How’s the weather?

We who live in the sunny South don’t really worry a lot about the weather, unless we farm or garden.

An old Southern comic, Brother Dave Gardner, made a career out of saying, “Hot, ain’t it!” That’s probably the most common weather-related conversation and concern around here, because it does usually get pretty dang hot here in the summer! So far this year, though, we’ve had a fairly moderate summer here in Southeast Georgia. Of course, as I told my wife today, there’s still August to go. It’s been fairly consistently in the mid 70s overnight and hits 90 during the day, but none of that 97-and-hotter stuff that we often get in July. It has been a little humid, off and on, as we’ve had stretches of too much rain punctuated by stretches of not enough, as is often the case. But even the humidity–“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity!” is another common weatherly observation–has not been unbearable yet.

All of which is making many of us Southerners wonder just what is going on. As well we might wonder, given the extremes of weather we’re seeing in lots of other places. I’m a bit of a weather geek, probably because I was a pilot for a few years (during my stint in the U.S. Air Force), and weather is one of the major things you learn about and worry about as a pilot. I took a class in climatology long ago during my preparation for teaching social studies, and that added an edge to my interest in what is one of the most engaging and complex aspects of life on the planet. So, I probably pay more attention to stories about weather, and the actual stuff going on in the atmosphere around me, than most folks.

Which brings me to the real subject here:

hat is going on?

While we’re sitting down here enjoying a fairly mild summer, the folks out in Oregon where I once lived are experiencing heat waves, drought and vicious, terrifying forest fires fueled by the drought and heat. All the northwest is suffering record heat, billions of organisms in the ocean along the northwest coast are dying, and forest fires are raging out of control.

The largest of the Oregon fires is said to be creating its own weather, the heat causing cloud formation and wind. Its smoke is traveling across the continent, polluting the air in New York City. Hundreds of fires are going on from California to near the Arctic Circle, and the firefighting infrastructure is overwhelmed. The consequences of all this seems guaranteed to be dire, thought we don’t yet have an idea of the extent of it.

At the same time, floods are ravaging populations in Asia and other areas of the world, as well as in the U.S. The warming water all around the world (most alarmingly to me right here in the Gulf of Mexico) are giving rise to surges of nasty bacteria that eat humans. (Maybe related, maybe not, but yet another alarming development surfacing as we begin to learn to cope with the COVID pandemic, is a number of strains of resistant fungi in hospital and nursing home environments.)

How can all these diverse and seemingly contradictory phenomena be explained? One of the basic things that I learned about weather is that all the various weather phenomena are powered by heat. It creates the airflow that moves everything around and carries water up into the atmosphere to fall down again as precipitation, and it interacts with the earth’s rotation to create the destructive storms that seem to also be on the increase in recent years. Heat is literally the engine powering everything that happens in the atmosphere.

And, of course, all the data shows that the earth and its atmosphere are heating up. So as there is more heat, even an amount of heat that creates a few degrees of increase in average temperature, all the extremes are pushed further and further. This is the simple, easily understood fact at the basis of the climate science behind global warming as a threat to the stability of our climate. There’s a lot more to the science than that, I’m pretty sure, but that much of it I can understand without being an expert.

That is why even the cold-weather storms and record cold temperatures don’t prove that global warming isn’t happening. They are the result of the extremes of up and down increasing. It’s a simple formula: more heat produces more extreme weather.

Maybe, as the climate-change deniers would say, we don’t have enough data or understanding of the complexities to know what the root causes of this heating up are, and certainly there are a lot of forces interacting there, including the likelihood that we’re still coming out of the last ice age. But we do understand that some things that we are doing are making the situation worse. We need to stop doing those things as expeditiously as possible. Maybe we can’t change the course of this overall process, but, if we can slow it, maybe we’ll have time to prepare to deal with the worst consequences of it.

As a father and grandfather, I reel at the prospects of a degraded natural environment for my progeny, indeed for the human race as a whole. As the natural world suffers, so do we. Our quality of life, the quality of our health and well-being, the quality of our relationships, even the quality of our spiritual lives is directly and materially affected by the conditions of the rest of the world.

We must begin to make choices that reflect these realities. We neglect and deny them at our own peril.

