Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

A Bull in Search of a China Shop

Posted: January 20, 2017 in Life, politics
Tags: , ,

bull_in_a_china_shop

If I had to sum it all up, the word I’d use would be “fear”.

I won’t speak for anyone else, but I come by my fear honestly.

I grew up under the brooding anger of a drunken narcissist.

My father always drank, and he was always angry. And it was always about him.

So, as a tiny youngster, and then as a scrawny adolescent and teen, I learned how to interact with him. I guess, in my innocence, I thought I was “managing” him, by not doing anything to make him angry.

He was a monster, really. A massive, sweaty, angry shirtless man of over 350 pounds who stomped around the house looking for a reason to justify his anger.

He was brutal. He hit my mom in the stomach when she was pregnant. He hit her on her head when she had migraines. He bellowed a lot. Most of his sentences contained one word only. He eschewed the use of adjectives, and sometimes even verbs.

“Would you please pass the salt” came out as an angry one-word demand. “SALT!”

I’ve written about my father before. This is not about him.

There’s another narcissist making the news today. He’s being sworn in as President of the United States.

This narcissist doesn’t drink. Presumably, he doesn’t do any drugs either. Those are strong points in his favour.

However, he is a narcissist with a delicate ego. Already we’re watching as his “enemies” (his word for anyone who doesn’t explicitly support him) are scrambling around trying to get in his good graces. They have to work with him, after all.

And like my father, he holds nothing but contempt for them. I think he holds contempt even for many of his friends.

A lot of my friends are conservative, and they wonder why there is so much fear coming from those who don’t support him. They seem to think it’s all about partisanship. They seem assured that since Trump is not a Democrat, his opposers believe he’s evil.

It’s not that.

It’s that he’s a narcissist and reactionary. It’s not that he can’t control his reactions to perceived slights; it’s that he has no interest in doing so.

When it comes to reporters and celebrities, there’s no real harm in him reacting in anger on Twitter to what they say.

The fear is about how this translates to the political and diplomatic life.

As much as his “enemies” are trying to find ways to placate him, his followers – his “true believers” – have a much harder job. They too have to find ways to manage him so that they don’t set him off. They have to bow to him, and “yes sir” him around the clock. They have to advise him on what to do, without looking like they’re telling him what to do.

They have a difficult job. But….it’s their job. Many of them will end up contradicting him one way or another, and they’ll be fired. It’s what he does. And he does it a lot. We saw him fire advisers during his campaign.

America’s enemies have no such urgent need to keep them sensitive to his sensibilities. They don’t have to “manage” him at all. Neither the Syrian nor Russian presidents will stay awake, tossing and turning as they think about how to placate him. They too are narcissists and are only concerned with maintaining their power over their people.

They’re going to piss him off at some point. And he will react, because that’s what he does. Diplomacy and strategy won’t factor into anything once his dander his up.

So now there’s this sense of impending danger. I know the feeling. I’ve grown up with it.

A thing a therapist once told me about my dad: “you do know, right, that there was nothing you could do to prevent your dad from getting angry. It didn’t matter how careful you thought you were being, he was going to make the choice to be angry.”

I remember being surprised by that.

The American president is the same. A bull in search of a china shop.

The movie Trumbo is a dramatization of the events in the life of a screenwriter named Dalton Trumbo.

trumbo

The man was also famous for being an activist and (here’s where the closed fist meets the face) a Communist.

I don’t know if it was by design or merely coincidence, but this film came out at the most appropriate time ever.

The fight he fought, back in the 40s and 50s, is echoed today. Some of the arguments used against him back then are in force today.

It’s the old “you’re either for me (and my opinions) or against me.” People seem to gravitate to the extremes of the political spectrum, without giving much to nuance, if they bother to consider it at all.

Trumbo fought for the right to have an opinion. That’s it, that’s all. Whether his opinion on Communism was viable or not (I believe it’s not) was immaterial. He wanted to have a voice, have a belief, and not have people castigate him for that belief.

