We were slaves

In a couple of hours Sekhnet and I will join a Zoom seder for passover. Passover is the holiday when we remember that we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, about three thousand years ago, and vow to be vigilant in fighting slavery and injustice everywhere. It is called Passover because, the night before Pharaoh finally let his Jewish slaves flee, all-merciful God Himself, and not the Angel of Death who usually does such things, entered every Egyptian home and executed the first born male child, even if it was a baby; He passed over each Jewish (in those days Hebrew) home and spared Jewish babies — hence “Passover”.

God knew which homes were Jewish homes not by His innate, all-knowing genius or the poverty of the slave quarters (apparently Hebrew slaves in Egypt did not live in glaring, barnyard poverty like our chattel slaves here in the US did) but by the mark over the doorway, painted in lamb’s blood, that told the Holy One that this was a house where the babies should not be murdered.

I have more than one problem with this story. Not the part about identifying with the oppressed, it would be a far better world if everyone cared about and worked to protect the powerless, the weak, the despised. It’s the rest of the story, it’s religion, it’s the maddening righteous double-talk and suspension of critical thought often needed to sustain faith in the infinite mercy of powerful forces we cannot understand. It’s the quiet bigotry that is almost impossible to resist when you believe God loves you more than he loves people with different beliefs. And, of course, there’s God “Himself”, the all-merciful Creator who shows his infinite kindness by killing babies to convince a stubborn king to change his mind, when it comes right down to it.

For purposes of discussing religion and ethics I always yield on the point of God, if it is raised. Sure, there’s a God, fine with me. It doesn’t really change the discussion much, from my point of view. The only way to defend a God who allows continual brutal suffering, atrocity and mass-murder is to devise a Rube Goldberg device that blames humans, we who abuse the free will generously bestowed by the infinitely loving God, to do bad things, things that break God’s heart. A pogrom? Lynching? Insistence that a violent riot to overturn democracy that injured hundreds and killed several was a totally “harmless” love-fest? Nothing to do with God. No, God clearly hates that kind of thing. It’s humans, filthy, sinful, stupid, vain, angry, blaming others, trying to blame God!

I may feel the same way about many humans. Surely a group who breaks down the door of a jail and drags a man out to torture him and kill him– fuck them. Pour out thy wrath upon them, O Lord, as we ceremonially ask God to do, at one point during the seder (the telling of the Passover story and the meal). But no wrath is poured out on them, it’s poured out on the guy whose burnt body is swinging from a tree and on the people who loved him.

We were slaves, subject to hard labor for the eternal glory of rulers who fancied themselves gods in human form. In later generations we were dragged out of our hiding places, tortured, burnt, anti-semites loved doing this on Passover, when groups of Jews singing were easy to find. Hard to remember and identify with these painful things, in your soul, when you live in comfort and safety.

I’m not sure that reminding ourselves every Passover of our duty to see ourselves as though we personally were liberated from bondage really does the trick of changing our behavior very much. It is certainly a good practice to always remember that it is only a roll of the cosmic dice that decides whether we sit in comfortable homes celebrating together or run for our lives to a crowded, disease-ridden refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh.

I know this — it is much easier to not have to flee for your life, or go to bed hungry every night, without shelter. It is a better life when you do not have to face the harsh realities that billions on the planet are up against. We should be grateful to live in comfort, free from hunger, violence and random acts of viciousness, the things that break all-merciful God’s heart.

These terrible things should also break our hearts, but our hearts are not big enough to be continually broken by these things, we could not live with the despair it would produce. We’d never stop crying, looking around at the way things are for so many here in the richest country in human history, in other places were billions suffer such unimaginably awful fates.

So, understandably, we take comfort in our comfort, our ability to look away from all this human pain we never have to directly encounter. It’s understandable, after all, God Himself is able to look away, always has, always will. It’s not His fault, it’s ours. There is no God but the God in each of us. But it is a lot to expect that God to be more godly than the God we praise, over and over and over, in the face of all this human weakness and misery.

Happy Passover, y’all.

A visit from el perro negro

At a particularly depressing and anxious time for the human race like the one we find ourselves in now, depression and anxiety are understandable. It is hard to stay optimistic in the face of prolonged social isolation, a still raging incurable disease that can kill you, lies and denial of reality in the service political brutality, cascading climate catastrophe and all the rest. The hanging out with friends, family and likeminded strangers that used to remind us of the other side of life is now dangerous, must be approached with caution, if at all.

