American Democracy?

I had someone ask me why they should care about politics. It was just a few days ago. They were responding to my posting a bunch of political stuff on facebook. They didn’t see how politics helped one live one’s life.

I gave a rational response. Everything is political. One should care about politics because one cares about anything at all. Whether or not one is involved in politics, politics is involved in every aspect of one’s life. The personal is political. But rationality doesn’t by itself offer anything compelling, much less inspiring.

I’m not a person who is obsessively involved with politics. I often don’t even feel sure that voting matters. I see how democracy functions to a limited extent on the local level, depending on the local politics, but it is for damn sure hard to tell if democracy is functioning even slightly on the national level. If it is, it’s barely hanging by a thread.

This has become increasingly apparent as I’ve grown older.

The first election I cared about was in 2000. And what happened? It was stolen. There was never a full recount done and the supreme court chose our president. American democracy became the joke of the world. If this scenario had happened in a third world country, it would’ve been an international scandal necessitating outside intervention. Gore did nothing in response, no demand for a full recount, no righteous defense of democracy, nothing. The 2006 election also was problematic.

More recently, there was disinformation campaign that destroyed ACORN. That was an organization that helped average and below average Americans, especially in terms of voting. Republicans attacked them and Democrats caved. It was one of the most morally depraved acts in recent years. Now, Republicans have stepped up their campaign against democracy by pushing voter suppression.

Citizens United was maybe the tipping point toward a new era of corporatism. Polls show that the average American is far to the left of the Democrats and yet the majority position is rarely heard in the mainstream media or from either of the two main parties. Even a strong majority of voters can’t compete against the corrupting power of big money.

I’m not sure which is worse: Republicans attacking democracy or Democrats refusing to defend it. I’ve come to the conclusion that, for the moment, voting against the attacks on democracy is strategically more important. If democracy is finally and completely corrupted and disempowerd in national politics, then any other attempts at defense are meaningless.

The last thing I want to see is Republicans being rewarded with votes for attacking democracy. It’s sad that this attack has happened at all. It’s even more sad that the mainstream media and the Democratic Party has given it so little attention. There is no more important issue in a democratic system than ensuring democracy functions. The only unforgivable sin in a democracy is to undermine democracy itself.

I don’t care about either candidate in this election or either main party in general. All I care about is saving what remnants of democracy that have managed to survive. However, if Romney wins this election, I’m going to give up on American democracy. I’ll join some critical leftwingers in their assessment that the entire political system has become dysfunctional beyond saving.

There apparently is a very large number of Americans who either don’t understand democracy or don’t care about democracy… or else maybe it is just cynicism and apathy. Democracy can’t defeat a highly organized and well funded campaign of propaganda and disenfranchisement. I’d like to believe that democracy has a fighting chance, but it is hard to keep the faith.

So, what is the point? When rationality fails me, my cynical response is to say, “Wake me up when the revolution begins.”

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My Inheritance, North and South

Inheritance is an odd thing.

We take on so much from others and from the world around us. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. We are just who we are. We think of ourselves as indidviduals with lives built up from choices we’ve made, but ultimately we are just a conglomeration of factors that came together in a unique way, none of the factors being what we can take credit for. We may have some choice in the arrangement, not necessarily much else.

I’ve thought about this in many ways. As I’ve aged, I’ve become increasingly aware of how much I’m a product of my environment, a result of the past. This life I was given certainly wasn’t of my own choosing, even if not to claim being a mere victim of circumstance. It’s more of an experience of being humbled by how immense and complex is the world. All of society (countries, ethnicities, communities, religions, families, etc) has been built up over centuries and millennia, shaped by the hands of forgotten generations of people.

The most obvious inheritance is that of genetics. Through genetics or other pathways, I’ve inherited all kinds of personality traits, cognitive patterns and behavioral tendencies. I’ve also inherited much from the culture around me, from being a part of Western civilization and specifically from being a descendant of immigrants from Northern Europe and the British Isles, from being a citizen of the United States which is a country that arose directly out of Enlightenment thinking, from having been brought up in the New Thought Christian Unity Church which itself came out of the Evangelical tradition during the Populist Era, from being born into Generation X as the Cold War was coming to an end, from being raised a Midwesterner right dab in the middle of the origin of Standard American English, from having spent many years of my formative youth and young adulthood in the South, etc.

There is, of course, an endless list of things I could add. It’s hard to imagine who I’d be if I changed even a single one of those factors.

Let me share more specific examples.

I have my mom’s scatterbrained mind with a certain kind of mental focus that has the potential for being nearly obsessive-compulsive. I have my dad’s intellectual curiosity and emotional sensitivity, of which he inherited from his parents; and apparently somewhat skipping a generation I manifest his mother’s spiritual sensibility and predisposition of laziness/efficiency along with shyness and a need for privacy/personal space, although my social awkwardness also seems to come from my mom. I have a large helping of depression and moodiness from both sides of my family. Sadly, I have a bit of an unforgiving nature and occasional interpersonal bluntness which goes along with the depression and moodiness of my mom’s family.

