Monday, July 4, 2022

Grieving for America, Bracing for the Fight to Save the Earth

I write after a long absence from this blog. I know not many people read this blog or blogs in general anymore, but I still like having this space to discuss important issues at length.

Sometimes you go away for just a few weeks and it seems like everything goes to hell. This is how I feel about America right now, writing from Vilnius in the final stretch of an Eastern European summer visit that also took me to Latvia and Czechia (Czech Republic). In the month I have been out of the country, the US Supreme Court has issued rulings that are going to radically alter the country--and not for the better--and threaten the rest of the world as well. The ruling ending federal protection for a women's right to abortion, allowing individual states like Texas and Oklahoma to institute some of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the world, has seized the most attention, but two other rulings are just as worrisome. One has chipped away at gun control laws in New York, with the frightening implication that other such laws could be unraveled nationwide. That this ruling was issued at a time when the country has been reeling from grief and horror over vicious mass shootings in Buffalo NY and elsewhere makes it all the more clear how dedicated to right-wing ideology and how unconcerned with social consequences this Court is. But in my view, worst of all is the ruling invalidating the federal government's right to protect the environment against power plant pollution, even though the agency now prohibited from intervening in this matter is the Environmental Protection Agency, which was taking action with respect to the law known as the Clean Air Act. Apparently phrases like "environmental protection" and "clean air" mean little to the conservative justices on the court appointed by Bush v.1, Bush v. 2, and Trump. This ruling, which implies that any attempt to regulate pollution in the USA could now be invalidated by a Supreme Court apparently wholly uninterested in issues like climate change or unhealthy air or water. If other countries follow the lead of the US Supreme Court and reject efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions and climate change, the planet may be doomed. And you can be sure that climate change denying, fossil fuel loving conservatives around the world are now going to feel emboldened to follow America's horrible example. Americans like to say that the US is #1. In these rulings, the US shows itself to be lost in ignorance and darkness, not a "shining city on the hill" in the famous phrase recycled by Ronald Reagan and others, but a beacon of backwardness, opposing women's rights to choose when and if they want to become a mother, opposing government taking action against pollution and climate change, and happy to encourage widespread gun ownership regardless of the risk of lethal violence, even mass killings. I no longer have any "American dream." I look at America and only see madness, and sadly reflect that it may take decades to undo the damage that this Court has managed in just one brief summer.

Reflecting on all this as a Pagan, I realize that how one responds to these issues depends on where one stands as a Pagan. For those who only see Paganism in an ethnic perspective, as a way of preserving cultural~ethnic heritage, none of this may matter. Some might even like the anti-abortion ruling as a way to encourage more Pagan reproduction, which may mean a racist enthusiasm for more white babies, a view I find repulsive. If Paganism as a religion has validity beyond racial narcissism, it should be open to people of all ethnic, racial and gender backgrounds. The gun ruling may also appeal to Pagans who are fascinated by weapons and war, the wannabe Viking set. I also find no appeal here, though I must confess that the war in Ukraine has made me alter my longstanding suspicion of the US military and opposition to most US military actions (Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc).  I find I now only want to see more international military assistance--more guns, ammunition, rocket launchers, drones, missile defense systems etc.-- to Ukraine to help it ward off the raging Russian beast. This shift in my own thinking has made me reflect on how so much of what we think and believe is contextual, affected more than we might like to admit by external circumstances and cultural, social and historical currents.

Concerning the third ruling limiting government ability to limit power plant emissions, this is where I see a possible Pagan response that I can fully support. If as Pagans we care for the earth and see nature as sacred, we must oppose this vehemently and speak out forcefully. If the Court will block federal government action and if this cannot be undone anytime soon, we in the USA must push our state governments to do more and call on the business community to do more to combat climate change. The good news is that many corporations have already been moving away from fossil fuels and that local business have also seen the value of cultivating a more eco-friendly image.

