Posts Tagged ‘politics’

The Power of Words

November 6, 2020

Back in high school, I started a project of comparing adages in French and English, which later expanded to include contrasts between British and American English. I remember that the first saying I analyzed was “Every man for himself and devil take the hindmost” or in French “Chaque’un pour soi et Dieu pour tous” which replaces the devil coming behind you to God helping us all. That profound difference in attitude seems to me now to not only show a cultural difference between the French and we Americans, but also to be particularly apt to the deep divisions that have been exposed within our society, and which the present election seems only to be worsening.

People I do not know, but who expressed themselves on an engaged Buddhism election night gathering, said what I was feeling – deep disappointment that the vote was not demonstrating a rejection of the ugly, toadying, violent, racist, often viciously retaliatory rhetoric and behavior we have been immersed in these past four years. People also expressed their commitment to continuing to pursue a loving, compassionate outflow in whatever ways their lives make possible. Being one of over 600 participants in the Upaya election night Zoom gathering helped me feel less overwhelmed, despondent and alone. The periods of silent contemplation interspersed through the evening gave me space to re-attend to the directives of my own Inner Master and to find the means to live beside, rather than be tossed about within, the vortex of social/political upheaval.

As horrific as is the loss of life from the pandemic, I suspect that the greater long term damage to all of us is the seeming loss of connection, of compassion, of respect, of willingness to try to understand and accept differences between families, cultures, religions, neighbors. The pandemic’s safety restrictions only seem to separate us. There have been enough inventive ways people have found to still show love and care on an individual basis, to demonstrate that the absence of these qualities is not a necessary byproduct of Covid-19. Other countries have suffered great loss of life and limitations of interactions without the citizens turning so virulently against one another.

Words have power. Interpreting the meaning of specific words and how those interpretations can affect communication has been a lifelong interest of mine. Just recently I engaged in a discussion that almost escalated into an argument about the word courage. I took strong exception to the other person’s statement that though there was much he disliked about our president, he admired the man’s courage. It was not easy to hold on to my temper long enough to find out that we two had very different interpretations of the word courage. Once I understood that the quality admired is the focused drive to be in charge and to achieve personal goals, I could accept that quality as one to be respected. It also allowed me to point out that courage usually means knowing the risks but taking an action despite them, which in turn means being aware of other viewpoints than one’s own. Narcissists (and we agreed this president is a narcissist) do not have the capacity to see or care outside their own viewpoint – therefore they cannot have courage. 

Because I was discussing with someone close to me, and we were both intent on not harming our relationship, we sought a way to reduce the divisiveness that a difference in terminology might have created. Because of the shortage of such cooperative intent in our larger society, words have become weapons further dividing and hurting us, and all sorts of neutral items or actions have become symbols of that division and thereby lost their neutrality.

I was struck this morning by an essay in one of the news roundups to which I subscribe, that laid out the conundrum facing many news organizations now – that our social environment has become so distorted that journalists can no longer simply state facts without that action being seen as taking a non-neutral, political position. 

If I repeat the fact that states where health safety practices are given priority have lower infection and death rates than those which do not, my “ought-to-be-seen-as-neutral” statement is taken as a political attack on individual freedom. If I report that New Mexico is the first state in the nation ever to have elected all women of color as its Representatives to Congress (all three – two Native American and one Latina, one of the three a Republican) my factual statement will be read as judgmental, or prideful, or proof I am a despised liberal, when it is simply a fact.

And to wear a mask – which I do always, everywhere out of my home, all the time, primarily to protect myself but also showing respect for those around me – that action is not a political statement but simply the implementation of a health standard that existed long before there was a pandemic. My former employer required that we use masks during flu season, for our own and our clients’ safety. No politics, just common sense.

(Now – referring back to my statement about New Mexico’s representatives to Congress, how did you attribute the political affiliations? Two Democrats and one Republican, in tandem with the Native/Latina division I specified? You would be wrong.)

I have long since stopped counting the times that I remind myself that to assume is to make an ass of u and me. It is also to abandon respect, patience, compassion, discernment, listening and caring as values to live by.  