As for physcial attributes: I definitely have the features of my mom’s family, mostly seeming Germanic: large bones, big feet, long toes and fingers, thick hair, hazel eyes, bump on the ridge of my nose, and receding chin. But when younger I had features from my dad’s family (Steele) which seem more English such as straight, blonde hair, although oddly when really young I had eyes slanting in the way common with Asians.

For whatever reason, my mom’s genetics seem to be overall more pronounced in me. I do feel more of a connection with my mom’s family, partly just because I saw them more often growing up. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the Clouse family on my mom’s side. Her dad was definitely a patriarch and acted that way (her mother playing the submissive wife). He was an alcoholic which was probably his way of self-medicating depression. I can understand the self-medication part and I understand the addictive aspect of alcoholism, although alcohol has never been my preferred addiction.

I was particularly thinking about the Clouse tendency toward grudges that go on for years. I know I have some of this capacity as well and I’m not proud of it. It’s very sad the kind of impact it has had on my mom’s family. Her brothers and her dad were always fueding and sometimes refusing to speak to one another.

My mom’s dad didn’t even know the name of his grandparents and I suspect the reason for it wasn’t a happy incident. Interestingly, a lady on ancestry.com contacted me who is related on my mom’s side through two separate lines, Clouse and Edwards, which makes her both a third and fourth cousin of my mom on each of those lines. My maternal grandfather’s (Charles Eugene Clouse) grandfather was Charles E. Clouse who married Lucy Hawk. This person from ancestry.com is descended from James Clouse who was the uncle of Charles E. Clouse and who married Lula Hawk, Lucy’s sister.

(For anyone interested: The Clouse lineage descends from James Wesley Clouse of Kentucky and the Hawk lineage descends from Sampson Hawk of New Jersey. I figured both family lines were of German origin, but there are family rumors of Hawks having Indian blood and there is a photograph supposedly of Lula Hawk that could be interpreted as showing some Native American features. As for the Edwards lineage, this lady from ancestry.com and I share the same converging three lines. One descends from Hiram Edwards of Connerley Switch, Indiana whose father may have been from or at some time living in Kentucky. The other two descend through Thursie Mae Edwards of Indiana whose father was David B. Edwards of North Carolina and grandfather was Young Edwards of North Carolina and, on her mother’s side, whose grandmother’s mother was Susan Edwards of North Carolina, possibly descending from another David Edwards of North Carolina. Hiram Edwards’ son, Charles Lester Edwards, married Thursie Mae Edwards. The three Edwards lines then converged in their daughter, Inez Rosemary Edwards, who married Willie Clouse, the son of Charles E. Clouse. They also had another daughter, Jessie Ann Edwards, who is the person who is the ancestor of the ancestry.com lady. Thus, the Clouse and Edwards lines came together in at least two separate marriages just as did the Clouse and Hawk lines.)

This lady and I began corresponding about these links. I mentioned to her about my grandfather Clouse not knowing the names of his own grandparents and I told her about the Clouse inclination toward grudges. Her dad is a Clouse and she mentioned that her part of the Clouse family had the same inclination, her father not talking to his sister for years and not going to his sister’s funeral.

So, separate parts of the same family, unknown to one another in recent generations, manifested the same character trait. I’m sure at least some of it is genetics, but I doubt all of it is. I was wondering if it could be partly cultural. My mom’s family spent many generations in Hoosier Southern Indiana and before that many generations in Appalachia Kentucky. Their inclination toward grudges could be explained by the Southern culture of honor.

My mom’s dad was a very giving person, but it was the type of giving that established a hierarchical and paternalistic relationship for he would never accept charity from anyone else. He expected gratitude and deference for his gifts, maybe even a sense of indebtedness. He wanted to be respected and worked hard to escape the poverty of his working class family. As such, he wanted to be treated with respect and not be challenged. To have his authority, position or opinion challenged couldn’t just be forgiven and forgotten.

Maybe there is some predisposition of this in me, but it doesn’t manifest in this exact same way. I do have a mental checklist where I keep tabs on what people do and don’t do, say and don’t say; I can’t help it for such details of behavior just stick in my memory. And when someone crosses some particular line, I can be one of the most unforgiving people in the world. The difference maybe is that I didn’t grow up in that Southern/Appalachian honor culture and so my grudge-keeping tends to be more mild and suppressed.

It is the Southern/Appalachian culture with which I’ve tried to come to terms. It goes beyond my extended family. I too am partly a Southerner. Despite my self-idenifying as a Midwesterner and chosing Iowa as my home, I must admit that the South shaped me as well and probably in ways I’m unaware of. From 8th grade to graduation, I lived in South Carolina and went to desegregated public schools. I didn’t even know that regional differences existed prior to that time and it was a shock to my system when I first moved there, but after a while it became normal to me. I spent many years in the South following that time while in college in South Carolina and while working in the buckle of the Bible Belt in North Carolina.