Despite his protest, he was lumped in with all Communists of that time and put on a blacklist. The powers back then sought to keep him from making a living in Hollywood, in his chosen profession. They were so very afraid his intent was to infect the minds of the movie-goer by using stories to persuade Americans of the good of Communism.

They had no proof of this, and they couldn’t point to any one of his many many accomplishments until that time as evidence of this supposed “plan”of his.

Yet they didn’t believe they needed proof. All they needed to know was whether he was a Communist or not. The perfect example of “painting with a wide brush.”

It reminds me vividly of a guy who attended my high school. I knew his father to be a card-carrying political activist and Communist. I remember that both he and his father were ostracized by pretty much everyone. We all knew about his Communist dealings, and we all despised him for it (the son bearing the stigma of his father, of course).

It never occurred to me back then that these were people, and that there was no evidence they were hurting anyone.

If the sentiment was that strong in MY childhood, how much more strong would it have been back right after World War II?

We don’t have to guess, do we? The House Un-American Activities Committee – the group that created the infamous blacklist – went to great pains to underline how avowed Communists, as well as friends and family of Communists, were out to destroy the American way of life.

The parallels to today are painful. If you’re a follower of Obama, you’re probably an unthinking parasite on society. Someone deserving of scorn and ridicule.

On the other hand, if you’re a Republican, or a declared Christian, you’re likely a war-monger who lacks a heart. Someone without compassion who probably resembles Donald Trump.

There’s just no room for reason or honest debate. There’s little room for discussion, or for being so open to evidence and logical persuasion that one can change one’s mind.

Instead, we’re setting up camp on our prized dogmas, secure in our beliefs. Everyone outside the camp is the enemy. Instead of seeking to persuade anyone, we look to find evidence to support our already entrenched positions, to the delight and captive applause of the grinning choir.

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert had this to say:

“I believe that people, more often than not, act with the best possible intentions.”

In the current American upheaval and angst present under the flag of politics, it can be disheartening to see all of the potshots flying out, smacking not only into the candidates, but to the followers of those candidates.  Anonymous critics, drawing into open question the intelligence of others, intellect and personality and experience unknown.

The thing that strikes me is that none of it is real.  Not of it has substance.  It’s ashy and dusty noise, cacophony and scratching blackboards, without heft, without significance without meaning and without value.  Chickens, squawking uselessly at each other, pecking the air and shedding feathers of dearly held dogma and baseless opinion.

Yet, in the midst of all of this caterwauling there’s a core of music, a steady thrum of insistent music, composed of questions more than of answers.  Voices of honest childlike curiosity.  You can spot these jewels of oasis easily: they want to know.  They challenge the noise often; and when they do, the noise tends to die down.

“Why do you think that Presidential candidate is a liar?  Why do you think he intends nothing but evil for the country?”

At the end of the day, any logical answers fall short.  The only conclusion anyone can come to is “well I suppose he means well.”

And that’s when the other shoe drops.

A chorus of “buts…” doesn’t negate from that foundational finding.  “Yes, but if he’s voted in, he’ll…”  “Yes but he’s rich and….”  “Yes but he’s not realistic and so…..”

Whatever the argument from there, the foundation remains.   “He means well.”

And by extension, so do his followers.

All of a sudden, it’s not nearly as simple as we originally thought.  The black and white isn’t quite as black or as white as we thought.  Motivation means so much, yet it seems to be the first thing we often judge  – often wrongly – and dismiss.

I suppose over the years, I’ve had to learn that opinions and motivations are more complex than I originally thought.  Now, I feel like I’m at the same point as Colbert.

“Oh you’re pretty good then” they’ll say.  “You don’t like to judge.”

I say “not at all.  Of course I judge.  All the time.”

They say “yeah, but…what you just said???”

And I’ll say “but I find my need for answers kinds of outweighs my impulse to judge.   I need to know.  It’s a selfish thing.”

