’s claim that in spite of the thousands of words I’d written him trying to keep the peace (the first few thousand he thanked me for humbly, for I’d taken pains not cast undue blame on his actions) nothing I had written, in the end, gave him the slightest clue why I was so hurtful to him now.

The truth can slippery once strong emotions creep in, and people we trust can twist it convincingly sometimes, but, call me old-fashioned, I still believe there is a world of cause and effect that can be observed, that some narratives are closer to the truth of what happened than others. I can’t be sure what the root cause of my friend’s insistence that we fight to the death was. Not sure I made all the right moves to try to avoid it, obviously I didn’t, based on the irreconcilable enmity at the end.

But if someone asks you why you are angry, and you tell them you are protesting the long history of too many unarmed black people unaccountably murdered by the police in this country every year, and they respond by calling you a terrorist, dispersing protests with the full force of non-deadly state violence (tear gas, horseback charges, rubber bullets, anti-riot squad phalanxes swinging batons, mass arrests) you might be forgiven for feeling unheard.

“What is the real core issue here?” asked my friend, time after time, telling me he clearly didn’t understand what he did that seemed to have upset me so much. I told him that, in a nutshell, having my expressed concerns met by silence is probably the single most hurtful thing to me, that the attempted negation of my feelings by silence is like kryptonite to me. He stood on his right to remain silent, and on the reciprocal truth that I had no right to expect any different, since nobody can ever truly know what is in somebody else’s heart and mind or why they feel as they feel or do what they do.

“I read everything you wrote, searching in vain for a single clue as to what I’d done that made you so irrationally angry and hurtful to me,” he concluded, resting his case.

I can’t do anything about the gigantic phenomenon of unchallenged far-fetched falsehoods being presented as just good as undeniable truth when it comes to a partisan GOP argument. Greg Abbott, the Trumpist governor of Texas, is angrily blaming the Green New Deal for his state’s deadly weather-related emergency — and fuck your fucking facts, cucktards. The political is personal, of course, and there’s little we can do, outside of hard, slow, resolute work on the long-game of bending the long arch of history towards justice. In our personal lives, our choices are more straightforward.

I can’t do anything about a friend who insists that he will do everything in his power to save our friendship, while standing on his right not to revisit any concern that might make him uncomfortable, or even acknowledge I’ve clearly expressed a single goddamned thing worthy of consideration. In the end I can do one thing in the case of a friend like that — let him make his final arguments, accept his right to remain unchanged, and his verdict, and try not to brood about it whenever I hear a similar case indignantly made by a Tucker Carlson.

Though, I also have to acknowledge the deeply disturbing personal resonance of things like hearing the Rochester cop, while hand-cuffing and pepper spraying the emotionally disturbed nine year-old girl (and the fact that the cop was not immediately fired and prosecuted tells you the race of the child) demanding that she stop acting like a child. “I AM a child!” she replied, stating the obvious, to a brutal asshole who didn’t have the slightest concern for what was true and what was instantly verifiable bullshit. I heard the same from my own father, when I was that age and younger. That I should start acting like a man instead of a fucking child. He apologized about that right before he died, for whatever good that might have done anyone.

Truth and reconciliation, y’all, there is a tremendous value to it. It’s the only path to true healing.

GOP Narrow Framing, personal anecdote

As former president Trump’s legal team and his party begin to argue that it is unconstitutional to impeach a president once his party has run out the constitutional clock on an impeachment trial, and that anything the president might have said that made certain irrational people act violently against elected officials, even if seemingly in response to his exhortations, was within his protected First Amendment right to free speech, I have a personal anecdote that is directly on point. I’ll try to set it out in a flash for you.

When I was thirty my younger sister got married. I was the best man. There is a photo of me in my rented tuxedo making my ironic, prophetic toast welcoming my brother-in-law to the family. Behind me in the photo the caterer, also in a tuxedo, if I recall correctly, is glaring at me. Not a fan of irony, perhaps, I don’t know. A short time later the caterer was pounding me with his fists, trying to bash my face in.

Afterwards my parents took the caterer’s side in this dispute. My disrespect toward the caterer had, understandably in their view, justified the caterer in his strong conviction that I needed to be punched in my smart fucking mouth a few times. This fight, clearly, took place long before I began trying to practice a form of ahimsa, consciously refraining from harmful actions as much as I can.

In my own defense, I had no idea the caterer was an off-duty cop. Had I known perhaps I’d have chosen a less inflammatory way of telling him to buzz off than the one I used. In hindsight, I see how disrespectful it was of me to tell the officer to suck my dick. I’m still, more than thirty years later, not certain it gave him the right to physically assault me, but that’s not our concern here.

A few days after the wedding (the party was amazingly not interrupted by my loud fist fight with the cop, the band drowned us out) my parents were still in a rage because, in their view, I had deliberately tried to ruin my sister’s wedding. I was angry too. It seemed to me too evident to dispute that the caterer, at the moment he began trying to bash my face in, was at least as culpable as I was in the ugly confrontation. My parents disagreed. It had been 100% my fault, no question. The caterer was a lovely man, I was a violent, enragingly provocative thug, as they told me several times. After a few days of a sickening stand-off I went to confront my parents about this, to try to set the record straight.

They were defensive, sticking to their guns. I was a provocative, irrationally angry, violent-tongued person. I had no right, in any universe, to tell the nice man to suck my dick. My explanation, whatever it was, was beside the point. Once I said that to him he was within his rights to charge me, get me up on his hip and begin throwing punches into my face as hard as he could.

My explanations bounced off my parents like Jewish space lasers off a kryptonite force field. Like the caterer’s punches to my smart face, which landed on my forearms as I continued to provocatively curse at him like the pugnacious potty mouthed asshole I’d always been.

Nothing I said could make them see any part of the unfortunate confrontation any differently. My father was mostly quiet, letting my mother do most of the heavy lifting. When he finally spoke, it was to calmly deliver the death blow to my arguments.

“You’re leaving out the most important part of the whole thing,” my father said confidently, holding the trump card that would cancel out all of my arguments. I walked into his trap.

“You had no right to be in the kitchen, so whatever happened after that, was completely your fault,” said my father with icy calm.

Talk about narrow framing.

I had permission to be in the kitchen, from the caterer himself, earlier in the evening, when he told me to just go into the kitchen to get something I’d asked him for.

No matter. You had no right to be in the kitchen.

There is nothing like a stubbornly narrow frame to frustrate an adversary. Frame any issue in a narrow enough legal strait jacket, and hold fast to that framing, and you can eliminate any discussion of the facts, the merits, drama, nuance, culpability, incitement, escalation, etc. from any story.

Did the president stoke escalating anger by constantly lying about a stolen, fraudulent election for months, invite his followers to a wild rally to #Stop the Steal on the day the election was going to be officially certified, exhort them to go down to the Capitol to STOP the STEAL, to TAKE THEIR STOLEN COUNTRY BACK? Did he watch the riot on TV for hours, refusing to take panicked calls from the locked down Capitol, before reluctantly allowing the National Guard in to restore order? Did he finally tell his rampaging followers to go home now, that they were right to be angry about the stolen election, that he loved them?

All irrelevant, you see. Our position is that it is clearly unconstitutional to hold a trial for a president who has already left office. Y’all know that. Y’all know that! Even if you somehow twist it and get a 51-50 vote that the constitution allows this outrage, you’re punishing free speech in an insane, partisan political stunt motivated by irrational hatred for an innocent man whose only “crime” was making America great again!

After my father pulled his Bill Barr-like parlor trick with the flimsy trump card that he claimed foreclosed all further discussion, I grew more frustrated. I laid hands on my father with violent intent for the only time in my life. Actually, I laid one finger on him, smartly across his nose, to demonstrate the difference between verbal assault and a physical one.

The cop caterer was perhaps within his rights to tell me to eat shit and die, or to go fuck myself, or that I should suck his dick, but not to start grunting and trying to punch me in the face over and over. My father was unconvinced by my demonstration, though he was now outraged too, began bellowing threats from his couch, and as my mother screamed “suck my dick! suck my dick!” over and over I took my leave of my unreasonable, angry parents.

This pathetic scene is basically what is going to be playing out in the Senate the next few days, by all appearances.