18. Therapy…

[This is the beginning of the entry in the Pages section titled 18. Therapy and the Wall, about my continuing Zen practice and beginning therapy, a visit to the Vietnam Wall and writing about my Vietnam experiences.]

The long journey that led me to take vows as a Buddhist at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center in 1993 had taught me a lot, but the depression at the heart of my emotional/mental state seemed pretty resistant to the meditation and the vows and anything else I was doing.


I was moody and angry, and I wasn’t easy to get along with for my wife and kids. I think the meditation helped me feel better about things, but it didn’t really seem to be helping how I interacted with my family. I think I yelled at my middle school students a lot, as well!


It somewhat seems like it should have been a no-brainer for me to figure out what was going on, considering the traumatic nature of my whole Vietnam experience, which I’ve written about extensively on my other blog, A War Journal, though I’ve only briefly mentioned it in this narrative. That experience and the recent death of my father were both still unresolved for me, but it took me awhile to realize how all that was eating away at me and making it hard for me to relate to life and other people.


I though I had packed it all away in some locked trunk in the depths of my mind.


Eventually, things just got intolerable I suppose, and my wife began to push me to do something, get therapy, take drugs — anything to make it better. We argued a lot, and I always felt that I didn’t know what it was that was wrong.
I went on anti-depressants, which I didn’t really like, and which maybe helped some, but they didn’t seem to fix things either. It was a constant struggle for all of us.


Somewhere in there, my wife’s father, Dr. Pisacano, suggested that therapy would be a good option. I’m not really sure how long it took me to act on that suggestion, given the resistance that I had to letting go of control.
But at some point, I gave in. I had my first session of therapy with Susan in October of 1997. According to my journal, which Susan recommended I resume seriously, I felt better right away, just for having made the decision to start.


It was a long and arduous path, because I had really buried a lot in the past 25-plus years. I was in therapy, at varying levels of frequency, for about five years.

[To read the entire entry, just go to the Page listed in the left-hand column as 18. Therapy and The Wall.]

My way-finding

The Pages section of this blog ( which show up as the numbered titles in the left panel) is mostly the narrative of my way-finding… the process, halting and flawed as it was, by which I came to finally find my way to acceptance of the Buddha’s teachings as the best fit for some kind of guidance for my very crazy life. This is a work in progress, and I’m about to begin work on the next chapter in the story, so I’m looking back over what I’ve written so far.

The story attempts to explain how someone with a very Baptist background – my grandfather and great grandfather were both Baptist ministers – came to be an avowed Buddhist. Along the way, I relate some of the crazier bits of my life journey and throw in some ideas about what a Buddhist meditation practice looks like.

Reading back over it I came across this section that gives something of the flavor of the narrative. I’ve been trying to be brutally honest and gain some perspective on the whole thing for myself… which I suppose is the actual reason for doing it in the first place:

I thought at the time that I was truly trying to make things work, but the perspective of the years, the experience on the cushion and in life since, have taught me the truth: I was completely consumed by, not just my passion, but by my addiction to self. I think that I must have convinced myself, – and thought I convinced others – using all the deep thinking and fancy words that I had come to rely on, that I was open and kind and compassionate and deeply concerned about deeply important things… and such bullshit on and on as I can hardly even bear to go back and read in my journal!

But the truth is, I was just very self-absorbed and ego-driven, very blind to the truths about myself, very alienated from life and other human beings, extremely ignorant about the causes of my own suffering and the degree to which I was inflicting suffering on all those around me.

In short, I was where most people are before allowing a little light in, but with an extra added dose of over-intellectualized self-righteousness!

I wish I could say that my arrival in Eugene – know locally as The Green Hole – precipitated a sea change in my attitudes and behaviors and I began a serious quest for Enlightenment.

Unfortunately, it took a while longer before light began to dawn in my life.

Acceptance

What is the real point of a meditation practice? What is the purpose of any kind of activity intended to develop insight, liberation, enlightenment or just deeper understanding of life?

There are probably as many answers to those questions as there are “spiritual paths” or practice methodologies. But I’m trying to push through to some essentials, some underlying basics, some answer that is pragmatic and practical and doesn’t depend on path or method. My recent experience with things falling apart in my life–and how I dealt with that–have me thinking that a very basic thing that my efforts have done for me is to help me be prepared when things come crashing down.