So, my experience of the South is very personal. My best friend was a redneck and I dated a girl who came from a hillbilly lineage (I don’t use those terms in a disparaging way). I even learned to talk Southern. I used to fall into a Southern dialect without even trying, especially when talking to my redneck friend. To this day, I can unintentionally speak in that dialect for brief moments.

I am and I am not a Southerner. There is both much that I like and much that I dislike about the South.

It’s because of my personal experience, both North and South, that I’ve come to self-consciously identify as a Midwesterner. The South is part of me, but I know that I’m not fully a part of the South. I don’t know it in the way someone knows it who was born and raised there, who lived there for their entire life.

Plus, I never experienced the full reality of what the Deep South once was. I arrived on the scene long after the Civil Rights movement. In high school, I knew kids who dated across the race line and it didn’t seem like a big deal. But hints of the Old South were still around such as my best friend’s mom referring to blacks as “niggers”. I was living in Columbia, South Carolina which is much more cosmopolitan. And in North Carolina, I lived near Asheville which is fairly liberal and alternative, especially for that area.

However, I know the Carolina region of the South better than I know the Mississippi Delta over to the Southern Border. My dad’s mom was born in Texas, lived in Oklahoma until her early teens, and went to high school in Mississipi. She then went back to Oklahoma for college and after that taught for some years in Mississippi and Georgia.

She died when I was so young that I hardly remember her and I’ve never visited any of those places she lived in prior to her moving to Indiana. So, the culture of that area isn’t familiar to me and didn’t influence me in any direct way.

Even as a Northerner, I know the Carolina region of the South better than the entire Northeast. My dad’s dad grew up in New England. But I’ve never visited there either. The closest I’ve come to New England is living in Iowa City which is a New England style college town (i.e., a small town dominated by a single college and surrounded by rural farmland).

My inheritance from my dad’s family feels rather skimpy on the cultural front. Identifying as a Midwesterner, one would think I’m culturally more similar to my Grandmother’s Oklahoma and my Grandfather’s New England… and maybe I am in some gneral ways, but those states aren’t part of my most personal sense of America. I don’t culturally identify as a Southerner in any broad sense and yet the South is intimately connected to who I am, even though I sometimes use it as a contrast to clarify my Midwestern sensibility.

I have lived in Iowa longer than anywhere else. Iowa is unique as part of the Lower Midwest. It is the only Lower Midwest state that isn’t on the borderlands of Appalachia and the only Lower Midwest state to be West of the Mississippi. Just follow the river south and there is the Mississippi Delta (much cultural diffusion went up and down the Mississippi river, in particular the 1927 flood in the Mississipi Delta sent many blacks to the North). Also, Iowa is the Lower Midwest state that is the most influenced by the Yankiedom of the Upper Midwest. The culture of Iowa is massively different than that of South Carolina. The only way to feel culturally further away from South Carolina would be to move to the West Coast.

Generation after generation, my mom’s family slowly drifted westward and northward. Finally, with my brothers and I, our family fully escaped the remnants of Southern culture that pioneers had carried with them into parts of the Midwest such as Indiana. I blissfully was ignorant of the South up to the beginning of my teens, but then my parents brought the family all the way down to the Deep South.

Moving to the South made me self-conscious about regional cultures from a fairly young age. Still, I didn’t begin to feel the depth of the differences until I got a summer job at a YMCA camp in North Carolina. As it was a YMCA, I was surrounded by Christians which in and of itself didn’t bother me. However, as it was in the Bible Belt, I was surrounded by Fundamentalists which made understand how far was the religious right or at least how far right were some of those part of the religious right. The religious right was a worldview that was outside my zone of familiarity. Living in the South, I heard the fire-and-brimstone preaching on the radio, but I had no direct contact with it. The girl I dated there was from a Fundamentalist family. Talking to her family gave me my first experience of a culture that seemingly had little respect for or interest in intellectuality and the broader world of knowledge.

After spending three consecutive summers at that YMCA camp, I permanently moved back to Iowa. In the following years, I was still visiting my parents and the contrast of the two worlds slowly formed into a distinct sense of difference about these cultures. Maybe I was becoming more influenced by the political moderateness of the Midwest and maybe I was becoming more influenced by the liberalism of Iowa City. At the same time, it seemed even more clear that my parents were becoming more stridently conservative the longer they lived in South Carolina. My parents were losing their Midwestern moderateness, although never coming close to the radicalism of God n’ Guns Fundamentalism.

Now, my parents have also moved back to Iowa City. I see them regularly which hasn’t been the case since the mid 1990s. We’ve been coming to terms with our differences which at times has been challenging, but other similarities have made it less difficult. This process, along with recent genealogical research, has forced me to also come to terms with these differences within myself.

How do I grasp all these influences? How do I contain within myself such diversity? What exactly have I inherited?

Romney’s Mormonism: Socialism, Progressivism, Xenophobia

A caller on Diane Rehm’s NPR show (I think it was October 11) offered an insightful observation. And the two guests, mainstream talking heads, were utterly clueless in typical fashion.