Furthermore, I would encourage Pagans to step out of their insular bubbles and look for ways to make common cause with other religious communities who express pro-environmental ideas. This is no time to allow theological differences and past histories of conflict and oppression prevent us from doing what is needed to preserve the sacred earth that we love. On the environmental~climate change front, we know who our enemies are, as they make themselves quite clear. What we need are more allies and to work together energetically and aggressively. The earth knows no boundaries or denominations, and in working to preserve the earth, we should conduct ourselves in that same spirit.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Negating Denialism

In ancient Indian philosophy, there was a formula called "neti, neti," which literally means "not this, not this," found in  ancient Hindu texts such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. The double-N "meme" was used to guide the seeker through a process of metaphysical elimination, ruling out various things that were found to not be the true essence of reality. The goal of this was to gain understanding of what was truly, eternally real, the cosmic Self, the Atman. In our time, we find a somewhat similar process being conducted by right-wing propagandists, who reject the reality of  contemporary threats to life and health  like climate change, the Covid pandemic and the January 6 attempt to disable American democracy, deny the necessity of taking any action to solve or protect against these dangerous problems, and denounce the politicians, journalists and authorities who advocate such action. The goal  is to generate hostility toward any person or organization who dares to challenge the authority of Donald Trump, and to glorify Mr. Trump as the ultimate arbiter of reality . 

It works like this: What Trump says, goes. What others say is anti-American, liberal garbage.  Trump = truth.  Non-Trump is non-truth. Do not trust the fake media. Trust only in Trump. What glorifies Trump is real. What does not glorify Trump is not real. Who glories Trump is trustworthy. Who does not glorify Trump is not to be trusted.  If it is claimed that Trump lost the 2020 election, this is not possible because Trump could not have lost an election. The election must have been stolen. Trump tells us to rise up and fight. So we must rise up and fight. If Trump says that our electoral processes are fraudulent, then our elections are frauds and we should no longer trust elections. Who needs democracy? Trump shows the way to something better:  authoritarian dictatorship by the only reliable authority in America:  Donald Trump.

This would be laughable if not for the worrisome truth that a sizeable minority of Americans seems to be  completely devoted to this false logic. I have found Trump followers to be impervious to logical argument. Ancient Indian philosophers they are not. They have absorbed a binary view of the world where they will take Trump's word over any other authority or information source and reject anything else as wrong, evil, even Satanic. According to Trump's evangelical supporters, Trump is the fulfillment of prophecy.

How can we fight against this?  This mass delusion is powerful and growing. I do not know the answer, but I would counsel one thing: DO NOT BE SILENT.  When you hear Trumpian nonsense like anti-vaxx, anti-mask and anti-election conspiracy theories being spoken by people around you, challenge it. You do not have to be nasty, hostile or snide. Just let it be known that you do not agree, that you feel that what is being said is incorrect.  If the person gets agitated or hostile, back away, just as you would if dealing with a psychotic person who you feared might become dangerous. The point is not to convince this person to alter their worldview, but more importantly, to let that person and those around you  know that not everyone agrees.

This is important because, with many Trumpians being belligerent bullies, many people who disagree with what they say will remain silent, will become intimidated. DO NOT ASSIST THIS INTIMIDATION by being another silent person. Each time someone speaks up to oppose Trumpian dogmas, it shows others that disagreement and opposition DO exist and ARE possible.

So please, do your part. In the words of a First Lady of the 1980s, "Just say no!"  It is important. If enough people say "no" everyday, then Trumpian illusions will lose their momentum and appeal. But if everyone who opposes these things stays timid and silent, Trumpian denials of reality will gain force and credibility. Which outcome would you prefer?.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Good Riddance, Donald Trump

Good riddance, Donald Trump. You have been one of the most destructive presidents in American history, devoting yourself to dominating the news cycle with outrageous statements and behavior, catering to racist currents in American society by constantly demonizing minorities and immigrants, telling lies and distorting reality on a regular basis, damaging relations with countries that were formerly America's closest allies like Canada, France and Germany, while expressing admiration for authoritarian leaders from Vladimir Putin of Russia to Viktor Orban of Hungary to Narendra Modi of India to Kim Jung-un of North Korea to Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. 