Social media, texts and emails are no substitute for personal contact with people you like. People think you are insane (and they are probably justified) if you send them a hand-written letter in the mail. Sekhnet, a self-proclaimed happy hermit, is relatively fine with cheerful random encounters with strangers, by phone or socially distanced and masked. At times I find myself wistful about the ongoing lack of connection with others.

I’ve been aware of not falling into the trap of despair. The world is the world, always full of danger and challenges, and though fear may grab us hard sometimes, and doubt, and all the other dark things of this world, it is best to keep in mind all the rest, the sweetness of life that keeps us grateful for every lifegiving breath we take.

The world is also change, all life is constantly moving, evolving, changing. This shit too will pass, surely, and once the pandemic is over we’ll hang out together to talk about it and laugh in relief to have survived it.

There is hard work to be done fixing a lot of things that are badly broken, I’d like to help. I hope to figure out how to lend a hand, throw my back into it. I feel like I’ve been doing OK emotionally, the usual complaints (the arthritis in my left knee is getting to be a real pain) aside.

Last night I cheerfully dialed an old friend, to check in, to resume my long habit of checking in with distant friends. I’d decided not to talk for long, just hear how he was doing, hopefully have a laugh (he’s a funny bastard) as I exercised my ailing legs outside in what was suddenly a mild evening. I got his voice mailbox, which was full.

I suddenly remembered the weight he carries, responsible for the livelihoods of literally hundreds of people in his badly stressed organization, dozens of whom must call his cellphone daily. It was too late to ring his home phone, his wife goes to bed early and it was already almost 10:00. Figured I’d call the home line tonight, after the dinner hour, see how they’re doing.

Watched an episode of David Attenborough’s brilliantly presented (and beautifully shot) Planet Earth on Netflix, had a moment of despair about what human greed has made of the oceans and deep seas (which contain 95% of the earth’s life, I think I heard), but mostly, we marveled at the weird and wonderful beauty of nature and the gentle, wise presentation of it . Here’s a nice montage from the wonderful limited series.

Sekhnet and I went upstairs, played few rounds of Wordscapes on my phone and I tucked Sekhnet for the night (so she could spend the next hour learning Chinese in Duolingo).

Then sometime after I did a little watercoloring (a variation on the figure below):

washed the dishes, got myself a cold drink and sat down to prop my leg up and watch a dark crime show, I became aware that the Black Dog had crept into the room with me.

I’d truly forgotten all about el perro negro.

“Remember me, motherfucker?” asked the black dog.

I did, indeed. Everything was suddenly hopeless. Why bother calling my friend? I’d destroyed my life, utterly, the whole thing a series of stupid mistakes I’d keep making until the end. Nobody gives a rat’s ass about your precious, polished, meaningless, unmonetized hobbies. The world is only a depressing antechamber to certain, terrible death. Nothing is ever going to work out well, you’ll see. Everyone who ever said they loved you was lying, and they proved it, in spades; everyone you love, dead. Evil triumphs in this world and if you think it doesn’t — fuck you, I’ll slit your ugly face. Look around, asshole.

“Forgot how persuasive I am?” asked el perro negro, stinking faithfully at my feet.

Not for a second.

I took two Tylenol PMs (discovered by Sekhnet’s insomniac cousin recently) and waited for the stabbing in my left knee to subside. Within an hour I was drowsy, went up to bed. Today, no sign of the black dog, though I can still smell his wet, cloyingly pungent fur. I’d forgotten all about the motherfucker, actually.

One from the vault (Sensitive Dog)

One from the Random Acts of Senseless Creativity files. After I thought about this track an hour ago I went looking for it, a journey through a labyrinth of old emails and various digital booby-traps. After a few small wrestling matches with the technology, I was able to place it here, where it can be found easily next time. I was happy to locate it and I’m glad to pass it on.

The underlying track for this is called Dog on a String, composed and performed by Paul Greenstein sometime after the turn of the twenty-first century, if memory serves. This was an improvisation I recorded, back on April 14, 2006, apparently. All parts were played for the love of making the track and for that reason alone.

For me this over-the-top jam captures the thrill of interactive invention — the joy of improvising over a groove you’re really digging.

