In general, the evidence provided by seeing with our own eyes is pretty shaky. Check out any police line-up. All Blacks may look alike to Whites because blackness is all we need to know in order to place a fellow human into the category we want her to fit, overlooking the overwhelming evidence of the fullness of her humanity.

It takes concentrated effort to avoid making that error. And for Blacks to avoid the same error looking the other way into our white faces. Simpleminded shortcuts to categorization cut human awareness off at the neck, they are acts of such violence.

In my Army unit, being one of the four tallest members qualified me for being a squad leader. In my squad the soldier next to me was the fifth tallest, the blackest man I had ever seen. He was so black, I couldn’t make out his features at all, only the whiteness of his eyes and teeth. His face was always in the shadows.

After several months of living in close quarters with him, I found that most of his darkness had drained away and he’d become a human being, not a Black man. It’s strange how that works. It wasn’t that his skin was black so much as that my mind was white from lack of social experience (as my skin is white from lack of exposure to sunlight), and I didn’t know it.

In that sense, the Army was a great leveler in mixing Blacks and Whites and Latinos and Asians together, giving a good shake of shared experience, and letting the results speak for themselves. Putting young men and women together in college dorms and the military doesn’t work as well because hormones give us a primal agenda that takes a long time to recast as the will of mature, consenting adults.

The demons that haunt our political campaigns are not there at the focus of the advertisements hurled at us as Election Day nears. We know those claims are false (or are at best overdrawn) because we similarly exaggerate the polarity of our own likes and dislikes to maintain their focus at the heart of our consciousness, but we keep forgetting our own fibs and distortions when it is inconvenient to own-up to them in mixed company.

Though stars in general may not have much meaning for us, we all do have a favorite star in our neighborhood, and that is the sun, a star that truly makes a difference in our lives as Earth’s source of radiant energy, and source of gravitational energy that gives us a place to hang our hats in the “universe.”

The sun isn’t like other stars in being, for practical purposes, minimally worthy of notice. To the contrary, at some seasons the sun beams down on us with so much heat and light that it forces itself on our attention, and we seek shelter from its direct rays.

At opposite seasons, when lower in the sky, the sun is often thrust into our awareness by its shyness, and we wish it would be more forceful than it is. But even given its seasonal variability, the sun is far brighter to the eye than other stars, and hotter, and apparently moving so fast through the sky that we feel compelled to keep track of it with our clocks, watches, sundials, and digital devices. In a very real sense, we want to know where it is at all hours so we can set our lives to its schedule.

That is some star. A star to hitch your life to. A star to rise and shine by every day. Without sunlight, plants wouldn’t exist, animals wouldn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist. There, now, is a star that has meaning. Without it, meaning wouldn’t exist because our minds wouldn’t exist.

The sun is implicit in the meaning of meaning, in every one of the dimensions of human awareness and intelligence. Without it, those dimensions would be unimaginable. With it, they become possible.

When we do notice other stars and heavenly bodies, it is often their variability that draws our attention. We notice the comings and goings of comets across the sky, meteors and periodic meteor showers, supernovas suddenly blazing forth where no star was seen before, then fading away.

Too, we notice full and partial eclipses of sun and moon, alignments of planets with bright stars and other planets, phases of the moon as sunlight strikes its surface at different angles as seen from our point of view. And the seasonal journeys of stellar constellations, those apparent groupings of stars we find sufficiently familiar to identify by name: Orion, Sagittarius, Libra, Cassiopeia, Pleiades, Cygnus, Big Dipper, Little Dipper, Southern Cross, among others.

To my mind, it is changes in the aesthetic arrangement of the stars that invites them into our attention and gives them much of their meaning. They are not fixtures after all, but sensory phenomena in our minds that are subject to change.

What we call fixed stars are fixed in the sense of their unchanging relations one to another, not in relation to us. Indeed, they appear to move across the sky every day, but en masse, as a well-disciplined flock, preserving their relative positions in the herd, never wandering, never getting lost or out of line.

We know now that that seemingly harmonious sweep of the stars is not their doing at all but ours in revolving beneath them and orbiting the sun through the seasons. It is Earth’s twofold motion, not the stars above moving in an orderly parade. But for most of human history (and all of prehistory), people have been convinced that the stars themselves moved together on well-ordered paths across the sky.

And it was the presumed source of that orderly pattern of motion that gave meaning to the stars as disciplined lights subject to a fundamental rule of the “universe” (which means one-turning, even though the stars aren’t turning at all; it is we Earthlings who are moving, projecting our ill-considered impressions onto the stars).

“Universe” is a misnomer. A mistake. A fundamental error of misconception. What we mean by “the universe,” then, doesn’t truly exist. It is not at all what we once thought it was. Yet the word persists on our English-speaking tongues, and has meaning for even scientists and theologians, who both know better, but in this instance stick to the same outdated habit.

 

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.       [Including 16 photos.]

Where do Mitt Romney’s non-taxpaying moochers go on vacation? I don’t know about the others, but this September I allowed myself three days to explore Campobello Island in New Brunswick off Lubec, Maine, where I wanted to do some serious mooching. By mooching I mean engaging my surroundings with my eyes and my camera, checking on the situations I am apt to get myself into so I can make a fitting response to what’s going on in my world. My partner was ready to take a break, too, so we drove together through Washington County and over the international bridge between Lubec and Campobello, to the island where F.D.R. took vacations long ago before he got polio.

We spent three days in Herring Cove Provincial Park and Roosevelt International Park, as beautiful an area as I have ever been in. Since this was our only vacation all year, we had some heavy mooching to do if it was going to have to last us for twelve months. I took the makings of three breakfasts and three lunches, she provided three dinners. We tented out in Herring Cove Campground, and did little but explore the whole time.

Since I feel obligated to submit a report to Mr. Romney to justify my existence for those three days—on the off-chance he might approve of how I occupied myself—I offer this accounting of how I used my time. We arrived just at dusk, so set up the tent in a hurry, avoiding low ground where rainwater would collect, and then ate a quick dinner. That was Friday night. The forecast for Saturday was wind and rain by early afternoon, so we started out early in the morning by visiting the beach at Cranberry Point. Yes, there was the Lubec Channel Light, just as the brochure said it would be—looking every bit the giant sparkplug they said it resembled. Carole, that’s my partner, suffered from stomach distress, so lay on the shore with a smooth beach stone in each hand to heal herself. And I walked up and down the beach, photographing the Duck Islands, the waves, clouds on the horizon, a painted lady butterfly, the lighthouse, and West Quoddy Light across the channel in the U.S. of A.

When it started to rain, we visited the Roosevelt International Park visitor center, and spent a couple of hours refreshing our memories of F.D.R.s life and presidency. They had fifteen of his notable speeches piped into a cathedral-style table radio, so it was like old times, reminding me of December 7, 1941, when I first heard of the Japanese stealth bombing of Pearl Harbor. If it hadn’t been for F.D.R., I wouldn’t be the moocher I am today, so I had no difficulty paying my respects to his memory.

