Cause and Effect — senseless brooding or productive musing?

I have been wrestling with a difficult issue for many years now, my seemingly all but final estrangement from two people I was always close to. Their loss was a kind of ‘collateral damage’ resulting from the demand to hide someone else’s well-founded feelings of shame.

Seen in the worst light, my constant return to this painful subject is what psychologists call perseverating, self-inflicted pain from regretful preoccupation with an ultimately insoluble tragedy, the neurotic need to constantly relive the past suffering that caused deep wounds.

Seen another way, the way I prefer to see it, I’m searching for an elusive solution to an ongoing tragedy. I’ve been turning the evidence of our estrangement over in my hands, looking at it from every direction, shining light on it from every angle, seeking a creative solution to something important to me, an inventive idea that has been evading me.

Last night I thought of two questions, one for each of them, that sum up my long musings, without divulging anything of underlying shameful events to anyone involved.

They are a sister and brother, the girl a history buff, the guy a poet and a fiction writer. Sadly, I lost touch with them over the last few years. My intermittent attempts to maintain the relationships are finally met with mostly silence. Yesterday, while thinking about something else, I stumbled on a final question I could ask each of them. If I had only one last question to ask, I think it might be these (note the lengthy illustrations to the historian’s question).

To the young historian:

Q: Is history the fact-based inquiry into the nuanced reasons events and trends happen in human society, pursued to give us insight into the challenges of the present and the future? Isn’t the alternative to factual history propaganda, a false narrative supporting a pre-determined outcome?

Historical narratives emerge to make sense of the past. From earliest human history people were strategically erased from memory. In the days of the Pharaohs the new dynasty would send slaves to scrape the faces of their predecessors off the tomb walls, fucking them in the afterlife, erasing them from history. This is an ongoing pattern in human affairs.

When Germany lost the first World War certain Germans came up with an infuriating myth, The Stab in the Back — the victorious German army had been betrayed and humiliated by treacherous enemies who would be made to pay with their lives. The endlessly shifting narratives of history often swing wildly between opposite interpretations. A school of history will hold forth its theory — insist and largely prevail for generations (like the Dunning School at Columbia rewrote the history of the Civil War) inverting the previous understanding. In the case of the Civil War, the revisionist early twentieth century history (influential for decades) held that the Confederacy did not secede over slavery, that in a real way they never lost the glorious war to preserve their way of life, that the people they massacred were the real traitors to the Constitution.

We are watching a historic battle for the soul of history at this fascinating, scary moment in history. The recent riot at the Capitol, the ascendant far-right tells us now, in one voice, was done by leftists posing as Trump supporters, to make Trump look bad after they stole the election from him.

Isn’t inquiry into the facts of what actually happened in the past the crucial work of the historian? Isn’t good history the business of making the often irrational human endeavor understandable by placing carefully uncovered ideas and events into context?

Example:

Senator John Tester (D-Montana) told Bill Maher the other night that the original purpose of the filibuster was to promote bipartisanship by requiring a 3/5 majority vote to hold a legislative debate or a confirmation hearing [1]. Maher had no comment on this origin story, a dubious story Tester offered in passing, one he had no obvious motivation to promote.

Tester’s comment leads to a reasonable question: was the filibuster designed and used to promote bipartisanship in the senate?

Would even a cursory reading of history, or Wikipedia [2], show that John C. Calhoun, our nation’s greatest defender of slavery in the Senate, refined the use of the filibuster to allow the proslavery minority to block legislation that could threaten the viability of the Peculiar Institution? Would we learn that virtually every use of this minority tool during the twentieth century was to oppose legislation that would favor the greater rights for the majority? Does this not strongly suggest that bipartisanship was not the original motivation for this parliamentary device that can instantly disable a majority’s ability to pass laws?

Or, does it make no difference, historically, like whether or not the 2020 Election was actually stolen from the rightful winner by an illegitimate president who was sworn in over the strenuous objection of countless patriots?

In the case of the 2020 election there is a great deal of evidence to suggest this claim of a stolen election is a lie, and no evidence of substantial voter fraud has ever been produced, but couldn’t you say, without being judgmental, that it’s really just a hotly disputed matter of opinion that people of good faith could agree to disagree about?

Or, is there even such a thing as historical fact?

For the young writer:

I was more than forty years old, after solid decades of senseless war with my heavily defended, often aggrieved father, before I got a glimpse of understanding into his desperation, what made him so intent on winning an imaginary war against his children. His mother, it turned out, had whipped him in the face from the time he could stand on his little baby legs. Trying recovering from that primal betrayal.

Learning this, from a relative who’d witnessed it many times and sadly related it to me, flooded me with sudden sympathy for my poor battling old man. I understood, in a flash, the humiliation that led to his desperate lifelong battle against his children. It didn’t fix the years of senseless brutality or reverse the damage he’d done, but it gave me an insight that opened a door I’d never seen. A few years later that insight, and months with a good therapist, enabled me to stand by his deathbed and gently listen to his regrets, help him die as peacefully as he could.