Our ability to find joy and improvise has been sorely tested in the isolation of this COVID crisis. Mutual, playful improvisation, a vital part of human interaction, a free delight of life, fades during dark times, the habit of playing happily — another casualty of the pandemic. Playing together gives us joy, undeniable but easy to forget, sometimes. This track reminds me of how much fun play is.

Paul’s track was a delight, I greatly love that mysterious, soulful Indian singer, all of Paul’s parts are superb (if several lovely ones were drowned out by the overloud distorted guitar, sorry about that). It is also beautifully engineered, everything is exactly where you want it to be in the mix and the EQ. I’ll ask Paul for the original track, so I can post that beauty for you to hear.

Listening to this track I hear my excitement, the enthusiastic variations inspired by the sheer fun of following a wildly idiosyncratic groove.

Sensitive Dog starts with a dog lover’s question for Cesar Milan, who then considers the best way to interact with a dog who is very sensitive. Odd to say, I couldn’t tell you what key it’s in, I had no idea when I was playing it, most unusual for me, I followed the singer as best I could.

There are suboptimal notes, which I can’t begrudge someone inventing parts over a track he is greatly loving as he plays. If you don’t let yourself be distracted by the mistakes and take in the entire 1:56 as a piece, I think you’ll get what I’m talking about.

My only regret is the mix. If someone had been sitting at the controls (there were no controls, the overdub was recorded off the small amp that was also playing Dog on A String) and adjusting the volume on the distorted guitar, to allow Dog on A String’s many subtle nuances to be appreciated, the track would be infinitely better.

To me, the track is still cool, instant time-travel to a moment of great fun. A reminder of a vital thing, sadly easy to forget during dark days — the joy of carefree play with someone you enjoy. I hope you find it so too.

Musical Interlude

This early pandemic recording (May 2020) seems a good Christmas offering, something about Tony Bennett, the singer who made this lush pop tune popular back in the Eisenhower days, even before my time. [1]

To me this tune is a great example of a great arrangement, you really can’t do the proper accompaniment without playing the two main parts. The chords are basic and provide a pleasing harmony to the melody. But it’s the line the piano is playing against the chords (a clever arpeggio of the chord), it turns out, that gives the song its swing, its groove. The melody, applied over the top, even loosely, cannot help but be at its most beautiful, set off this way by the other two parts. My Christmas elf’s hat is off to the arranger of this great tune.

To the musically hip, check out a fatal flaw in the underlying loop, every time the top comes around (and dig the riff from Santana’s first album in the bluesy final chorus, and a guest vocal from Sekhnet at the very end).

[1]

“I Left My Heart in San Francisco” is a popular song, written in the fall of 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, with music by George Cory and lyrics by Douglass Cross and best known as the signature song of Tony Bennett. Wikipedia

Take Care of Yourself, friend

There are things you love to do. You should do them. When things are at their worst, at their scariest, when life on our planet is teetering on the brink of extinction, it is imperative to remember to cherish the things we love and to do them often.

The people we love too, of course, of course, we have to try extra hard to take good care of them. It is more important now than at other times to show them as much mercy and kindness as you have in your heart, and that goes for mercy and kindness toward yourself too in this terrifying, aggravating time. But what I am talking about now is doing the things that make us happiest, that restore us to ourselves. It is super important now to remember them, and do them often.

I love to play music. I am a good guitar player and a limited, though functional piano player. Few things I know compare to the pure joyful relaxation that takes over once the guitar is staying in tune (cold weather, and sudden changes in temperature, can really mess with the strings), the instrument is warm in your hands and the musical sounds emerge as beautifully as you can make them. Take a beat, if you like, swing another beat against it. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever come to taking off and soaring on thermals, or gliding a mile under a perfect ocean.

The words you are reading now, something else that gives me great pleasure to put together. Obviously, I spend time every day doing this. I am compelled, but, also, I love to do it.

Cooking a tasty, healthy meal, something I’ve always liked to do, has taken on more meaning to me during this lockdown as Sekhnet feels up against the daily horrors and it is a comfort to us both to share a fresh meal that is actually good for us. I am starting to love the whole process of making a pot or pan of something good.