When the rain let up, we headed for the northern end of the island to visit East Quoddy Light, which a woman walking her dog told us might be turned into guest accommodations. An adult bald eagle was riling up the gulls on the rocks, looking like he (a tercel one-third smaller than a female) was determined to eat one for dinner. He landed on top of a nearby spruce and balanced himself in the wind by much flapping of wings, then dove off and made a fly-by of where we were standing. I got several photos of that foray, before he settled down on the rocks and just sat there eying the gulls, who mercilessly harassed him by diving at his neck from behind.

You get the idea of how I go about mooching by following my nose to whatever looks interesting. I took 355 photos in three days, and the day I got back, made a 106-slide PowerPoint summary of my brief Canadian engagement, a sample of which I include in this blog. That’s the best way of letting Mr. Romney and the rest of the world know what I was doing by actually posting the evidence of my nonstop engagement with birds, flowers, butterflies, stones, beach art, and my partner Carole. That’s how I justify my existence when somebody challenges me, by showing them what I’m up to.

Whether you’re ready or not, here come the photos: 1) The Duck Islands, 2) Herring Cove with storm clouds, 3) shiny black stone on the beach, 4) the eastern horizon (I’m fascinated by that limit to my existence), 5) a bunch of pebbles, 6) more pebbles, 7) sandpiper on Raccoon Beach, 8) two urchins in sea wrack, 9) a new-hatched monarch butterfly, 10) cliff at the end of Herring Cove, 11) folk art made of the rubber bands lobstermen use to bind lobster claws, 12) a spiral engraved in the sand of Herring Cove with a stick, 13) a totem made by piling up beach stones, and 14-16) constructions such as people leave behind when visiting Raccoon Cove on Campobello Island.

The first ten photos are products my actions in engaging the island, the last six are products of other people’s engagements, left behind for posterity to appreciate, then to succumb to the natural forces ruling all engagements on the island.

Slide1Slide2 Slide3Slide4 Slide5 Slide6 Slide7 Slide8 Slide9Slide10Slide11Slide12 Slide13Slide14Slide15Slide16

That’s the kind of thing I engage with when I and my partner go on vacation. It’s pretty close to my life’s work, engaging the landscapes through which I pass as I go. I see myself as living a life of civility and respect for the wonders of this Earth. At least I don’t make pornographic films, weapons of mass destruction, or money based on bilking others of their life’s savings. I do as little damage as I can, and above all, take responsibility for the workings of my mind because, after all, it’s my mind, and I’m the only one with access to it. My mind directs my behavior, and my behavior affects other people, so I try to set up an exchange of civility as I walk the way of my life.

Oh, yes, this is my 329th post to my blog on consciousness, my effort to understand my personal brand of absurdity so that I can fulfill that last promise to live on peaceful terms with my neighbors by conducting myself as decently, courteously, and respectfully as I can because I know that no one has it easy, and a ruckus from my direction is the last thing anyone needs. Not that I haven’t caused trouble in the past, but I’m getting better by knowing myself up-close and personal, as they used to say on TV, which I know because I was there watching it as recently as twenty-five years ago.

That’s my mooching report for this week. Pretty bland, I would say—especially when compared to the trouble a lot of workers cause by fighting needless wars of aggression, wringing other people’s money out of the economy, keeping people locked up in detention and solitary confinement, shipping jobs overseas, and generally causing mayhem the way politicians and corporate executives like to do to keep folks stirred up and out of sorts so they’ll consume more than they need just to keep the money flowing to the coffers of the well-off and famous.  

Between mooches I work with an estuary and its watershed to keep it in good shape for coming generations, and hang out with remnants of the Occupy Movement in Maine, trying to convert to an assembly for promoting civil exchanges within the local community as opposed to monetary exchanges—as if sports and the economy are all we have to talk about when people get together. How about learning from and about one another, since each one of us is unique and largely unknown to anyone else?

Submitted with humility and sincerity, –Steve of Planet Earth

Reflection 328: Pandemic

October 5, 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

When overwhelmed by the wackiness of today’s “civilized” world, I often view my own consciousness as a theater of the absurd. What I see is one crank after another bantering about his eccentric view of the world being the one and only view that everyone else should take as a revelation of true reality. Tyrants do it, political leaders do it, holy men do it, as do newscasters, pundits, businessmen, bankers, economists, entertainers, making it seem that a tsunami of craziness has swept over us in the night, engulfing us in a flood of absurdity.

My defense against this flood is to look upon today’s reality as a kind of dream where the conventional social order is overturned in a wild Saturnalia of anything goes. If it can be thought, it will be thought by someone, somewhere. If it can be said, ditto. If it can be done, double ditto. Which is much like many of my nightmares, and creates a sense of frustration similar to how I, powerless in my sleep, react to those dreams.

Except the current pandemic of self-seeking wackiness is no dream. It is the most brutish kind of reality where every man squares off against all others for himself alone to see what he can get by forcing his burden of craziness on the rest of us.

The Supreme Court of the United States of America has assigned the status of personhood to corporations, thereby granting the right of free speech and free spending of money to for-profit entities out to make a killing from the rest of us mere mortals by transferring our personal wealth to their coffers as quickly as possible. That is no way to run a world, and since there’s only one world based on potential consciousness, that is no way to run this world, the one we’ve been born to.

I dream of the possibility of a world based on decency, courtesy, and respect—a world where citizens are civil one to another, and do not base their engagements solely on power and money, that is, on what they can get from others and from the Earth.

Our current passion for competition comes from a false reading of Darwin’s message. We are one human family among our fellow plants and animals, without whom we would not be here. We are not the top dog, the essential nation, the leader of all tribes. Above all, we are not “man-the-wise.” Whatever happened to empathy and humility? Where did we go wrong in selling our souls for (temporary) personal advantage?

We are a primate species, born of a long line of expert tree climbers and leapers, come down to earth, now risen up on two legs and looking for trouble, which we seem to thrive on. Yet we are all mortal beings, heading for certain illness and death, born of woman, conceived by a man and a woman, who were both conceived by male and female going back to the beginning of primate life. The lady in France who said (in French) “I am not a mammal” had it backwards. Because she worked for a company that made baby formula, she imagined herself as a superior being independent of her animal roots. In deep denial, she was being absurd. It is that fatuous quality that now defines us and sets us against who we truly are.

This year’s Republican presidential primary race pitted one candidate against all others, each making preposterous statements based on his or her personal life experience as if it was the basis of universal law. Personal conceit (which I see as a form of ignorance) mixed with a hunger for money ignites the absurdity I see all around us. A pandemic of absurdity, where no one has his feet on the ground but is issuing nonsense out of his mouth as if it came from the Delphic Oracle—from the Priestess herself. Or from Fox News, the Koch brothers, Karl Rove, some infallible Pope or Ayatollah—from ideologues to the Tenth Degree.