Encourager vs. Discourager

How we respond to others is an often subtle art, though it can make a big difference. The word “courage” is embedded in the two effects our responses have on others. We can either encourage or discourage by our reactions. We often react by reflex, but it is something we should be aware of doing better at, it seems to me. Personally, when it comes to people I encounter, I’d usually much rather encourage them than discourage them. I have been discouraging many times over the years, by simply not thinking before I comment, something I’ve become more aware of as times goes on.

I wrote yesterday about Friedman’s devastatingly discouraging remark at a hard time for me. In his defense, he was at his wits’ end when he said it. Walking with his best friend, an affable guy with a gift for gab, who had become a shambling, monosyllabic zombie, he found himself bereft. He was reaching out to his old friend, trying to help, and all his always talkative friend could do was grunt the occasional noncommittal syllable. Of all the people he could imagine this happening to, I was the last of them. He simply said what he felt, what anyone likely would have felt at that moment.

For purposes of that understandable remark, we don’t need to consider that Friedman, by his unhappy, critical nature, was a reflexive discourager. He was a perfectionist and a control freak, very demanding of himself and everyone else. Few things were what they were supposed to be in his world. For one thing, he was extremely sensitive, and talented, and sang his clever, musically ambitious songs, (in a painful voice, granted), from his heart. The world needed to hear his take on things, he believed. The world, it turned out, didn’t give shit one about what was in his heart. If you don’t get what you need from the world, why give it to anyone else?

I have always consciously tried to encourage people, especially in creative endeavors. There is always something good to find in any work of creation. Don’t like the song the songwriter played for you? “Wow, I forgot what a great voice you have,” is not a bad thing to say, it gives the singer a little boost. It is so easy, while being honest, to unintentionally discourage somebody. “Eh, that song didn’t do anything for me, not your best work, it doesn’t swing, the melody is weak, there’s no hook, it’s… eh,” while truthful, is like throwing yer proverbial turd in the old punchbowl. It is an honest but discouraging thing to say that probably doesn’t need to be said, in most cases.

My mother, in her later years, took up acrylic painting for a short time. She went to class with a photo and came back after every session with a finished painting from the photo. She mentioned that she was by far the most prolific painter in her class, many were still working over their paintings from the first week while my mother had already completed many. Her paintings were pretty good. A few evoked her deep loneliness in a very profound way. There is one in particular, of a fat seagull sitting alone under a stormy grey sky, the turbulent ocean reflecting the gloom in cold, grayish green, that is a powerful evocation of her existential aloneness. I actually love that painting, which is now owned by her granddaughter, who was obviously also moved by it.

When I visited my parents in Florida during my mother’s painting frenzy there were several of her paintings, framed and hung on the walls. She showed them to me, her artist son, and asked me what I thought. She never let me forget my unenthusiastic reply, which she always recounted as a damning “eh…” I didn’t take a second to think, apparently, that a kind word from me about her work would have meant a lot to her, possibly encouraged her to continue painting, if she wanted to. I honestly had no feelings about most of the paintings, painted faithfully from fairly pedestrian magazine photos, but I could have walked the entire apartment and stopped before the painting of the fat, lonely seagull under that cruel sky. I could have said “wow, I love this one, it does what a great painting is supposed to do — it makes you feel. I can really feel this poor bird’s loneliness.” Instead, I apparently said, of all her artistic efforts, “eh…”

Sekhnet is an amazing artist who rarely finds time to draw or paint these days. Since her retirement she has been super-busy with dozens of things which leave her little time to draw, something she loves to do. I recently took a mat knife to a watercolor block and made us a pile of 4 X 6 postcards, with a sheet of postcard stamps next to it. I painted a couple and sent them to her, which got her thinking about returning the favor. Over the course of a few days she drew, and embellished, a delightful, whimsical beastie of some kind on one side and, on the other, in pale colors, wrote a greeting. When I got it (during a brief layover at my apartment) I snapped a photo and wrote: perfectly timed! I also noted that I loved the beast.

“What about the other side?” she asked. Sekhnet has a thing about too much white on a drawing. We disagree about this sometimes, but it is a constant critique of her’s about drawings I present to her: too much white space! She left too much white space on the message side of her card, and, acknowledging this, wrote, in tiny letters, “too much white space!” There was, in this case, objectively, way too much white space. In addition, the color had been applied very tentatively, so that the space that was not white was washed out. Not only too much white space, too little contrast, too little to otherwise catch the eye. Still, my unenthusiastic response miffed her. She found it discouraging that I would point this out, when she asked me what I thought of the flip side of her postcard. “No more postcards for you!” she immediately threatened. A threat I have no doubt she’ll make good on.

Decades ago, when I was teaching third grade in Harlem, I had a student named Gerald Davenport. We did a unit on poetry and the kids all submitted their original poems, which I typed out and printed up in a little booklet they all got a copy of. Gerald’s disappointment in not having his poem, which made no sense to me at the time, included in the collection haunts me to this day. Several times afterwards he asked me, poignantly, why I didn’t put his poem in the book with the rest. Each time I had no answer, except that I had been an unthinking asshole, which I was not able to really express, except by telling him each time that I was sorry, that it had been a mistake. The mistake was being an unthinking asshole who accidentally discouraged a kid when he could have instead easily encouraged him. Food for thought.

The importance of a word of hope in dark times

I forgot this one important chapter from my short piece about the life and death of a supremely unhappy man, The Book of Friedman. It might be the most significant and illuminating snapshot of the whole sad story. A reminder of forgotten hope at a terrible time is a great gift to give somebody, just as a sincere expression of premature doom may be about the worst thing you can offer somebody in trouble.

As a boy I believed I was destined to become a great artist. I always loved to draw and I was encouraged in this dream of immortality by my grandmother (who dreamed of my worldwide fame, which would surpass her first cousin’s, internationally known sculptor George Segal) my mother, and to some extent by the grudging respect for my talent that my natural born enemy, my father, often showed. My mother foolishly (she was proud, I guess) told me that my IQ was a ridiculously high number and that, therefore, it followed that I had all these limitless interests and talents. I was going to cure cancer, my mother predicted, while never explaining how my drawings would do that.

It was all largely a crock of shit, of course, as I would soon learn, but it pleased me as a young man to believe that being smart, sensitive and talented meant something more than a lifetime of “underachievement” and a number of friends holding sullen, mounting grudges that burst into inexplicable rage from time to time. An oversimplification, obviously, but I don’t want to linger here setting the stage for this illustration of the power of a word from a friend at a crucial time.

My old friend Friedman, as you may recall, lived an endless repetition of the same three act tragedy for the entire time I knew him, more than forty years. Act one was great admiration, excitement, hope, joy, giddiness. When he discovered something he found amazing, he adored it with all his might, placed all of his hopes for happiness in it.

When he found a long-haired kid two years younger than him who truly seemed not to give a shit, who had a quick, dark sense of humor, seemed open to the world and infinitely curious while finding the absurdity in everything, he was hooked. I was the object of his great admiration and I, in turn, basked in the admiration of this quirky, very intelligent two years older guy who could drive a car. The friendship worked well for both of us in the early days. I had one concrete benefit at the start, he taught me to drive and I would tool around Ft. Lee, New Jersey in his parents’ Dodge Dart.

We started playing music at the same time, we were fledgling guitar players together. Our band, Stifled Sweat, recorded its first album a few weeks later. It was a heady adventure, making anything we could imagine become some kind of cockeyed reality, “two minds working as one” (the name of our second album, I think).

Soon, unbeknownst to both of us, we began the longest and most convoluted Act Two in Friedman’s life of a thousand identical three act tragedies.

Act Two, you will recall, is the nagging inkling of disillusionment phase of the play. Cracks begin appearing, warts, enlarged pores, spider veins, hairs in the wrong places, signs that the perfect, beloved object may contain some imperfections. For a man who’d come to be increasingly haunted by signs of aging, of death, seeing these flaws created great tension in him. Imagine his horror to discover that it wasn’t that I didn’t give a shit about anything and quickly found the absurdity in everything because I was naturally cool, it was mostly that I was trying to escape from tremendous pain I could hardly understand and I had no fucking idea how to make hurt less.

Far from being the cool guy he thought he’d found, I was insecure, uncertain, sometimes brutal. The adorable, perfectly self-contained kitten he’d adopted was shedding his fur, and skin, and there was some kind of formidable snake emerging!