Walking is something I’ve always liked to do. Now that I have arthritis in both knees, it has become a necessity for me to walk throughout the day, to avoid pain. An hour or two in nature, breathing in the trees, is always a beautiful thing. I love certain moments of my long daily walk. There is a time, after walking long enough, when the stiffness and soreness in my knees melts away. The pleasure of sitting on a bench after thirty minutes of purposefully striding along — I love it.

Odd to say, though I’ve always loved to draw, and make all kinds of marks on paper, have always carried a drawing book with me, and several of my favorite pens and pencils, I’ve done virtually no drawing or calligraphy during this pandemic nightmare.

I showed a friend’s super-talented granddaughter how to do simple stop frame animation the other day. Under the mounted camera I drew a simple face and quickly showed her the principle of making animation out of two or more carefully registered drawings (or in this case, two stages of the same drawing).

I explained to her that you can later make the drawing as colorful or detailed as you like, photograph it and add the changes to the animation. (We were working outside in a park, so our art supplies were quite limited). At home afterwards I decided to refine the drawing above to demonstrate this idea to her. You will understand at once, I think, why I decided not to send her the drawing.

Who wants to look into those bizarre, hopeless, death-haunted eyes? Certainly not a sensitive seven year-old who is living through one of the worst periods in recent human history.

Shoot, maybe that’s why I’m not drawing these days. More than in anything else I do, my subconscious emerges most freely in drawings. I can play a stiff version of a beautiful tune on the piano, it’s not great music, but it doesn’t have even a hint of the terror in the face above. Perhaps I’ll try a bit of calligraphy later.

For now, do yourself a kindness. Think of something you love to do, maybe have forgotten about in your overwhelmed concern about the simultaneous and intrusive plagues that are upon us now, and do it. You will thank yourself afterwards, I’m pretty sure. Even if you don’t thank yourself (ingrate!) time is never wasted doing something you love to do.

groove for Plague Mice, collaboration with PG, 5-16-20 (with thanks to Jimi for the bassline)

America, America…

As the president continues to block a rational transition to the Biden administration, at the height of the pandemic, President Trump’s top pandemic advisor, Dr. Charles Atlas, urged the citizens of the great state of Michigan to “rise up”– another incitement to violent overthrow of Democrat Tyranny, in the form of a mask mandate and the closing of businesses to protect residents against a new surge of COVID. (No call to behead the traitorous Republican governors of North Dakota and Utah who imposed similar mandates? Come on, Atlas!)

Atlas is right, of course, about one part of that: we only get what we accept. Bill Moyers published this piece, with the clever “Dr. Atlas Shrugs” (a tip of the cap to the grande dame of sanitized fascists, Ayn Rand) in the headline, which gives more detail for any egghead who might want to go beyond the good doctor’s tweet (which Atlas, shrugging, later denied was any kind of incitement to violence, “rise up”, you know, like “stand by,” LOL!) [1].

Anyway, fuck Atlas and the whores he rode in on. He’s just another incendiary device in Mr. Trump’s unrelenting blitzkrieg on objective fact, evidence, all that unfair Communist claptrap and folderol. I mean, just look at these complete lies from yesterday’s New York Times!

The “Times” makes it seem as if the Republican Secretary of State of Georgia is being pressured by his own party to resign, or to throw out the fraudulent signature-mismatched votes that gave Biden the stolen, rigged election in Georgia. Well, he is being pressured, sure, OK, that’s just hardball party politics, but it’s not like he’s getting death threats, though, naturally, he reports he is. Which, of course, he would. He’s clearly in on the Biden scam! Another traitor!

OF COURSE THESE “EXPERTS” WOULD SAY THAT! They wouldn’t know fraud it if came right up and DID NOTHING TO THEM!

I’m hoping we don’t have blood in the streets as this FAKE electoral dispute senselessly continues while administration loyalists stand proudly, manfully working up passions for the violent end of electoral democracy in the USA. As things stand at the moment, I don’t think there will be a Second Civil War, but, objectively, it is Mr. Trump’s only path to staying in power after losing the election. Worth a shot, no?

Georgia’s Republican officials disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters since 2017 — purged at least 107,000 eligible voters before their current governor (the man who, as Georgia Secretary of State, unilateraly ordered and oversaw the voter purge) won a 55,000 vote victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams. Soon to be preemptively pardoned Louis DeJoy deliberately slowed mail delivery in 2020 from places like Atlanta, where Democratic voters outnumber Republicans. How many votes were undelivered? We’ll find out in the coming months, perhaps.