We have become the laughing stock of all species, or would be if we didn’t wreak so much waste, havoc, chaos, and misery in our wake. This is what the 13-billion-year history of the universe has brought us to? This has been our destiny all along?

Don’t you believe it! This current pandemic of absurdity is an anomaly, a product of personal avarice and lust for power, a temporary state of affairs brought on by a lapse of judgment in choosing our way in the world based on how we wish to engage one another, seeing others as dupes and fools, not our equals, not our Earthly brothers and sisters.

We are suffering through a breakdown in human engagement, a parody of personal virtue gone musty and rotten. We are using one another as personal property to be used, gutted, and discarded. This is the new slavery, the purchase and abuse of those thought to be lesser beings because of their relative poverty and weakness. Imagine the bundling of mortgages imposed on people who cannot afford the homes they buy because that intentionally unbearable debt adds up to big money to be claimed by those who see the total amount but not the people who owe it as if it were only money, not bundled human lives.

Where, oh where is civility? We are not here to be at our neighbors’ throats, or to do our worst, not our best. We are at the forefront of the history of the universe, ready to engage those who have come with us on the basis of our equality as living beings, not as dispensable victims. If I did not believe in civility, I would be embarrassed to be an American. Instead, I think we have only lost our way because of the worm of self-serving power and profit that has bored into our heads—and we can be healed and set right again in a New Age based on civil engagements that encourage decency, courtesy, and respect.

As it is, we are allowing ourselves and the Earth to be sold short of what we are truly worth—the only seat of consciousness that we have yet discovered—or are ever likely to discover—in the universe. If we keep on as we are going, where will we find the worthy examples to lead us back to our senses? Civility is fragile, the product of eons of collective respect, striving, and cooperation. Are we going to sit by and watch it be taken from us by a vain and wealthy elite that wants to run the world solely on its own terms? We deserve a better fate than that.

As I see it, the only alternative is for us to achieve the civility I am talking about by building it into the heart of our own lives and engagements, thereby refusing to go meekly along with the self-appointed elite, who are really the most forlorn, desperate, and pitiable caricatures of what humanity can be. What choice do we have but to remain staunchly ourselves?

Respectfully, y’r friend and brother, –Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin.

In my last 20 posts I have included 138 photographs illustrating the wildness of some of my engagements this past summer. But my engagements come in many different types and styles, wildness being only one of them. In round after round of engagement, I have interacted with people (from family, friends, and relatives, to casual acquaintances, and total strangers); with a variety of locales in coastal Hancock County, Maine; and with a great many engagement accessories (tools) including my toothbrush, 18-year-old car, PC, iPad, favorite mug, books on my shelves, cribbage board, pencil now lost, rowboat, and Super Sky Hawk airplane. Without any one of those engagements with people, places, things, my life would have turned out differently than it did.

Life for all of us is a whirlwind of engagements, some pleasant, some less so. Our minds drive us to interact with one person-place-thing after another in never ending succession. Finish one, move on to the next. Even when asleep, we engage with our dreams. Even when bored, we are engaged with our boredom, driving ourselves to distraction. We take all this for granted as just how it is—how we are and how life is. But seldom do we contemplate the miracle of the whirlwind that is ourselves as powered by our spinning, conscious and unconscious minds.

Introspection is a sort of time-and-motion study of one human mind. When you start to think about thinking, there is so much happening and so much material to include that it’s far easier to go watch YouTube videos for an hour than reflect on your own inner workings. But my many bouts of self-reflection over a thirty-year period have revealed to me that my engagements are what I am all about. I am built as an engager, and operate as one every day of my life. If I weren’t and I didn’t, I’d be dead. In truth, engagements are the stuff life is made of. They are the meaning of life itself—what we do in interacting with the world around us, coupled to what the world does with us in return. Life is one spinning engagement without end until our minds give out and we realize there really is an end after all; but till then, we deny any such thing, and have our daily engagements to prove it.

Though I am sometimes uncomfortable in the face of events, I can’t recall ever being bored. The power of the mind is rooted in the ability to pay attention, and in every situation there is always something to notice and attend to, even if it is the state of one’s mind at the time. But then I’ve never been in solitary confinement for a month, or deprived of sensory impressions for even a minute (except when asleep). In my case, to live is to be awake and attentive to whatever catches my ear, nose, eye, or mind. To live is to engage; to engage is to be active; to be active is to be mindful and alert. Partly in order to survive, partly to be productive, partly to be fulfilled, partly to integrate into and get along with the rest of the world.

Engagement is no special moment and no frill. It is life itself. It is what we do with our two fundamental sources of energy, ambient sensory energy from our surroundings and bodily energy from the food we eat combined with the air we breathe. The point of our personal combustion (metabolism) is to get engaged and stay engaged. To be part of the scene around us. To be somebody. Which we do in many ways—the particular ways (types, styles) of engagement that determine our distinctive personalities.

We engage the world by acting out of the situations we get ourselves into by making ourselves happen as we do. The meaning of our actions flow from those situations as seen from our personal perspective. We aren’t engaging the world so much as engaging our view of the world—the world as it seems to us. Our preferred styles of interaction—our personalities—reflect our outlooks on specific situations as seen inside-out in creating a reality for ourselves that springs from the unique set of life conditions we have become used to and cannot imagine otherwise.

Common types or styles of engagement might be suggested by clusters of terms such as:

  • assertive, dominant, aggressive, authoritarian
  • accepting, submissive, peaceful, tolerant
  • playful, lighthearted, open, humorous, joyful
  • rigid, set, closed, unyielding, fearful
  • loving, caring, compassionate, generous
  • hostile, callous, unforgiving, self-serving
  • adventurous, risky, courageous, creative
  • collaborative, collegial, cooperative, friendly
  • competitive, self-centered, grudging, conflictive
  • composed, orderly, organized, constructive, concerted
  • wild, unruly, careless, unthinking, haphazard
  • and so on.

By my way of thinking, two of the most prominent engagement styles reflect minds that are either open or closed to discovery. That is, minds either looking for answers or set upon imposing preconceived solutions. Here is a sample of what I have written in contrasting the two styles:

The hallowed field of education is based on assumptions concerning the nature of learning, teaching, knowing, truth, inquiry, experiment, language, and other fundamental matters of great importance. In some quarters, questions are regarded as tokens of heresy, so education is reduced to rote memorization of orthodox texts, accurate recitation being taken as proof of wisdom and understanding. With a quotation at hand for every issue, the truth becomes self-evident to all who have undergone proper indoctrination. Again, answers are known before any questions are asked. Reciting the words of ancient masters, pupils build a future for themselves that is meant to be a replica of the distant past. Back to the future; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. (Consciousness: The Book, page 239.)