Could the bridge to repairing our ruptured society be as simple as making a national mantra of “Never Assume”? Sadly, I do not believe something so straightforward would go uncorrupted.

Which will not stop me from doing my best to implement the qualities of respect and attention implicit in assuring neither I nor my interlocutors become asses.

The End of Apolitical

May 2, 2020

One aspect of Quaker belief has historically been an engagement in social action, whether in support of emancipation of slaves in the mid 1800’s, as pacifists opposed to war as a solution to political conflicts from the U.S Civil War through the World Wars, to Korea, Vietnam, and the “police actions” in multiple sites around the world, or more currently in testimony against the abuse of peaceful immigrants to the U.S. This activity is often expressed as “speaking Truth to power.”

I respect the decision of a local Jewish Community entity to “keep politics out of” the monthly newsletter which informs of social and cultural events and, most recently, of how to access worship and support online. Reading of that decision I did wonder, however, whether it can be meaningfully implemented?

Avoiding outright expression of political preferences is achievable. But has not the simple statement of proven facts, whether scientific or cultural, historical or ecological, now become a form of political expression?

I admire the small individually owned fueling station/store in Santa Rosa where I purchased diesel for the exceptional price of $2.14 per gallon, not so much for the price I paid but for the fact that the store had signs announcing – and implemented the precautions – of everyone who entered wearing a mask and no more than three customers inside at one time. I am stating simple facts but am I not also expressing a political position? If I drop the first two words (my opinion) and rearrange the sentence structure, have I eliminated politics from the statement?

 Probably. 

Have I communicated anything meaningful to my reader or listener?

Probably not. 

Oh, I’ve saved someone who doesn’t have a mask the waste of time involved in driving around Santa Rosa looking for that cheap-fuel gas station. Not a gesture very high on my scale of caring activities, though perhaps important to a now-out-of-work individual trying to save their limited cash by getting cheaper gas.

Driving around myself, with VoteSmart (Facts Matter) and Science Supporter bumper stickers, I am making simple statements of fact. In today’s toxic public sphere I am also unavoidably making a political statement.

The personal has become political. Not to my liking, not the world I wish to see re-emerge from the present upheaval. But most likely the world as it will continue to be, at least in the U.S. for some time yet.

Too bad.

So sad.

Would that it were not so.

So

Conspiracy Theory???

September 16, 2019

A recent conversation about obtaining certificates in two different specialties (purchasing and project management) brought me to consideration of how divisive/divided everything is at present. Not just red and blue states, old style versus Trumpian Republicans, moderate versus liberal Democrats, but education programs and goals, job descriptions, conditions for social club membership… everything I look around at seems defined by exclusion. I find myself wondering whether there is some malign intent of the “divide and conquer” variety behind our present social condition?

When and how did it become unacceptable to be a generalist, taught how to think, reason, research and learn in any area one wished to apply those skills to? When and how did society shift to requiring that one have a one year LPN with but minimal work experience, to do utilization review, while a social work M.A. and 20 years experience qualifying people for the programs under review does not meet the minimum requirement to be interviewed for a reviewer position? Why does a B.A. in OSHA and Safety Management not obviate the need, listed in a job a description, to also hold a certificate of completion of a duplicative 20 hour OSHA course?

It almost seems that we have arrived at the intended outcome of an active conspiracy to manipulate and control large swaths of society by insidiously suggesting that not only are “some more equal than others” but that the “more equal” class is virtually closed off. No one may join it except perhaps through a narrow path, intentionally ill defined and held secret. Any “others” who try to become part of the exclusive, dominating class are apt to be investigated and attacked at the behest of the original cabal. 

Have the various tech giants done anything differently than the railroad and mining and other robber barons of earlier centuries? Are our community ethics so much more refined now, that we think we can no longer tolerate a morality that has prevailed for centuries? Or are the conspirators in action here too, quietly moving to keep their ranks pure?