After some years of varied meditation practice and other efforts at grappling with big questions, including working with a teacher on a regular basis, I have realized that there’s not some kind of ultimate goal, some kind of flashing magic experience that will open doors of understanding so deep that nothing disturbs me. It’s just a matter of relying on the experiences and teachings that have accumulated over these years to help me know how to deal with what comes up, whatever that is.

What this most recent crash, this falling apart, has shown me is that acceptance is the key element.

About a week into the crash, which left me alone with my thoughts, memories, tears and depression every day, I tried to sort out why, exactly, I felt so crazy. What I came up with more or less guided me through the next weeks of that ordeal, and though it wasn’t a whole lot of help in making it less painful, it did help me navigate it, survive it, and be open to resolving the issues that led to the crash when that became a possibility.

I learned a lot through it all, and I hope I can share some of that in this venue. The key realization of the breakthrough that helped me find a way forward–which in the beginning seemed like an impossibility–were understanding why I felt so crazy. I realized that most of my agony was because I was resisting and angry about the whole situation.

I was resisting what was happening because I didn’t want it to be happening, and I didn’t want to feel any of the feelings I was going through. And I was angry that it was happening and out of my control. Nothing I could do could make me feel any better about the situation.

It seemed as if I was just going to be sad and hopeless and pathetic for the rest of my life because I had become dependent on others for my emotional stability.

On that breakthrough evening, I realized that the only way to move on was to stop resisting. As much as I hated the thought of “giving up” on things getting better, I realized that I needed to move to–at least begin the movement toward–accepting that this was my life and that I was responsible for my own mental/emotional health and sanity. I had already moved past being angry at anyone else, but as I wrote in my journal that night, I needed to “truly get over being angry” and stop thinking that someone was gonna fix it.

What my Zen practice and other meditation gave me at this point was the understanding that I could embrace this sadness and pain and nauseating depression as just another emotional state no better nor worse than any other. Suddenly all those years of sitting on the cushion, walking and chanting and reading about how it’s all the same snapped into clear relief. Could I really accept that notion?

Well, I didn’t really want to. I wanted to think that if my suffering was big enough, I would be pitied, and it would stop. But I realized that I just needed to be the Zen I had tried to be all these years, to be in it fully and accept that maybe it just takes this much pain to push me through to that state of enlightened mind that could accept what is, “the present moment,” as the teachers say.

Not that suddenly it was all better. Far from it. I spent quite a few weeks more of up and down and “railing against God,” as the Christians say. My depression was still strong most of the time, and I was lost in hog wallows of self-pity a lot of the time. But things never got so bad I couldn’t function, and eventually I began to find a tolerable level of emotional calm.

In addition, I began to have some realizations that advanced my practice itself, as I bit by bit began to understand how to apply that notion of acceptance to what was going on in my life. I began to see that what had happened could be understood as a really big lesson in impermanence, that idea of anicca /emptiness/ shunyatta that I had studied and professed to be pursuing understanding of for all these years. A really big lesson. And the pain as energy for penetrating to the insight of what it means to say that it’s all impermanent.


I had to plow through a whole lot of guilt, self-blame, self-loathing and the deep sense that I just deserved the pain I was getting. Instant karma.

I began to really relate to the old Elmore James song that I had long loved, “Musta Done Somebody Wrong.” I’ve always loved the blues, and now they began to take on new meaning for me. Robert Johnson’s line about “like consumption, killing me by degrees,” was a favorite when I played guitar out on the front porch. But I was slowly working my way through it. As I look at my journal entries, I see gradual progress in understanding.

My actual sitting practice had somewhat declined in intensity over the past few years (that’s another story), but I began to sit daily and seriously again during this incident. In the beginning, I was using sitting as an escape from depression and loneliness. At some point, I had a breakthrough about that as well.

A few weeks into the period of despair, I began re-reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, which I had read many years ago and appreciated. Her analysis and advice was very helpful, and as I began to seriously meditate again, I realized that my approach to meditation was flawed.
I realized that, rather than using meditation as a distraction from the depression and pain, I needed to embrace the pain as a positive thing because it’s pushing me to get serious on the cushion. And to just sit and seriously be with the sitting as what this is all about. In my journal, I articulated it this way:

“…Approach the meditation as what I need to be doing, not as a distraction or escape from the pain and discomfort of the situation, and seeing that why all the other things—TV, music, even reading—just kinda make me feel sick and I don’t want to do them, is because I need to do the sitting and they are just a distraction from that.”