I’ll add:  “I’m really worried I’ll miss something important.  It’s why there’s such a need to ask questions.  My assumptions have proven wrong one too many times.”

That guy over there – the one who’s frowning at the unassuming family in the row in front of him.  You can read his body language.  It’s like he hates them.  And they’re just sitting there quietly, occasionally whispering with each other.

I want to know what’s going on.  I want to know what motivates him.  What’s his story?  What’s his history?

I see where he is now, but that’s not enough.  How did he get there?

Why is that woman smiling?  I mean, I’m glad she is – that grin is infectious.  What’s the root of it?

There’s a need for clarity.  In the accumulation of clear thinking, there is a kind of shared harmony that is almost musical.  There is freedom too – to experiment, to listen, to smile and to understand what fellowship is about.

If ever you’re interested in a musical representation of all of this, check out any of the multitude of Bobby McFerrin videos on YouTube.   This one in particular caught my imagination:  it’s an hour – a full hour! – of improvised music.   Unlike other musicians, Bobby’s instrument is his voice.  And he uses it to abandon.  He’s like a kid with his voice – going up and down the register, adding beats and breaths and clicks.   After the first seven minutes of solo, he begins to improvise with others:  singers, musicians, even the audience.

There’s a joy inherent in the whole thing, and you get the sense that there really is no limit.  The man’s spirit has been captured in his music, and I am in awe.

Check it out when you have a while.  it’s the equivalent of a musical meditation.  The ironic thing:  he once considered becoming a monk because he values the quiet.  I don’t think that’s changed:  I think the man is all about pure notes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXhz_7v49DU&feature=relmfu

It certainly is a major shift away from the bragging vehemence of emphatic oppositional political noise isn’t it?

I think the human spirit is kind of beautiful like that.

I rang the bell.  They keep the doors locked because of thieving opportunists: on more than one occasion the consultants have all been busy with clients, and someone has walked in, helping himself (or herself) to the contents of purses and shelved products.

I heard the buzzer and, just as I was going to open the door,  a smiling woman wearing a Mary Kay badge opened it and held it for me to enter.  I thanked her and we both sat down, while the receptionist said “your consultant will be with you in a moment.”

“Hi there!” said the Mary Kay lady.  “I’m here to showcase cosmetics to the ladies here.  But we have some products for men as well.”  She paused, smiling.  “Also, we’re giving out free hand treatments to everyone, including men.  Would you like one?”

I grinned.  “No, I don’t think so.  Thanks.”

Her eyes sparkled in amusement.  “Yeah, I know how it is with you guys.  Too tough for that kind of thing.”

I nodded.  “Yup.  Check out the freezer bags over there that this place is selling.  A little too flamboyant for guys.   A little too…..*fabulous* too.

She laughed.

She was delightfully unreadable.  And, as it turns out, married too.  Not so delightful, maybe.  Blue eyes, auburn hair, pretty much perfect.  I figured she was perhaps in her late forties.  An amazingly attractive woman.

“So what do you do?”

I answered and reciprocated the question, which she answered.  And then we got into it.

“I meet a lot of people who don’t work out the details of their financial grind.”  She thought for a second.  “Like, you know how it is when you spend all that money getting back and forth to the office and you spend all that money to make yourself presentable, and by the time you’re done, you’ve actually only made a few hundred dollars clear every month.”

I nodded.  She was speaking my language.

“I know what you mean.  You’re feeding The Machine.” The Machine is my favourite descriptor of the whole process.  “You spend money to buy a car and insurance so that you can get to your job so that you can afford the money to make car payments and insurance and gas so that you can get to the office….”

She agreed.  “It’s okay if you love what you’re doing but….you only go around once.”

“Exactly.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve regretted every moment doing something I have no interest in doing.  I know it’s a cliché but – damn it.  Life is too short.”

We sat in silence for a moment.  Then, I posed the question to her that I’d been asking a number of people.