No, I don’t really believe there is a conspiracy at work – but there certainly has been a change in values, an ever expanding emphasis on specialization and diminishing of respect for what used to be called a Renaissance mind. At the same time, our society – and a good many others around the world – have become much more fractured, partisan, intolerant. While I doubt this outcome is the intent of a controlling cabal, I do think there is a direct correlation between the narrowing of fields of learning and the splintering of society.

What may have started as a well-intentioned effort to help students prepare for jobs and careers by specializing in areas where workers were needed seems to have morphed into a misguided focus on defending the ranks by excluding as many “others” as possible. Is the tendency to define “us” as “not them” so deeply rooted in the human psyche that as exclusion by race or gender was legislated away, other less obvious criteria for separating “the wheat from the chaff” were written into the marketplace, the workplace, the country club and our living spaces?

A neighbor described to me the co-housing arrangement her son just moved into in Los Angeles. He had to apply and be accepted into a group of artists (generic term, they are painters and actors and musicians or, as in his case, models) to rent his cell-sized pod and share kitchen, living room, studios, and other amenities including a recording studio. The young man is biracial, vegan, well educated and has been working as a professional model for several years. The co-housing rent is half what he would have to pay for an efficiency apartment, and thus a really good arrangement for someone just starting out in L.A. He did comment to his mother, my neighbor, that he’d try to hunt up “some science types” to hang out with, to balance what would otherwise be a rather unitary social scene. Co-housing is a fine concept. Why does it have to be implemented in such an exclusionary way?

A student at the nearby United World College asked me for guidance on what to expect and how to conduct herself during a project she would be conducting at the local detention center. She knew I had taught in the New Mexico Penitentiary years ago, and might have insight into prisoner mentality. We discussed the challenge of being “human” enough to connect with the prisoners without becoming vulnerable to being manipulated. We also talked about how prison culture had been altered with the advent of gangs. What historically was a value system somewhat like the stereotype of the old West, with one’s word being one’s bond, has shifted to allegiance to one’s gang affiliation, with it being perfectly acceptable to lie in support of the aims of that group. I could not resist drawing a parallel to politics of today, with allegiance to one’s political party being expected to take precedence over integrity, precedent, and even the law and the Constitution. Yet another instance of the we/they divide which makes “cross party negotiation” equivalent to betrayal.

No, I don’t really believe there is a cabal whose conscious intent has been to fracture society and our nation – but yet I cannot ignore the seeming evidence that SOMETHING has produced a shift in values that I find deeply disheartening, downright fearsome, and needing to be pointed out and combated.

Are there other generalists, negotiators, open-minded learners, willing to cross party, culture and national lines with me?

Reparations

August 19, 2019

Discussion about reparations for the historical wrong of slavery now emerging on the national scene have stirred a number of reactions in affected populations, and also in me. Let me start by saying I think the final decision about what, when and how any reparations might be effectively made should be left to the affected parties – i.e. those Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

I have heard widely differing views expressed within that population, about whether money is the proper currency for reparations, what other methods of balancing out the inequities of our society might be more effective, and whether the process should be individual or institutional. Not being a Black American descendant of slaves, I accept that I do not have a right to make decisions on the topic. I do believe, as an American citizen, that I have a right to an opinion on the options, and perhaps also an obligation to voice my perspective and reflections on the topic in order to assist the discourse and analyses that are inevitably going to occupy the public domain for some time to come.

My first observation is one that can easily be misinterpreted. I do not feel any personal responsibility for repairing damage done several hundred years ago, given that my ancestors were not party to that damage, and in my own life I have not furthered the discrimination begun then. 

My mother was a first generation American citizen and my father was an immigrant from Germany. They were Jewish, and endured discrimination on that basis, as they built a life in the U.S. I felt the exclusion of being the Jewish child in public school subjected to a teacher’s inclusion of “in Jesus name” at the end of the morning prayer with which classes began. (Now you know I am no longer young.) I was denied a summer camp job that “always” went to the captain of my college archery team, which I was, when it emerged that I was Jewish. The camp did not accept Jews

I have lived out of the U.S. for extended portions of my youth, have had friendships, dated and married across racial and cultural lines, have worked with and on behalf of groups considered by some to be the rejects of society. I do not feel that I personally owe anyone anything for whatever they have been held back from by skin color, lack of finances, or other residuals of their ancestors’ enslavement. I do feel a responsibility to speak up against that part of the society within which I live, which owes a great deal to many for past wrongs, yet who are presently continuing their campaign of disrespect, violence and exclusion.