Voices rising from Wall Street insist that there is no need for more vigilant governmental oversight—even as those same speakers inflict yet another economic calamity on the nation—while a chorus in Washington insists that government, taxes, and entitlements need to be abolished as evils in themselves. Self-serving opinion is rampant in today’s media, while knowledge won through practical and costly experience is dismissed as a fascist, communist, or Islamic terrorist plot, whichever is the flavor of the day. The conflict is not about preserving the primacy of Western-Capitalist Civilization but is an example of warfare between minds—open on one side and closed on the other, or worse—closed on both sides.

Military conflicts arise from failed engagements between minds that have been reared-taught-trained and armed by members of different cultures and belief systems. Wars are never solutions to world problems because they inevitably spawn further problems that are even worse when the next generation comes to face them. On the intercultural scene, passionate speeches in different languages are no substitute for the experience of actually getting together in an atmosphere of mutual respect while working things out—of actively engaging to a common purpose.

I offer loops of engagement as a means for implementing the golden rule because such loops bring up both the self and the other for due consideration at the same time. It’s not one “me” against the other, but start to finish a consorting “we.” In a world of over seven billion unique individuals, styles of engagement make all the difference in getting along as good neighbors. How we reach out to one another determines the responses we get back. Blame becomes obsolete because it only widens the gap between us when what we need is an effectively united humanity that can relieve the pain we are inflicting on our ourselves and on the natural world we claim to praise while mindlessly rendering uninhabitable.

That is my message for today and forever. Y’s truly, ––Steve from Planet Earth

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

I am a participant in the Quaker Institute for the Future (QIF) 2012 summer research seminar meeting this week at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. In the early minutes, while we were centering ourselves in silence, I became aware of the loud ticking of a clock. It was an electric wall clock driven by a motor, not by weights and a pendulum, so it had no need for a noisy escapement, but there it was, ticking away simply because clockmakers cater to the public delusion that clocks ought to tick. I thought of functionless metopes (beam ends) in stone temples dotted around ancient Greece, structures fashioned after ancient wooden temples, but having no true beam ends because they had no wooden beams. After all, how could a temple serve as a temple if it didn’t look like a temple ought to look?

Little white cars these days look like they rode off the screen of Star Wars because Star Wars set standards for what helmets and vehicles ought to look like in the future. Now that we live in the then future, what else can we expect cars to look like? I still think houses in New England ought to look like my grandfather’s house in Plainfield, Vermont—complete with woodstove in the kitchen and woodworking shop in the barn—because that house defined for me how a house is meant to look. Movies keep getting made to look as they did in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. We just can’t seem to let go of the old days when our tastes were formed once and forever. Over and over again it’s the same story—back to the future.

But it did strike me as strange to be sitting in a college seminar room equipped with a clock that affected a fake ticking sound as an echo of yesteryear while I was trying to coax my mind into engaging the future. That relentless beat nicely illustrates the problem we are up against in carrying past expectations around inside our heads as we grow more entrenched in what seems to be the future but is really an extension of times we’ve already lived through. Stuck, stuck, stuck, stuck—that was the message of the room we were assembled in to plot our way ahead. How ironic is that?

Fact is, the past is hard to shed because it’s built into the very habits, memories, and expectations we carry around with us as we go. And in our styles of reaching out to the world based on those tired expectations. Even though we realize it no longer works, we still lug it around, lug it around without realizing it because if we shed it, we’d no longer know who we were. Which is who we were once upon a fantasy time when our styles of grappling with the world were formed.

Creatures of limited imagination that we are, we know what we like, and like what we know. So much for change, so much for progress.

Later in the day, one QIF participant gave a presentation about bringing our economy up to date in workable form. He pointed out that the U.S. Constitution empowers Congress to collect taxes and pay the debts for the common defense and general welfare of the United States, and, too, to borrow money on credit. It was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton who led George Washington to float the nation on monies borrowed from banks in New York, a habit that has endured for over 200 years. Hamilton, a man who would not leave politics alone, came to a bad end in his duel with Aaron Burr, as the nation is facing a dire fiscal situation today.

So now we pay interest to the financial services industry for the privilege of borrowing its money, when there is no reason whatever for doing so. That particular habit is driving us into the poorhouse, making paupers of a great many hardworking people. Yet we think it is the only way to fund the nation because it’s a habit we picked up so long ago that it’s now simply business as usual as the founding fathers had it in their day. We haven’t the imagination to change to a less suicidal way of paying our bills with interest for the privilege of doing so. Hostages to the moneyed elite, we send jobs overseas and listen to the ticking of the clock as it tracks the national debt, while that same elite avoids taxes and prospers immensely on bonuses paid with public monies. Strange business. Where is it written we must play by that scenario?

Progress is largely a matter of ridding ourselves of a beloved set of bad habits, yet we remain slaves to that tradition, as some advise us it is our moral duty to do. If we are to be free, we must come round to freeing ourselves. There is no need for a sovereign government to borrow from a moneyed elite. It’s time to free ourselves from the grand old tradition of national indebtedness. To go bankrupt for the sake of a political idea is a risky venture gone wrong. If we are to head for a brave new future, we’re not going to get there by listening to the ghostly ticking of the same old clock in our heads.

With thanks to Keith Helmuth for truly facing QIF toward the future, I remain as ever, y’r friend, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

In CONSCIOUSNESS: The BOOK, I divide loops of engagement into two segments: on one hand, dimensions of consciousness devoted to perception (including arousal, expectancy, attention, sensory impression, discernment, interpretation, understanding, feeling, and values); and on the other,  dimensions of consciousness preparatory for action (including memory, judgments, decisions, goals, projects, relationships, and planning).

Perceptual dimensions of consciousness lead to consolidation of new memories. Dimensions leading to action combine memory with current values and feelings in planning and executing behaviors appropriate to the current situation as construed by the mind.

That construal (interpretation or construction) of the current situation provides the setting for our looping engagements. That’s where understanding enters the loop as the upshot of the mutual engagement of perception and interpretation. How we understand a given situation determines how we physically behave on any given occasion. Perception, interpretation, and understanding determine the climate in which events occur; action is the specific weather at a given place and time within a specific situation.

Climates of consciousness, in being largely cultural, include the great disciplines of human thought and awareness: economics, politics, theology, healthcare, science, education, military affairs, agriculture, art, fashion, literature, geography, athletics, language, and other components of the cultures we build around ourselves, and which in turn shape our identities.

These cultural influences are aspects of our personal understandings of ourselves as members of particular groups, families, races, and nations as they shape our fields of personal concern. And within those fields of concern, spur the loops of engagement by which we balance our personal awareness against the options for action we see for dealing with our concerns at the moment.