“I’ve been thinking about starting something up.  It occurs to me that I’ll only do well if I create something of my own, which I control.  I’ve realized I can’t really be happy working for someone else.   It has to be something *I* do.

I want to create a place.  A forum.  Or an in-person group of some sort.  The attraction would be that this would be a place where self-aware people could gather, outside of The Machine.  Don’t know whether to call it ‘Missing Spokes’ or ‘Wayward Wheels’ or what.”

I felt the familiar frustration welling up in trying to explain it.  “I don’t even know what the thing looks like, and am hoping for some ideas here.”

Unexplained, because of lack of time, was the fact that in fact I hate most conversations.  I’m too easily bored.  And so, discussions about gossip or everyday stuff – what cute little thing Sally said today – make my eyes cross.   The easily distracted out there (present company included) are just too easily distracted, if you follow.

There are some conversations though which I find thrilling.  Discussions with people who see a little beyond the immediately apparent – like this Mary Kay woman, or like so many commenters on my blogs.  Folk who truly have a story to tell, or a truth to relate.  Meaty stuff that gets the blood boiling, and the thought processes pinging like pinball machines.    I know there’s an appetite for more of this, and there are people who are starving for this kind of compelling company.

Whenever I think of a vehicle to bring us together though – there’s a blank.  I’ve thought about creating a Facebook group, and I think that would be a good first step.  I don’t imagine it could end there though.  Maybe it could be a compilation of areas, like TheBloggess has:  she’s on Twitter, a number of other key sites, plus her own blog site. (P.S. If you haven’t already checked out her blog, do so. )

I believe there is a groundswell of thinkers and lovers of truth, many of whom have been disgusted by the pigeon-holing and demonization of the party politics in the U.S.  People who refuse to adopt common assumptions, preferring instead to examine each issue on its own.  They often refer to themselves as “independents”, and for good reason:  there is no one party which represents all of their values.

I see the same thing in the Christian religious community too: people who have abandoned settings which encourage traditionally immovable white/black dogma, preferring instead to examine thoughts about God on their own.  Seeking to reconcile what their hearts are saying with what logic tells them, and doing self-examination in an attempt to come to a conclusion that might not be church-sanctioned.

“We’re ready for you, sir.”  My consultant stood there, smiling.  I looked at the Mary Kay lady and smiled sadly, disappointed that we couldn’t finish our conversation.

“Nice to meet you”, I said, shaking her hand before turning to follow.   I meant it.

An older heavy-set woman with a slight moustache stands at the bus stop arguing out loud, with a look of sheer frustration painted on her face.   You notice that there are sweat stains dropping down beneath the open arms of her flowered print dress, clearly visible every time she waves her freckled jiggly arms in the air punctuating every point she helplessly makes.

There are two possibilities that occur to you.  She might be loop-de-loop crazy, and she’s on the losing site of an argument with a ghost in her imagination.   Maybe it’s her mother, who never told her she was smart, or pretty.  Maybe it’s her brother, now dead for fourteen years, and she’s trying to resolve their last argument about her bad money management skills.

So you look a little closer (while maintaining your distance), just to see if you can spot a little flashing blue light near her earlobes, because you’d like to know if she’s safe.  It’s hard to tell, as she’s wearing large hoop earrings, which are just slightly peeking beneath her long hair.  Maybe she’s actually talking to a real person.  Maybe a bill collector, or maybe it’s her mother who is still alive, and still causing her no end of emotional pain.

Finally you decide she’s lost her grasp of reality.  So you wonder how she got there.  How does anyone get from “A” to “coo-coo-coo cocoa puffs”.   What was the insurmountable sorrow that broke the dam of her intelligence and awareness?

Maybe you don’t want to know.   Maybe the information would be too scary.  Maybe….if it happened to her, it could happen to anyone.    Knowing this would destroy your carefully wrought sense of emotional invincibility.   Gone are the days when nothing could hurt you physically.  You now know that a fall could cause a broken bone.  At least you have your sanity.  Right?