The caller commented on how Ryan spoke of Romney’s charity. The caller thought that charity was great and that it was great that Mormons take care of their own, but he wondered how much Romney donates to charities that aren’t Mormon.

In a president, you want someone who will be concerned about everyone, not just those seen as part of their group. This is the fundamental problem about Romney honestly admitting that he thinks 47% of Americans are unworthy of his concern and compassion, that therefore he is genuinely only interested in representing the upper classes and other groups of people he happens to personally identify with.

What really caught my attention was something else the caller said. He pointed out that the Mormons are socialist within themselves. This is common on the right. Conservatives are fine with socialism for people within their own group, but not for those not part of their group.

This is where the cluelessness of mainstream talking heads comes in. They denied this was socialism. How can smart people be so ignorant about such basic issues. Of course, it’s socialism. Just because it doesn’t fit Cold War anti-communist propaganda doesn’t mean it can’t be socialism. Most early socialists in America were religious and limited their socialism to the in-group.

This is clueless in another way. The guests argued that the Mormon church isn’t a government. Of course, the Mormon church is a government.

 
Mormons have always kept their church governance closely tied with political governance. In Mormon Utah, the church essentially is the government, in fact originally tried to create a government separate from the  United States. You move to a Mormon town and you will be forced to follow Mormon-based laws. Furthermore, tithing is a tax, not a choice if you want to be a Mormon just as federal taxes aren’t a choice if you want to be American, although both being a Mormon and being American are choices that one can always choose otherwise. Mormons don’t even have a choice in how their church government spends their money, certainly less choice than an American citizen for at least democracy allows for one to vote in or out one’s leaders.

Besides, the right all the time uses the government to fund their religious programs. Churches get tax exemptions and many religious organizations get government funding. For example, the religious right voted in Bush who then rewarded them by funding abstinence only sex education. Compassionte conservatism is ultimately religious ‘socialism’ being implemented in secular politics (‘socialism’ in the broad sense as defined by conservatives).

This is all made clear by looking at history. Back when immigration was low and there were fewer foreigners\outsiders, Mormons were strong supporters of the social welfare programs of Progressivism. Now that immigration is at a high point, Mormons vote against the very programs they once voted for. Such xenophobia is sadly predictable, and it is equally true for the rest of the religious right.

Democracy & Literacy

Here is a particularly insightful passage from an insightful book. It’s about the sad relationship between illiteracy and a dysfunctional democracy.

Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War
by Joe Bageant
Chapter 8, American Hologram: The Apocalypse will be Televized
pp. 249-251

“[ . . . ] of the 89 million to 94 million American adults—nearly half of the U.S. adult population—who are functionally illiterate. According to the National Institute for Literacy, they “lack a sufficient foundation of basic [literacy] skills to function successfully in our society.” Of these, 17 percent to 20 percent can read just a little. That means that they cannot fill out job applications, understand food labels, or read simple stories to their children. Another 25 percent can read, but not well enough to follow five consecutive paragraphs of text or dense documents such as sales contracts.

[ . . . ]

“Of course there is more to literacy than reading words. In our culture it helps to be able to contextualize an infomercial, not to mention Tom DeLay’s crimes. Almost none of the Royal Lunch crowd, however, even knows who Tom Delay is. They do not watch the national news unless the United States attacks somebody or there is a flood in New Orleans. Even if they took the trouble to read George Orwell’s Animal Farm, none of them would see it as anything other than a story about animals.

“In our culture there is also the need to interpret legions of symbols and acronyms (IBM, CBS, GM, FBI, CIA, OBM, MCI, FEMA, HUD…) that turn up every day in advertising, product packaging, corporate brochures, government pamphlets, and news stories. Functional illiterates, however, cannot separate industry from government, or the news from an advertisement or an infomercial. Hence the inability of Carolyn (the old flame I bumped into in the Food Lion parking lot) to tell a nonprofit charity from a quick-buck manufacturer of magnetic yellow ribbons. From inside the American hologram an eagle is an eagle and a yellow ribbon is a yellow ribbon. Uneducated and trapped within the hologram, people like Carolyn and Bobby will never be capable of participating in a free society, much less making the kinds of choices that preserve and protect one, unless the importance of full literacy can somehow be made clear to them.”

Biden’s VP Debate Performance: Effective or Disrespectful?

I’ve read all the negative responses to Biden by Republicans. My parents are Republicans and they too responded extremely negative. They thought Biden was disrespectful, but beyond just that.

I never saw the video of the debate. So, I can’t speak for the full experience of Biden’s animated performance. But I didn’t get the sense that Biden was being an asshole or acting like a maniac, as Republicans portray him.

I suspect that if Ryan had acted as aggressively Republicans wouldn’t have the same response. Democrats didn’t blame Romney when Obama didn’t perform well. Is Ryan’s relatively lackluster or, if you prefer, subdued performance the fault of Biden or just the fault of Ryan himself?

