How Capitalist Spirituality and Self-Help Will Warp Your Thinking

Speaking as a spiritual person who regularly converses with angels, I appreciate the vast quantity of spiritual information that is now generally available to seekers. That’s not a bad thing. Nor do I doubt the good intentions of many spiritual and self-help advisers in the world. Most of them are doing good work; some, no doubt, are not. But in general, I think most of them, including myself, are trying to be “Helpers.” I don’t have a problem with that, or charging money for a service.

The problem that I see, which arises from our current system, is that Helpers often end up commodifying spirituality. I’m not complaining about Doreen Virtue or Tony Robbins selling a book or a seminar, but rather the reduction of spirituality to commercially viable memes and pithy slogans. You know what I mean. You can’t swing a dead transcendentalist without hitting a million of these, arranged with curly fonts on heavenly backgrounds, all over Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…

 

The problem is not with the Buddha’s words, Jesus’ words, or Deepak’s words, or whoever’s words. The problem is that the words have become a soundbite, and the soundbite creates a false sense of spirituality that has no meaning. The mind reads it, acknowledges it (“So true!”), and then promptly discards it to the dustbin. Memes and quotes of the day never change behavior. I would argue that using a quote as a mantra is also unlikely to change behavior because the quote is operating at a mental level, not a spiritual one. The ego brain is never going to make you more spiritual.

My mother is extremely good at memorizing pithy sayings, but as a clinical narcissist, she uses them to clobber other people over the head with, much like Evangelicals use the words of the Bible to clobber everyone else. Nothing spiritual about that. But for people who don’t have personality disorders, that “spiritual/self-help” quote often becomes a means of clobbering themselves over the head, because they can’t “get it right.” In both of these cases, the soundbite is operating in the mental sphere.

When I wrote my book, Discovering Your Inner Child: Transforming Toxic Patterns and Finding Your Joy, I was aware that my words would either a) be meaningless for some people, much like the soundbite, or b) guide them on their own, individual spiritual quest of self-discovery. Because the truth about spirituality, self-help, or emotional healing is that it cannot be done at an intellectual/mental level. In order for the miracle to occur, the individual must allow themselves to be present with their emotions and open themselves to a spiritual awakening that is uniquely their own. Emotional awakening, for many, means allowing themselves to feel things that they have avoided for a long time: sadness, grief, anxiety, fear, and anger, to name a few. At this level, true spirituality and true healing can become a scary and intimidating process.

Repeating soundbites, reading countless books (w0rds), no matter how wise, can produce the opposite effect of what is intended: self-reproach and feelings of failure. The message of “positive thinking will heal your life” is overly simplistic and doomed to fail, because in order to slog through your emotions, you must experience the negative thoughts and feelings you have avoided. No one, no matter how evolved, has avoided negative thinking. Negative thoughts happen, but when the soundbite echoes in your ears, you conclude that you have failed, yet again, to be “positive.” Positive thinking in itself, then, is a bad goal.

My primary advice to anyone who is seeking to heal themselves or find their spirituality is to meditate daily. There is nothing that I or the greatest yogis can say to you that will impact your life the way your own spiritual experience can. It is your spirituality, and you must seek it out. You must experience it, and in the end, you must become your own teacher. When it happens for you, it will be very emotional, very spiritual, and your intellect and ego will have nothing to do with it. But once you have experienced it, you will never again be the same, and you will find that your words are inadequate for the task of trying to describe it. Welcome to the club.

America’s Choice Right Now is a Life or Death Issue

Pieter_ClaeszYou can tell a person’s priorities by the choices they make. If the job is more important than the relationship, their choices will reflect in their lives, for example. Likewise, you can tell a society’s or a nation’s priorities by the choices they make or condone. These choices, if we’re honest, have little or nothing to do with party or even ideology. They come down to just two things: Life and Death.

A culture or society that nourishes Life and keeps Life as its priority will show this by looking out for its citizens’ well-being and happiness. Its choices will value and support children, the elderly, the vulnerable, and the disabled. It will seek to provide a healthy environment for its people by mitigating the pollution that modernity has brought. (Sweden has practically eliminated garbage, for example, and Germany’s solar program is enviable.) The air, waters, and soil of a Life-affirming nation will be as healthy and clean as possible.

The means and opportunity to provide for families and earn a living are of course a priority for those who value Life. Such nations would seek to reduce income inequality and provide opportunities up and down the latter, with the understanding that when everyone contributes and is active in the economy, the stronger the economy is. (Henry Ford wanted his workers to be able to afford his cars, after all.) Looking out for the poor and lower income people is not an act of charity in a Life-supporting society; it is an act of self-preservation and stability for the whole.

Happiness matters, too, if you value Life. Music, art, leisure, and just being able to have fun are all important. A sense of community matters, as does a sense of respect for differences within that community. Homogeneity is not required for a Life-affirming nation, but tolerance and appreciation are.

And of course, all societies who prioritize Life would also prioritize Peace to the extent that it remains possible. Diplomacy, understanding, and dialogue are always the first attempts.

Sometimes, unfortunately, societies choose to prioritize Death. History is full of examples of nations who have done so. These societies build up their military, frequently at the expense of their citizens and their most vulnerable. Their worldview is more insecure, more fearful. Authoritarianism is a natural outgrowth of Death cultures. It is the ultimate attempt to control that which cannot be controlled: the world around them.

Death cultures are restrictive and reductive: everything is reduced to a singular value within the ordered system. Citizens either further the state or threaten it. Something is useful or not useful. Anything that is deemed to be a threat, unusable, or defective loses its value in the system and is destroyed. Death is punishment, whether physical, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual. Annihilation is acceptable.

Art is not needed in a Death culture, because it is either a threat or provides no value for the chosen priorities, which are strength, obedience, and control. The health of citizens and the environment are irrelevant, except for the elite who run the system. The death of a river, the soil, a person does not matter because Death is not the enemy. Death is the choice.

Death cultures fear creative minds. Thoughts that are in disagreement with the Death culture must be extinguished, because the culture fears its own Death. Different opinions and ideas create instability, which makes Death feel like it’s not in control. And it isn’t.