Within our respective cultures, each of us is a distinct individual subject to a unique variety of pressures, interests, and concerns. How we respond in making ourselves happen in the world is influenced by our understanding of both ourselves and our worlds in concert with our feelings and values.

What is truly remarkable about us as a species is the diversity of approaches we take in dealing with our concerns as we construe them according to our experience, understanding, faith, and belief. Some of us follow Catholic ways, some  Protestant or Jewish ways, others Buddhist or Islamic ways. Some of us are democrats, republicans, socialists, communists, fascists, or none of the above. Some make music while others make art, quilts, or batches of beer. Some have families, some have pets, some live in mansions, others in hovels. All according to the mixture of concerns governing how we engage one another and our surroundings.

There is no accounting for the combination of concerns that makes us who we are. Or more accurately, no recalling the forces that acted on us in our formative years when we were young and more helpless than we remember being at the time. Our parents ruled us via their loops of engagements much as we rule our own children, laying down the law in some cases, letting others slip by. But the structure of our understanding of ourselves and our worlds—whether science rules our hearts, religion does, our passions and appetites, or our addictions—the lives we have lived up to now seem sensible to us as the only lives we can refer to, so we live as if we are destined to go on in the same way as before.

If there is a logic to our concerns, it is the logic of precedents from days we barely remember. As we were treated, so do we treat others and call it fair, just, and deserving. Our loops and memories were forged by powerful emotional experiences, most of which we conveniently disremember. In truth, I am still the same little kid I was when I roamed the hills of central New York State in the 1930s, living now as if the conditions that prevailed in those days still apply. My engagements are just that, my engagements because that’s how I learned to make myself happen in my little world. There’s no breaking free from my formative past because it still bears on the neural network that governs my looping perceptions and actions today.

Every one of us is privileged (or condemned) to follow the dictates of our most intimate pasts. Those dictates are rarely codified in so many dos and don’ts, prescriptive formulas, or commands. That isn’t the language our concerns were received in. We duly and emotionally lived them at the time. And they are still with us in the complex neural networks that make up our brains and on which our minds are dependent to this day. We are variations on a theme we first met long ago. We hang around like old songs and poems from childhood, our lives still having the same Mother Goose lilt they did then.

Our religious, political, and cultural beliefs strive to maintain continuity with our childhoods in the deep Paleolithic period of our most intimate selves. We are today descendents of whom we were in those beginning times. We see and hear now as we learned to see and hear then. We think now as we learned to think then. We believe now as we learned to believe because we didn’t know any better in those early days.

So, yes, we look upon the world of today, but see with old eyes, hear with old ears, believe with naive wits, and in all innocence think we behold the world as it is. We are creatures of our acculturation and upbringing to this day. There is no escaping who we were and how we were introduced to the world through engagement with those whose example gave us our eyes and ears, sensitivities and tastes.

We act today by the logic of precedents received in earlier times—as if they were still valid to this day. We may outgrow our clothing but we carry our primal beliefs as if they still fit us as they did when we were brand new.

In fact, the religions, political parties, and philosophies we practice are all in our heads, carryovers from yesteryear, aided and abetted by the cultural institutions we create and maintain to insure we always have a place to go that reminds us who we were and have been ever since. But institutions have particular clout and endurance because they are dedicated to holding fast to our memberships to gain access to our minds in order to set the climate within which we act.

Think of the great temples, mosques, cathedrals, palaces, government buildings, sporting arenas, universities, theaters, and corporate headquarters whose sole purpose is to keep us in our place exactly where they want us. That is, keep our minds in place so that we behave correctly as they would have us behave. Think of the established, authoritarian governments of North Korea, China, Syria, Iran, Russia—and now the United States of America—governments that attempt to institutionalize their peoples lest they wander off track, learn to think for themselves, and risk becoming ungrateful and unruly.

The bigger such climate enforcers become, the stronger they blow on our minds to whip them into conformity. And if they blow our minds away, from the rubble a renewed people arise who are capable of making up their own minds and living their own lives. Freedom is a personal matter that cannot be imposed by force. It is always earned by exercising the creative imagination of unique individuals, and always flows from those few exemplars who show the way. They are true leaders in mapping out the routes we must follow in being truly ourselves. Routes that give glass, steel, and stone institutions a wide berth in sticking to pathways mere mortals can trend on their own.

Invention and discovery are ways to the future; dogma, ideology, and correct performance lock us into the past. The most difficult challenge we face in becoming ourselves is in freeing ourselves from utter dependence on our past histories as institutions preserve them. No one becomes free in an institution. To be free in our minds requires us to grow beyond the influence of our first cultural enforcers so that at last we discover who we are as free agents.

As always, I remain y’rs truly, –Steve

Copyright © 2012 by Steve Perrin

What are we but primate mammals with a gift for remembering, recognizing, and recreating (or imitating) situations and sensory patterns we have met before? We call ourselves wise, but wisdom resides first in the ways and beliefs of our families, groups, and cultures, not ourselves. We do our best to learn how to act in everyday situations, and those actions—however skilled—tell who we are.

When aroused from its habitual stupor by surprise, novelty, or concern, consciousness translates our motivated awareness into planning and making a fitting response.  We once thought we were little more than stimulus-response chains on legs, but now we accept it as given that aside from our routine or habitual actions, consciousness can intervene in that chain, allowing us to tailor our actions to our situations as we construe or interpret them. This allows us to moderate our actions in light of our personal experience under the particular circumstances that prevail at any given moment.

As vessels of experience, each of us is unique in the universe. Our genetic makeup is unlike any other. Our childhood learning is our own, as is our subsequent education, our job history, our values and emotional life, the details of our autobiographical memory, and so on. Like our immune systems, our minds are crafted by the lives we actually lead, so are each one of a kind.

When we come to act, it appears we are acting for ourselves alone as motivated by self-interest and and a lust for self-preservation. But if that is the case, we haven’t learned very much from our situated presence among seven-billion brothers and sisters. In truth, when we act, each of us acts for our entire human family. And beyond that, for all species, for Earth our homeland in space, and for the universe that has delivered us to this particular era and location.

If we haven’t learned that by now, for all practical purposes our conscious understanding is foolish if not worthless. Yes, we are individual molecules in the darkness of space, looking to one source of energy or another, ever jockeying for life and position. But if we take life to live life, we are acting on our own without considering our absolute dependence on those around us to give us a place among themselves. We are in this life together, and always have been, back to our original parent in the big bang, the ultimate source of our existential being.

If an Israeli takes water from a Palestinian who then dies of thirst, the surviving Israeli lives at the expense of his regional, planetary, and universal brothers and sisters. Unwittingly, such thievery happens all the time. But to commit such a crime according to a deliberate plan is no better than the U.S. killing and displacing millions of Iraqis for the sake of the oil beneath their feet, or a band of offended Muslim jihadis destroying Buddha statues in the Banyan Valley or capitalist enclaves in lower Manhattan.