If you ever watch little kids playing – or if you remember what it was like when you were a kid – you’ll know that they don’t worry about too much.  They have a narcissistic knowledge that everything’s okay, and that they don’t have to worry about their next meal or the fact that their mom and dad love them.   Not having those burdens gives them a freedom to explore the limits of their imagination with each other.   They play and say the craziest things almost without thought.  

You remember what it was like.  You recall standing under a hot sun on your porch, and making the determination that you – no YOU – would be the captain of the spaceship and your friend would be the alien.  Hours would go by before you finished your scene with him, and when mom said “okay boys, it’s time for dinner.  Say goodbye to your friend”, you shrugged and knocked fists with him, the make-believe game now forgotten as your nostrils inhaled the mouth-watering aroma of roast beef.

As you grow older you realize a few things – in the moment – that excite you.  You notice, as a pre-teen, that lights – physical lights –  seem to draw you out.   City streetlights, the amber glow of the sanctuary candle, as it flickers and creates red shadows which labour to reach the vaulted church ceilings.   Or the neon glow of the computerized gizmos that capture your attention.   You don’t wonder at this fascination, because for you it’s normal.    It doesn’t even occur to you that your interest is not actually usual or the norm.  It just is.

Or you read poetry or hear a song, and you get transported on the resonant notes as they draw you further and further away from the present.  You exult in the ebb and swell of the violins or accordion, completely unaware that your friend has no appreciation for your experience.   At the same time, it never occurs to your autistic friend that his fascination for data, for numbers, for the accumulation and retention of historical knowledge – is in any way unusual.   He thinks everyone is the same.

We all do.

And where we see that we’re different, our instinct tells us we need to conform.   It’s too weird to be *too* different from our peers.   Our minds rationalize the difference, and we work hard at being the same, all the while expounding on our uniqueness, our coolness.

Some of us seek the conformity of a common mindset, in whatever form that takes.   For some, it’s a clique at high school, and we make sure everyone notices that we can drink the same amount of beer as anyone else, and that we can tell dirty jokes, or that we can laugh as we throw toilet paper on the trees at the nerd’s place.

Others of us are the nerds, and we take pleasure in our supposedly superior intellect, and in our ability to play chess and pursue intellectual accomplishments as evidenced by our good grades.   

Still others jump into the conformity of the church pews, secure in our salvation.

That little girl who can’t help thinking about her desire to help the underdog never realizes how unique she is.  How beautiful her heart is.

The little boy never understands that his need to act out is really an extension of his need to entertain and build imaginary characters.  He thinks he’s the same as everyone else.  He has no awareness of the shy kid, the kid who hasn’t yet learned how to fit in with the rest.

And so we get into these clubs and groups and find that we feel safe in them.   We defend them as valid – which for us at the time, they are.

But then there are the other unique groups that are too unusual for us.   Like the old lady with the flabby arms.   Or the group of boys who wear their baseball caps a little weirdly, and talk differently and have different coloured skin.

Or (worse!), those girls who hang out together and hold hands and make out with each other in the alley.  Or the buys who laugh a little too loudly, and have sparkling alive eyes, as they joke with each other with a familiarity that is *too* familiar.

It never occurs to us that the individuals in those groups also grew up, just like we did, thinking that their hopes and dreams and desires were all normal.  They in fact didn’t realize they were ABnormal at all – until someone told them.

But this isn’t about them.  Or about the old woman.  Or the actors or painters or the autistic guy.

It’s about you.  And me.  And the realization that ultimately we don’t fit into a singular mould or group.   We are created to be unique.   Some of the things we experience aren’t “usual”.   We aren’t defined by our love of music, or our unique acting abilities, or our penchant for crunching numbers and finding the myriad ways in which math defines existence.   We – each of us – are comprised of a million different characteristics.