Death cultures support the idea that not everyone will make it, that some people must inevitably fail and die. People in Death cultures understand that they must succeed by any means necessary, even if others suffer. There is no sense of shared good or of the beneficence and plenty of Life. It is a rat race, a struggle until the end, with only a handful of victors on top. Everything is a war, and wars come easily and often, because that’s how Death does things.

Life supports the spirit; Death destroys it.

We always have a choice, every day. As an individual. As a society. As a culture. As a nation. When will we ever learn?

11 Self-care Tips in the Age of Trump

sunrise_man_hands_hold_light_iStock_000000947693Small

It’s only been four weeks, and already Americans are stressed out by the new administration. Stress, as we know, has a negative impact on health and can even shorten your life if left to continue. So now, more than ever, self-care is vitally important. Here are some tips.

1 Take a relaxing bubble or salt bath

Water is a healing element, particularly when combined with essential oils, cheerful bubbles, or fragrant bath salts. Get that water as hot as you can stand it, douse it with your favorite mix of feel-good, smell-good add-ins, grab a glass of wine, and then enjoy. Add some soft music. Maybe Enya. For an added stress-reliever, you can pick up one of these:

BATH222-donald-trump-rubber-duck (4)

Work out your stress by drowning it, grabbing it by the tailfeathers, and just generally abusing it. Doesn’t that feel better?

2 Have a glass of wine

Remember, it’s always wine o’clock somewhere in the world.

3 Eat healthy, nutritious foods

Self-care means providing your body with good fuel. Just ask yourself, “What would Donald Trump eat?” And then avoid all of those things.

In general, it’s best to avoid emotional eating, which often happens when we get stressed. But if you feel really stressed, you can choose from a variety of healthy recipes that all come from immigrants, such as burritos, curries, or salad rolls. That being said, borscht and taco bowls may not be as emotionally fulfilling.

taco_bowl

“I love Hispanics, but they did not make this!”

4 Exercise

Exercise is vitally important to your self-care, whether you go to a gym, take long walks, or ride a bike. It doesn’t matter what you do, but get that body moving!

If you’re feeling even more stressed than usual, exercise can help you get out your frustrations in ways that other things can’t. For example, if you’re feeling angry, you can try punching a pillow. Or better yet, try punching or whacking one of these:

trump_pinata2

A Trump piñata

5 Have another glass of wine

But not this wine:

trump-wine

6 Meditate

Meditation is proven to help you relax and keep you centered and at peace. There are many kinds of meditation in the world to choose from. You can try to quiet your mind and keep thoughts from entering your head. Ah, but who are we kidding? In the age of Trump, this is impossible for everyone except Trump himself. In times like these, you may decide that repeating a mantra as you meditate is far more helpful. Here are some ideas:

Om mani padme hum…

I am peace…

I am love…

She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted…

CNN is not fake news…

7 Treat yourself

One of the best forms of self-care is treat yourself every single day. It could be small, like a cup of hot Starbucks coffee, served up by a refugee, or larger, like a massage, manicure, or trip to your psychotherapist, who has reams of folders filled with Trump worries from stressed-out Americans like yourself. (If necessary, you and your psychotherapist can have joint therapy with another psychotherapist.)

Outings can be a treat, as well. Get out into nature, visit a national park before it’s sold off to white ranchers, or visit an art museum. The arts are excellent therapy, whether you like to beat on bongos naked in the middle of the night, or paint and draw. Coloring is also fashionable, and millions find it very relaxing. For example, you can color books full of mandalas, cute cats, or even this:
trump_colorbook

8 Just go for the vodka

But not this vodka:

trump-vodka

9 Try bibliotherapy (reading a good book)

Bibliotherapy is a real thing, and a good book really can help you relax and feel better, particularly when you’re going through a rough time. If you have the bandwidth, you can sit down with a conventional book by the fire and enjoy. (This activity also goes well with tips number 2, 5, and 8.) Alternatively, if you’re busier, you can listen to audio books read by outstanding voice actors. You can download a book to your mobile phone and listen to it anywhere, even while exercising, cleaning house, fetching coffee for your mansplaining boss, or punching a piñata.

Classic books are always a good choice, and here are a few ideas:

1984, by George Orwell

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson

The Diary of Anne Frank

Although, if these titles are still a bit stressful, you can usually find a book about a dog or other animal. Unless they die in the book. Maybe a cookbook?

10 Surround yourself with supportive friends and family

The best self-help is to surround yourself with people who truly love and support you. Unless they’re avid Trump supporters. If your uncle wears a “Make America Great Again” cap, it might be better for your stress levels if he doesn’t come for the holidays. Or any time, really.

Likewise, your social media feed can influence your state of mind. The friend who posts cat videos is a keeper, for sure, and the sister with the “Still With Her” profile picture is fine. But rest assured that it’s okay if you “unfollow” Dad, who keeps posting Breitbart articles and anti-immigrant memes. Likewise, if your cousin can’t get over Bernie losing the nomination to Hillary, it’s worth considering unfriending them. Who needs to relive 2016 when 2017 is already a pile of shit?

Hang onto the friends who are politely respectful, of course, and then consider creating a group for the Resisters, for occasional “honest talk” and venting. Guard entry to that group like Cerberus itself, blocking any would-be Trump trolls. You have to put up with your Trump-voting co-workers, neighbors, and family members, but it’s important to have a place where primal screaming is allowed. (See tip number 7.)

11 Buy a liquor store

In the long run, this will save you money on wine and vodka, and once the GOP eliminates Social Security and all hope of decent medical insurance, a liquor store in the era of Trump will always make loads of money, and you’ll need it if you ever want to retire. It also makes a handy inheritance for your children, because the GOP will eliminate the estate tax, too, and since your kids won’t have a decent education, they can at least learn to run a cash register.

The Myth of the White Race

children_holding_hands_iStock_000004544472SmallIn the past, I have tried to reach reasonable white people by writing about race. I know many wonderful white people who think they’re not racist, but they still have subconscious racism. (I deal with this in myself as well.) My hope was, that as “one of them,” maybe I could say something, anything, to help them acknowledge the reality that people of color face. I wrote specifically about racism here and here. I suspected I was preaching to the choir, but hey. It’s always worth a shot to win over hearts and minds.