The Republican party did everything possible to suppress the hated “Democrat” vote in Georgia, including outright cheating, and Biden still managed to squeak out a 14,000 vote win in the great state of Georgia, thanks to the dedication of millions of voters in Georgia who would not be deterred, not take what they were being forced to accept.

I thought of these dedicated voters fleetingly yesterday, as I posed these two candy bars on the cashier’s conveyor belt for their portrait.

The cashier looked confused at first, as I fussed lining up the shot, trying to get an angle that reduced the glare enough to make the labels readable. Then she read the labels. “It’s everything now,” I said to her, “you can’t buy a fucking candy bar without having to pick a side…” She told me, as she announced her register closed, that she’d never noticed that about the Twix bars, until now. I shook my head, tight smile mostly a smirk, turned to put the candy bars back on the rack.

The expression on her face, the cashier was what we in the U.S. call a “black woman” or “African-American”, was that unique mixture of bemusement and bottomless sadness, plus a bit of resolve. Sekhnet and I nodded in agreement. We all wished each other a cheerful “be safe,” and Sekhnet and I went to find the car in the Target parking lot.

[1]

Here’s one nice slice, to give you the general flavor of both sides of this “argument” about wearing masks during a deadly pandemic:

During his interview, Dr. Atlas railed against those who refuse to accept facts that contradict what they want to believe. He lambasted people unable to admit that they’re wrong. But when asked about Dr. Fauci’s comment that Dr. Atlas is an outlier on epidemiological and public health issues relating to the pandemic, he said, “I’m proud to be an outlier, especially when the ‘in-liers’ are completely wrong…I’m not afraid to be a contrarian because I know I’m right.”

source

A Little Reminder About Moods

Moods come and go, and are often subject to actual events in your life. It is good to keep this transience in mind when a painful mood is oppressing you, when it feels like a particularly hard emotion will keep you in its grip forever. Moods feel irrefutable, but the ones produced by raging stress often start succumbing to reason after a good night’s sleep. It’s hard to keep this in mind while the emotion is strong, when it’s hard to even get to sleep, but I think practice may help.

Sekhnet and I recently saved the lives of five tiny feral kittens. They’d been dropped in Sekhnet’s garden by a shrewd mother cat, a cat we didn’t know, who abandoned them to the care of the provider of the neighborhood’s best cat buffet. Once Sekhnet inadvertently allowed one of them to eat. The good looking little cat caught her eye before he left.

The next day the tiny alpha kitten was back, demanding food on behalf of himself and his four larger siblings. He simply would not take no for an answer.

After Alpha made his successful appeal, the others followed. Sekhnet got a good shot of three of his four bothers and sisters, coming out of their hiding place and marching toward the feeding area.

That day they all began eating two hearty meals a day in the garden, exploring and hanging out all over the place, much to the disgust of the five adult feral cats who already lived on, and had fought for control of, that turf. Here they are, led by tiny, indomitable Alpha Mouse, in the male pear tree. Naturally he was the first one up the tree. He’s looking down on them in this shot.

The disorienting pandemic lockdown was on and we took on the saving of these five tiny lives as a kind of mission. Over the years we’d watched dozens of feral cats and kittens we got to know live short, often brutal lives, many of our favorites living only a couple of months. We decided we’d try our best to save these five.

Sekhnet fed and played with them a bit in the garden every day. She took many great photos of the little beauties. I would go out and sit with them late at night, little Alpha didn’t mind being picked up, would sit calmly on my lap from the beginning. They all learned to chase the little cat cookies I’d toss them and eventually to eat them out of our hands. Once the first couple were fairly tame (Alpha’s brother Beta followed in the little leader’s footsteps) Sekhnet designed an ingenious trap, scooped them all up at once and brought them inside where they lived in a large comfortable cage she’d found online. We then set about getting the others used to being picked up and petted. They all took to it quickly.

They were surprisingly happy with the cage, which had several levels and a little workout area where they could take turns pounding a couple of light speed bags. We took them out and handled them one at a time, petted them, won them over, made them all pets. In the end we brought them to a great adoption center we finally found and every one of them was soon adopted as a pet. Naturally Alpha was the first to be adopted, after a very short stay at the shelter, his first day out of quarantine, I think. The rest were all quickly adopted in the days that followed.