Does anyone who isn’t a Republican think that Republicans have any valid reason for judging Biden? Or are they just being sore losers? I’m not a big fan of partisan politics, but I don’t mind assertiveness such as Biden’s performance if it serves the useful purpose. Did it serve a useful purpose? I’d really like to know how moderates and independents perceived the debate.

Joe Biden’s laugh in debate: Was he a happy warrior or … a boor?

Joe Biden’s smiling: Was there method to his madness?

Thinking Outside the Box: Worlds, Gender, & Games

My friend Jude brought up some thought-provoking thoughts (from Facebook):

Think outside the box” – the synonym for this is “lateral thinking”. I understand the latter but I do not understand the former. I remember I used to understand it though. I do think laterally a lot but I really don’t know where that “box” is. Maybe I have thought outside it so long, it no longer exists to me..hehehe..smh.. I want to re-understand it though.

The following are my comments.

—-

Here is how I would think about it.

Essentially, a box is the world or rather a world… or if you prefer a worldvew, what I’d call a reality tunnel. So, it isn’t necessarily the same as lateral for that would imply a relationship, a lateral relationship between the worldview and the thinking. Thinking outside of the box implies relationship to the worldview is being excluded. With no relationahip anchoring your thinking to the worldview, your thinking is unmoored and you can potentially lose your bearings.

Also, this can be analyzed mythologicaly. A box has a feminine gender, in fact is a term for female genitalia. A box has space within in which one can be enclosed, but it also has space without. When you were born, you literally began thinking outside the ‘box’.

In Indo-European mythology, the box and the square are feminine and maternal. They represent what enlcloses, what embraces and protects us, and also what sets the boundaries for relationships and society.

This relates to two things (board games and card games) which relate to a third thing (the Trickster).

The square of a board game sets the boundaries in which play happens. Likewise, the mother creates the space for play and the child plays. The Trickster is the child who plays, but he also tests boundaries and breaks rules.

Playing cards (originating from Tarot) are in the shape of the Golden Rectangle or what is known as the Golden Door. The door is part of what encloses for it can be closed, but it can also be opened.

Walking through an open door, you enter a new space, possibly even stepping outside of the box you were in. You might not even recognize the box you ere in until you are outside it. So, if you don’t see a box, it probably means you haven’t yet stepped outside to gain perspective. When you are in the game of play, still on the board, you’re drawn in for your life is at stake, this life that you know. A world is always real while you’re in it.

Games have always related to luck and divination, doorways from our world to other worlds. To truly think outside of the box is to open yourself to new visions, new realities even. The ancients saw the wold ruled by the Fates and by fickle gods. No player controls the game in which you play. No one knows what is at the end of the game, what is on the other side of the door.

Chutes and Ladders originated as an ancient Hindu game called Snakes and Ladders. The game is a model of reality with levels that the players ascend. The players are at the mercy of luck, but if you play long enough all get to the end. It teaches the patient theology of Hinduism. When you reach the end, you win by escaping the game and hence metaphorically escaping the world.

The feminine and masculine, the mother and child are opposites that create tension. Thinking outside the box necessitates a box outside of which to think.

—-

Let me stick with mythology and extend my thoughts.

The earliest known civilization was in Iraq where comes from the story of Gilgamesh. One thing that always stood out to me is that Gilgamesh’s friend Enkidu was originally a wild man. He only became ‘civilized’ through the wiles of a temple prostitute. That gives a new spin to the so-called oldest profession.

The feminine is a civilizing force. This is true in mythology, but some see it as being true in society in general. A book I’ve been perusing is about American violence (Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City by David T. Courtwright). The main reason given for the greater violence in the American South had to do with the cultures created during early immigration.

The Northern colonies (specifically New England and Pennsylvania) attracted whole families and even whole communities to immigrate as a group and settle together. So, they brought community and hence the social structures of civilization with them.

The Southern colonies tended to attract more single men. Also, much of the early Westward expansion into the frontier began in these Southern colonies, especially from Virginia. These settlers developed a very violent society of dueling and vigilante justice. It was a long time for religion to be established on the frontier because single men weren’t drawn to attend church.

A church or temple is a box, with or without temple prostitutes. Any structure of civilization is a box. All of civilization is a box… or else a set of boxes, some overlapping, others exclusive.

—-

The whole world itself is a box or rather a mansion with many rooms.

Any form and this world of form is archetypally feminine. Brahma’s power is infinite potential, but only Saraswati can give birth to form, each and every form, as she takes on that form and gives it substance, gives it life. The Gnostics, of course, would say this is Sophia who fell into the world. But that is the mythologically masculine view to see form as fallen, to see the world as a place of darkness and sin.

A paternalistic God rules from above, above us all, not with us. Was the Goddess fallen or was she cast out? If cast out, who did this? The ancient Israelites, like most ancient people, saw God and Goddess as married. Monotheism originated in Egypt, but the difference was that Egyptian monotheism was a part of a henotheistic tradition where (similar to Hindusim today) all deities weren’t always seen as clearly distinct, sometimes even as expressions of the same divinity.