In the age of Trump, however, I can see that a certain segment of the population is a lost cause, and that segment was larger than I originally thought. Indeed, there are many white people out there who are so delicate, so fragile, that a person of color cannot express their true feelings about their indifferent, thoughtless, or outright racist behavior without the white person feeling viciously attacked and provoked into responding with, “Reverse racism!” This response is the intellectual equivalent of, “I know you are, but what am I?”

Yes, it’s a clever little mind-fuck that the thin-skinned whites came up with to avoid ever having to deal with their own issues. A black person is clearly never supposed to even hint that a white person might be, a little, maybe, hurtful? rude? In the grown-up world, this is called being honest about your feelings. “When you do that, it hurts.” Healthy grown-ups can deal with this sort of dialogue when they’re on the receiving end. Interestingly, you know what kind of grown-up cannot deal with this at all, ever? A personality-disordered one. And when it comes to people of color, many whites respond narcissistically:  “Oh! How could you! I am SO not that, I am not a racist, I would never. I’m a very good person. Some of my best friends are…” This is what we call “blaming the victim” and “refusing to take responsibility for their actions.”

I have noticed, in my advocacy for people of color, that some whites love to tell me how sad it is that “I’ve turned against my own race” and other such bullshit. Yes, they reason, she must be a self-hating white person to take the wrong side on this issue. These people will argue that systemic racism is a figment, that no white person these days is ever racist, ever ever, and that the ONLY reason racial tension exists is because those uppity colored people just will not keep their place. Okay, they don’t put it that way, but in effect, that is what they mean. They should be quiet and suck it up, just like Elizabeth Warren. And yet they persist. Yes, there’s always an excuse ready to hand when a black person is unjustly and unlawfully killed.

So-called white people are extremely privileged in our society, but the mere act of saying that brings about the inevitable backlash: “Oh, you’re playing the race/privilege card.” If we claim it doesn’t exist, we don’t have to deal with it. The mental acrobatics involved with avoiding uncomfortable truths is an astonishing waste of energy, which belies the argument about being a “superior race.” Clearly, we are not.

But about this race thing. There is no “white race.” The (weird) term “Caucasian” that we check on questionnaires means “of European origin,” or more specificaully, “from the Caucasus.” The Caucasus lies between the Black and Caspian seas. In Asia. It includes Georgia and Azerbaijan. And that’s just a start.

English and most European languages are Indo-European. Finnish, Basque, and Hungarian are not; those languages are descended from the original European cultures who lived there before the Indo-Aryans came. The Picts occupied Scotland before the Celts arrived. The original inhabitants of Ireland are enshrined in myth as the Tuatha Dé Danan, who occupied the island before the Celts. The Indo-Aryans themselves came from, duh, the region of India. They interbred with the existing European tribes just as homo sapiens, as we know, interbred with Neanderthals. And it’s not like the mixing stopped there. Many a Spaniard has Moorish (African) blood, as does, no doubt, most of the population of the northern Mediterranean. The English are hardly “pure-blooded” anything. Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Norsemen, and the French have all inhabited the island. Were these all “white?” They had profound cultural differences, some more than others. It wasn’t that long ago that none of these peoples would have laid claim to being a “common race” with one another.

Nowadays, the definition seems to be expanding. Russians, now, are becoming “white.” But Russia is a very big place, and it contains many different ethnic groups, including some Indo-Europeans, real Caucasians, Siberians, and those of Turkic or Mongolic origin. And of course, they have Jews, who may bear white skin, but keep getting locked out of the “white club.” (Semitic, by the way, applies to Arabs as well as Jews, ironically.)

So what is “whiteness?” It’s a social construct, a belief, much like a belief in the Tooth Fairy. “If you look like me, you’re white.” Unless, of course, you have a drop of black blood, but can “pass” for white. An octoroon, a person who was 1/8 black, was still black because apparently the 7/8 of their genetic makeup didn’t matter at that point. These white race rules get kinda complicated.

The truth is, most African-Americans have white blood in their veins. And the corollary is, there are a lot of “white” people out there with black, Native American, and Latino blood in their veins, too. Do they know it? Probably not. Is Barack Obama half-black or half-white? Do “whites” know that their European ancestors may well have had fairly recent African, Asian, or Middle Eastern influence? Probably not. Are they aware that all of humanity originated in Africa? Probably not, although if they really believe in the Adam and Eve thing, humanity only had two parents. Which makes us all related.

We know, scientifically, that the concept of “race” doesn’t make sense, because we can do DNA testing. One individual’s DNA may have ties to peoples and cultures all over the world. To me, that’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. It’s indicative of our Oneness. I get that thousands of years ago, we lived in tight tribes, basically extended family groups, and “other” tribes could be in-laws, friends, or foes. There’s some wiring there. But we don’t live like that anymore. Or at least, we don’t have to. It’s time to recognize ourselves in one another and give up the ego-protecting defense mechanisms that make us okay with another’s suffering. We really are one race, the human race. Some people won’t see it. I’m sorry for them. But the rest of us need to move forward now.

Watch this fantastic video about DNA testing and what it tells us about ourselves.

The Gaslighting of America

A scene from "Gaslight" about a narcissist's sadistic manipulation of his wife

A scene from “Gaslight” about a narcissist’s sadistic manipulation of his wife

There were these two couples who liked to spend time together and had been doing so for many years. They were good friends. They never discussed politics. They just enjoyed each other’s company.

Then one weekend at the beach, one of the women says something a bit political. The other couple raised their eyebrows and silently communicated, “let’s not go there.” Then later in the weekend, the woman’s husband dropped a political comment into the conversation. They were fishing, the other couple realized, and they let it go.

A few weeks later, the political woman calls her friend and says something along the lines of, “You can’t have been happy these past few years with Obama.” To which the other woman says, “In fact, I have.” And her old friend says, “Oh, my dear, but Trump’s going to make us so safe. We really do have to keep those people out.”

Now the other woman is flustered and can’t believe she’s having this conversation. She responds, “But if you watch the news…” And her friend says, “Oh, my dear, that’s all fake news.”