We’d done a good deed, we knew we couldn’t keep them around, our plan from the start was to get them adopted to have good lives but we were emotionally devastated that first night, after our friend rented a van and helped us transport them to the shelter in Freeport. They had all come to trust us, and were affectionate and playful, and incredibly cute. We’d grown very attached to having them around. Then they were gone. The house seemed so empty. We cried looking at their many portraits and film clips that first night.

But here is the point I want to make. The pain, though intense, did not last long. By the next day it was much easier, within two days easier still. The good deed we’d done lingered, the painful goodbye to them didn’t. It is something worth remembering when you feel heartbroken sometimes. Painful feelings truly do pass, sometimes surprisingly quickly.

I think of our horror (mine and Sekhnet’s, millions of others were delighted) on election night, at how close the vote was, at the real chance that America’s long experiment in democracy was finally and definitively at an end. At least five million MORE of our countrymen had come out to vote a second time for the most deliberately divisive, untruthful, vindictive, angry, litigious president this nation has ever had. Women, it emerged, had voted for Trump in larger numbers in 2020 than 2016! Women! Hispanic (desculpe me, Latinx) votes seem to have put him over the top in Texas and Florida. The real possibility that this raging winner could win the election and triumphantly rule as lawlessly as he sees fit set Sekhnet to sobbing into her ginger beer. I felt sick too, could not get to sleep.

In the days before the election, as the pandemic continued to rage out of control in most of the country, and new records for infections and deaths were broken day after day, the president confidently (and lyingly) declared victory over the disease that was killing record numbers in the states he won. Mission Accomplished! His maskless crowds roared their approval. On election night the agitated depression we felt was impossible to refute. It was based on the unwanted truth that we are living in a nightmare where the stubbornly reinforced, aggressive stupidity of millions of our fellow citizens, proud “values voters,” impervious to evidence even if it comes up and chokes their family members to death, is unfathomable.

The day after Election Day, as the incoming vote totals were being disputed by a president who had already strongly suggested he was declaring victory, even as he announced his intention to dispute his loss in the 6-3 Supreme Court he’d created, the media (the lying media, die Lügenpresse) was quietly publishing items like these. No longer really headlines, as much as wistful reminders:

I think bitterly that if Trump’s pandemic plan had really worked, letting the pandemic kill millions of “Democrat” voters of color in “Democrat” cities, cutting off needed financial aid to the increasingly large numbers of poor to create mass desperation and massive crime sprees, riots, looting and the need for Bill Barr’s Bureau of Prisons and ICE forces to violently clamp down on “Democrat” cities, (perhaps deploying even the military itself under the Insurrection Act,) he could have proved his wildest “law and order” theory about antifa and anarchy and black rights groups, killed and locked up enough of his enemies to actually win the Electoral College, even if he again lost the “popular vote” by millions. His open conspiracy with political supporter and mega-donor Louis DeJoy, who openly sabotaged the delivery of predominantly Democratic votes, alone, could have won him the election. It could still, unlikely as it now appears.

As the vote counting continues, Trump insisting that counting in areas he leads but is in danger of losing must be halted immediately while demanding recounts in states he has already lost (fair is fair), it looks less and less likely that the president has a path to 270. As my cousin wrote me from the great state of Georgia today:

It’s too close, but I think the only way Trump gets to 270 is if he loses 50 lbs. 

My point in all this — as Biden gets closer and closer to the 270 needed to win, as horrific as it is that almost 70,000,000 Americans seem to have voted for Donald Trump — and a majority of white women! (maybe the misogynists have a point…) as Trump’s path to the 6-3 Supreme Court seems more and more far-fetched — today feels much different than Tuesday evening.

Biden is far from my idea of an inspirational president, the Democratic party is not anyone’s idea of a meaningful political opposition party. One side radically employs any means necessary to maintain power and force its minority views on the majority of country — and that side is not the corporate Democrats. The Democratic party, as a party, is about as committed to the economic status quo as the Republican party always was. Still, Joe Biden is not Donald Trump — the main reason maybe 75,000,000 of us will have ended up voting for him.