If you are writing about a character who is depressed or angry, or conflicted, or up against it, is it important to show the stress, provocation, abuse and other stresses she underwent that led to her dramatic situation? If you tell the story of an unhappy, angry, anxious character compelled to dramatic action without giving the reader these things, what kind of story are you telling?

Or is all shit simply stuff that just happens? A Zen koan unfolding against unhearable music?

And if someone reaches out to you and you don’t acknowledge it, after a while, shouldn’t that idiot eventually get the message that the continued reaching out is folly? Seems straightforward enough, no?

[1]

I just realized, the filibuster– requiring 3/5 of the Senate to vote to hold a hearing on a bill or confirmation, was our nation’s second 3/5 Compromise (the first being in the Constitution, to increase the power of the less populous plantation states by increasing their populations for Congressional representation by counting 3/5 of each slave towards apportionment in the House).

[2]

Reliance on Wikipedia, in this case, would result in a skewed understanding of the filibuster, which in this telling was first used by Alabama Senator (and future vice president) William Rufus Devane King, and was not the favorite obstruction tool proslavery and later anti-Civil Rights minorities in the Senate, liked the good old boys who blocked anti-lynching legislation for decades during the height of anti-black terrorism in the U.S. Although, you will read:

Then Democratic Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina broke this record in 1957 by filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes,[24] although the bill ultimately passed.

source

Lying Hides Shame — at least for a time

It seems too basic to point out here, but it’s worth a thought, I think. Many lies are told primarily to avoid shame.

For example, if I lost my job, due to petty embezzlement that was discovered by my friend Dave who had hired me recently, I’d feel ashamed. My wife would have a shit fit and it would ruin our weekend. So I tell her that Dave was forced to reluctantly downsize on Friday, and since I was the last hired, I had to be let go. The guy hired right before me also got the ax from Dave, who apologized and promised to rehire us as soon as business picks up.

My wife will be sympathetic instead of angry, my firing had nothing to do with me, nothing at all. She might be suspicious, since I lost my last two jobs due to petty embezzlement and lied about each of those, and she’d be within her rights to rage at me for another lie to cover another petty theft from my boss, but I can always convince her of a lie she wants to believe. Her short-term sympathy, gained by this harmless lie, will be worth it, especially since she’ll be mad as hell when she finds out in either case. By the time Dave calls my wife on Monday, snarling about my betrayal (he had done me a solid by hiring me, I did kind of betray him) and threatening to have me prosecuted if my wife doesn’t repay the money I stole, I will have had a peaceful, shame-free weekend basking in my wife’s sympathy. Better than nothing.

If you do something you’re ashamed of, you will often feel a strong need to deny it. There are various ways to do this, but if it takes a straightforward lie, so be it. Lying is better than feeling shame, by a mile. If you’re caught in the lie, well, shit happens. You’ll figure out the next lie as you need it.

I’m sure shame comes into the Big Lies too, especially ones based on national humiliation. Are the lies about a rigged, stolen election, and the $50,000,000 ad budget to promote the lie and a well-planned, well-financed ($3,500,000 that we know of) attempted insurrection based on that infuriating lie, based on shame? I suppose we could say so. If you claim, before and after two elections, that the election (even the one you legally won, in spite of an almost 3,000,000 “popular vote” loss) was marred by massive fraud — and you produce no evidence of fraud, beyond the 1 case out of every 2 million votes found by the Koch-backed Heritage Foundation’s election fraud database — does that indicate shame? After all, you were raised to believe that there are only two kinds of people, winners and losers. You are a winner. The only way you can lose is if some powerful force lies to cheat you. That’s how the victorious German army “lost” the First World War, after all.

If a lie is to gain a foothold in the minds of millions, it must be undeviatingly insisted on. Publicly and privately, it must be repeated over and over. Asked point blank if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won a fair election, supporters of the president’s baseless claim that radical Democrats stole it will point to a swarm of ornate talking points. Ask them on national television: Yes or No, motherfucker, did Biden win a fair election?

You can hear their straight answers to this direct question, from the intellectuals of the GOP, men like Senators Rand Paul, Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Rep. Steve Scalise, the head of CPAC:

Well, you see, that’s the kind of question you people always ask, and next you’re going to call me a liar, which is all you liars know how to do. But as even you have to admit, the real question is why the signatures of Black inner city voters were not verified as the state laws require, in state after state, city after city, or why millions of ballots, cast by mail– against state law, were accepted DAYS AFTER THE ELECTION. The real question is why illegal ballots were fraudulently harvested and counted, millions and millions of unverified Muslim, Mexican and Transsexual votes– and countless child-blood drinkers’ ballots. The real question is “fuck you, you fucking fuck!”

Yesterday’s hearing about the federal government’s unaccountable failure to mobilize enough police presence to prevent the January 6th insurrectionist riot at the Capitol featured this moving testimony from U.S. Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza. She describes, among other horrors, the rioters’ release of military grade CS gas, inside the building, mixed with fire extinguisher spray deployed by rioters, that resulted in chemical burns to her face:

Senator Ron Johnson [1], who comes from Wisconsin, reads into the record the alternative fact that it was not Trump supporters who clashed with police, sprayed them with bear spray, overran the barricades, crushed them in doorways, beat the police with flagpoles, carried Trump and Confederate flags into the Capitol, released poison gas, spread feces over paintings and statues of famous Democrats — it was, literally, a false flag operation! The violent ones were all antifa provocateurs! The Trump supporters were all peaceful — it was the outside agitators who made them look like an ugly mob who wanted to kill Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi!!!! Posing as Trump supporters, who were, to a man and woman, as peaceful as baby lambs, even as they trampled one of their own to death, her “Don’t Tread on Me” flag notwithstanding.