Will this friendship survive? Time will tell. But the nation may not. In fact, it will almost certainly be forever changed.

What emboldened the couple to bring up politics after so many years? It’s very similar to what hardcore Christians do:  they were trying to save their friends. Not religiously, mind you, but socially. You’re one of us, they think, and we love you. We want to make sure you understand what’s best for you. At the end of the struggle, or after the Rapture for those who go for that sort of thing, they want their friends to be there, alongside them. Not in the gulag.

Okay, they don’t consciously foresee a gulag. But, you know. You should be on our side, because it will affirm to us that we’re not racists/bad people for thinking this way…

And there’s the crux. Somewhere in the back of their mind, Jiminy Cricket is trying to shout at them, but they’ve applied a gag. They don’t want to hear him. They don’t want to think that they’re wrongfully judging and condemning whole groups of people. Trump’s narrative is so soothing, so appealing. Why, of course we want to be safe. Of course we don’t want Americans to be killed by terrorist attacks. This is the substance of the gag, and the more external validation they can get for it (by having their friends and family agree with them), the stronger it becomes.

Germans during the Reich were no worse than we are, fundamentally. Yes, there were the hard-core Nazis who fervently believed. There were liberals (socialists, communists). And there were good people in the middle who were also easily gaslighted, led along the path to think, “Maybe they’re right about those people, after all.”

Those people.

The moment you have an “Other,” you have a problem. The Other can be dehumanized (they’re more like animals than people; they’re subhuman), delegitimized (Islam is not a religion; it’s a political system), and stigmatized (they want to destroy us; they’re lazy; they steal our jobs). If you are afraid of the Other, if your so-called “safety” is endangered by the Other, you are more likely to do terrible things to the Other in the name of “self-defense.” This happens over and over, and still, we have not learned.

The people who are actively congratulating Trump and howling for the blood of the Other, in any form, are lost. Trump’s narrative is affirming their prejudices, and they are grateful to him that they can now attempt to elevate their piteous selves over people who have done them no harm. Microaggressions are now macroaggressions, once again, with mostly white men and some white women confronting minorities everywhere. And they have the gall to proclaim that they are not racists. They do not see themselves, and they probably never will.

But the real danger lies from the middle, from those who would never berate a Muslim person in public, but who quietly nod their heads in growing agreement that, yes, these people are a problem, and we should keep them out. Today it’s the Muslims and the Mexicans (the only illegal immigrants that seem to matter in this conversation). Tomorrow, though, the question will become:  why not the gays? Why not the Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, atheists? Why not the disabled, who will be plainly visible on the streets if the GOP undercuts their safety net much more. Anyone who is different from the specified norm will be at risk, because once people start looking for the Other as a scapegoat, the target list only grows.

The Trump administration is playing the hand of an authoritarian demagogue. In true gaslighting style, they will push their narrative with, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lyin’ eyes?” And some people will believe that CNN is fake news, that real journalism cannot be trusted, that the Bowling Green Massacre really happened, and only Trump can keep them safe. Too many people have an insatiable need for a Messiah to save them, and Trump is happy to let them think he is The One.

The good news is that some Germans resisted. It is due to their efforts that some Jews and others escaped the Holocaust. Not every mind is easily gaslit. The would-be authoritarians know this, too, and dissent will be silenced as much as possible, either on social media, on the street, or on the floor of the Senate (hats off, Elizabeth Warren).

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but let those who have eyes to see and ears to hear take heart and stand firm. It’s going to be a rough few years, but perhaps we can birth something better at the end of it. The only way we can do that is to stick together as one and give no energy to the idea of an Other. Remember, the founding fathers chose this for our motto:  E pluribus unum — Out of many, One.

Sympathy for the Devil

By Alisdare Hickson from Canterbury, United Kingdom (Peter Tatchell at London's anti-Trump rally.) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Alisdare Hickson from Canterbury, United Kingdom (Peter Tatchell at London’s anti-Trump rally.) [CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I was in my mid-twenties, when I had a genius flash of insight about people:

Most people are not reasonable.

This insight explained a lot about my own sense of frustration and anger when dealing with anyone, whether at school, work, or at home. Appeals to logic and rationality, I realized, are largely fruitless, because this is not what people respond to. My modern-day corollary is:

People voted for Trump based on emotions, not facts or ideals.

Angry people voted for the angry man. It’s as simple as that.

I forgot my own insight at times over the years, hoping that, with the perfect set of words, I could sway uncompassionate or delusional people into being compassionate. And it just doesn’t work that way, sadly.

I tend to see people as falling into three primary “groups,” in terms of how they react to the world. There is the expansive group, which I fall into. This group is able to empathize with others, or at least make the attempt, and views resources as essentially unlimited, meaning that just because one person or group gets a benefit, that doesn’t mean it detracts personally from my benefits.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the limited group, which sees a finite pot of goodies, and any outsider who dips into that pot is perforce taking away from their own pile of goodies. This group is seldom empathetic, and can only identify with their own problems and needs, or at least, their immediate clan’s problems and needs.

Most of the population falls in the middle, being expansive sometimes and limited in others, depending on the circumstances and their own prejudices. I’ll call them centrists.

In an enlightened world, I believe everyone would be expansive, understanding that abundance is unlimited, although Miami beaches are (not everyone can live on one). But our world is not enlightened, so the centrists have good reason, at times, to be cautious.

As for the election, it appears that everyone on the limited spectrum voted for Trump:  “This should all belong to me and mine, and I don’t want to share it with you people who are different from me.” Here you will find your alt-right, white nationalists, KKK, what-have-you, and any person who claims they are not racist, but who would still prefer not to give any government aid to black or brown people. But a lot of centrists also voted for Trump. Some of them were convinced that the limited crowd had a point: I’m suffering, and maybe it really IS the fault of those immigrants, etc. Some of them were convinced because of their own misogynistic prejudices (“He’s not Hillary.”) Some of them were not convinced at all, but were largely ignorant of the policies and issues and naively considered that maybe Trump would “shake things up” enough that they would benefit. “He’s on our side,” they said to themselves, and believed it.