Once he is sworn in, hopefully with a 50-50 Senate where Kamala Harris will be the tie-breaker (though even that modest goal of flipping four Senate seats likely won’t be achieved) we will have to set up committees of correspondence, organize, mobilize, stay in the streets, be smart in messaging, push, push, push. We will still be pushing a reluctant centrist against the dogged resistance of Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham — and every single elected and appointed member of their unified, radical party– as sickening as that thought is.

We need to stay positive and proactive, of course. If we push hard enough, you never know. The midterm primaries in 2022 may even feature meaningful Democratic party debates about how to avoid rapidly approaching fatal Climate Catastrophe. The escalating danger of global warming is even further down the page today than the new record COVID numbers, though the threats are equally dangerous. We don’t have much time to fix any of this, and four years have just been worse than just wasted — we need to ride President Biden like the affable, probably well-intentioned donkey he is.

My point though: it feels better today to be an American (for a bare majority of us), and much more hopeful, than it did two days ago.

Little Rehearsals for Our Own Deaths

At a time when so many are dying around the world, and around our nation, from the pandemic, from hunger, by suicide, thoughts of death are closer than usual.

Death may be the beginning of the dead person’s embrace of eternity, I suppose, but it’s a high price to pay for that union. What’s left behind is the painful absence, forever, of that loved one. In a way, our mourning for those we love and lose contains an element of rehearsal for our own death. This secret, internal rehearsal is very hard for us to do, in a society dedicated, to an impressive extent, to the eternal denial of aging, death and dying.

I thought about these little rehearsals for our own deaths recently when I reluctantly took my leave of a friend I’d known since Junior High School. Losing this old friend felt like a kind of death, partly my own. A lifetime of shared experiences, personal references, little inside jokes, good will, great favors done for each other, erased as by death. Erased, rather, by an unwillingness, or inability, to do what needed to be done to continue a mutually beneficial friendship.

I’ll take my share of blame for the final death, and though my friend angrily concluded I’d been the unreasonable, cold-hearted aggressor, I did my best to avoid the silence that eventually had to come in the absence of empathy and understanding. I spent months taking him up on his offer to grapple with how to fix what had gone wrong in our friendship. When I laid out my side for him as clearly as I could, with as much patience and lack of blame as I could muster, he was hurt and angry about it. Your choice at that point becomes stark: eternal grievance and unresolvable fight or quiet. There’s enough angry noise in this mad world without it hissing from an always virtuous person who insists he can’t be hurtful because he’s your true friend — my former good friend surely agrees with that.

When someone we love dies, the pain we feel is universal. It’s hard to imagine a person who does not share this terrible clutching in the chest, or wherever one feels it, when someone he was close to is no more. Hard to picture a human being unmoved by a selected death, unless we dehumanize them, that is. Once the despised party is no longer seen as fully human, it’s much easier to imagine the worst. That’s what rabid partisanship is all about. If you’re the malicious type, the death of someone you despise can leave you feeling “good for them… only tragedy is that it didn’t happen sooner

I am about as far to the left on the political spectrum as I can imagine anyone being. It feels to me like the pull of liberalism, progressivism, socialism, whatever you want to call it, is toward mercy and inclusion. It aims to foster recognition of our common humanity, our unalienable equality and value as humans, the right of poor people to live with dignity. The magnetic pull of conservatism, autocracy, militarism is toward exclusion, protecting the privileges of the few, employing a punitive order that enforces divisions according to class, race, religion, nationality or, usually, a combination of those things. The right sees these divisions among people as natural and inevitable and the friction they cause as something best controlled by a well-armed police force and prison system.

Of course, someone on the political right will characterize the philosophical difference in reverse. Conservatives want to preserve freedom, decency, the value of hard work, free competition, justice, moral righteousness and so on. Liberals want to impose a kind of politically correct tyranny, giving away hard-earned money to reward lazy, corrupt people who refuse to compete on a level playing field. Liberals also don’t want to punish criminals, they want to “understand” them. And so on.

An animating belief of humanism is that our shared humanity can rise above any artificial divisions, given empathetic understanding. A very liberal writer, Jeanne Safer, gave a beautiful illustration of this in a book about seeing beyond partisan animus [1]. Her very religious, right-wing neighbor, a person with whom she shared almost no beliefs and few opinions, took her to chemotherapy every time she went, sat with her, brought her home, made sure she was comfortable, did her shopping. Her gratitude for this woman’s selfless kindness in her time of need made her appreciate the deep humanity of this undoubtedly good woman. She may vote for Trump, march in Right to Life rallies, believe homosexuals will burn in hell, but she has an undeniably generous heart on a personal level. Safer learned to cherish this wonderful heart, even as she disagreed with virtually everything else this neighbor was passionate about.