(Journal, June 7, 2021)

This realization opened me up to vast possibilities of increased understanding, compassion and tenderness.

No hope, no fear [repost]

[I’m reposting this because it’s very relevant to what I’ve been going through recently, and I may address it in the next few posts. I’ve recently been re-reading When Things Fall Apart, and it’s been very helpful.]

Hope.

We all need hope.

Or so we think, and so we are told by everyone from politicians and salesmen to preachers.

But Buddhist teachers, notably Chogyam Trungpa and his student Pema Chodron, say that hope steals from us the only thing we really ever have: the present moment.

Hope is almost universally regarded as a positive idea, indeed as essential to our happiness and mental health, and its opposite, hopelessness — being ‘without hope’ or ‘beyond hope’ as it is often encoded in our language — is considered the realm of despair and fear, the sign of depression and despair, utter psychological desolation. In most popular psychological literature, the work of self-help gurus, and other widely read and highly regarded sources on the subject (not to mention TV melodrama, which thrives on the ‘hopes and dreams’ genre), hope is offered as the solution to depression, a remedy for feelings of worthlessness or frustration, the drug of choice for conditions of poverty and oppression, the ultimate ‘feel-good’ answer.

Hope, however, is highly overrated.

I say this often to folks, and without fail I get disbelief and scoffing, confusion or anger in response.

I’m usually unable to explain in a satisfactory way why I think hope is not what it’s cracked up to be, so I’ve been going back into the writings of Pema Chodron and the pithy slogans of the Lojong — that wonderful group of teachings from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition related in Chogyam Trungpa’s book Training the Mind — to try to sort out for myself, and perhaps explain for whoever might occasionally read this blog, why “no hope/no fear” is the better part of wisdom.

First, a simple statement of the essential thing here: hope is always based on the idea that things, oneself, conditions, should be other than they are. This assumption clouds our ability to see that true happiness, joy, and contentment come through acceptance.

It is critical at this point to make clear that, at least as far as I understand it, I’m speaking of this on the personal level, not the social level. As a socialist/anarcho/syndicalist, I’m committed to the idea of social betterment, working and planning to make the social conditions that prevail in our world better for everyone on the material plane. I don’t advocate accepting how things are organized in a world that is clearly run on the principal of violent domination and oppression of others as the path to material success. I have hope that this condition in the world can be changed, as a rational approach seems to require that we believe in the possibility of change for the better. This is ‘hope’ simply defined as seeing that something is possible and thus being willing to make efforts toward it.

The ‘hope’ that I consider to be highly overrated, and in fact a detriment to happiness, is that hope which posits that one’s personal happiness is dependent on the external conditions in which one finds oneself, and thus concludes that the only path to joy and peace is for things to change in our surroundings. I’m certainly not saying that one should not work to improve the conditions of one’s life, I’m simply saying that to conclude that such improvements are the necessary and sufficient path to joy and happiness is an error of strategy and a path to perpetual dissatisfaction.

Once we decide that things being better in our external conditions will make us happy, we will always find things that need to be ‘better’ in order to maximize our happiness.

As Janis Joplin sang in “Work Me Lord”, “The worst you can say about me is that I’m never satisfied!”

For most of us, that’s the essential problem. We never have enough of whatever it is we think we need to be happy.

So the true solution, the true path to happiness, is not hoping that things will get better, or even working to make them better because we ‘haven’t lost hope.’

No, the true path to happiness, or better, joy and contentment, is learning to see that what we have is really enough. What we need is the clarity of mind to accept ourselves as we are, without that nagging feeling that we’re just not good enough, just not strong enough, just not whatever-it-is-that’s-lacking-this-moment enough — and that as soon as we get that, we’ll be fine.