After the election, Hillary supporters say, well, we need to reach out to these hurting people. And we do, up to a point. Many of those centrists, while not reasonable per se, can be reached with an emotional connection. In other words, “I hear you, and I see your pain.” The entire middle and lower classes are suffering in the U.S., regardless of their color. The question is, can the white centrists work in their own best interests even if those interests align with the interests of minorities? I don’t know the answer to that, but I haven’t seen it yet.

As for the limited group, I think they are a lost cause in terms of dialogue. This group tends to go for simplistic, black-and-white (literally, in many cases) thinking. This group thinks, “If I’m okay, then I don’t care.” People could be dying all around them, and as long as their clan was doing well, they wouldn’t be too upset. The cognitive dissonance and abundant excuses kick in:  it’s because those other people fucked up, they deserve it, etc. But the moment their own interests are threatened (“Keep the government’s hands off my Medicare!”), they rise up in anger.

The limited group, and many centrists, has indeed risen up in anger. The 1% crashed the system, and while corporations and bankers recovered, they did not. Their anger was ripe for the shaping. In this, Trump was not stupid. He played them perfectly, and it will be awhile before they realize (if they do) that they’ve been had. But by then, what tragedy?

Can one have sympathy for a white nationalist? For Hitler? For anyone with such a narcissistic, me-first mindset? Of course. Compassion, like forgiveness, is not about erasing sins. It is about serving and nurturing your own soul, and preserving your own ongoing enlightenment. But compassion does not mean that you have to invite them to dinner or allow them to hurt others, either personally or on a national scale, which we are watching unfold.

Steve Bannon thinks our struggle is one of West vs East, Christianity vs Islam. He is wrong. All struggle occurs within the individual human heart. It is one of Love versus Fear. The limited group responds to and frequently lives in fear. Be sorry for them, because this is a great suffering. But do not succumb to it or put up with it, either. Love will win, because it is always does; nothing else exists, in reality. Yes, you can have sympathy for the Devil while you chase him out the door and say, “No more!”

Compassion For The Trump Persona

By Rolf Monzel (Private Sammlung - Rolf Monzel) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Rolf Monzel (Private Sammlung – Rolf Monzel) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I know someone who is a lot like Donald Trump, except he doesn’t have power or a lot of money. This person, whom I’ll call “Dave,” is bombastic, opinionated, and aggressive. His father divorced his mother when he was 8, and then Dave never heard from him again, until Dave sought him out shortly before his father died. Dave’s mother was difficult, the daughter of a narcissist, who was angry and abusive and generally frustrated with her life and limitations.

As he grew up, Dave’s mother remarried, and he gained a step-brother and two half-siblings. But Dave was insecure and had low self-esteem, in part due to years of emotional abuse from his hyper-critical mother. He entered the military, where he found a sense of family and belonging for the first time in his life. Dave didn’t have a lot of inborn identity, or sense of who he was, so he identified with the military and took that into his identity. He was a military man, a guardian of freedom and the American way. He was somebody now. An attack on the military was an attack on him.

Although his parents were solid Democrats, Dave became a Republican, because Republican ideals aligned more closely with military ideals. By extension then, a support for Republicans meant a support for the military, his family, his sense of identity. And from thenceforth, any attack on the Republican party was an attack on him.

Dave never went to college, couldn’t afford it, and had goofed off too much in high school to have good grades. But the military provided, sending him to technical schools so that he could learn to perform a highly specific job: build and maintain nuclear weapons. Dave was not stupid, inasmuch as his capacity for science and engineering went, and he thrived. He was proud of the specialized work that he did, and he felt that his ability to perform it meant that he was smarter than the average bear.

Dave secretly worried, inside, that maybe he wasn’t really smart enough or good enough to do anything—his mother had told him so repeatedly. So he latched on hard to anything that would prove otherwise, and an attack on anything he had latched hard onto was an attack on him.

The thing is, one did not have to actually attack any of the things that Dave had decided were central to his identity. One had only to disagree with Dave, and the attack would be thus perceived. I witnessed the father of a friend of mine casually mention politics to Dave; the man was a Democrat. In tone, speech, and body language, Dave made certain that this man knew how wrong he was. He was strident, boorish, and unkind. I wanted to hide under the table.

You see, Dave was my father, and I spent many years figuratively hiding under the table when he went on the attack. He had a peculiar talent for imparting icy, dripping, disdain for the other person. He behaved this way to my mother’s entire (very large) family, letting them know with certainty how far beneath him they were. They were country bumpkins; he was an intelligent person.

Dave’s personality was not only constructed by his military and political alliances; it was constructed with his own white, male privilege. This is incredibly common, particularly for those who do not have a strong sense of self. So even in the military, his black coworkers were beneath him, he condescended almost daily to my ignorant mother (which was unfair, since she had the common sense he lacked), and he had a clear idea of what was “women’s work” and what wasn’t. I was also acutely aware that it would have been better if I were a son instead of a daughter, but as I was the only child, I would have to do.

Dave was visiting us once while our carport was being rebuilt by the insurance company (that’s a long story). The men working on the roof were Hispanic. One of them came to the door with a question. Dave was, predictably, horrible, and humiliated him about his speech, or his accent, or whatever, before deigning to provide an answer. My wife was nearby, horrified. When the man left, Dave turned to her and said, “HE’S not doing a job an American wouldn’t do!” Ahnna relayed the story to me later, and I realized why my smiles and greetings to the workers went unreturned. We were all marked as racist assholes.

As a warrant officer in the military, Dave could order people around. He liked this. A lot. I once saw him go after a soldier who passed him on the sidewalk without saluting and dress him down. I was appalled. No getting lost in your own thoughts, soldier. At home, Dave tried to run things in much the same way, once yelling at me, “I not only want respect, but by God, I demand it!” As you might guess, I lost any respect I had left for him in that moment. Nevertheless, the way to get things done, in Dave’s view, was to scream a command. My mother, being the strong-willed narcissist that she is, was the only one who could cow him. The implicit threat that she might abandon him (as his father once had) was enough. Theirs was a pure love-hate relationship: he loved her codependently; she hated and tolerated him.