From a Pagan point of view, your greatest single crime was to enact policies that threaten the natural order of our world. You dedicated your administration to shredding as many environmental regulations as you could, to denying the truly existential threat of climate change, and to treating the earth as no more than a resource to be ravaged for short-term profit for a few with no thought for the future for us all. You showed no regard for the sacred earth, but offered a warm embrace to those who would defile it. 

Your second greatest crime was to demonstrate no concern whatsoever for truth or integrity, but to instead lie profusely and shamelessly, obfuscating reality for many of your followers, building up delusions of victimhood and a desire for revenge. Your cultivation and incitement of the angry mob that attacked the US Capitol will place you in history next to Mussolini, with his 1922 march on Rome, and Adolf Hitler, with his 1923 "beer hall putsch" in Munich. Welcome to the club. You have earned your place at this table.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Winter Solstice Poem for Chanting (To Remember What is True Forever)


To Remember What is True Forever



we come together

to remember what is true forever


On this dark

and frozen night

we dedicate ourselves to light


In the ice

and in the wind

we are warmed by a fire within


That is why

we have come together

to remember what is true forever


In the cold

and in the dark

we will raise a timeless spark


On this longest

night of all

we will answer that ancient call


That tells us

to come together

to remember what is true forever


And to hold

in our hearts the light

that will see us through the darkest night


Though the ground

is frozen hard

we know the skies are filled with stars


And that is why

we have come together

to remember what is true forever


The wind that now

cuts our face

will return to a gentler place


And the light

that we find within

will grow stronger as the year begins


And so it is

we come together

to remember what is true forever


(for reading or chanting tonight, the night of the Winter Solstice)

Friday, November 20, 2020

False Idols Falling: Hope for the Future?

Dear Fellow Humans,

Over the last six or so months, we have seen our world turned upside down twice.  First came Covid-9 and the sudden shutdown of practically  all societies on earth and a new lifestyle of fear and social distancing that  it brought  in its wake. Then came the worldwide anti-racism, anti-police brutality, pro-social justice protests sparked by George Floyd's cruel, tragic death in Minnesota. Both crises have exposed underlying weaknesses, contradictions and , I have constantly wondered where these twin global crises will take us in terms of how we regard society, the economy, the environment--really, EVERYTHING. Because everything seems up for grabs right now. We are at one of those rare times in history where difficult, indeed deadly events have stripped away all the superfluous fluff of daily life and focused worldwide attention on injustices and inadequacies that have been tolerated for too long by populations too beaten down, too depressed and dispirited, too apathetic, too self-absorbed or too distracted to actually consider the proposal that "just the way things are" is NOT the way things have to be. All the great rivers of the world occasionally change their courses over time, and it is the same with societies. The waters are rising.  The current is accelerating. The shores are losing their old definitions. Trees are being uprooted. The river of life is shifting. Things that seemed impossible six months ago are now regular topics of conversation.

I do not think that the outcry over police brutality and racism that resounded all around the world last summer, with continuing echoes still,  would have happened if not for the Covid-19 pandemic. The profound shock of seeing normal patterns of life abruptly halted and vast numbers of people sealed off in their homes for self-protection while other worked and sickened and died, with  rates of sickness and mortality replacing stock market averages and sport team results as the statistics of greatest popular interest, has given people time to think, reflect and feel deep things, troubling things, things they might have preferred to avoid in pleasanter times, but now can relate to much more easily than before, because we are ALL facing the firing squad of Covid-19. However, some get to lock themselves away in comfortable homes with plenty of space and comfort, but others do not, particular poor people, African-Americans, and other racial minorities. Others have to walk out into that viral hurricane every day to earn their daily bread and have to worry they when they come home to their families at the end of very long days at very hard jobs, they may be putting virus on the table along with that daily bread, with their loved ones partaking of both. Others are trapped in institutions for the elderly and the disadvantaged with totally inadequate staff and resources to effectively protect the most vulnerable among us. The spectacle of mass suffering, unjust suffering, unequal suffering has penetrated the popular consciousness and raised awareness that our social order is sick, unstable, and cruel.