A basic teaching on this comes in Lojong #15, “Four practices are the best of methods.” One of those ‘best practices’ is, as Trungpa says, just let it be without scheming to get pleasure and avoid pain. There is much in these teachings about flipping the normal human proclivity to seek pleasure, avoid pain. It’s built into our program by the evolutionary journey, so it’s not a “wrong” thing, it’s just that it doesn’t work very well when it comes to developing into a spiritually mature, compassionate person. If we were still out there on the edge of the forest scrabbling with the little beasts for carrion, it would make sense. In our world, it’s counter-productive. In fact, it’s precisely the program that has produced this world of violence and oppression, so there’s probably a very good argument to be made that giving up hope and fear is the best way to elevate society to a more humane, fair and compassionate state.

Most of the talks in Pema’s book When Things Fall Apart are permeated with the notion of ‘no hope/no fear’, and her book The Wisdom of No Escape is specifically dedicated to this idea. It’s important to understand that in all of this, there’s no sense of this being what one “should” do. It’s rather offered in the spirit that if one finds one’s mind turning to the dharma, turning to the path of compassion, here is some heart advice on how to make that happen in your life.

So if you don’t like the idea of giving up hope and fear, truck on down that road. When life turns you around, perhaps you’ll come back to these teachings with a new openness, a new willingness to see how it plays out in your life.

In a chapter in WTFA titled “Hopelessness and Death”, Pema says:

To undo our very ancient and very stuck habitual patterns of mind requires that we begin to turn around some of our most basic assumptions. Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that someone “out there” is to blame for our pain — one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking. One has to give up hope that this way of thinking will bring us satisfaction. Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide.

A little further on in the book, she says:

Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something; they come from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.

No Escape

[This was originally a separate post, but I’m combining the two here for simplicity.]

In the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, and the presentations on those teachings that we have from his student Pema Chodron, one of the great themes is that an essential element in walking the ‘spiritual’ path, the path of radical compassion, radical acceptance, as it has come down to us through the centuries from those who have followed and interpreted the teachings of Gotama the Buddha, is that there is no escape.

The first noble truth of classical Buddhist teachings is “Life is suffering.” Though this idea is widely misunderstood by most of the Western translators and interpreters of the Buddha’s teachings – the sense of the original is better translated as “All clinging to life involves or creates suffering” – it is essentially just an observation about the reality of human experience: we can’t escape these feelings of dissatisfaction, this sense of lack that permeates our lives.

This is the “hopelessness” that Pema holds out as a positive thing, much to the dismay and confusion of most of us. The reactions I get to suggestions that hope is not something to cling to range from shock to outright anger:

What? Give up hope? Never! Hope is all we have! Never give up! Believe in the ultimate wonderfulness that we can achieve and never stop hoping for better, more, never abandon the quest for perfection.

That may be overstated, but it catches up much of what passes for wisdom in popular self-help psychology. And it sells. For some, it seems to work, at least temporarily. But it misses some really profound understandings of our human situation.

What we tend to do when things get tough, when things aren’t going the way we should like them to, is look for some escape from this unpleasantness. Much of what fills the world today, materiality, activity, religion, philosophy – any realm really – is nothing but some highly refined and developed effort to escape from reality, to fill that void with something.

We seek sensual and intellectual pleasures to escape that gnawing sense of dread, and we find all manner of sophisticated means to avoid the pain that comes from too much reality.

But in the end, there is no escape.

Whatever we do, it always ends. There’s always something happening that we wish would go away, or something we wish would happen that just won’t. And when we get something we want, we know that it could be lost in a heartbeat.

This is the truth of life that the Buddhist teachers speak of as “impermanence” or “emptiness”. The Buddhist path involves, at heart, being willing to bang into that truth over and over again until it comes clear to one that this is the nature of our life. “Sampajanna” is the Sanskrit term, which means something like ‘constant and thorough understanding of the truth of impermanence.’ Everything changes. It’s an obvious truth that we spend most of our energy denying.

It is this sense of no escape that is intended in the teachings of hopelessness, in the idea that our only salvation lies in giving up hope. Radical acceptance. Coming to terms with reality.

There’s nothing wrong with the hope that lets us undertake a new journey toward a goal that is clearly and simply a way to get beyond some thing in one’s life, or in society at large, that is problematic. When you see a problem, you address that problem in clear-eyed ways, and the ‘hope’ needed there is simply to see that yes, it is possible that I can do this. It’s not some unrealistic goal, and there aren’t insurmountable obstacles to realizing it. It’s possible. That’s a positive, human kind of hope.