If we could all just *see* each other exactly was we are, we’d know that we aren’t the same.  Maybe we’d appreciate our unique views more.  I don’t know.  Maybe we’d understand that not all fingerprints are exactly the same, or each snowflake.   Maybe we would be aware that total sameness would be boring and dull.  Uninteresting and flat.

Last week when having a heated debate about gays who wanted the right to marry, I thought about those who were opposed.   It startled me how easily I was able to compartmentalize those whose ideologies and religion boxed them into an intolerance of the ideal of treating all people the same.  Though it was so very tempting to dismiss my opponents as intellectual Neanderthals, incapable of original thought, the fact is, I appreciated the need not to lump everyone together but to value and respect each person for their unique take on this and other issues.   The more I read what they had to say, the more it seemed to me that opinions are rarely arrived at in a vacuum.  Some are parroting others’ opinions, while others have given it great thought, perhaps under the influence of religious leaders, or perhaps as a result of a logical internal debate.   Whatever the case, I found I could not paint everyone with the same brush.   Finally, without surrender of my beliefs on the issue, I arrived at the following point:

I don’t like to categorize or dismiss people too easily or often because I don’t want to get ripped off.  Even if I disagree with them and think they’re short-sighted, immature or ignorant, the fact is they might say something that will get me to think differently.  They might offer new wisdom or information to which I was previously unaware.  I don’t want to miss that.

 
Occasionally my first prejudiced judgement of them proves to be in error.  Those are the best surprises.  And sometimes I’m so wrong as to feel embarrassed.  That’s a good thing too because I get to learn.
 
Curiosity is the bane of prejudice.

I often wonder if one of the reasons the western world will collapse soon is because we’re all a bunch of whiny bitches?

Every where you go, you read about someone complaining about this politician or that one, as if even the President or Prime Minister has the power to actually *do* anything of significance to affect our lives.  Other than f**k things up I mean.

Let’s face it – we’ve become a pair of nations (the U.S. and Canada – don’t even get me started on Europe!) who prefer to blame our troubles on the other guy, instead of ourselves.  We prefer whining to problem-solving.

We sure aren’t our ancient honoured relatives, that’s for sure.  The ones we joke about; the ones who told us about how they used to walk five miles to school during blinding blizzards.  Up hill.  Both ways.

The truth of their state of mind isn’t far off from that though.  They took pride in their accomplishment, and in their hard work and sweat, and they took special pride in the fact that they didn’t look for handouts from anyone.

How far we’ve come, huh?  Now we collectively have our hand out to everyone, and especially the government.  We’ve become entitled nations.  It’s our RIGHT to be affluent.   It’s our right not to have our feelings hurt, too.  About anything.

If John Wayne were alive today, he’d bitch-slap some sense into the lot of us.  I’m sure of it.

So, politicians, in fear for their survival, scramble to cater to our sense of entitlement. The economy is broken?  Well we’d better borrow as much money from China as we can to shore it up.  And oh by the way, WHY exactly is the economy broken?  Well, Virginia, it’s like this:   we as a government didn’t want people not to be able to afford homes, so we just said “listen – you want a home, you got it. Don’t worry about saving up for an adequate down payment; we’ve got you covered.  in fact, we’ll make it a law.  There.  Feel better?”  Then, reality put it’s foot in the door, and this careful entitled house of cards (to mix a metaphor almost to death) came tumbling down.

I’ve been around long enough to have observed a fundamental truth about government.  The best government is the one that sits still and does close to nothing.  They don’t make major changes or try to stir the pot.  They instead just maintain systems as they are.  They are unimaginative and mostly boring.  Such is the state of Canadian politics right now by virtue of the fact that there’s a minority government in place;  the governing party can’t do too much without the consent of at least one of the other two opposition parties.

That’s a good thing.  It keeps everyone honest but most importantly, it keeps them stagnant.

Governments by and large don’t like to sit still.  They worry that the citizens are going to complain that they’re not getting their (entitled) money’s worth.  Trust me, they are.  I would be more glad to pay my taxes if government would just sit down, shut the fuck up, and do nothing.