As an older man, I can now easily see that this was Friedman’s problem of perception and expectation and had little to do with who I actually was or even how I seemed to be. Nothing in his expectations of me or his perceptions of me had that much to do, really, with who I was or what was in my heart and mind.

At the time, though, Friedman’s constant disappointment in me for not being an actual mythically “cool guy” was a source of great mutual bitterness. The more shit he gave me about not being a cool guy deep down, the cooler I’d be. You want cool, bitch? Here you go. It’s the kind of stupid back and forth certain young people get into, particularly young men, I suppose. He lamented that he lacked the unhesitating certainty and killer instinct of Isaac Babel’s brutal, grimly cool cossacks. I became a cossack.

Anyway, as my thirtieth birthday approached (we covered about 16 years in the previous few paragraphs), I struggled to reconcile my view of what the role of an “artist” was (smart social critic) with the widely accepted view that an artist is someone celebrated for their vision, their inspired works displayed as marvels in the world’s museums, someone famous, popular, sought for conversation by media types, prized for wit and insight into human affairs, whose bravura scrawl on a restaurant table cloth is gratefully accepted as full payment for a lavish meal for ten at the most expensive bistro in Paris.

A crock of “poop” I picked up somewhere that was suddenly much too heavy to carry, especially as my recognition of class conflict and the injustice of wealth inequality became more and more acute. So the wealthy art-collectors/speculators decide who is a great artist and who is just a pretentious, agitated schmuck with unrealizable ambitions? I griped about this to an art teacher once at City College and he shrugged. “When has it been any different? Every artist we remember today had a wealthy patron. You want to get paid? You work for the rich.”

To resolve this tricky conflict I did the only thing possible. I had a kind of nervous breakdown. I’d made an ambitious super 8 mm movie that had been enthusiastically cheered by an audience of a hundred or so people I assembled in an auditorium on the Lower East Side. I was riding a bicycle, making deliveries, to make money while I dreamed of an even more ambitious movie, this one starring me as a misunderstood, highly sensitive antihero based loosely on Bruce Lee.

I was hit by a car while cutting across several lanes of traffic diagonally on Fifty-Seventh Street (ironically in front of one of the city’s most prestigious art galleries). The guy grazed my handlebars, spun the bike, I wound up breaking an arm. Waited at the scene with the driver, as I’d learned from experienced colleagues, until an ambulance picked me up.

Even though it had clearly been my fault, the driver’s insurance company was on the hook. A few months later some shyster got me a few thousand dollars from the driver’s father, or the insurance company or whatever.

This money was going to be my big break. I was going to go to Israel to visit friends and drink fresh carrot juice, then travel East a bit (most of the route east of Turkey was by then already an Islamist hotbed I probably couldn’t have navigated). When I returned to New York I was going to make this movie with the remaining four or five thousand dollars from the bike accident. That movie was going to be my calling card, the artistic statement that would vindicate everybody’s expectations of me as a great artist (and possibly also cure cancer).

I found it harder and harder to make decisions. My arm had healed, I didn’t need to work, yet I hesitated making plans to travel. I needed shoes, went to a shoe store, spent two hours trying on shoes, agonizing, left without a pair of shoes. The same thing happened everywhere. Soon my wit turned against me, as soon as I thought of something funny to say a harsh voice in my head would angrily tell me how stupid the crack was. I had trouble sleeping, I had trouble staying awake.

I’d promised a friend he could sublet my apartment while I was traveling. He’d made plans to move in. Then I told him I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. He was pissed, I told him I’d call him back.

“Look,” said my father, “it’s not fair to jam up your friend Brendan because you can’t make a decision. You’re planning to travel, so get out of your apartment and while you make up your mind, you can stay here.” I agreed, making the worst mistake in my life to that point. Brendan moved into my apartment for six months and, at twenty-nine, I was suddenly back living in my parents house, a place I hadn’t lived since I was seventeen. I soon found myself too paralyzed to do anything.

Dark days followed, the darkest of my life so far. I won’t linger trying to describe the pain of those interminable days as I became more and more comatose. I went into the city twice a week to talk to a shrink of some kind. She knitted her eyebrows with great concern. I’d walk to a friend’s place near her office, sit on his couch and immediately fall into a deep sleep. To me my waking life felt like Jimi’s line about “living at the bottom of a grave.”

The shrink eventually diagnosed my state as some kind of dysthymic disorder [1], not even full blown depression. I was too numb to be scandalized by this weak tea diagnosis. One thing that stayed in my mind at the time, as I read William Styron’s account of his own period debilitated by depression, was that the duration of a depressive episode was the same if you took medication or not. The shrink concurred. I opted out when she offered me pills.

One icy night I found myself walking with Friedman, down by Battery Park. It was freezing cold, thick sheets of ice all over the ground, and we were shuffling around this desolate park on the edge of the abandoned business district, by the river where it was even colder than everywhere else. In the distance the Statue of Liberty’s brass brazier was frozen in the harbor. Walking there was like being in hell. Physically and psychologically acutely uncomfortable, though fortunately for me, I was warmly dressed and mentally numb. What we were doing there I couldn’t tell you. Presumably Friedman had driven us there and parked his van, we got out and started to walk in this frozen hellscape. It was all the same to me. Friedman turned to me at one point and said the words this whole thing has been the frame for:

“Of all the people I’ve ever met, you’re the last person I ever thought would end up like this.”

The words he delivered with such sincere disappointment and conviction hit me hard. The compliment of the first part was totally lost on me. I’d ended up like this. Fuck. I don’t recall anything in those six months that hit me with anywhere near the force of that sad conclusion by a close friend.

A few weeks later a friend, finding out I was back at my parents’ place, invited me to live in his spare bedroom on West 163rd Street. He had a four track tape recorder in that room and a couple of nice guitars. I wrote three or four of the better songs I ever wrote, recorded them. I still couldn’t sleep, and couldn’t stay awake, and couldn’t really carry on a conversation, but this was a much better arrangement while I waited to get my apartment back in June.

In the spring I went to a party, in the former painting studio of my teacher and friend Florence. There was a girl there, cute, dark eyes, dark curly hair, caramel colored skin. She was wearing a white peasant shirt, open at the neck and bare tan shoulders and every time she passed I somehow tried to look down her shirt. When she was leaving she asked me to call her. I looked at her blankly “how.. uh.., can I call you if … I don’t … have your number?”

She seemed to find this charming, gave me a little laugh and a winning smile, bent to write her number and as she did I finally got a look down her shirt. Fuck me. Within a week we were having conjugal visits. Life was worth living again. Not perfect, but, shit, it never is. Still, I was very glad I hadn’t wound up like that. I was the second to last person who ever thought I’d end up like that.

[1]

A mild but long-term form of depression. Dysthymia is defined as a low mood occurring for at least two years, along with at least two other symptoms of depression. Examples of symptoms include lost interest in normal activities, hopelessness, low self-esteem, low appetite, low energy, sleep changes, and poor concentration. Treatments include medications and talk therapy.

Reminder: this too shall pass

This is the view from my desk, out the window of the room where I am tapping out these words. Our bodies were just about recovered from the last strenuous session of countless lifts of shovels heaped with snow, a few days ago. Woke up a few days later to Groundhog’s Day, the movie. Got to say this for the snow, it’s beautiful this time. The last batch did not sit so perfectly on the branches of the trees.

It’s easy to forget, when you are faced with the forced lifting of something heavy, that this is not your life, or your fate. It’s a few hours, a day, a week, a month, a season. In the case of 2020, a year. In the case of the last four years, a few decades. Everything passes.

It’s easy to forget how odd and disorienting it is living through a deadly, airborne plague. It’s actually hard to remember once common things, like sitting in a room with a bunch of people you like but don’t see often, somebody cracking wise and everybody laughing. It used to happen all the time, the odds say it will happen again before too long.

It is not easy to remain philosophical during catastrophic times, though remaining philosophical is always a good thing to do. Yes, we are living in an age of worldwide insecurity, terror and rage — an age of terrible suffering on a massive scale. Yes, many millions around the world are freaking out, getting unreasonable, desperate, violent, authoritarian. The terror and rage is somewhat understandable, given the circumstances. This is a challenging epoch we are in, a bad patch, historically bad times. Unreasonableness has become the rule in many places. That doesn’t make it right, of course, but the reasons for it are pretty plain to see.