I could easily see my father as the boss on The Apprentice, barking at people, enjoying their suffering. My father often stated that if he were put in charge of this country, he’d have everything straightened out in two weeks. Because, you know, he’s a genius, and no one else is. Trump’s words at the Republican Convention, “Only I can fix it” reminded me of my father. Only dictators, tiny (in Dave’s case) or large (fill-in-the-blank), think like this.

For my father (and Trump), there exists only his suffering. If his needs are met, but other people are lacking in those needs, it doesn’t concern him. He is not affected, and if others suffer, it must be their own fault or stupidity. Trump operates much the same way. He has his; to heck with you. Whatever cements his power, feeds his ego, validates his self-perceived greatness and intellect—that is all that matters. Trump has millions of naïve people cheering him on, so he will continue whatever is necessary to keep winning that love. For Dave, his validation came with the arbitrary power of rank. After he retired from the military, that shield was no longer available, and he struggled to keep a job. (He was laid off three times.) While he was often competent to do the work, that had to be weighed against the pain of his bombastic attitude and condescension to his bosses. Trump, as his own boss, doesn’t have that problem.

I suspect that a number of the people who voted for Trump resemble my father a great deal. They are insecure, clinging to superficial identities, such as “whiteness,” a construct that is meaningless. They feel aggrieved, victimized somehow, but they aren’t sure whom to blame. Those brown people, maybe. Then along comes someone just like them, who says the same things, but from a position of power and wealth. This is how fascist dictatorships are made.

Of course, not all Trump voters are like my father. I think many of them are confused, but sure about one thing: something is wrong in our country. And something is wrong. The wealthy people running the show have been funneling money upward for years, to the detriment of our entire society. And yet, it’s easier to blame immigrants, poor blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, gay marriage, or what have you. These are the equivalent of gladiators in the ring: distractions from the real problems.

What’s the answer? I know I can’t reach people like my father. He’s as mentally ill as Trump so clearly is. You can’t negotiate with someone like that. But compassion, not just for those who are being hurt, but for those who do not see or cannot be reached, must figure in somehow. Attacks raise defenses. They don’t work. Resist? Yes. But continue to reach out, or at least be compassionate. It’s our only hope.

What’s Next for the Resistance?

Woman's March on Washington 2017

By Mark Dixon from Pittsburgh, PA, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Woman’s March on January 21, 2017 cheered me up tremendously. Many of us are alarmed, as we should be, and our voices were heard. So what’s next?

There are two agendas that we must address. In some cases, there is overlap. To be blunt, there is the Republican agenda, and there is the Donald Trump agenda. Both are dangerous, and both are, in some ways, on opposing sides.

The Trump Agenda

Trump’s agenda, as much as anyone can tell, involves these primary points:

  • American protectionism: punishing countries and businesses who are “not fair” to the U.S. Whatever that means.
  • Curtailing immigration of Muslims and nonwhites
  • Yes, the “wall” or border fence
  • Funding infrastructure spending in America by giving huge tax cuts to corporations, who will then be free to impose tolls and other fees
  • Increasing the military state: channeling more military-grade weaponry to police departments and overlooking or flat-out ignoring civil-rights violations by police (it’s reasonable to suggest that as a corollary, the surveillance state will also be increased)
  • Ignoring civil rights issues altogether (in the name of “safety”)
  • Infringing on civil rights of some groups (see: Hispanics, Muslims, possibly LGBTQ and Jews)
  • Increasing executive authority
  • Suppressing dissent as much as possible
  • Aiding and reinforcing right-wing, nationalist agendas in other countries, in collusion with Russia (see: Steve Bannon)
  • Putting a right-wing extremist on the Supreme Court (see: William Pryor, Jr)
  • Repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (see: Republican agenda, below)
  • Increasing military spending and potentially allying with Russia (where? why?)
  • Abandon any pretense of helping or protecting our traditional allies in Europe (see: NATO comments, Vladimir Putin)
  • Reduce or eliminate federal support for education, placing a heavy burden on money-strapped states (see: Republican agenda. Also, Greek-style austerity may be coming to a state near you.)
  • Cut taxes, mostly for corporations and the higher brackets (see: Republican agenda since forever)
  • Completely dismantle any regulations that protect our environment or guard against climate change (see also: Republican agenda) and eliminate agencies such as:
    • Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
    • Office of Fossil Energy, which seeks to reduce CO emissions
  • Eliminating spending that does not serve the military state:
    • National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities
      (combined funding is less than .002% of the budget)
    • PBS and NPR (to be privatized)
    • Minority Business Development Agency and similar trade agencies
    • Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
    • Violence Against Women grants
    • Legal Services Corporation
    • Reduced funding for the Civil Rights and Environment and Natural Resources divisions

Much of this is bad enough. His penchant for authoritarian figures is already well documented. How much authority can he steal in the U.S.? That remains to be seen, although it was disturbing to watch Trump supporters boo Chuck Schumer for saying things like:

Whatever our race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, whether we are immigrant or native-born, whether we live with disabilities or do not, in wealth or in poverty, we are all exceptional in our commonly held, yet fierce devotion to our country, and in our willingness to sacrifice our time, energy, and even our lives to making it a more perfect union.

Today, we celebrate one of democracy’s core attributes, the peaceful transfer of power. And every day, we stand up for core democratic principles enshrined in the Constitution — the rule of law, equal protection for all under law, the freedom of speech, press, religion — the things that make America America.

Our institutions are fragile. They depend on the buy-in of the American public. It would seem that some of the American public does not agree. That’s not good.

The Republican Agenda

The GOP is positively giddy with glee that they have unfettered power now. Their silence and general lack of spine on matters Trumpian can be directly attributed to the fact that they need him to make sweeping changes to the very fabric of America, none of them good.