It is when hope is used as an escape from the reality of our lives that it becomes a block to development of contentment and joy. It is when hope becomes an unrealistic quest for lasting, permanent security and grounding that it leads us down a dead end road.

Impermanence is a fact of life. It is as unavoidable as death itself. Finding any kind of contentment in this life necessarily involves acceptance of that truth, else we go from disappointment to disappointment, careening along leaving a trail of disasters, and never find peace.

Rebirth…

Well, here I am, jumping back into the blog after… well, several years. It’s been a minute, as the guys at the jail said.

And a lot of water has rolled under that proverbial bridge in these past few years, both in my life and in the world. We’ve gone through more than a year of the pandemic and all that it has wrought. The End of Trump and the insanity his followers have visited on the nation has rocked our world in ways never imagined. Georgia has elected two Democratic senators and is likely to see more movement in that direction. Big changes!

My own life has gone through upheavals of similar magnitude, as I saw the collapse of a longtime relationship–which nearly tore my family apart–and the beginning of a new relationship and a new life, and the birth of a child who is now three years old. And now, in recent weeks, the dissolution of that new relationship is putting me through changes, driving me to find new sources of meaning and clarity in my life. All of this and more.

Yes, all of this is giving me a lot to think about, a lot to write about, a lot to take onto my cushion at the end of the day. As the original purpose of this site was to present my learnings along the mostly Buddhist path–or the non-path–of a search for understanding and enlightenment, all this recent development in the world and in my life should give me a lot to write about.

I hope it will be interesting and even helpful to someone who may chance on these ramblings. I suppose I’m writing it primarily to clarify the learnings I’m gleaning from this field of broken dreams. But I will make every effort, as is the writer’s job, to assess what might be meaningful and interesting to others and make that my focus.

I will also address some of what is going on in the world and bring the perspective of my years of observation, study, meditation–and just generally experiencing the consequences of barreling along through life without a whole lot of forethought. Maybe something I’ve learned will be of some interest or benefit to someone! I’ll also continue with the story of my way-finding, or how I came to be on this peculiar, Buddhist-Inspired path. That’s in the Pages.

Hope to hear from you!

Baldwin speaks

That summer, in any case, all the fears with which I had grown up, and which were now a part of me and control my vision of the world, rose up like a wall between the world and me…

–James Baldwin

[This is a repost of something from a few years ago that seems more relevant now than ever… the full post on Baldwin is on my War Journal blog.]

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me sent me back to reread James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which I had not read since 1999. And there, on page 27, is the quote above with its unattributed reference to the same line from Richard Wright which gave Coates his title.

Wright’s poem of the same name (Between the World and Me), from White Man Listen! (1957), says:

“And one morning while in the woods I stumbled suddenly upon the thing,/

Stumbled upon it in a grassy clearing guarded by scaly oaks and elms/

And the sooty details of the scene rose, thrusting themselves between the world and me….”

These lines have drawn me in to the many points of similarity in the two writers, and especially reminded me of how much power and depth there is in James Baldwin.

Coates has drawn much inspiration from Baldwin, and seems poised to fill Baldwin’s role as a leading intellectual and articulate voice for the inchoate rage now welling up among Black Americans and their friends. Coates and Baldwin both reject the church, the street, the schools, and all other forms of escape and denial as beneath us, distractions from the worthy goals of freedom and dignity.

Both maintain that the same forces that have driven black people into slavery have created the degraded forms of life now ruling the ghettos and the suburbs alike, and promise to destroy all that is lovable in human life as well as threaten the very biosphere – at least the parts of it that we depend on. Baldwin sees our only salvation in “transcendence of the realities of color, of nations, and of altars.” [p. 81]

In The Fire Next Time, Baldwin lays down the philosophical basis that informs much of Coates work, the idea that white people – or people who “think they are white” as he says in the essay “On Being White… And Other Lies” – are harmed as much by racism as are black people, and that it is in order to maintain their very grasp on reality, their sense of themselves, that white people today cling to racism so tenaciously.

“White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this – which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never – the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” [p. 21]

Baldwin is profound in his understanding of the realities of life, and warns against retribution: “I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know – we see it around us every day – the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself.”