I usually chalk it up to the insatiable desire of a few entitled people, with the means and the power, to have, literally, everything. Pursuing this urge to have everything requires convincing millions that this arrangement — 1,000 for me, 1 for the rest of you suckers to share — is what nature intended. This convincing has never been easier to do than during this age of mass, instant “social media”. It may seem like a simplistic premise, but the unsatisfiable greed of those few in position to do either great good or terrible bad, explains much of the misery in the world.

I think of it like the old story of the fisherman’s wife and the magic fish, a parable about the inevitable misery that comes from an irrational, insatiable desire to have everything. A former girlfriend’s guru compared this unquenchable urge for ever more to a deer chasing a mirage of water as it dies of thirst.

The fisherman, a poor man, catches a remarkable looking fish. The fish speaks to him, telling him that if he shows mercy and throws him back that he will grant the poor fisherman any wish. The fisherman puts him back in the water, telling him this wish is too important to make by himself, that he must consult the wife. The fish tells him to go talk to his wife, promises to wait.

The fisherman talks to the wife, goes back to the fish. Tells the fish they want a beautiful house, with indoor plumbing and heat. The fish says fine and when the fisherman returns to the hovel there is a beautiful house, with indoor plumbing and heat. The fisherman and his wife celebrate.

Of course, it’s not long before the wife becomes dissatisfied with what now seems like a modest wish. “Go back to the fish,” she tells her husband.

When he returns it is drizzling. The fish agrees to turn the beautiful house into a magnificent castle. The fisherman returns to find the beautiful home is now a majestic castle.

It soon dawns on the wife that a castle without servants is not a very good deal. “Go back to the fish,” she says. Now it is raining hard as the fisherman conveys his wife’s request to the fish. The fish seems a little impatient but provides the servants.

You can see where this story is going, and where my analogy is going to go right after. Each request for more — soon it is power the wife wants, she needs to be a duchess, then a queen — is accompanied by worse and worse weather. In the end the fisherman is standing at the end of the dock in a raging hurricane, waves splashing around his legs, telling the fish sheepishly that his wife is no longer happy being the queen, she wants to be God. “Go back to your wife,” thunders the fish.

When the fisherman finally gets back home the wife is furious, dressed in her old rags in the original hovel.

We have people among us who are the fisherman’s insane fucking wife. Their voices are much louder, their breath much worse, than the rest of us. Depending on your prejudices you know who these people are. I am thinking of particular people, or corporate “persons,” owners of vast wealth who literally feel they are entitled to all the wealth in the world. This is a long discussion, perhaps, and this post, about remaining philosophical during challenging times, is not the place to make my case. If $100,000,000 is not enough to allow you to enjoy your life to the fullest, is $100,000,000,000 going to somehow help you in that regard? Just asking.

We have a certain amount of choice about certain things that torment us. We can exercise this choice to reduce the irrational urges we are all subject to sometimes. An undisciplined boy millionaire who craves respect and attention grows up to be a young adult “playboy” who brags in the media, like a comic book hero, about being the greatest winner in Gotham City. Then he needs to be at the top of the Forbes wealthiest list. Being rich and famous is not enough to fill his bottomless emptiness, of course. “Go back to the fucking fish, you fucking fucks,” he tells his lackeys. Being the president, of course, is not quite the same as being the king, or God. “Go back to the fucking fish, you worthless pieces of shit!” he thunders, as he sends a mob to decapitate the government he is about to lose control of.

It’s not just him, of course. There are a few thousand just like him. There’s a genius who makes $70,000,000,000 during a pandemic and tells his workers (and the independent contractors whose tips he steals) to suck it up and get back to work and if they don’t like the conditions — fuck off and die. There’s another guy who makes a similar bundle, stubbornly (and counter-factually) arguing that Americans are smart enough to decide for themselves whether one of the two major political parties is run by a cabal of Satan worshipping child raping cannibals. Just because millions of people hear this arguably extreme claim hundreds of times a day, on his platform, it is not, legally or morally, his concern. While literally billions of people live in desperate poverty, a shitload of the world’s wealth is in the hands of a fairly small group of super-wealthy guys who are unaccountable to anyone but the shareholders. We live in a hyper-competitive society that has only one true value — the bottom line.

People of good faith can argue both sides of this proposition about systemic unfairness, I guess. There is nothing inherently wrong, perhaps, with one person having more wealth than can be spent in a thousand lifetimes while millions of others live precarious lives, bundling ragged, hungry kids into their outdoor beds, while tens of thousands die deaths every year that could have been prevented, if only they could have seen a doctor, in the wealthiest nation in history. It is an abstract question of morality, perhaps, whether we just have to accept injustice as the way it is and has always been, no matter how vicious it sometimes is.

Those are arguments for another day. Discussions, really. If we are arguing about these general principles of fairness and mutual responsibility, the day is already lost. If Reason cannot guide us to be reasonable, it’s set and match. It may be set and match already, only time will tell, though the odds at the moment say that we won’t be meeting in a death camp (worst case scenario) but rather in a room full of people we like where someone will crack wise and we’ll all be laughing again (one of the better case scenarios).

To the extent you can, be of good cheer. Remember, this too shall pass. Here, it’s almost time to gear up and get to shoveling again, if only to dig out a couple of our feral cats trapped out back in this winter wonderland.

Letting Go of the Past

The idea that it’s necessary to let go of the painful past is very big in the self-help world. “It is never too late to have a happy childhood,” we are told, among other encouragements to let go of the bad things in the past and gratefully embrace the many beautiful things about our present lives. As a general principle, letting go, not constantly reliving the hurts we’ve experienced is healthy, essential to living our best lives and to protecting our loved ones. The devil, as always, is in the details of how we actually do this.

Letting go of hurts of the past is a theme I chew on frequently, having a decent amount in the past to let go of. I feel my daily connection to history, for better or worse, and my personal stories, funny and terrible, which support my view of the world. Seeing the value of these memories, I am reluctant to simply let the past go. I feel like there are lessons in these stories, endlessly repeated; learning we need to extract and digest to move forward. It’s important to view the past in its complexity, considering the terrible things beside the inspiring ones. My once-large family was massacred back in 1943, during dark times in Ukraine and Belarus; pruned down to a very small family that lives and prospers today in the USA and in Israel. Both things are equally true.

I think of this theme of letting the past go in personal terms every time I encounter how hard it has always been for me to accept the the loss of a longtime friend. I understand that certain estrangements are inevitable, and we can see them coming most of the time, but also, a world of associations and shared memories are irretrievably lost each time. Each loss of a longtime friend is a little rehearsal for death.

Although I know the reasons for it, it bothers me each time that I could not find a way to reconcile with a couple of old friends and fond acquaintances in recent years. You could say that our lives are the stories we have lived, have told ourselves are true. People come to different conclusions about what is most important in life. Sadly, sharp differences of opinion (accompanied by drifting apart, taking friendship for granted and fading empathy) can prove insurmountable obstacles to a mutually beneficial relationship.

This leads me to once again consider how personal the political actually is, (political views are based entirely on our personal feelings about the world around us), and how political the personal can be, for the same reason. I hope to work through this “letting go” idea concisely today.

There are at least two ways of letting go of things that hurt us, as true in personal life as in political life. We can forgive and forget, using love to move forward without the need to rehash everything that hurt us in detail. This is a kind of Christian forgiveness, turning the other cheek when we are struck, as Jesus, The Prince of Peace, advised his followers to do [1]. Another way to let things go is to separate ourselves from people who hurt us repeatedly. This second way involves making hard decisions about who is accountable for what and what, realistically, is likely to happen going forward if we simply forgive and forget. Once we have done this, it is easier to let go of that troubled part of the past, though, of course, it is not as simple as that.

The difficulty of letting go of strong feelings is most easily seen in the context of physical violence against us, which is often a criminal matter best dealt with by a court of law. If someone beats us to a pulp and then asks us to please let go of our anger against them for their mistake, are we required by any moral power in the universe to agree to this? In the case of violent physical assault, there is an understandable emotional limit to a human ability to “let go of the past,” no matter how compelling a general case there is to be made for the idea.