Where did Johnson, who had previously argued that the mob was not “armed” because most of them had no firearms (military grade CS gas, bear spray, improvised clubs and spears, brass knuckles, knives, tactical gear– not “arms”, snowflakes…), get this account that he read into the official record? A rightwing website, reporting on a single source who made this extremely far-fetched claim — he read directly from their post.

Prove Johnson knew he was lying. Fucking prove it, you fucking liars!

Is Ron Johnson publicly spreading this lie, on some level, because he’s ashamed? Were the GOP 140 Representatives who voted to block the certification of Biden Electors? Hawley? Cruz? Tuberville? The rest of the Senate Voter Integrity Skeptic caucus? Impossible to say, really. That’s what Ethics Investigations are designed to find out.

[1]

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.

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.

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.

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.

Don’t ask why I read this Appendix

After a long sermon, in Appendix II, about the importance of recognizing that all morality flows from biblical sources, the now defunct 1776 Commission offers Appendix III: Created Equal or Identity Politics? a solid John Birch Society analysis of what makes these despicable freaks demanding equality so goddamned repulsive and deserving of our scorn (to skip to their Conclusion, scroll to [1]):

In recent times, however, a new creed has arisen challenging the original one enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. This new creed, loosely defined as identity politics, has three key features.

First, the creed of identity politics defines and divides Americans in terms of collective social identities. According to this new creed, our racial and sexual identities are more important than our common status as individuals equally endowed with fundamental rights.


Second, the creed of identity politics ranks these different racial and social groups in terms of privilege and power, with disproportionate moral worth allotted to each. It divides Americans into two groups: oppressors and victims. The more a group is considered oppressed, the more its members have a moral claim upon the rest of society. As for their supposed oppressors, they must atone and even be punished in perpetuity for their sins and those of their ancestors.

Third, the creed of identity politics teaches that America itself is to blame for oppression. America’s
“electric cord” is not the creed of liberty and equality that connects citizens today to each other and to every generation of Americans past, present, and future. Rather, America’s “electric cord” is a heritage of oppression that the majority racial group inflicts upon minority groups, and identity politics is about assigning and absolving guilt for that oppression.

According to this new creed, Americans are not a people defined by their dedication to human equality, but a people defined by their perpetuation of racial and sexual oppression

You can, of course, put it much more simply and without the fancy, pejorative “ideological” label (or without hammering the word “creed” over and over, telltale tic, that). If it is self-evident that we are all created equal, if the Constitution has been amended to ensure the rights of citizenship to all former slaves and their issue, then equality among citizens is a goal as American as apple pie and belief in Jesus Christ Himself. It follows that people who are not treated equally even now are entitled to equality under law. So sorry if it makes you pompous oppressor fucks feel perpetually angry and guilty!

Look around at America right now– whose foot does this shoe fit on?

Identity politics, on the other hand, sees politics as the realm of permanent conflict and struggle among
racial, gender, and other groups, and no compromise between different groups is possible.
Rational deliberation and compromise only preserve the oppressive status quo. Instead, identity politics relies on humiliation, intimidation, and coercion. American self-government, where all citizens are equal before the law, is supplanted by a system where certain people use their group identity to get what they want.

humiliation, intimidation, and coercion

Nobody we know specializes in that shit.

Again, this hits me personally, from a lifetime of experience with people who insisted they loved me and claimed the right to angrily define me as they saw fit. If you have the good fortune to stand calmly beside their deathbed you might hear a last minute admission that they were wrong to call you a vicious, unfair, irrationally hurtful fuck. You may hear, as I did from my father, that the long war had not been your fault but their’s, though they uncompromisingly blamed you for all of it.

The 1776 Report was a long exercise in identity politics, from the lofty perspective of the noble knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Good riddance to Trump and the stinking Historical Revisionism Commission he commissioned (a Biden executive order dissolved the 1776 Commission).

[1]

Conclusion

Identity politics is fundamentally incompatible with the principle of equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

Proponents of identity politics rearrange Americans by group identities, rank them by how much oppression they have experienced at the hands of the majority culture, and then sow division among them. While not as barbaric or dehumanizing, this new creed creates new hierarchies as unjust as the old hierarchies of the antebellum South, making a mockery of equality with an ever-changing scale of special privileges on the basis of racial and sexual identities. The very idea of equality under the law—of one nation sharing King’s “solid rock of brotherhood”—is not
possible and, according to this argument, probably not even desirable.

All Americans, and especially all educators, should understand identity politics for what it is: rejection of the principle of equality proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence. As a nation, we should oppose such efforts to divide us and reaffirm our common faith in the fundamental equal right of every individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.