Another spectacle, that of ignorant, incompetent leaders like American President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro,  blustering away on television, brushing aside the advice of medical scientists and the health professionals for us all to practice social distancing, ramp up our hand-washing and general hygiene, and keep coverings on our face to reduce viral transmission, has caused at least some supporters of  the aforesaid leaders to lose their faith in these men. When your country's people are dying in large numbers, and the head of your government proves to care much more about protecting corporate profits than  the population, you just might lose your faith in the man who you previously thought was so "entertaining," so "different," and so refreshingly "honest" with his free-flowing hostility toward minorities, elites and others and his seeming sympathy for "forgotten people" like you imagined yourself to be. Now  you can see that your Dear Leader may not quite be all that you thought he was and that all he has to offer you is more animosity toward this or that group, no real solutions, no real plan.

The collapse in the popularity of the aforesaid "leaders"--that word does seem a bit ironic in this context, doesn't it?-- is just one part of a much bigger domino effect, of false idols of many sorts crashing to the ground after bring struck with the twin thunderbolts of the coronavirus and what seems a new consensus about how sadly warped our societies are by racism ,and how poorly served we are by militaristic police who seem all too eager to use lethal force. We can also see crashing and crumbling the long-standing assumptions that businessmen and entrepreneurs are the real heroes of society, that the "magic of the market"  so much more efficient and reliable than government (see Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman for past advocates in this point of view); that  government is in fact a menace to "freedom;" that the government should never intervene in the economy; that the anti-government rhetoric of leaders like Reagan was just a bit of political sloganeering that would do no harm; that if people are poor or poorly paid, it is their own fault, and not something that should trouble the rest of society; that it is perfectly fine if many people have no health care or health insurance; that having large numbers of people homeless and in prison is acceptable; that even the most extreme inequality is part of  the proper functioning of the economy; that faraway peoples in other countries have nothing to do with us in our own home countries; that the needs of businessmen are more important than the needs of ordinary people; that public health and the natural world are less important than the health of the stock market and corporate profits.  Let's break this down a little more.

False Idol #1: Government bad, business good. When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020, governments worldwide struggled to respond, because in many cases health services had been stripped down and cut back in tandem with tax-cutting for the benefit of the business sector. Hospitals run like businesses failed to maintain stocks of personal protective equipment and medical devices like ventilators, because keeping large quantities of such stuff around when it was not immediately needed was anathema to the business mindset of keeping operations lean and relying on "just in time" supply chains. Well guess what, pandemics don't care about corporate business fads. People who really knew something about the threat of pandemics knew that it was important to have lots of supplies on hand, but the corporate types chose to cut things back. When the economy went into free-fall due to the need for shutdown of travel, guess who had to be rescued by the government? The very same businesses often so hostile to government. Not a few people have begun to see that the business sector is extremely selfish, expecting support for itself that it would be happy to deny to poor and struggling masses around the world

False Idol #2: If people suffer or are poor, it is their own fault, and no one should have to help them.  This pandemic has taken its most horrific toll on the poor and disadvantaged of the world. They did not ask to be poor any more than they asked to be exposed to the pandemic. With the fear of death that the pandemic makes universal, and the fear of extended poverty and unemployment that is now possible for large swathes of the population, including the formerly affluent, employed and comfortable, suddenly many who previously rejected the idea of government public assistance to the poor and needy are very interested in this very thing!  Fear of death and fear of poverty certainly do broaden the mind, don't they?

False Idol #3: Educated people, scientists and "elites" are suspicious people who cannot be trusted.  Donald Trump's coronavirus-update press conferences were a huge embarrassment, not only due to his verbal diarrhea of inconsistent, factually incorrect and self-contradictory statements, but also because he obviously did not like ceding the stage to more knowledgeable people like Anthony Fauci, who was studying infectious diseases back when Trump was still learning how to run a business empire based on bankruptcy  I think by now, most people realize that we need more people like Fauci in government, and far fewer like Trump.