The advice to let go of the pain and forgive can preempt the idea that you have a right not to be violently assaulted by someone who then tells you to get over it. There is a process you have to go through, once you are victimized, to first live with your rightful feelings and then separate yourself from that feeling of helplessness in the face of torment.

When a MAGA mob ransacked the Capitol recently chanting “Hang Mike Pence! Hang Mike Pence!!!” elected officials went into hiding from rioters calling for the execution of one of Trump’s most loyal sidekicks for the crime of not overturning an election he was powerless to overturn. There were also calls to shoot Nancy Pelosi in the head. During the several hours of rioting (as federal troops were told to “stand down and stand by” as Mr. Trump watched it unfold on TV) NY Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez wound up taking shelter in Katie Porter’s office where they barricaded furniture in front of the door to keep the lynch mob out. Ocasio-Cortez recently revealed that she had been a victim of sexual assault in the past. Imagine how extra “triggering” a shouting mob kicking at your door might be if you had been violently assaulted in the past.

As a general principle we might all agree that nobody should ever be placed in the situation of having to barricade themselves into a room to try to protect themselves from a violent lynch mob. We might all agree to that, I think (when I say “we”, obviously I’m not talking about members of the lynch mob and those very fine people who support the mob’s right to violent anger.)

Here is a seemingly subtle thing that seems irrefutable to me now, coming back to the personal. If someone in your life is unsympathetic to your situation once in a while you can (and should) indeed let it go, overlook it, be generous, write it off to their being preoccupied with their own problems. We can’t all be empathetic all the time. It is different, and a sign of trouble, if the person is repeatedly unsympathetic and also quickly turns to blaming you for any challenging situation you find yourself in. If this happens with any regularity you will find yourself in a destructive cul du sac of contentiously conflicting perspectives. In my experience this self-perpetuating conflict can often be irreconcilable, since each party is certain that they are being mistreated by the other. If you can make no progress toward getting the other person to see the harmfulness of their stance, it is time to hop out of that deadly dead end.

It matters little what the other person’s argument is against your feelings, particularly if the argument is aggressive, angry and unyielding. Once you see that the other person will never yield, won’t concede anything to your expressed feelings … it’s time to go. Someone who is capable of empathy, and self-reflection, and who really cares about you, will find a way around their need to be right, in the interest of making a lasting peace and ensuring a mutual future. Again, true friends are very rare, especially when times are toughest. You should try not to fight about things, most things are not worth it. Once the fight takes on an abusive feeling — time to go.

As in personal life, so it is in politics. We are being told that Trump’s refusal to accept the will of the voters, his insistence that, in spite of bipartisan agreement about the fair election, and all of his lost voter-suppression and voter-fraud lawsuits, he won in a “landslide”, his raging lies about a “stolen election” that led to a rampage that could have resulted in the deaths of dozens (“only five” died directly, two Capitol Police officers took their own lives shortly after– three more dead than BENGHAZI… hmm…) including the executions of Pence, Pelosi and others, is something to “get over”. In the name of unity and healing, you understand.

As in politics, so it is in personal life. If someone beats you up, then asks forgiveness, then beats you up again, then asks forgiveness — what is the proper response? An understandably human response is to mercilessly kick the shit out of him next time he raises his hand to you, if you have the power to do so. Another, much more practical, response is walking away from the person, not letting them within punching and kicking distance. In either scenario, you accept the hard truth that this person who claims to love you is a violently angry person who can’t help taking it out on you when he feels up against it all. In no case is it a healthy response to simply get over it, until it happens next time.

Countless spouses and mates stay in these kinds of abusive relationships, being profusely apologized to by someone who will, in time, beat the shit out of them again. People stay in these kind of abusive relationships for many reasons, mostly related to fear and a feeling of not really deserving any better from their mate. Every person who stays convinces themselves of the same thing: my mate loves me, it’s just understandable human weakness that leads to the abuse. “I would be a monster not to forgive, look at those tears… ”

We can, and should, healthily let go of many things from the past that trouble us. Awareness of abuse isn’t one of them. The only thing to learn to do about abuse is to recognize it when it arises (it is not always as obvious as a fist to the face) and take steps to get far away from the perpetrator when it persists. Being out of harm’s way is the first necessary step to letting it go. The rest, friends, is much trickier, but we will never get to it while still in the cycle of endlessly replenished anger.

[1]

How often this Christian turning of the other cheek is done in reality, and how effective it may be if one manages to do it, are separate questions. For one thing, responding to mistreatment with love presumes the presence of the Divine in the person who struck your cheek.

Tucker Carlson speaks the truth!

Here is the mind-twisting fact about truth — it is versatile, it can be used just as righteously for good or for ill. The truth, plainly stated, will be agreed to by virtually everyone who hears it.

Here’s one: if you let somebody take over your mind and beliefs, they will be able to control you.

There is no question that this is true. The devil is in how this truth is applied to the larger discussion/argument. It depends completely on who the somebody is that is trying to control your beliefs. Are you warning against Charles Koch and his ilk controlling you by controlling the information you get and what you believe or George Soros and his?

I can find no fault with the absolute truth of the following statement by right-wing provocateur/opinion journalist Tucker Carlson, a celebrity newscaster and culture warrior I generally disagree with. In the clip below, Tucker’s statement is followed by opinion journalist Medhi Hasan, putting his finger on the larger problem — the mainstreaming of crazy beliefs across the conservative right. Hasan rightfully identifies that alarming trend as one of the big stories of our time:

Take Tucker’s comment by itself, out of context. It is hard to dispute the truth of it. Tucker is absolutely right, if a dictator takes over your mind, you are his mindless slave. When I read this to Sekhnet (omitting the reference to Q) she guessed Malcolm X had said it. I thought that was a good guess, Malcolm surely made the same point many times. Here’s Tucker:

(The real threat is a forbidden idea, it’s something called Q-Anon.) [1] Your mind belongs to you, it is yours and yours alone. Once politicians attempt to control what you believe, they are no longer politicians, they are by definition dictators, and if they succeed in controlling what you believe, you are no longer a citizen, you are not a free man, you are a slave.

Like so much in life, the entire enchilada is in the framing, the context, how the indisputable statement is used to support the argument it proves. Change just one word here — “forbidden” (the left doesn’t want you to know about this idea) to “dangerous” (if you believe this blood curdling fantasy you will do just about anything to save innocent children from these sick fucks who richly deserve death) and there is no problem at all with what Tucker said. It is 100% true. Add in some kind of indisputable right to act on your belief that you are fighting a powerful cabal of blood drinking child rapists and you have a different proposition.

But therein lies the cleverness of the skilled propagandist. Take a true premise nobody can disagree with — if your leaders control your beliefs you are their slave. Then, since that’s self-evident, and we all value our freedom — well, follow me, it’s a short step to convincing the gullible that whatever they believe, no matter how wildly improbable, no matter how demonstrably false, is their god-given right to believe and that no godless leftwing radical so-called “Truther” has the right to say anything about a fervently held belief of yours. They may not judge you! It is a matter of belief, not intellectual analysis. In many ways, belief is more powerful than mere knowledge.

This relates closely to the true concept that it is impossible to argue with a feeling. A person may be right or wrong to feel the way they do, but the feeling is real, and the feeling colors everything else in the conversation. The reality of the feeling must be dealt with first, before the facts of the cognitive matter at issue can be productively discussed.

At the risk of being tedious with a personal example I’ve offered before, here’s a scenario that illustrates this feeling/fact split to yer proverbial T. Watch how the end of this interaction with a very smart, intellectually capable friend, mirrors what Tucker stressed in that clip — the right to your belief is the thing that matters most. It is worth infinitely more than preserving your dearest lifelong friendship.

After my health insurance was illegally terminated for the first time in 2020 (the second time was during April of the pandemic), an old friend calls me to challenge me about my anger, which he says is disproportionate, out of control and which, my old friend stresses, concerns him greatly, as it’s very unhealthy for me to be so angry. He was angry about an email he got from me. He called my email snide and inaccurate, said it revealed an unfair anger directed at him, which was, in any case, totally misplaced.

After I managed to avoid a violent argument with him, declining his loud challenge to tell him to “go fuck himself” and we talked further, he conceded that my email had not actually been inaccurate, but that it was still somewhat snide, he said, particularly coming from someone who claims to be dedicated to ahimsa, non-harm. I do claim to be, and try to be, mild in my emotional reactions, to the extent I can be. There is a great value to not giving in to anger, whenever you can manage to. There is even value to the exercise when you fail.