I became particularly interested in the Egyptian religion when reading Christ in Egypt by D.M. Murdock. In a large section, she went into great detail about Isis. Isis worship was one of the most popular deities in Rome. Murdock argues that Isis was the precursor of Christian Mother Mary. Egyptian Meri means beloved which at first was an epithet for a God but over time became associated directly with Isis and may have become a name for her. The two words were often seen associated, both as Meri-Isis and Isis-Meri.

It was through Isis that this concept of beloved became widespread. Before that time, deities were worshipped with submission. A new type of love came to the forefront, a love of equals, the divine came down onto the level of humanity, the common folk even. The divine was no longer far away in heaven but here on earth (or, as Philip K. Dick would so charmingly describe it, “God in the garbage”). This was part of a long shift during the Axial Age which ended with religions such as Christianity.

—-

To return to the original topic of thinking outside the box, this brings up a number of thoughts.

First, what does the civilizing process mean on the personal level? As a male of the species, what does this mean in relation to the feminine and the maternal? If you feel like you are in no box, then does that mean you aren’t being contained, encompassed, embraced by the feminine/maternal? If you are or identify as a single male, can you internalize the stereotypical/archetypal feminine mode of social interrelationship without fear of loss of self, without fear of deadening conformity?

Second, what does this all mean in this age of complexity and in this world of multicultural globalism? There is no single society that encompasses any of us or necessarily even a single religion or single ethnicity. We find ourselves in many boxes which can create a possibly deceiving experience of being in no box. How do we recognize the box(es) we may be in? What does the possibility even mean to be in a box in an age of instability and uncertainty? Has the world fundamentally changed since the time the ancient mythologies were written?

I don’t know if this relates to Jude’s experience. But from my perspective, I feel like there are always boxes we are in. I feel very sensitized to that which contains us and structures our lives. I’ve wondered for a long time if it is possible to think outside of the box… or do we just jump out of one box and into another? Boxes are like stories. It seems like there is always a story being told, a story we are playing out in our heads, in our lives, and in our relationships. The box is a stage on which the story plays out.

—-

In his most recent comment, Jude tried to explain his view:

Yes, I also think the feminine is a civilizing force in as much as it is for understanding. The receptacle accepts and from that, “training”.

That’s why it is lateral thinking: the ability to think ACROSS boxes. Like the Ghanaian box, the American box, the science box etc.

For me, as a bona fide liminal, I do not respect boxes. On my own, I’m looking for truth, coherence, correspondence, relevance not social or contextual acceptability. To market to the world is a different thing: I need a box otherwise it makes no sense and it won’t be accepted.

My point is not that there are no boxes. I, me, do not recognize them

I say he tried to explain for I don’t know that I understand. I do at least understand the ability of thinking across boxes. That seems like a fair way of describing lateral thinking.

Even so, it still doesn’t get at my own view. There aren’t just boxes next to boxes. Rather, there are boxes within boxes within boxes, maybe all the way down or all the way up as the case may be.

—-

Here is what I see as the key difference.

Jude sees the boxes (worldviews, reality tunnels, etc) as external things, external to himself, separate from and not essential to his personal reality. But to me the most basic box is humanity collectively and our humanity individually. We can’t escape the box that we are (and, in his own way, Jude would agree with this general notion). More importantly, who we are is tied up with what the world is. We aren’t separate from the world. We can’t step outside of the world.

To be in liminal space says nothing about that space being outside a box. I suspect that misses the point of the liminal which is simply that you can’t be certain about where you are or aren’t, what you may or may not be within. The liminal as related to the Trickster is yet another archetypal/mythological box. It may be a more spacious and flexible box, but still a box. Every archetype is a box, shades and shapes the world accordingly.

What does it even mean to not recognize the ‘world’ you exist within? Does ‘reality’ care if you respect it? Where would the hypothetical non-box position be located that is objectively above all boxes, i.e., all subjective and intersubjective worldviews?

I’m not actually arguing that one can’t hypothetically get outside of all boxes. I’m not arguing for or against that because I’m not sure what it would mean. As a statement, it doesn’t seem to make ‘sense’. I might even argue that to make such a claim is to forfeit making sense… which is fine as far as that goes. Even if you could get outside of all boxes, it’s not clear to me how you would know this was true for you would have no context or persepctive to know anything for certain, much less communicate what you think you know.

When people speak of thinking outside of the box, I never got the sense that they meant thinking outside of all boxes, just thinking outside a specific box. To think outside all boxes would be the mythological correlate to the God of heaven being above and separate from the Goddess of earth. But like yin and yang, how can they be separate?

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None of this is intended to discredit Jude’s personal experience. I’m not holding myself above Jude in challenging his claim, but he is holding himself above the boxes of others, the boxes of the world. At times, I can also hold myself above certain other boxes. It just never occurred to me that it could be possible to hold myself above all boxes.