Some of the bullets above, as noted, are the same for Republicans in Congress, with a few differences, as noted below:

  • Repealing the Affordable Care Act
    Not so keen on replacing, though. What they propose is universal access, not coverage. Those with the wherewithal can continue their use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs), and they may raise the amount that you can put in during a year, but remember: that still comes out of your pretax income. It’s your money. Also, while the ACA specifies certain coverage that insurance must provide, their replacement will not. There will also be no limit on deductibles. So yes, your premiums might be cheaper, but your out-of-pocket expenses could be astronomical. And if you have a preexisting condition? Their answer is “high-risk pools,” which have already been proven to not work.
  • Kill Medicare and replace it with “vouchers,” which let you purchase your own insurance in the same unregulated market that the rest of the country has to suffer from.
  • Kill Social Security, suck up the money we all paid into it (they’ve already stolen, er, “borrowed,” a good deal, which is how they claim it’s insolvent), and give you… well, nothing. Happy retirement!
  • Kill SNAP benefits (food stamps), which, if you qualify gives a household of four $649 per month. Which is why, by the end of the month, a lot of people and children are hungry.
  • Kill WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) benefits, because you shouldn’t have an abortion, but so what if you want to feed your baby. (Note: I haven’t seen an actual proposal to do this, but given that they want to kill everything else… they will if they can.)
  • Reduce veteran’s benefits and possibly kill the VA (“vouchers” and “HSAs,” you know)
  • Open up everything to drilling and fracking, and ban local attempts to prevent them from doing so.
  • Cut funding for Planned Parenthood, because women’s health is unimportant.
  • Either a) Treat Russia as the global threat it is and back our western allies, or b) Follow Trump’s lead because they want to get reelected in two years (dependent on the person). I expect more of “b.”
  • Go along with all “discretionary” spending cuts that Trump/Pence propose, as long as it doesn’t affect the military budget, which is God.
  • As for civil rights, well… the GOP hasn’t been a fan of those in a long time.

While there is a fair bit of overlap in these agendas, Donald Trump has said he would preserve Medicare and Social Security. So there are areas of conflict. One thing to watch for:  the Republicans in Congress may try to do what they want anyway, and blame Trump. They could easily throw him under the bus if it suits them. We’ll see.

Donald Trump spoke of the “American carnage.” And it’s true that many people and places have lost their jobs and means of making a living. The great depression (which was not caused by Obama) of 2008 have made things worse for the average American. So I get the desire for a change. But the changes I’ve listed will decimate the social safety net, which millions of Americans need in order to live, not because they’re lazy or stupid, but because it’s incredibly difficult to get ahead in the economy that has evolved.  The phrase “the working poor” is apt because many poor people work two or three jobs, without benefits, just to get by. They are not lazy. And yet their children are hungry. This is not right. Automation is increasing, and more jobs will be lost. That’s a fact.

A better use of our tax money would be a Universal Basic Income, which some developed countries are experimenting with. It would provide a basic income for every adult citizen, enough to live on. Obviously, every citizen is also free to earn more as well, to increase their standard of living. I believe most people who could do so would. (Remember, some people are disabled or infirm and cannot work.) But obviously, at this point in time, the U.S. is not going to do that.

What we can do as we resist these wretched agendas is to educate people about the pain that is about to be inflicted on them. (Democrats: you’ve done a terrible job of this.) Liberals and progressives and even former Republicans have taken to the streets, but Trump voters will suffer with the rest of us, too. We cannot let Congress inflict this kind of pain on our country. We must stay in the streets, run for office, do whatever it takes. If we continue to hobble science and education, if we give into authoritarian voices because “safety” sounds good, this country will cease to be a world leader. It will cease to be a place of new ideas. It will likely even cease to be.

When Sociopaths Rule

Dr._Strangelove

Peter Sellers in “Dr. Strangelove”

Carrie Fisher died today. I also took the kids to see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which includes a (very) slight surprise ending that made me cry, all things considered. This post isn’t quite about Carrie or Star Wars, even though non-nerds are looking to check out, so bear with me.

I was 8 years old in 1977 when I saw the original Star Wars. The Cold War was still a real thing, and many people wondered if—or when—World War III might break out. The possibility of a Death Star annihilating whole planets was not too far-fetched. My father was still in the army then, still working as a tech, building and repairing nuclear weapons and instructing the National Guard in their use. By then, most of the pictures of nuclear mushroom clouds—real ones—were no longer gracing our walls as they had when I was younger. Dad was very proud of these pictures, which I understood stemmed from his pride in being peripherally involved with one of mankind’s highest technological “achievements.” My father was no Oppenheimer, but he fancied that he could have been.

Where my father saw pride, I saw fear and devastation from toddlerhood on. When I expressed my fears about the Soviets and nuclear war, he assured me that he knew how to survive one. It didn’t occur to him that I might not want to survive one.

Before my father was in the army, he was in the navy. In October, 1962, he was aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid, now a museum in New York City, when the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. The Intrepid headed for Cuba and God only knows what. Every seaman on that ship thought World War III was at hand. Thankfully, the Soviets backed down, and the crisis was averted. Unfortunately, fear of nuclear holocaust was not.

When the Berlin Wall fell, I cheered along with everyone else. When the Soviet Union became simply Russia, and the Cold War faded to dust, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, the world still had nukes. But maybe they would just rot in their silos.

And then came Trump.

I’m not sure what I expected from 2016, but being faced with a President Trump was not one of them. A Republican I disliked, sure, but a thin-skinned, reactionary demagogue who is the political equivalent of a hammer in search of a nail was not one of them. The Russians may suddenly be our new overlords, but now Trump is looking for a fight with… China? North Korea? Iran? Himself? Was goes on in that straw-covered, fevered brain?

The Donald gave the world a new nuclear arms race for Christmas. Or a sort of arms race. A threat. A warning. A reason to buy lots of Trump wine. Or vodka.

The Universe has an eerie sense of timing. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is about the development of the planet-killing Death Star. When this awesome weapon is first deployed, the program leader calls the resulting mushroom-cloud-like explosion, “beautiful.” It is the sort of beauty only a sociopath could appreciate.

Climate change is occurring, but the sociopaths say, “No, that’s a hoax.” Cigarettes are good for you. We have nukes; why can’t we use them? (That last courtesy of The Donald.) It’s bad enough that the forces of White Nationalism have risen, that minorities are afraid, that a ridiculous loon is going to be… I can’t write it. This is all bad enough, but how on earth did nukes come back into play? Have we elected General Jack D. Ripper, from Dr. Strangelove? Instead of Commies being the problem, it’s now the minorities and the Chinese?

