(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  

 

 

Reflection 52: Inauguration

January 20, 2009

(Copyright © 2009)

 

Inauguration! Think what it means to make a new beginning under favorable auspices. Augurs foretell the future through the reading of signs, then usher in that future by steering the course of public events. If the signs are not favorable, events are put off until the situation improves. Joy has been stifled in this nation for eight years. Today, hope is the watchword, for today Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th president of the United State of America.

 

Yes, America’s first black president. That is auspicious in itself. But Obama is more than that. He has not been elected solely because he is black but too because of his spirit, intelligence, understanding, and abilities. As a matter of fact, he is black.

 

In a democracy, the powers look not to flights of birds or animal tracks as signs but to the collective voice of the people. We are those powers—the augurs of today. The people have spoken. Let the celebration begin! Millions are attending inaugural events in the nation’s capitol with great expectations. Change is in the air. Optimism is high, even as days are short, chill, and gray. Music and dancing are wholly appropriate to this splendid occasion.

 

For eight years the consciousness of the American people has been manipulated by national leaders to suit their own purposes. Government transparency has been undone by secrecy. The national purpose has been implemented through torture and violence, not diplomacy. Imagine waging a preemptive war to spread freedom and democracy! Initially, the people went along because their leaders played on their fears. September 11, 2001 was a terrifying day. Needing to make a bold response quickly, our leaders took an old plan off the shelf and prepared to invade Iraq, hoping no one would notice that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the Twin Towers attack. They also diverted public attention from their confusion by telling people to spend in the national interest. But when spending and fighting led only to more violence and chaos, the people no longer believed what their leaders were telling them. They opened their eyes and saw for themselves.

 

Come to their senses, along with their true feelings and judgment, the people of America deliberately selected the Obama-Biden team to lead them, not McCain-Palin. Today, the situation is reversed. Bush-Cheney and the stupor they foist on the public are ousted. Hope founded on competence and compassion are installed in their place by the new administration taking office today.

 

Indeed, signs are favorable that the new administration will implement justice for all, not just the powerful few; true economic recovery, not undeserved pork; an era of dialogue, not military coercion. Starting today, the American people can hope to thrive again under President Obama. Their wits restored, the people can dare to be conscious for themselves and not bow to the will of a devious and aggressive elite.

 

The signs are auspicious, the time is right, the people are ready. Let the inauguration usher us into the next eight years with hope and determination sufficient to keep our minds focused on the challenges ahead.

 

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(Copyright © 2008) 

Regarding consciousness, I keep making the same discovery: Invariably—even in dreams—it is situational in nature. My particular consciousness—which is all I can blog about—is centered on my awareness of what’s happening in a particular situation.

 

Right now I am sitting at my computer starting a blog to be posted on December 10 on the topic of situation consciousness. I have eaten breakfast, washed dishes, brushed my teeth, made a list of terms people use to talk about situations. And am now addressing the issue of what my mind wants me to say.

 

I will go so far as to say my current situation defines who I am. I am he who creates a blog by putting himself in one situation after another. I cannot imagine myself apart from my sense of what’s going on at the time, which gives me the particular point of view I hold on that occasion. Otherwise, I am a formless Will-o’-the-wisp—some kind of phantom waiting to be roused from my stupor and given shape and consciousness of one kind or another.

 

If I want to be fully conscious, I need to find a situation I can throw myself into. My life depends on it. I need a challenge to feel creative and alive. My consciousness is built around a tide of challenges as it ebbs and flows in my mind. Read a mystery; you always want to find out whodunit, so you plunge from one chapter to the next. Read a comic strip; you always want to know what happens in the next frame. Go to a game—any game—and you are who you are by participating in the event as it unfolds. Every game is played one play (pitch, turn, down, throw of the dice, deal) at a time, each shaping your mind. Consciousness pulls itself up by its own bootstraps. We are who we are because of the circumstances we seek and engage.

 

I am on a small island, building a cabin with hand tools. Six years ago, one of my students spent the summer helping me dig the foundation. Now I have time and means to build the actual structure. I cut every plank by hand. Drive every nail, frame and sheathe every wall, hoist every rafter, line up every shingle. My muscles adjust to the work. My fingers take on a permanent curl to fit the shape of my tools. I become a builder, with the consciousness of a builder. Rain or shine, every morning I take up where I left off the night before, doing what needs to be done. I enlist volunteers to help with the heavy lifting, painting, staining of shingles. I am driven to finish the job in three months. At least make it tight for the winter. Get the roof on, doors and windows in, shutters in place. I practice what I call on-site design, letting the place speak to me, tell me how to proceed when my imagination is out of its depth. I have never felt more productive and alive. This is what I am meant to be doing. For three months, this is who I am.

 

Consciousness begs to be active and useful. To fit us to the task at hand. If no task presents itself, then to seek out a situation in which a task will emerge. Need shelter?—build (rent, buy) a place. Hungry?—procure food and fix dinner. Lonely?—seek companions. Want a family?—find a partner, have a baby. Worn out?—engage in restful pursuits. Stuck in your job?—go to school. Need something to do?—build a ship in a bottle. If you give yourself to the situation, consciousness will show you the way.

 

All our organizational talk about strategies, tactics, jobs, projects, objectives, goals, intentions, and plans is really about framing our life worlds in personal consciousness. We are meant to involve ourselves in life situations that will meet our needs and desires. If an appropriate situation doesn’t exist, we have to invent it. Look at the Obama campaign, first the primary contest, then the run for president. The Obama team made it happen. They created the situation in which it could happen. They worked out the dynamics beforehand, then did the leg work. Day by day, they pulled America together behind their man. All consciously through the power of the focused mind.