Jude’s perspective isn’t necessarily wrong, refusing to be part of the herd. Maybe it is wise to hold oneself above, at least in attitude. I do think when possible that it good to strive to be above average on the self-awareness scale. The problem is if you’re self-deluded you generally don’t recognize your own self-delusion. That is just human nature, for all of us.

I find myself being more of a Buddhist perspective of “no escape”. For Buddhists, there is no escape for the ego is essentially the one and only box. However, only the ego is likely to make any claims about not being in a box. Ken Wilber has noted that it is easy to fall into the Pre/Trans Fallacy. He emphasizes that the shift in human development is transcend and include, not transcend and exclude.

I’m pretty sure that like me Jude isn’t an Enlightened Master. It is as a normal ego-bound mortal that I wonder about his claim of being in no boxes. Still, I completely support Jude’s desire to not be trapped in any boxes. More power to him.

Conservative Anti-Democratic Elitism

In my last post, I wrote:

“I was only slightly shocked to learn that a mere 8% of Americans were considered legal persons when the Constitution was ratified. This means that 92% of the population had very limited rights of any sort, from voting to having one’s own bank account. Women, for example, were basically seen as property, owned by fathers and later husbands with only widowhood giving them some power and freedom.

“The founding fathers wanted a society determined by class, race and gender. They wanted to create an independently wealthy class of “disinterested aristocrats” (i.e., rich white males). Talking to many conservatives, I realize that this vision of a ruling elite still has strong support.”

 The last sentence was inspired by an actual conversation I recently had with a conservative, although I’ve had similar conversations in the past with other conservatives. This particular conservative thought the founding fathers had a point in not allowing the common rabble, the ignorant lower classes to vote and such things.

He was being completely honest and genuine. This not atypical conservative fears mobocracy more than he fears plutocracy or oligarchy. The reason he fears it more is that he assumes that, if there was a ruling elite, he’d be allowed to be a member. It’s the common desire to have as much power over others while disallowing others to have power over you. It is obviously self-serving and that is the entire point.

This kind of person doesn’t realize that once power becomes undemocratic then who gets it and who doesn’t can become quite arbitrary. His certainty that he’d be part of the ruling elite is rather naive.

I think this is made clear in the words of Benjamin Franklin, at least in interpreting those words according to the present context of democracy: “Those who would give up Essential Liberty, to purchase a little Temporary danger, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Just exchange “Essential Liberty” for “Universal Liberty” and exchange “Temporary danger” for “mobocracy”… and you get the same basic idea: Those willing to sacrifice the freedom of others, intentionally or unintentionally, end up sacrificing their own freedom.

 This conservative explained his reasoning which is what really got me thinking. I pointed out that 8% legal personhood when defined by such narrow terms (whether race, gender or class) is concentration of power. He argued that such benevolent paternalism wasn’t concentration of power if it was done on the local level such as Jefferson envisioned, ignoring for a moment that alternative benevolent paternalism of Hamiltonian federalism.

I was utterly shocked by this profound lack of insight. When a local police force or private thugs beat, kill or imprison labor protesters on behalf of a local business, why would that not be concentrated power just because it was local? When a dictator or oligarchy takes over a smally country, why would that not be concentrated power just because it is on the smallscale? When a cult leader controls the lives of his followers, why would that not be concentrated power just because it only involves a small group of people?

Without inclusive democracy and popular soveriegnty, how does one prevent benevolent paternalism from becoming concentrated power? What makes American conservative ideals of benevolent paternalism different from all those other ideals of benevolent paternalism that have a long history of justifying oppression?

What is scary is that this profound lack of insight is at the very heart of the conservative vision of America. Conservatives are very serious about their fears of democracy. That is why I fear conservatism.

American Paternalism, Honor and Manhood

I’ve been reading a number of books recently, mostly about early America and related subjects, including such topics as Quaker pacifism, Southern honor, and concepts of family. Here are some of my thoughts and observations.

First, I was only slightly shocked to learn that a mere 8% of Americans were considered legal persons when the Constitution was ratified. This means that 92% of the population had very limited rights of any sort, from voting to having one’s own bank account. Women, for example, were basically seen as property, owned by fathers and later husbands with only widowhood giving them some power and freedom.

The founding fathers wanted a society determined by class, race and gender. They wanted to create an independently wealthy class of “disinterested aristocrats” (i.e., rich white males). Talking to many conservatives, I realize that this vision of a ruling elite still has strong support.

There were two problems with this vision.

First, few of the founding fathers were independently wealthy and so a disinterested aristocracy wasn’t possible. Only someone like Franklin was wealthy enough to work as a politician for free. The rest had to work jobs on the side such as lawyers or plantation owners.

Second, the 92% of the population didn’t want to be ruled by a benevolent ruling class. Also, with Jefferson’s dismantling much of Hamilton’s centralized government, grassroots populist democracy flourished. The American people didn’t need anyone else to solve their problems, especially not about their own local self-governance. In the first half of the 19th century, government as a formal institution was almost invisible.