I am at least superficially aware of the givens of being Back in America, having learned them in an earlier interracial marriage at a time and place where I was alternately treated with cold politeness or abusive disdain for my choice of mate. I have now verbalized some of those lessons to my current African husband including the types of cautions to exercise in our community and especially if he is stopped for speeding on the highway, or otherwise has an encounter with the law. He grew up without direct experience of racial disparity and has had to learn how to be a Black man in this country. He has great skill at “fitting in” and setting people at ease with him, while maintaining his personal integrity and values, so I am confident he will adapt and also be safe. I am deeply saddened that my country requires that he make such adjustments.

Institutional reparations make good sense to me. Hearing how Georgetown University was built and financed by slavery, I applaud its recent decision to provide free tuition (room, board and books should be included in that grant) to black students accepted into its programs. Going a step further, I think it should invest in school enrichment programs in predominantly black high schools, to expand the pool of students who can qualify to enroll in their college course or who can attend other solid college programs. Many other institutions in this country, if they take an honest look, will find how much they benefited from slavery, and what might be an appropriate form of reparation to offer. 

One of those “successful despite the barriers” Black Americans interviewed in a recent survey of attitudes about reparations stressed that it is “too easy” to “throw money at a problem” and think it is being addressed. Much harder is the work of changing the attitudes within our society that accept and foster intolerance and exclusion, and deny our ugly history. The interviewee stated that nothing less than a major change in the prevailing ethos of our country would suffice to make reparations meaningful. I agree with that goal, but also realistically accept it is apt to be a long time coming, especially given the major regressive steps being encouraged by some of the present political leaders in Washington. I deny them as “our” or “my” leaders – they are NOT!

I find it curious that a discussion of reparations has arisen at the same time as society as a whole is now openly manifesting much of the ugly negativity, violence and exclusion that it has been claimed lie “in the past.” How can we manage to change the country’s entire ethos, if we cannot manage to pass laws to reduce gun violence, as desired by the vast majority of all sectors of our society? Our elected officials pay lip service to “the will of the people” but too many of them go no further than that meaningless mouthing of a platitude. 

I am not prepared to get into an analysis of all that has been undermined and shoved awry in our political system. That would need multiple essays and mostly just duplicate what is already being loudly – at times stridently – proclaimed by other writers. I do acknowledge my discomfort with the quandary presented by our society’s ever escalating disrespect for differences, and the challenge of how to continue to go high as some segments go lower and lower.

I find myself refusing to sign on to petitions I basically support, when they are worded as “DEMAND” that Congress do this or that. I may “request that my Senators give attention to” my views, I will ask that they support a particular bill, and I will thank them for doing so. I am not going to DEMAND in an angry tone that they do so (and I have to say I am profoundly grateful to live in a state where all 5 of my members of Congress listen, largely share my views, and are people I am proud to claim as “mine”.) I might feel differently if I were living in a place where my views are less well represented.

(Off the topic note: I definitely feel offended by software that questions my having written that previous sentence as “I might feel differently were I living in a place where… I KNOW my English grammar while the programmers clearly do not!)

It might seem I am straying from my topic, but I don’t think so. Effective reparations require a change in ethos – and the tone with which one conveys the importance of that change is itself part of the change. It is easy to feel one must meet force with force, and I have heard the public criticism of being “too nice” or too tolerant of offensive opinions out of respect for the basic value of freedom of speech.

Is inciting to violence an aspect of freedom of speech? I don’t think so. No more than arming with the machine guns of war is an aspect of the right to bear arms. 