Over the next few months we did an increasingly frustrating dance for clarity about whether I had a right to be angry about anything. It ended in him snarling at me and hanging up the phone in frustration at the implacability of my “righteous” anger. At one point he thanked me for my generosity in not blaming the blow up on him. That gratitude was soon outweighed by unbearable grievance.

In the course of our long email attempts to salvage our mortally wounded friendship, I mentioned the concept of Complementary Schismogenesis, which our impasse seemed to vividly illustrate (I know of no better illustration, actually). I wrote:

There is a dynamic called Complementary Schismogenesis — two people in an emotional cul du sac, locked in a conflict both want to solve, each of their best efforts to resolve things making the schism worse.   Their conflicting styles and clashing emotional needs exacerbate the problem.  One, when upset, needs a period of quiet to think, the other needs more talk, immediately.  

A:  “I need quiet to think, then we’ll talk” confronts B’s “I need to talk right now, then we can be quiet.”  And here we go loop de loo.

Empathy should, ideally, not have to be requested, especially when a friend is up against a concrete circumstance that is both frightening and unfair, is at wits’ end, and cries out for help.   A can say: but this IS me being empathetic;  B will say: feels like you being defensive.   

A hurt feeling does not go away because an intelligent, analytical friend says “you really shouldn’t feel that way, it isn’t healthy, cortisol’s a killer, I don’t understand why you have such a strong feeling about this thing that happened to you, you seem disproportionately angry.  To make matters more upsetting, you’re not explaining it very well, I don’t know what you actually expect of me since you’re not being clear and you’re also not letting me get a word in, even as you unfairly accuse me of things I can’t even understand.  Can I defend why I feel this way?  Do I get a chance to defend myself against your unfair charge that I’m hurting you?”    

A feeling may turn out to be unreasonable, and when it’s shown to be, after its intensity has faded a bit, hopefully the misunderstanding is over and a lesson learned — but the time to debate the validity of the feeling is not when the strong feeling is still incomprehensible to the friend who keeps demanding a rational account of why the strong feeling is not unreasonable.

In our case, the more times he told me he had no idea what my issue was and asked me to please explain again, the more pointed my explanations became as I had to tamp down more and more frustration at his inability to understand or empathize — and his repeated refusal/inability to engage with or respond to anything I wrote.

That was probably the single factor that made me more and more pessimistic about saving our long friendship — his silence on any point I raised. Though he repeatedly asked for my thoughts, and further clarification, and I’d expressed several times how hurtful silence is to me by way of response, his only response to anything I raised was silence, and telling me he still didn’t understand why I was so unforgiving. When he eventually told me he was sorry, for whatever he might have done that was hurtful, my position remained that accepting an apology for something you insist you don’t understand the hurtfulness of is a piss-poor sign for the future of a mutual friendship.

Predictably, in hindsight, my analysis fell on deaf ears, in spite of several attempts at simplifying, clarifying. I heard nothing back on any point I raised — including how hurtful I find it not to be responded to — only more genuine confusion about what I was actually talking about, what exactly had hurt me so much in his series of inadvertently hurtful acts. All this as though I do not express myself clearly. He simply would not even allow that I express myself with reasonable clarity.

My friend claimed that although he regarded me as his closest friend, loved me like a brother, he truly had no idea why I’d been upset. He expressed pessimism that anybody could truly understand what is in the heart of another person, even someone he’d been friends with for fifty years. I spent many, many hours writing and refining my replies to him, in hopes of getting through to his analytical mind. We were in the realm of feelings, though. Accordingly, he wrote that in spite of our long conversations and many words by email, I’d never given him any hint as to why I felt it necessary to be so mean to him in the end, after being so mild for many years. The long correspondence, from his point of view, was simply me trying to angrily out-lawyer this longtime successful litigator with lawyerly tactics. That was a battle the experienced litigator was not willing to lose.

In the end, for him, it all came down to me being, as originally charged, irrationally, disproportionately angry, and hurtful, and a supreme hypocrite unforgivingly insisting on the righteousness of my maddeningly superior nonviolent viciousness, directed at my innocent friend who loved me dearly, and unconditionally. He was totally justified in feeling as though I’d simply reamed him for no reason (“reaming” was the metaphor he chose, I never touched the boy, your Honor…). In the end, he wrote, I hadn’t given him a single clue as to the basis for my feelings, or convinced him of anything. He closed his final email by noting that he had searched our many emails in vain for “any clue” of what the hell had made me so insanely hurtful to him.

So, again, you can be as smart as you like and analyze things as clearly as you like. State them simply, boil them down to a point nobody can disagree with — nobody should tolerate being hurt by a thoughtless friend, even one who claims to love you. Then it is only a matter of framing and delivering your irrefutable conclusion, based on an unshakable belief: it is the fucking Jews (people like me, for example) and angry Blacks who are the real tyrants and oppressors!

Beware of people who often express hatred, suddenly bearing indisputable truths. These truths will be put to their usual uses, for better or worse.

[1]

This sentence, by itself, means little: “the real threat is a forbidden idea, it’s something called Q-Anon.” It seems to be a statement — someone, possibly Tucker (?), believes the real threat is this forbidden idea. Why is it a forbidden idea — because it is objectively bad? Because it is so ugly, inflammatory and improbable as to be unthinkable? Because, while there is no proof of any of its claims, it so easily leads to violence against the evil conspiracy set out in the idea, if you believe the forbidden theory? To forbid is to censor, to cancel, to negate someone else’s freedom of inquiry and belief.

The Q-Anon “idea” is simple enough at its root: Q is a highly placed insider of secret identity who states that Donald John Trump is the only person who can defeat an evil conspiracy of very powerful elites [top Democrats, Hollywood celebrities, wealthy liberal donors] who are pedophile sex traffickers who occasionally drink the blood of their innocent young victims. These are extremely dangerous pedophile cannibals of amazing cunning who are also, horrifyingly enough, child-murdering cannibals.

Just an idea, you dig, the details of which are constantly evolving through a kind of online crowd-sourcing. Just like Liberal Cancel Culture, you know, to “forbid it”.

Why Martin Luther King, Jr. had to die

It’s worth remembering, the day after most of the nation recalled, and many celebrated, the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., that although his courageous advocacy led to changes in the laws of this great nation, his moral message did not touch many.

Yesterday, on Martin Luther King Day, Trump’s administration, in one of its final official acts (outside of executing a record-shattering number of federal prisoners), put out a 41 page book report called The 1776 Report. Written as a refutation to the “liberal” narrative (see the NY Times 1619 Project, for example) that we long tolerated a brutal and dehumanizing form of race-based slavery and have a lot of racial healing to do in this deeply racist nation, the 1776 Report purportedly refutes the idea that there is any institutional racism in this great and idealistic nation. Written in the incomparable prose of angry anti-immigration troll Stephen Miller, it has already been characterized by historians as of a piece with the rest of the deep thinking young fascist’s pronouncements and policies, informed by his masters’ uninformed views of history, race and genetics.

I’m not interested, at the moment, in how debunkable this provocatively released (had to be on MLK Day, y’all) report is, how many historians have already come forward to attack it as the amateur ahistorical attempt to rewrite history that it is. I am thinking about the difference between truth-telling and endlessly repeating lies in the service of what is blandly called “ideology”.

The word ideology gives a veneer of respectability to otherwise disprovable, often ridiculous “theories” that underly “ideology”, ideas that are not actually worthy of serious discussion (“Trickle down economics,” “Birtherism” “child-blood-drinking pedophile elites running the opposition to Trump” etc.) appear serious. “White Supremacy” is an ideology, as is “fascism” as is “Movement Conservatism” as is belief in “the Unitary Executive”. All serve a view of the world, based on protecting certain minority interests, always at the expense of the interests of vast populations. Each “ideology” extolls one group while vilifying and marginalizing a much larger group.

Martin Luther King pushed for social change using nonviolent mass protest based on Gandhi’s satyagraha [1] “holding firmly to truth” or “truth force”. The principle is based in ahimsa, non-harm, which requires a person to hold firm in her quest for justice, to be direct in expressing opposition to injustice, but not to use violence, in fact, to be willing to suffer injury yourself, to bring about the desired change. Satyagraha works, when it does, by awakening the sleeping conscience of society to oppose immoral harms it tolerates.