The founding fathers had been disappointed by their failed lofty ideals of a gentile brotherhood. Their vision was one of honor as defined by Englightenment thinking. It was about noble self-sacrifice by well-educated wise leaders (a modernized version of Plato’s philosopher kings). All of this was grounded in ancient ideas of a republic. Some of the founding fathers were more radical, but most of them didn’t want democracy as we now appreciate, heck most of them probably didn’t even understand such a concept. Rule by “The People” for them meant rule by the 8%.

Jefferson, somewhat unintentionally, made way for an entirely different vision of America. What America became in the 19th century was a country of shopkeepers and religious reformers. There was no nobility, no valor, no honor in being a shopkeeper. Anyone could be a shopkeeper. Even a lowly housewife or black person could produce something to be sold. And religious reform was an emasculating force often led by women.

Along with this, a middle class began to arise, although in some ways it was more of a perception than a reality in the 19th century. After the American Revolution had ended, there actually was more economic inequality than before. But the difference was that Americans now saw themselves as free, even if many of their freedoms had been curtailed by an overreaching and sometimes violently oppressive plutocracy (the Whiskey Rebellion comes to mind).

This also relates to Jefferson. He wanted a society based on agricultural landowners who worked their own land. This was the beginning of the American Dream of everyone owning their own home. The government artificially created a middle class by giving public land away for free or else very cheaply and by providing such things as public education. This made the American population more self-reliant and so less needing of paternalistic rulers.

Another unforseen result was the religious revivalism and the politicized religioisity that it fomented. This frightened many of the founding fathers who saw religion in more elite and intellectual terms. Adam Smith despised Evangelicalism and began to longingly speak of British aristocracy. Jefferson ended up being profoundly wrong in his prediction that Unitarianism would become the dominant religion within a few generations of America’s foundation.

What the Evangelicals and other religious reformers offered was something new. They didn’t want paternalistic benevolence such as money being given to the poor. They wanted to solve the problem of poverty itself. They tried to discover the roots of poverty and they sought to reform society. This was what would later result in the movements of Populism and Progressivism. Grassroots democracy was becoming a force to be reckoned with, especially with the new breed of populist politician (e.g., Andrew Jackson). This was only exacerbated by the influx of European immigrants during the 19th century, many of whom were escaping oppressive ruling classes and some of whom were radical revolutionaries.

The earlier ideals of honor and manhood were becoming lost. The Revolutionary generation was growing old and the public recollection of the Revolutionary era were becoming hazy. The founding fathers often felt forgotten and disrespected.

America was founded on the eve of early industrialization. Even farming was being transformed through new technology. In this marketplace society, there was no place for elitist Enlightenment thinking. Most Americans knew nothing about Enlightenment thinking and had no desire to know. Americans were becoming a people of producers and consumers.

Grand conflicts were no longer so apparent to the average American. People didn’t feel directly threatened by the French, British or even Indians. The frontier had moved so much further Westward, far away from the bustling cities of commerce.

The problem was: How were Americans to maintain a larger sense of meaning and purpose as a nation? How were boys to be made into men and how were men to prove their manhood? This problem seemed clear to the founding generation who reminisced about the ennobling effect of war. Many saw the War of 1812 as an opportunity to develop character in the American people. This feeling became strong in places like Kentucky where masculine identity had been built on romanticized notions of the early Indian fighters. However, the War of 1812 was a failure and besides it never captured the imagination of most Americans.

This sense of a problem remained. And it led to divisions in how America should be defined.

Andrew Jackson was a Scots-Irish Southerner who, along with being the first president not being born an aristocrat, embodied the Southern vision of militant honor. He combined that with an overtly racist and anti-intellectual sensibility that was particularly popular among Southern white farmers. The North was more industrialized and had a different vision of honor that was influenced by Puritan and Quaker values, but it was the South rather than the North that dominated politics at that time. It was only with the mass immigration to the North that allowed a change of political fortunes during the Civil War.

An odd thing happened, though. The Civil War was traumatizing for both sides. There was little honor in victory, but Americans began to romanticize the honor of Southern loss and so began to romanticize Southern notions of gentlemanly honor. This, of course, led to much conflict around class and race.

Going into the 20th century, Americans were still struggling with what honor and manhood meant. There was a mass exodus from farming communities. A new generation grew up in the cities, the largest generation of child labor and the first generation of modern consumers of all the products being built in the factories in which they worked. They were a generation without authority figures. They became known as the Lost Generation. They fought in WWI, a war worst than the Civil War. They travelled the world and became cosmopolitan in the way no group of Americans had been since the founding fathers.

This was the beginning of the Progressive era which was strongly promoted by religious reformers such as Evangelicals. This was when the National Parks were created and when the streams were stocked with European game fish, the idea being that such things as hunting and fishing could make men out of this urbanized generation of boys.

It’s interesting how these themes formed and how they continue to this day.