The principles on which our society is presumed to be based were put in place “for the general good” and not for the good of individuals or corporations. Their distortion into “rights” that have made this country outstanding in its risk of public massacre, and more recently in its level of public hate speech, is a perversion that must be resisted because both perversions are for the benefit of singular groups, not for society as a whole. 

The most effective arguments I have read for reparations – and for valuing immigrants – are those that state we must change the interpretation of our laws to be more respectful of our history with both these issues. Respect is the value that is being trashed by the “divide and conquer” mentality overwhelming not just the U.S. public scene, but that of so many nations worldwide. The protesters in Hong Kong are standing up (and sitting down) for respect and the honoring of promises made. The Anglophone protests in Cameroon are rooted in the failure of that government to respect agreements made when sections of two different colonial empires were joined into one country, at independence.

So respect for differences instead of intolerance of them would seem to be the basis for healing past damages, bridging current divides and moving ahead into a more congenial future. 

Would that I thought that as a society we could at least begin to head in that direction.

Novels

November 17, 2018

I read novels to relax, to escape daily tensions, to forget about the ugly politics that slam into my email inbox despite my continuing efforts to remove myself from mailing lists shared without my consent. I read well written novels – often mystery fiction – for the glimpse into worlds different from my own, and for the benefit of intelligent and thoughtful observations of human interactions, motivations, behaviors – all the aspects of what we bipeds can do and be.

Emphasis in that preceding sentence on intelligent and thoughtful.

I don’t have much opportunity for intelligent and thoughtful conversations. Working from home, providing health care coordination to members of a Medicaid managed care entity, my face to face conversations are primarily with my clients and focused on their immediate health needs. Interaction with coworkers is by email or on Skype, and limited to the basics of our work. Occasionally a suggestion I make for an improvement in the work process gets a “good idea, we’ll put that forward” reply, and sometimes I see the idea implemented, which is gratifying but does not meet the criterion of a conversation.

So it is in my relaxation with books that I am most apt to experience an approximation of dialog with the author, when I come across an observation or comment that stimulates reflection. If an opportunity arises I will discuss the ideas with a friend. If, as more commonly happens, no such opportunity presents itself, I can at least turn to this blog and post my side of the conversation.

Which is what I am doing today, with the juxtaposition of quotes I encountered in two books recently read. The first is from Willful Behavior, Donna Leon’s Inspector Brunetti series set in Venice, more philosophical reflections on life in that city than determined “catch the criminal” detective work.

“People in possession of what they believe is truth will do anything to see that the facts are arranged to agree with it.”

The second idea jumped off the page of Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland which I read just afterwards.

“If you discredit the source, the quality of the evidence has no relevance.”

Put the two together and you have what, in my opinion, is a perfect description of the way in which our current political discourse is being twisted, distorted, denigrated, destroyed. From the Discrediter-in-Chief on down, facts are denied, sources denigrated, research suppressed and opinion presented as truth. There can be no meaningful nor beneficial discussion under such conditions.

So I read novels.

 


Alien Resort

A Website that is Actually a Story

MICHAEL GRAY

Original work with a spiritual connection.

Megha Bose

A peek into Megha's mind

Neurodivergent Rebel

Rebelling against a culture that values assimilation over individuality.

The Beauty Along the Road

Discovering Beauty in the small details of our lives

 KURT BRINDLEY

novels. poetry. screenplays. endless musings...

Flowerwatch Journal

Notes on Traveling with Flowers

1eclecticwriter

Wide-Ranging Commentary

Spirituality Exploration Today

Delving into the cross roads of rationality and intuition

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

smilecalm

Life through Mindful Media

San'in Monogatari

Legends, folktales, and anecdotes from Japan's San'in region

Ray Ferrer - Emotion on Canvas

** OFFICIAL Site of Artist Ray Ferrer **

aka The Versatile

Food | Fashion | Lifestyle | Beauty | Finance | Fitness | Education | Product Reviews | Movies | Doodling | Poetess

Aging Abundantly | Women Over Fifty | Empty Nesters | Caregivers | Aging Gracefully

Finding Joy at Every Age with writer/philosopher Dorothy Sander

TIME GOES BY

Wide-Ranging Commentary