King and his colleagues brought white racist willingness to inflict every brutality on Americans who sought to simply have the same rights as everyone else to TV screens across the world. When masses saw vicious dogs loosed on peaceful protesters, bloody beatings, high pressure firehoses used to push terrified protesters against walls and shop windows, millions were sickened. Moral pressure increased to change some of the worst of the in-your-face unfairness of “Separate but Equal”. Legislation was eventually passed, after the assassination of JFK who came fully aboard the anti-racism train late in his presidency, protecting Voting Rights, fair housing rights and other rights long denied the descendants of former slaves.

JFK had a tricky relationship with MLK, and initially kept his distance from him, in part because J. Edgar Hoover, unprincipled anti-Communist crusader and longtime FBI director, wrote a secret memo to the Attorney General (JFK’s brother) alleging that MLK was a communist sympathizer. The allegations were false — the ‘information’ it was based on was laughably thin, one adviser of King’s had once been a member of the party, but had renounced his membership years earlier (leaving aside Americans’ right to membership in any political party we choose) — but Hoover stood by the truthfulness of the memo smearing King as “red” and refused to divulge sources, citing top secrecy that even the president and Attorney General were not cleared to have access to [2]. The more things change…

King came to see that racism, poverty and militarism were inseparable parts of the same implacable monster of injustice. Integrating public accommodations across the country was a small step forward that didn’t address the underlying causes of great human misery in the wealthiest country in history. The reason we have racism in America is closely related to the reasons we have massive wealth inequality and widespread poverty in the land of abundance. It doesn’t take a communist sympathizer to grasp this. Militarism, using overwhelming deadly force to “pacify” and to “solve problems”, is the irresistible force that allows injustice to persist, as the military leeches hundreds of billions of dollars needed to mount a serious program to alleviate poverty. The problem is not “white” vs. “black”, the problem is a society that allows vast inequality and massive poverty, supported by “ideology” (like a belief in white superiority) and deploys overwhelming deadly violence against those who express any problem with the arrangement.

A year to the day from King’s Why I Oppose the War in Vietnam speech in NYC, coincidentally we are told, a lone gunman silenced King’s voice with a gunshot to the throat (actually, the sniper’s bullet hit him in the cheek [3]). Listening to King’s Vietnam speech you hear simple truth spoken, truth which has been confirmed by history, truth even more undeniably true when seen against our wars in Iraq, Panama, Afghanistan, death by drone, all the proxy wars, like the brutal, current American-backed Saudi war in Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East.

The plain truth of the speech, and our government’s perpetuation of the same brutality over and over since VIetnam, makes King sound like a prophet. The speech also marked King as a dangerous “trouble maker”. Major media (the NY Times and Washington Post among them, of course) attacked him as straying from his lane, destroying his credibility, his legacy. He was marginalized after that speech, monetary support for his cause withered as a result of the widespread media criticism, yet he persisted. He was organizing a biracial Poor People’s Campaign when he was murdered by yer proverbial lone gunman.

Here is some of what he said in the speech that marked him as a man worthy of silencing. See if you can find fault in it. I can’t, particularly in light of the countless equally “controversial” uses of overwhelming American military force, often on the shakiest of grounds, since.

At this point, I should make it clear that while I have tried in these last few minutes to give a voice to the voiceless in Vietnam and to understand the arguments of those who are called “enemy,” I am as deeply concerned about our own troops there as anything else, for it occurs to me that what we are submitting them to in Vietnam is not simply the brutalizing process that goes on in any war where armies face each other and seek to destroy. We are adding cynicism to the process of death, for they must know after the short period there that none of the things we claim to be fighting for are really involved. Before long, they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor.

Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America, who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as one who loves America, to the leaders of our own nation: The great initiative in this war is ours; the initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: “Each day the war goes on, the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism,” unquote.

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately, the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horrible, clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.

In order to atone for our sins and errors in Vietnam, we should take the initiative in bringing a halt to this tragic war and set a date that we will remove all foreign troops from Vietnam in accordance with the 1954 Geneva Agreement.

Part of our ongoing — part of our ongoing commitment might well express itself in an offer to grant asylum to any Vietnamese who fears for his life under the new regime, which included the Liberation Front. Then we must make what reparations we can for the damage we have done. We must provide the medical aid that is badly needed, making it available in this country, if necessary.

Meanwhile — meanwhile, we in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task: While we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment, we must continue to raise our voices and our lives if our nation persists in its perverse ways in Vietnam. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative method of protest possible.

These are the times for real choices and not false ones. We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest.

the rest of the speech is here

[1]

Satyagraha, or holding firmly to truth, or truth force, is a particular form of nonviolent resistance or civil resistance. Someone who practices satyagraha is a satyagrahi. The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi. Wikipedia

[2]

This was discussed at length in the excellent Kennedy and King, the President, the Pastor and the Battle of Civil Rights, by Steven Levingston. The book is a fascinating, detailed, suspenseful account of the dramatic push and pull during that struggle for human rights. I highly recommend it, particularly in the audiobook version, which is read by a very talented reader.

[3]

The bullet entered through King’s right cheek, breaking his jaw and several vertebrae as it traveled down his spinal cord, severing his jugular vein and major arteries in the process, before lodging in his shoulder.

source

How to Never Heal

Pro tip: NEVER, EVER, ADMIT YOU WERE WRONG!

In a world where we all make mistakes, sometimes very hurtful ones, I’m glad to have a disposition that allows me to forgive people. That may sound funny coming from a man who felt he had to cast many old friends adrift over the years, but it’s true. All I need to be able to forgive is a sincere expression of regret when somebody I care about hurts me, their understanding of why I was upset and an assurance they will try hard not to act that way again. Reconciliation can’t happen without truth. If I won’t even acknowledge that I acted badly toward you, when you spell out exactly why you were hurt by my actions, repeated actions in many cases, what hope can you have about the comfort of our friendship going forward? Think about it.

How not to heal: refuse to hear what the other person is concerned with, no matter what, focus on your own counter-grievance, press it over and over. When they complain, tell them they are whining snowflakes, oversensitive, passive aggressive pussies. “I elbowed you in the Adam’s Apple for the fifth time this week — BY ACCIDENT, ASSHOLE, as I already fucking told you!” is an explanation that attempts to bully you into accepting your powerless in the relationship. “I’m not wrong, YOU ARE,” is an asshole’s first response most of the time.

People who are not comfortable apologizing will often “double down” in the sickening gambler’s phrase we all learned during Mr. Trump’s regime. Apology, admittedly, requires a moment of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes, recognizing that you too would feel hurt, followed by an act of humility — contritely asking forgiveness — that makes you vulnerable. Ironically, it takes a certain amount of strength and self-confidence to apologize, even when you know you’ve hurt someone.

Insecure people have a very hard time admitting they are ever wrong, especially when the result of their actions is set in front of them. By reflex they feel attacked, become defensive, counterattack. It is the only play of someone too insecure to acknowledge the possibility of being mistaken. We are living through a prime public example of what I am thinking about in interpersonal terms and it has us at the brink of being angry enough to actually begin murdering one another.

In the case of the many Republican politicians continuing to support the president (many by their silence) in his endlessly repeated lying claims of massive electoral fraud (he made the same claim when he narrowly “won” in 2016, millions of dead people voted then too), they are sticking to their stories [1].

That their story may make little or no sense, less important than having a story. As more and more terrible facts emerge, like sickening details of the violent riot incited by their leader, seen by everyone, the stupid cover-stories about the sudden need for unity, or Antifa, or Trump learning the first lesson of his life, become more and more ridiculous. They simply can’t stop now, not after their tireless, valiant campaign has finally brought us to to bring about this sickening, anti-democratic zero-sum political moment. Now even a violent riot by insurrectionists planned and fomented by the president can be … a… a teachable moment? — a step forward on the road together? They need a story. Any story is better than no story, wait, here we go.