 

Nobody said it would be easy. Each situations comprises a cast of participants together with their drives, attitudes, talents, levels of understanding, expectancies, personal goals, feelings, motivations, judgments, prior experiences, skillful behaviors tailored to specific occasions, and other aspects of consciousness—all backed by financial resources and coordinated to bring about the desired end result. Thousands of people worked together for two years. The political situation defined the consciousness of the campaign workers, and they put their life’s energy into their work. They did what they set out to do—which was nothing less than change the world one day at a time. Their coordinated consciousness made it happen.

 

Now Obama faces a new situation. A series of new situations. Which will define who he will be from now on. He has to coordinate an executive team that (with legislative and judicial branches) can govern the nation for up to eight years, all the while engaging the novel situations each moment will bring. Which is all any of us can hope to do—apply our unique gifts of consciousness to the challenges we face.

 

In being situational, consciousness defines who we are. If we opt to tune out because the work is so hard, we effectively put ourselves in a stupor and become nonentities. Our culture offers all manner of aids to help us escape (because there is money to be made): drugs, alcohol, entertainments and diversions, induced states of oblivion. Taken in excess, these can make us dull, witless, and mentally un-conscious.

 

To be fully human requires all the wits we can muster. We need to be wholly conscious. Which requires us to be as alive as we can be to ourselves, to others, and to the life situations that call us into being. Nothing can be more productive and satisfying than living on that plane of existence.

¦

 

(Copyright © 2008)

Hallelujah, the Bush Era is winding down. The aftermath will linger like the smell of something rotting beneath the porch, but a fresh breeze is coming up. Imagine, taking a terrible situation like 9/11—and kindling it into a firestorm a thousand times worse! The Bush Era inflicted the warped consciousness of very few men onto the nation and its world by going to war in Iraq, wreaking havoc in every quarter. Headlines in the U.S. played up American deaths, but behind those headlines hundreds of thousands of anonymous others were assaulted, injured, and killed. A lot was said about putting our troops in harm’s way, but it was forbidden to point out that the preemptive initiative had been ours—we ourselves were the harm. The doctrine of preemption requires luminous intelligence. We flailed in the dark. Our executive consciousness met no standard at all. It was based on false assumptions, wishful thinking, denial, prejudice, and a sense of urgency that something had to be done. Something was done, and start to finish it was the wrong thing. Our troops ended up defending their civilian leaders’ arrogance, ignorance, and poor judgment.

 

Which is not what I’d planned to write about in this blog. It just bubbled up when I thought about eras coming to an end. I had to plow through the middle to get to the other side. Such is consciousness. One thought leads to another.

 

My intent is to write about the end of black-and-white photography, the end of film photography, the end of photo processing. All brought to mind by Ellsworth Photo closing its doors after eighteen years of service in Hancock County processing countless miles of color negatives for local customers. Of which I was one. Eric, Mary, and their co-workers processed several hundred rolls of film for me when I was illustrating three books about Mount Desert Island where I live on the Maine coast.

 

It was the current recession, on top of the advent of digital photography, that did them in. People like me fled film photography in droves. After starting out as a black-and-white photographer in the 1940s, I switched to color film and slides in the 1980s, and went digital in 2004. I do everything in Photoshop now, and so does everyone else. Collectively, we former customers are the reason Ellsworth Photo is closing today.

 

Mary calls to ask if I want the aerial photo negatives I left with them years ago. They are shutting down, she says. Yes, I’ll come by to pick them up. After a doctor’s appointment following cataract surgery, I drive to Ellsworth Photo on High Street. My three albums and negatives are on the counter. Right next to an Epson printer for sale. “Combination Printer and Scanner, unused, but has no ink cartridges. $11.11.” What’s this about? Eric says they ordered two identical printers, but used only one. I’ll take it, I say. Most things are half-off. Some are free. People come, sort through boxes, pay, leave. I pick up three free binders. A couple of single-lens reflex cameras lie in a box. What are they good for? I ask. Paper weights, says Eric. I already have several of those. What about your machines? Useless, now, he says. He plans to keep working in digital media, but in a different location. Hopefully on the main drag. I walk out with two packs of archival slide preservers, and the printer-scanner. Watching the end of this particular era—my era—I feel depressed. George Eastman invented celluloid negatives in 1885, opening the way for roll film, movies, and 35mm photography. Why wouldn’t I be depressed? This is a big part of my life.

 

People who don’t upgrade to the latest version of consciousness are stuck in the past. Trouble is, we get so invested in our personal perspectives, we have a hard time moving on to the next thing. What’s wrong with these glasses frames? These shoes really fit my feet. I like stick shifts. I prefer to see how things work; electronics aren’t my medium. I’ve never played a computer game in my life.

 

Eras are eras of consciousness when the world is seen a certain way, and things get done a certain way. We come to expect more of the same. We lurch from one era to the next, always having trouble making the adjustment to a new way of seizing the world. Always feeling things are slipping away. Always feeling sad and a little lost. You know you’re over the hill when you find yourself preferring the familiar to the excitement of the new. Which is how I felt on the eighteen-mile drive to Bar Harbor from Ellsworth.

 

I suppose somewhere there may be people sorry to see the Bush era implode of its own gross tonnage. Not me. My consciousness is not that stuck. Good riddance, I say. Bring on the Era of Obama.

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