False Idol #4: All that really matters is money. The Milton Friedman-Reagan-Thatcher-Trump neoliberal logic that the world is just an economic enterprise and that we all should just get with the program and seek to monetize everything and reduce all reality to numbers on the computer screens of financial analysts has certainly been blown to bits by the deep and limitless unfairness and suffering now on display for all to see. We need each other, we need a more caring and just society, not just a fat bank account. We need a world to live in, not a luxury mansion with walls a mile high. You can't hide from our common reality anymore. It could be a commonwealth, our common health, or a common hell.... We have to decide. It is up to all of us.

I  hope a brighter future is coming, despite the grim shadows all around us.  

May you all have hope and heart and strength for the time we are in now, and for going into the future. 

Remember to help each other. We are all each other's keepers. We always were, but maybe we forgot. Let us remember that now, and for the future and for always.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Had a Dream

All my life, I have heard people make glowing references to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. That speech, in particular its most famous line about hoping for a day when all people would be judged "by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin," seemed to be a very popular and pain-free place for politicians and others to stop by to express support for the concept of civil rights and the hope of human brotherhood. Other things that King called for, like economic justice and an end to corporate greed, violence and militarism, are far less frequently-cited themes. However sincerely or cynically King's speech has been utilized over the decades, one thing is crystal clear: his dream has not been realized. The continuing inequality that limits the lives of so many Americans affects African-Americans most of all. The c higher incarceration rates for African-Americans, higher death rates from Covid-19,  the barriers being raised to limit voting by African-Americans and other minorities, and the continuing police aggression against African-Americans that we now see on disgusting display in the knee-on-the-neck killing of George Floyd, can leave no doubt that America remains today just as afflicted by racism as it was in the lifetime of Martin Luther King.  To quote another assassinated visionary, John Lennon, "One thing you can't hide, is when you're crippled inside." The crippled moral character of America is now on view, front and center, for all the world to see and judge.

And as Minneapolis and other cities are rocked by fiery protests against police brutality and a racially biased justice system, the man in the Dark Tower--I mean, the White House--laments the death of Mr. Floyd in one breath while actually encouraging police to use more force against black protesters with the phrase, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts," signalling that he expects aggrieved black citizens to shut up and submit to the knee on their neck, and if not, to prepare to be shot by the police. 

I had a dream too. About three year and a half years ago, on the November night in 2016 when Donald Trump would win the election over Hillary Clinton, I was on a plane to Finland on my way to an academic conference. I flew out of JFK airport that evening confident that Clinton was likely to win, and that there was little chance of the racist real estate developer and reality-show con-man winning the White House. However, when I fell asleep for a few hours on the flight, I had a very disturbing dream of angry crowds of people out in the streets fighting and shouting with fires burning.and gunshots exploding.  I woke up thinking, oh, it is just an anxiety dream about what could happen if a racist, brutality-loving person like Donald Trump were to become president, but of course, he won't. When my plane touched down in Helsinki, I learned who had won the election, and I felt numb with shock and apprehension.

And now I see streets aflame in city after city, with the racist-in-chief signalling to police that brutality is acceptable, even laudable. King's dream has not come true, but I am afraid my own dream may have.

This is our Ragnarok. Not the Second Civil War or Race War that some neo-Nazis and right-wing conspiracy believers are hoping for, but a battle against forces of spiritual ugliness, political brutishness and a white supremacy that doesn't even have to name itself to be known for what it is, as it is on plain view for anyone willing to look at reality in the face. We must rally our forces to defend what is good and true and enduring and fight for compassion and cooperation and caring and the long-term future of our fragile environment, against those who seek to crush the weak and glorify the brutal, whose only consistency is sociopathic aggression, and who seem to understand very little about anything beyond their own self-glorification. More and more Trump reminds me of Loki, who used slander and rumor to besmirch and belittle the other gods, and Surt, the fire-giant who seemed to want nothing more than to burn down the world. Ragnarok ends with the world destroyed, the gods all dead, but then a new world rising and the gods reviving. Let us carry on in the same faith that a better world can rise out of the broken pieces of the world we now see collapsing all around us.
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