This, my friends, is a subtle fucking point well worth pondering in our troubled times.

It is a very difficult point to get a hold of during this nakedly partisan cold civil war we’re all living through. The stress acting on us daily is almost disablingly heavy, but the point is worth considering. People on the other side of every great question, people we write off as mindless partisan fucks, love their kids, take care of aged parents, would jump in front of a moving car to save a stranger’s toddler, watch videos of animals doing adorable things, to take their minds off the horrors we are all swimming in daily.

Part of the intent of keeping us all constantly at war with each other is to destroy this larger truth of our innate human connection to every other human. How many humans can kill a baby? Not many, I’d wager. Tribalism is one thing, and often a destructive one, but our common humanity, in the end, is the only thing that can save us and the planet we live on. Not easy, of course, not often seen, but urgently needed, going forward.

Looking at any history book it’s not hard to see the interests of the wealthiest (and generally most conservative) behind every war fought between average people. Poor people, young ones, from each combatant nation are indoctrinated against an enemy and sent to kill each other with the ultimate aim of making an elite group of rich, older ones, richer and more secure in their wealth. To understand war, follow the money, as they say.

And the horrible reality is that when the war sweeps through, there is no survival for the meek, no possible appeal to our higher nature. All bets are off when they come for you with machetes, guns, planes, flame throwers, mobile killing units. This is the nightmare scenario our species has lived, and perpetrated, over and over since before there was a system for recording these slaughters. In the world right now there are tens of millions displaced, people who ran from a meat-grinder that hacked up the unluckier, meeker members of their families, their community. Those who hid, cowered (not unreasonably!) and were caught are not shown mercy, not by bombs, not by men crazed with the wild adrenaline of life and death battle. They shoot first, at people who may well want to kill them, ask themselves questions later.

Extreme partisans are ready to die for their beliefs, to kill for them. This willingness to die is sometimes seen as the ultimate expression of having the “courage of your convictions” though it is just as often the “enduring brutality of your mistake”. In this country, according to the FBI, violent, deadly partisans are mostly on the far right. Far right groups have killed many Americans in the last twenty years, as part of their general operations, far left groups have killed few, if any, over that same span.

A willingness to use violence is the hallmark of terrorism — in fact, the use of violence to achieve an aim IS terrorism. We terrify you into doing what we say, because we’ve killed some innocent people, as you’ve seen, and we’ll fucking kill you. too. The threat of violent death is our calling card. Our side will beat down your side and stick those protest signs up your asses!

You wonder what has to happen to a human heart to conclude, during difficult times, that it is better to take up arms and take as many of the bastards with you as you can before they kill you than to look for a way out of war. Something the equivalent of Nazis coming to your area, rounding up local leaders and publicly executing them. If you have the ability, that moment is definitely your last chance to organize and take up weapons for self-defense against a deadly enemy.

The specter of a nation finally struggling to come to terms with a long history of racism, de jure and de facto, seems to present this endgame scenario to those ready to believe that equality among people inevitably leads to tyranny. Got to arm and kill as many of those fucks as possible before they can force us to live as slaves in a world like that! We never did anything to them, why are they coming to persecute us?! They are the violent tyrants, not us!

As I think about these little rehearsals for our own deaths, I wonder how ready I’d be, if forced into that terrible position, to die for my beliefs. Even to be beaten up, or even menaced, by armed thugs outside my polling place. Fanatics are famous for their willingness to go down in a hail of bullets, guitarists and calligraphers, not so much.

When things are put into black and white, life and death frames — if socialists are elected to Congress it will be the violent end of freedom as we know it — evil, righteous men with the money to influence mass events will eventually put death squads into motion. You can take that to the bank, the smart money will bet on it. As we all do our little, trembling, mostly unconscious, rehearsals for our own unthinkable deaths.

[1]

I Love You, but I Hate Your Politics: How to Protect Your Intimate Relationships in a Poisonous Partisan World, 2019, All Points Books ISBN 9781250200396