To hold Trump accountable for planning and inciting a riot, inviting an angry mob to D.C. on January 6th to STOP THE STEAL!, sending the stirred up mob down to the Capitol while he instructed federal law enforcement to stand down, in hopes of seeing Mike Pence (so disappointing!!) swinging from the gallows and the heads of his other enemies on pikes (“Hi Nancy, hi Chuck!! Hi, Shifty Schiff! who’s laughing now?”), would– eh, DIVIDE THE COUNTRY! That’s it — yeah, Democrat traitors, look who’s trying to divide the country now, shameless partisan hypocrite zealots!! We’re trying to heal here, you libtard commie fucktards, and you’re… so… goddamn mean and hypocritical — and vindictive! Admit you’d do the exactly the same thing if you had the election stolen from you, or even claimed repeatedly and falsely that it was stolen from you!

As I watch this heart-sickening theater, personal feelings are being vigorously stirred. Two friends from childhood did exactly this move in recent years. One simply by refusing to admit that his reflex to make me angry had anything to do with him, the other by telling me he had no idea why I was upset with him, repeatedly asking for an explanation for why I was so hurt and then attacking me for explaining it in such a brutal way. In short, two smart people incapable of great insight into themselves, unable to behave any better than they did and angry at being unfairly expected to. Each now has the consolation of knowing that I was finally the cruelly self-righteous, heartlessly unforgiving asshole who put an end to a long, beautiful friendship. I don’t begrudge them, it’s all they’ve got.

I was telling a friend recently that I’d truly have no problem forgiving either of them, if they would only own up to what they’d done, and kept doing, that was so hurtful to me, promised to try to do better. If the first guy had a breakthrough in psychoanalysis and called to tell me he realized that he was actually, unconsciously, often trying to provoke me to rage and was sorry about it, I’d be playing guitar with him the next day. The second guy is a slightly harder case, because although he initially thanked me for my mildness in stating my grievance without accusation the first couple of times, he remained specifically unapologetic (he claimed to have no understanding of why, exactly, I’d been so upset) and non-responsive, repeatedly telling me I still hadn’t made myself clear, pushing me for clarification, and then blaming me for clarifying things, which was very hurtful and made him feel terrible! A more complicated kind of asshole than the first guy, still, I’d be glad to forgive him, if he contacted me with even a soupçon of insight into how his actions, and his constant doubling down, had finally aggravated me beyond endurance.

Politics is personal, its roots go back into our formative childhoods. Social scientists have run tests to determine the basic personality types of the typical liberal and the typical conservative. Here’s a test. Take these traits and assign them to one side of the political spectrum or the other: obedience, loyalty, harsh punishment, self-sufficiency, individualism. If you said “liberal” you pass the test. How about these: fairness, reconciliation, mutual help, community. If you picked “conservative”– how right you are!

We embrace the worldview that comports with our upbringing, or sometimes rebel against it hard, like Stephen Miller (whose family, survivors of Hitler, is anti-fascist). If dad taught you that the Bible said “spare the rod, spoil the child” and took every opportunity to not spare the rod, well, you are more likely to have a certain view of the righteousness of harsh punishment and retribution. If mom instilled a conviction that food should be shared equally by everyone at the table, that no-one should ever go hungry, or get less than somebody else, there’s a different fundamental lesson about what is truly important in life.

I knew the families of these two guys I grew up with quite well. The home life of the first was an endless exercise in restraining and repressing very understandable anger. The mother, a woman of great charm and intelligence, is a compulsive (though often harmless) liar and something of a manipulator. The father, an equally charming person, was treated like a rebellious child in their home, and acted chastened much of the time. This daily humiliation was disguised as a deep love that nobody could deny. The second kid was raised by an openly autocratic father and a narcissistic mother who worshipped his uncompromising dad without question. My friends had little chance to learn any life lessons at home but what they did. Both of these boys, as men, endured rough marriages that ended in ugly divorces.

You can understand these unfortunate backstories and, still, it doesn’t sit right (my home life was as bad or worse in many ways), in a world where we can work to gain more insight and change things about our lives that torment us the most.

I am prone to anger, and it is my daily work to get better at not succumbing to it, work I consciously do. One thing I’ve learned is that when you cannot solve an interpersonal problem with someone, it is crucial to simply walk away. That applies in the moment you are getting mad as well as longterm, of your decision to stay in an aggravating arrangement with little emotional counterbalance. To conclude that proneness to anger is simply my nature, and there is nothing I can do about it, would be an abdication of any moral responsibility or agency on my part. What they used to call a “cop out” in the sixties — it’s not me, man, it’s undeniable, immutable genetic-social necessity!

To return to my personal examples of the problem of making peace with people who have lost the ability to see things from your point of view: the first guy will endlessly deny his anger and his unconscious provocations, make it everybody else’s problem that they are so angry all the time — a stance that is, frankly, infuriating. The second guy will do pretty much the same, actually, though in a much more sophisticated way. They will both be right, eternally. And so be it.

It is beyond our powers to change any of that, least of all in someone else, particularly a person who sincerely believes we can really not do anything differently, or better, than we’ve always done. It reminds us of the role our native dispositions play in our outlook, I guess, and whether you’ve had the luck to have at least one parent love you unconditionally.

Back to “politics”, the sword hanging over all of our heads. As the US nears 375,000 dead of the pandemic, it’s clear that the president, who has snapped that he has no responsibility for it, doesn’t care. He cares about overturning a rigged election he has produced zero proof was in any way improper. He clearly DOESN’T CARE IF YOU DIE and he’s not going to address taking reasonable steps to prevent the wild spread of COVID-19, in fact, he’ll weaponize disease prevention itself and insist on super-spreader events like that mask-free tour de force of domestic terrorism he hosted last week then inflicted on the Capitol.

The plain fact that the leader of the wealthiest nation in the world, whose infection and death rates are 5X higher, by population (4% of world population, 20% of infections) than anywhere else, clearly doesn’t care about stopping the spread of this deadly plague, by itself, should be a compelling argument for removing him under the 25th Amendment. It’s depraved, if not outright insane.

Oops, there I go again, angrily dividing this poor, ravaged country!

Back to the promise of the title: How to Never Heal. Focus on a grievance and being the victim. Nurture those painful feelings, no matter what.

In the case of aggrieved Trump followers, let’s take one major strand of their belief system — that the unreasonable, pushy demands of America’s coloreds endlessly claiming racism in America are a crock of crap. Here’s what you do, Trumpie, hit back with history. FACT: the ones who were slaves, the black ones, were freed more than 150 years ago. Fucking get over it! You people are fucking animals, look at you! That’s why we had a phalanx of National Guardsmen in full anti-riot gear guarding the steps of the Lincoln Memorial as you passed by in your protest march — because you are insane, violent savages who will never be satisfied no matter how many rights we give you and you would have attacked even the sacred statue of Abraham Lincoln, the best friend you ever had until LBJ, if given the chance. Nothing will be enough for you, until we are your slaves. Now get out of our way so we can go hang Mike Fucking Pence.

There you go, it is as easy as that. If you are determined to be right, even with a grievous self-inflicted wound, even if it means being a moronic, self-deluding puppet screaming against your own best interests, it is very simple to do. Take the three easy steps again: focus on a grievance, nurture it, justify it, no matter what; repeat as necessary. You can thank me later.

On the other hand, if you want to heal, for some reason, there are a few necessary steps. You have to be honest. You need to honestly discuss the things in the past that have led to the harmful situation we find ourselves in now. You have to acknowledge terrible things that happened (beyond a nonchalant “we uh tortured some folks”, if you know what I mean) and commit to fixing them. You have to listen carefully, be open to all proposals for improving things, if you want to have real reconciliation. If you want to correct injustice you have to first look at it fairly, listen to the voices of those who are being hurt by it, remove from the conversation those who are intent on perpetuating unjust practices.

If you want to be right, of course, just blame the pitiful losers for wanting to be victims when YOU ARE ACTUALLY THEIR VICTIM! You know what I’m saying?

USA! USA!!!!

[1]

The New York Times, channeling The Onion (America’s Finest News Source), reported on its front page earlier today (they removed the headline in the last hour, during updates, so I paraphrase:) Supreme Court Declines to Fast-track Trump Election Case. I was too slow to click on it while it was up, and it can’t be easily found (searching “Supreme Court” on the buggy NYT phone app doesn’t do it) but, seriously– WHAT THE FUCK? What fucking Trump election case?