The problem with having a sociopath in charge is that the other sociopaths flock to them, and then the spineless stop speaking the truth (I’m talking to you, GOP). Who needs Stormtroopers when you have an army of Internet trolls ready and willing to unleash fear on those who have been chosen for “the treatment?”

I know there’s a healing opportunity in all of this. I know there is a way forward. The problem that many of us are having is how to shake off this horrible depression, this feeling of detachment from something we were very attached to, the feelings of betrayal, and to find our energy and channel it appropriately. I do not advocate violence. That will only make things worse. But we must defend what freedoms we have, what voice we have, and move forward for the good of humanity and the planet. This is do-or-die time, folks. You cannot sit this one out. Now is the time to take a stand.

The Tightening Corridors of Privilege

be_this_guyWhen I left my husband for my the woman who would later become my wife, I did so in 2003 in a very liberal metropolitan area, where being gay, lesbian, trans, or anything in between is mostly accepted and unproblematic. We both know lesbian and gay couples who have lived it longer, however, and we were certainly not blind to their historical struggle to live freely, be accepted, and simply exist in the world. But we felt that attitudes were changing, even when we personally ran across the occasional bigot. In short, we lived with a great deal of privilege as a same-sex white couple.

This month’s American election, however, was a huge slap in the face, cold water washing over us and alerting us to the reality that many of our fellow citizens have no problem with throwing us under the bus. Because I am privileged, that feeling was new. And it hurts. It hurts to think of all the people I have known and liked who saw what Trump is and had no problem voting for him anyway. Yeah, he and Pence (in particular) may think that being LGBTQ is a “lifestyle choice” that you can “fix with therapy” and that so-called Christians should be allowed to discriminate against at will, but the ends justify the means! Whatever those ends are. Tellingly, I have yet to hear or read a solid reason why some people preferred Trump, except that they wanted “change.”

Of course, the LGBTQ population is hardly the only one with a problem right now. My fellow African-Americans are weary because discrimination and hate are not new to them. They greet my shock with a sigh borne of centuries of abuse, kindly revealing my own privilege in dealing with what is for them a very old problem. I see this. And this is the dangerous slope that we are slipping down:  the very privileged white people who voted for Trump do not see their own danger.

First it was the Muslims. Only a Muslim could be a terrorist. Certainly not the white Timothy McVeigh. Certainly not the white guy who flew an airplane into an IRS building. But then came the definition creep. Ecowarriors, those protesters who stood up for the health of the environment. Branding them as terrorists is politically convenient for the oil-owned politicians. Who else might be a terrorist, do you suppose? Latino protesters? Black Lives Matter activists? The right is already calling them this. Might gay pride parades one day be a provocative act, subject to increasingly militarized police intervention?

I’m seeing a great deal of denial even from white allies. They rationalize and seek out excuses. “Chill out, it’s not THAT bad!” Or, “you’ll be fine, it’s not that big a deal,” or “The media is blowing attacks out of proportion; very few people are causing problems.” I’m sure the Weimar Germans felt the same way. And sadly, even though this is looking way too familiar, my even comparing what is happening now with the fall of the democratic Weimar Republic makes people more likely to poo-poo the whole idea as a crazy overreach, because “it could never happen here.” Right.

In 1922, the New York Times did not take Hitler’s antisemitic rantings seriously. I say that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, and walks like a duck—it’s a fucking duck. Donald Trump has made his racist worldview very clear. He might have a soft spot for Jews, given his son-in-law, but his supporters don’t. Steve Bannon doesn’t. Jeff Sessions doesn’t. And when you start marking “them” as targets, the list never shrinks. It only gets bigger. Yes, Hitler killed 6 million Jews. He also killed 6 million other people:  gays, gypsies, communists, political enemies, and the disabled. In the attacks since Trump ascended his throne—, I  mean, the presidency, Muslims, African-Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ, Asians, and the disabled have been targeted.

So far, the only white people in the vulnerable group are LGBTQ and the disabled. But if Muslims and Sikhs (just because they’re mistaken for Muslims) are open game, what about pagans and Wiccans? How long before they’re targeted? What about atheists? Pretty soon, anyone who holds any view that differs from the viewpoint of the people in power become vulnerable. This is what fascism looks like. This does not deserve excuses, normalizing, or Pollyannaesque “it will all be fine” magical thinking.

Tellingly, the normalization has begun. For example, the left is so focused on how reprehensible the appointment of Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist is that they’ve forgotten the point that Donald J. Trump is himself reprehensible, and he’s president!

Trump’s emboldened followers don’t even bother to hide their deplorable views anymore. The KKK, American Nazi party, they’re all out and proud and singing “Sieg! Heil!” And yet, so many so-called “normal” white people aren’t worried. No, it’s not a problem for them. Today.

Fearmongering is insidious, and it’s enriching many who tell lies for a living. My own father reads and comments on these ridiculous lies, and he believes them all. The problem is that many people do. Josef Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, would have loved it all. If you want to focus the population on a scapegoat (or two or ten), it’s remarkably easy. If you want to radicalize Christians to support a strong man, it’s remarkably easy. Here’s what my own father said in a comment on an “article” titled 200,000 Take to the Streets of Paris to Protest Sodomy-Based “Marriage”:

All churches are being infiltrated. All of them. You’ve heard how the Left wants to change the Catholic church. The United Methodists have recently elected a gay woman to be a BISHOP. Many Methodist churches have sent the United Conference a letter telling them that they do no recognize the authority of this new BISHOP…mine included. I’m still waiting to see what, if anything, my church plans to do besides their letter. It’s getting harder and harder to find a church that hasn’t been infiltrated to the point that it’s no longer a Christian church. These Catholics in France are doing the right thing, but they sadly may stand alone.

My father, like many before him, has graduated from the echo chamber of Fox News to the even narrower echo chamber and outright lies of the alt right. He is lost. His brainwashing is complete. The LGBTQ movement is a conspiracy, a “plot to infiltrate.” The problem is, he’s not the only one. And many of them have gone from simply commenting on articles to attacking people in the streets. Donald Trump has denounced none of them. Silence equals consent. This is our very real danger.