His deep spiritual understanding of life is reflected also in these incredibly beautiful, perceptive and sensitive lines:

“Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, which is the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death – ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible to life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return. One must negotiate this passage as nobly as possible, for the sake of those who are coming after us.” [p. 90-91]

He doesn’t shrink from the horrors of the American system or the cruelty of the situation, but he finds, as does Coates, some light of hope for our future. He says, ”…the white man himself is in sore need of new standards, which will release him from his confusion and place him once again in fruitful communion with the depths of his own being. And I repeat: The price of the liberation of the white people is the liberation of the blacks – the total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind. … In short, we, the black and the white, deeply need each other here if we are really to become a nation – if we are really, that is, to achieve our identity, our maturity, as men and women.”

For me, the implications, the social and political messages, in the work of both Coates and Baldwin are very clear, even stark.

Baldwin lays it out: “Now, there is simply no possibility of a real change in the Negro’s situation without the most radical and far-reaching changes in the American political and social structure.”

Coates’ characterization of “The Dream” as the deathbed of us all should make it clear enough that the “American Dream” – right down to the white picket fences – must die. Which, in light of all the Confederate flag rallies in the wake of Charleston, may mean that a cultural revolution of sorts is necessary.

What that revolution is and how it proceeds is hard to say. As Coates says, we Dreamers must learn to struggle with the same dignity and “great spiritual resilience” with which those we have oppressed for so long struggle.

And it seems to me that this is beginning. Many are beginning to realize that the oppression of black people, of indigenous, of women, of GLBT – of all America’s “Others” – is of a piece. Identifying ourselves with that oppression is not so hard, really, if one just opens one’s eyes and looks around. As Colin Farrell’s character “Ray” (in the “True Detectives” series) says in response to his partner’s complaint that he doesn’t know how to be out in the world, “Hey, look out that window, look at me, nobody does.”

It’s a world that’s not making a place for most of us, and slowly, slowly, people are beginning to realize this must change. Coates cites the need for a “new story” – an idea advanced also by high-profile writers and speakers like Charles Eisenstein, Russell Brand and others which is gaining traction among a wide variety of groups in our society. People are understanding that nothing less than re-invention of society at its fundamental levels is going to make any difference. To change anything, we must change everything. Of course, the corollary to that is: To change everything, we must change something. Beginning with how we view the world.

I think both Coates and Baldwin would agree with that assessment. And the gift they have for the world is an open-eyed, fearless willingness to see the world as it is. Baldwin says, “That man who is forced each day to snatch his manhood, his identity, out of the fire of human cruelty that rages to destroy it knows… something about himself and human life that no school on earth – and indeed, no church – can teach. He achieves his own authority, and that is unshakeable. This is because, in order to save his life, he is forced to look beneath appearances, to take nothing for granted, to hear the meaning behind the words.”

This perspective is what these black writers bring to us. Maybe, if we can see how their experience is our own experience, we can be as strong, as durable, as brilliant as they and do our part in bringing about the changes that this world must see for whatever time we humans have left on the planet to be a time of love and dignity.

 

The link to the essay on Collective Liberation:

https://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Baldwin_On_Being_White.pdf

A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook & Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism | Democracy Now!

A Threat to Global Democracy: How Facebook & Surveillance Capitalism Empower Authoritarianism | Democracy Now!

This is chilling. I’m deleting my account.
— Read on www.democracynow.org/2018/8/1/a_threat_to_global_democracy_how

“So the very act of arguing against the crazy amplifies the crazy. It’s one of the reasons that Facebook is a terrible place to deliberate about the world.”

“If we really want to limit the damage that Facebook has done, we have to invest our time and our money in institutions that help us think, that help us think clearly, that can certify truth, that can host debate—right?—institutions like journalism, institutions like universities, public libraries, schools, other forms of public forums, town halls. We need to put our time and our energy into face-to-face politics, so we can look our opponents in the eye and recognize them as humans, and perhaps achieve some sort of rapprochement or mutual understanding and respect. Without that, we have no hope. If we’re engaging with people only through the smallest of screens, we have no ability to recognize the humanity in each other and no ability to think clearly. We cannot think collectively. We cannot think truthfully. We can’t think. We need to build—rebuild, if we ever had it, our ability to think.”

– from the interview.