When I act, I act for you; when you act, you act for me. When I am conscious, I cannot afford to think only for myself, anymore than you can for yourself. Consciousness is our joint responsibility. By myself as a wanderer in the desert I do not exist. We live our lives collectively, in pairs, families, communities, regions, nations, and our respective planetary populations. Consciousness is a gift to us all—the ability to modulate our actions in light of our understanding of the whole.

If our education treats strangers with different ways of doing and being as lesser creatures than ourselves, it is dangerous to the degree it is incomplete in giving us a a distorted awareness and understanding of the whole.

The charade of the Republican primaries in the 2012 election cycle reveals how dangerous self-centered politics has become in each candidate believing he has the answer for everyone else, and if we would only be conscious in his particular way, we would be collectively better-off. Such arrogant posturing would impose the hopelessly limited and impaired consciousness of one individual on our nation and its world.

The only viable political system must respect and speak to our diversity, not make clones of us all. Policies must be all-encompassing, as good for you as for me. Which is why I advocate the study of personal consciousness before our understanding ossifies as a one-size-fits-all program of mind control.

For myself, I give no one the right or the power to dictate how I am to employ my mind and actions to their liking. That way lies the police state, trickle-down economics, a penal system in which deviant minds are put away in solitary confinement to engage solely with six surfaces made of concrete.

How about you? That’s it for today. –Steve

(Copyright © 2010)

Great Seal State of MaineSome years ago, Farmer and Sailor met at a bar in Augusta. After downin’ applejack and rum for couple hours, they went separate ways.

Seems to me,” said Farmer as they parted, “if you’d drop some seed in that furrow you plow out to China, you’d have something to show for it on the way back.”

Maybe so,” said Sailor, “and if you’d hoist some canvas on that rig of yours, add helm and rudder, you’d make better headway than plowin’ back and forth in that field every day.”

Our lives—what we do in the world—flow from our biological values mapped onto events, and in turn our categorizations of events flow from the lives we have led up till now. That is, a (sometimes winding) path runs between our values and categorizations (how we see the world), and that path is the life we have led. Or what personal memory draws from walking that path, and consciousness maps onto here-and-now awareness through acts of in-formed categorization.

There is no particular logic that applies to the course of our lives other than the ad hoc logic of salient events we actually witness and participate in. In that sense, we keep casting the same old categories onto the world, and the world keeps making the same old response—giving us back more of what we already have in mind. The world does not so much turn in orderly fashion as that we who turn with it are set in our ways of looking at the world. So when unique events occur before our eyes—such as a new Congress wrestling with what a national health plan might look like—we see it as a variation on a theme and treat it as if we’ve been there and tried that, with no forward motion whatsoever. We are stuck because we hold tight to the same tried-and-true categorizations we’ve always projected onto such situations—even if what’s on offer has never been tried before.

The world keeps moving ahead, and we keep pulling it backwards in conformity with formative events in our lives drawn from yesteryear. Resulting in change without progress. We spend most of our energy spinning our wheels because we are unable to step off our customary route and see the current situation with new eyes. The star at the top of the Maine State Seal is the North Star by which landsmen and seamen steered their way through woods and across dark oceans in the early nineteenth century. Dirigo, the state motto, translates from Latin as “I lead.” That is, the State of Maine depicts itself as leading the nation. Thus do we all see ourselves on the forefront of experience, when in fact we attire ourselves in the traditional garb of farmers and sailors of long ago. We lead by clinging to our traditional image of ourselves, not by freeing our bodies of such baggage and stepping unburdened ahead.

Another example is the granting of “personhood” to corpora-tions as if they had individual rights guaranteed in the Constitution as amended. While it is perfectly evident that, though corporations may be steered by people, in themselves as chartered by the several states they are fictional entities given a certain legal standing to make profits for investors having a monetary stake in their operations. Corporate bodies are invariably collectives made up of individuals; as such, they are never of one mind. One person, one mind, that is the law of consciousness. If a corporation claims to be of one mind, that can only be if one mind—the CEO’s, say, or chairman of the board’s—asserts itself and comes to dominate the thinking of corporate employees as if they were clones—which they aren’t—and worked in single-minded harmony. Granting personhood to corporate bodies empowers those at the top to manipulate events to their liking.

CEO salaries and bonuses in the field of financial services provide all the evidence we need to prove that corporate leaders act and present themselves as unique individuals, not corporate leaders. Corporate consciousness is an oxymoron, as is categorizing corporations in legal jargon as “persons” in their own right. Corporations present themselves collectively as persons when it suits them, as deserving individuals at other times. Corporation law lets them have their cake whole, and to enjoy slicing it into pieces for unequal distribution at the same time. If the top-to-bottom salary ratio within a corporate body is, say, 400 to 1, then the personhood of corporations is clearly a myth.

The law of the land is a fairy story corporate lobbyists and legislators keep telling us to keep us asleep, while they sack the treasury. Corporate personhood is a fundamental category error. Yet the Supreme Court cast it in bronze in a recent 5-4 decision removing restrictions on how the good fairies can insert money into political campaigns on behalf of issues and concerns as seen from very specific points of view. The majority opinion sides with corporations as if they were persons speaking with one voice to express a personal concern arising within a personal mind—magically backed by corporate funding and legal expertise. The funding gives the lie to all claims of personhood.

When I dig into my pockets, I do not dig into yours, and yours, and yours. Each digs for her- or himself. Money is money, not speech, just as language seen as a medium of exchange is not speech. There is confusion in making such claims, confounding the capacity for speech in general with individual speech acts exemplifying such a capacity on a specific occasion within a limited situation involving particular individuals. Corporations do not speak for themselves qua corporations. They make noises soothing to the ears of the powers-that-be behind doors that are shut. Corporate speech is not free, it is crafted to a particular end—the making of profits for a band of investors.

Categorizations are invariably thrust onto the world from a particular standpoint or perspective. They are first-person singular acts, not motions moved, seconded, voted, and enacted by corporate bodies. When farmers and sailors come together in a bar, they think and speak for themselves, guided by personal habits and experience. When boards of directors come together in a board room, they conduct business in a disciplined manner according to Roberts’ Rules of Order. Members can be recognized or not by the chair. The secretary records comments in the minutes—or not—as he so decides. Speaking out in a meeting is a political act. Submitting to majority opinion, members will, if they want to keep their jobs, abandon the right to free speech. Much as members of Congress surrender to the will of their party for the sake of speaking with one voice, thereby stifling their personal take on things to stay in the good graces of those having control over committee appointments and distribution of party funds.

Friction between different ways of looking at things wears us all down in the end. That is the nature of corporate decision- making and governance. Frustration smoothes our rough edges as we seek the lowest common denominator we can all agree to. Alternatively, if nobody speaks up or does anything—like the farmer and sailor standing mute on the Maine seal—we can pretend we are all of one mind. To know my own thoughts in writing this blog, I must keep to myself much of the time in order to preserve the integrity of my personal consciousness and the ideas which flit through it from one instant to the next. On my own authority, I can say anything I want without glancing at faces around me. As a result, I now write words I could not have put together a few months ago because, in remaining true to my conscious thought processes, I essentially pull myself up by my own bootstraps (a figure Gerald M. Edelman keeps using to describe our efforts in achieving consciousness for ourselves).

Detailed communication between unique minds is always a challenge. Initially, our differences excite and draw us together; but on second thought, they compel us to retreat to avoid surrendering more than we bargained for. We thrust our categories back and forth as in a duel, seeing whether the other nods or shakes her head. Thrust together in a marriage, say, or a foxhole, we quickly discover how much work it takes to stick together instead of withdrawing to respective positions of safety. The chief danger is overlooking our differences for the sake of family or community. My own upbringing consisted in large degree to being told, “Don’t be conspicuous!” meaning, don’t draw attention to yourself. That is, don’t be original. Such is the challenge many New Englanders face in growing up in families with deep roots.  Knowing from personal experience that over-concern for what neighbors might say is the kiss of death for honesty, transparency, and integrity, I seem to have turned out otherwise.

More commonly, we cease to be conscious for ourselves and become conscious for the larger group, surrendering individuality for the sake of living in a state of oblivious peace. If Sailor did as Farmer suggests, he would be dead, and vice versa. We must be our own selves, yet cannot admit it out loud. Which is the human dilemma, the corporate dilemma, the Congressional dilemma. Are we to shout with Billy Budd, “Farewell, Rights of Man!” every time we enter the public or corporate arena? Is life without a personal voice worth living? As a people, we seem to have decided in the affirmative. Or might it be that the Supreme Court has made that decision in our name, and we are too stunned to object?

Seeing the moose lying beneath the pine tree on the Great Seal of the State of Maine at the head of this post, I am reminded of Ferdinand retiring from the bull ring to seek a life of content-ment in a flowering meadow. Neither farmer nor fisherman, that moose is what we seem to have become, happy to take the world lying down in the shade of a tree.

Moose and Pine

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

Trapped in our minds as we are, we sometimes ridicule those whose minds and ideas differ from our own. Rather than accept or celebrate such differences, we find them personally offensive or threatening, and so lash out at those who dare to be different—that is, different from ourselves. There’s a lot of that around these days, displays of public scorn, mockery, bitterness.

Where do these tongue-lashings come from? These dyspeptic outbreaks? These trainloads of sour grapes? These sneering, snide, and brutal attacks?

That’s easy. They stem from the scornful ones sensing they are on the outs—have lost what they might have had—so are themselves being scorned and put down. In a word, from a sense of personal threat or defeat. Which cannot be publically admitted, yet calls for retribution, so is thereby transmuted into derision, casting blame, finding fault. That way, the defeated cloak themselves in the virtue of the truly superior, and the successful are demonized as dishonest, disingenuous, disgusting, and generally despicable. If the ploy gets enough coverage, the losers pass as winners among their fans. 

As in bullfighting, the art of the faultfinder is in stunning and then exhausting the designated victim, leading to delivery of the fatal thrust. The spiteful predator turns his prey’s virtues into faults, then dismembers the wretched carcass while still alive. Such is the vindictive politics of our day. Whatever you do, don’t take defeat lying down. Rise up and be a man; show your stuff. Rant and rave—and make sure to notify the press. Better yet, be the press. That way you can make sure every slur gets the coverage it deserves. Even if it doesn’t deserve any coverage all, it enters the public mind as if it were news, not bluster.

Illusion, it all comes down to illusion. To deceiving a public that loves sports and spectacle more than truth. It doesn’t matter what you claim, just come out swinging. The audience will side with you and fill in the blanks. They’ve been taught, after all, that life is a multiple-choice test. Feed ‘em the answer; they’ll love it.

No one likes to be publically humiliated. To be humbled—brought down in the eyes of the people. Particularly not those who thrive in the limelight. If exposed as mere mortals, their reflex is to divert attention by shedding light on someone else’s faults, which brings to mind their particular enemy. If he doesn’t have conspicuous faults, it doesn’t matter—just make them up. Deride his accomplishments, smear his virtues, mock his integrity—again and again. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to get traction as a cynic because the public is nothing if not gullible and loves a good fight.

One defense against slings and arrows is to deflect them toward an innocent party. Turning the tables is easy, just spin your vices into virtues (such as speaking your mind), and your opponent’s virtues into vices (such as his not seeking your advice or sharing your values). Spiteful feelings are always an undercurrent when one side wins over another. But when those feelings vent as outrage directed at the other team, igniting violent speech and acts (as after a soccer game when the home team loses), then attitudes are shown to have consequences, like road rage escalating to assault and battery.

The damning of the president by Fox News and others is no game—it is a calculated strategy to dull the brilliance of his aura in order to undercut the stature and power of the man. At best such attacks are distractions; at worst they disrupt judgment, attention, and consciousness itself. These are not personal slights. They are corporate onslaughts, campaigns by organized groups to ruin a man whose intelligence and influence they are afraid of. This is not the work of envy, hurt pride, or rabblerousing on the fringe—this is out-and-out war.

How did we get to this point? And once here, why do we tolerate such behavior? Put simply, there are two classes of people, leaders and followers. The division between them is told not by ability but by wealth. Those without cash, work; those with cash hire the best lawyers, PR fronts, muscle, and outside agitators to see that their wills are imposed on their lesser brothers and sisters. This is a laughable interpretation of “survival of the fittest,” but it has become the bumper-sticker wisdom of our age and our nation. You needn’t bother getting elected, you can buy your way to power. Not only can you, but you must; only millionaires need apply for membership in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. They are ushered into office by the very corporations whose interests they serve. This is far too important a process to be left for the people to screw up by electing the wrong person.

What a sad little story: the collapse of one of the greatest ideas ever advanced by the human mind—with its checks and balances, one vote and equal opportunity for each unique person, and peaceful transfer of power from one generation to the next. A vision rent in two by assuming there are two classes of people, the haves and have-nots, one superior to the other, the nobler (wealthier) class having an obligation to govern on behalf of their dependents. Viewed from the top, that division into classes is a convenient fiction; from the bottom, a life sentence to hard labor.

But consciousness does not come in two classes. There is only one class of consciousness, and it is responsible for promoting the wellbeing and happiness of its owner. It is the social system that has grown up around consciousness that is corrupt in favoring a small but aggressive elite over the general population. Privilege is concentrated at the top, duty at the bottom—the difference told by a cultural mindset calculated to keep power and wealth on the high side of the boundary between the two classes. That is the structure which looms so large in the cynical attacks on the president and the policies he favors, including a fair and decent public healthcare option covering all Americans. Wealthy individuals and corporations fear losing their influence, so their agents scream bloody murder to discredit the commoner whom the people elected to restore balance and judgment throughout the nation and the world.

The voice of consciousness advises treating others as you would have them treat you: with respect and compassion. The voice of status takes a different approach: the elite know best what is good for you; let us rule. The issue rides on whether all people are assumed to be equal or not. Which is it to be, power to the people or power to the elite? That question is at the heart of the fracas. Through experience we know that mutual respect is a better strategy than lording it over others to get your way, then berating them if they don’t bow to your will. Democracy allows for human differences under the umbrella of equal rights and respect. Taking dominion over others is a sure sign of dissent, which invariably leads to schisms, hard feelings, and violence. That is the Fox News route; the Obama route is to regard those who differ from yourself with respect, then see what you can work out together.

OBEY  

 

 

(Copyright © 2009)

Hey, it’s August; I’ll try to make this short.

I’m not talking months of the year here but old guys getting together with young sweeties. Rich, horny old guys with sexy young things looking out for their futures. When I was younger I thought it was gross, but now I see evolution’s point. The geezer is a proven survivor, and probably with enough money in the bank to give sweetie what she wants. For her part, Sweetie wants to bankroll her future, and getting in bed with Uncle Scrooge is one way to do that if you are a looker with not a lot of skills to fall back on. Young guys can be fun and energetic, but they lack the wherewithal to provide Sweetie the lifestyle she wants or thinks she deserves. Old sweeties that are Scrooge’s own age would be past menopause, so not be able to provide the children that is the larger point of the union as proof that Scrooge still has what it takes to be a man at his age.

Crazy, yes, but not as crazy as it might seem. Skewing the age relationship between sexual partners in this direction connects the sperm of proven male survivors with the eggs of women having the brightest prospects for living long enough, well enough to raise their children to sexual maturity, and as well-funded matriarchs, their grand and great-grandchildren. We think of women as losing their “looks” as they age, while men acquire a dignity of demeanor that makes them seem ageless. So evolution tilts the scales toward younger women getting together with older men for the sake of the probable survival of their children and furtherance of their respective genetic lines. In other words, what works works. Evolution is ever practical, rating performance higher than ideals and good intentions. If the past belongs to these old geezers, then the future belongs to their young partners. It’s as simple as that.

It is on this level of thinking that the true difference between Republicans and Democrats becomes clear. One party is for Everyman and the downtrodden poor, the other for the Haves who can afford to provide their kids with the best of everything. Republicans take care of their own, Democrats want to give everyone a chance to get ahead of where they are now. Politics is no more rational than sports, organized religion, or economics. These are gut-level, emotional activities people engage in for personal benefit as they see it. If there’s an abundance stockpiled at the top, then let a few crumbs trickle down; or, by a different view, Everyman deserves equal treatment and to share in a redistribution of wealth that was taken from them in the first place.

Under this way of thinking lurks the pecking order that establishes a social hierarchy from the powerful all the way down to the weak and infirm. That way, everybody knows her place in society and doesn’t get uppity or go after more than he deserves. It’s as if Republicans speak for the leading half of the social order, Democrats for the trailing half. Alpha and his mate deserve the best of everything, Omega and his mate get whatever’s left over. I know a thing or two about pecking orders from personal experience:

It is mid-March and the ice in the bay is starting to go out on the tide. The upper shallows are still frozen, but the seaward ice has already gone, leaving a serrated edge separating the ice shelf from open water almost as a sign of the division between winter and spring—or at least of warmer days ahead. I am watching 700 greater scaups (ducks that feed on mussels) have their seasonal fling. First a banquet in which for an hour they dive to the bottom and bob up with mouths stuffed with green and red algae; then an hour-long nap with heads tucked neatly under wing; and now this final procession in which they line up along the edge of the ice as sunset approaches and cruise along a foot or two away from the ice, males and females mixed together, forming a great line of ducks processing in orderly fashion as if to mark the end of winter and the beginning of the mating season.

I witnessed these festivities in 1987, and didn’t know what to make of them. Thinking about it, I now believe the ducks were pairing off according to their standing in the population, literally mapping out the pecking order, each duck taking the position in line appropriate to its rank. I’ve seen scaups fly in a line, and take off one at a time when threatened by an approaching eagle, each waiting for its neighbor to clear before leaping out of the water and flying around the point, making way for the next, next, and next after that. 

I think Republicans believe in a pecking order for humans, and Democrats don’t. Or put differently, Republicans see themselves at the head of the social order, Democrats themselves at the rear. Trickle-down works for Republicans, upward mobility for Democrats. The odd thing is, Republicans are happy to keep Democrats where they are while Democrats put all their energy into moving ahead and getting a fair share of the public purse. The two ends of the line will never conga together, so with both clinging to their respective views of social order, disorder and conflict are sure to ensue. Without doubt, Cheney-Bush placed themselves and their ilk high in the sky, and instigated a regime that would keep them and their pals aloft, while Obama-Biden are now clawing their way out of the hole their predecessors dug for them, hoping for a glimpse of the sun.

Does that mean the old geezers are apt to be Republicans, sweet young things Democrats? Hardly. Each sticks to its own kind at its own end of the line, and revels in complaining about its opposite numbers. But the rules you play by differ according to where you place yourself in the social order strung out in your head. If you don’t vie with Alpha, you go by the one who sets the standard and tone for your neighborhood and define your place in relation to him or her.

In truth, there are multiple pecking orders, depending on the criteria for success in one social idiom or another. If age, wealth, and power put you at the top of one social order, youth, beauty, and agility put you at the top of another. So Sweetie is an Alpha in her idiom as Scrooge is in his. The strong, the fast, the knowing, and the clever are all Alphas in their respective spheres of consciousness. Crime bosses and drug lords are Alphas outside the law. Sweetie herself may even be a Democrat, pulling for social justice, fairness, and equality, and Scrooge is happy to humor her because she brings him so much pleasure and happiness.

Consciousness is the place where all this plays out, each person evaluating her gifts and accomplishments by her own lights in relation to those around her. One of the joys of being alive is watching each one’s self-opinion play out in the surrounding arena of striving humanity. If you can’t be at the head of the line, you can claim to be the head of your segment of the line, and that’s just as good. May-December matches are given us to celebrate and enjoy along with every other mixed metaphor. In nature, cross-pollination keeps genetic strains mixed up and healthy so species don’t get too fixed and revert to outmoded ways. Even Democrats battling with Republicans might be a good thing to keep each side on its toes. It is sometimes painful to watch, but it seems to have become one of our most popular entertainments.

Scaup Procession