Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The Imperiled Life of an Ice House in the Age of Climate Change

We have been watching the constant presence of Trump in the news. He seems to be the magic bone that can’t be gnawed away. To those of us who find the news fixated it can be wearisome. The Mueller investigation drags on and the presidential appointments circulate through a revolving door. his lawyer reveals all, while the president’s supporters don’t believe he is credible. Why they believe his former boss is credible, cannot be explained except by the principle of Cognitive Dissonance. Nothing is ever settled and what is done is then undone and redone. In a sense it is a satire of a failing system that has finally hit the wall. The thinning curtain between our world and the once mysterious machinations of government exposes the cast list behind the stage.  They seem nonplussed because Trump is so extreme from the norm that no one knows how to respond. Its as if they find themselves as naked as their emperor and can’t do anything but point a finger of blame or pretend it isn’t so.  How long can the president coast on the air of denial and confusion? I suppose however long the supporters hold him above the ground. In the meantime, the news media on both sides has unlimited spicy product.

The UNTIED States of America.

I’ve been puzzling about our theoretical democracy, it seems comparable to what happens to a spiritual movement when the inspired founder leaves this plane.  It is then hijacked by controlling, top level theorists who modify the original inspiration with partial truths enclosed in clever propaganda and use fear enhanced by egoism to assume authority. Any gold at the heart of the original inspiration morphs subtly into fool’s gold for its trusting followers. After that, an unfiltered experience per the original source of inspiration is persecuted as heresy. This isn’t confined only to religion and politics but is also present in science and other disciplines that have freeze dried the heart of inspired discoveries into self-serving dogma.

What about the Emperor who would be naked but for the creative imagination of his followers? They of course underestimate their own rights and powers for the defense of their fantasies. They want to believe, and they want to belong to something ‘great’. For a real democracy to work, the citizens would have to put themselves in the driver’s seat and not expect to be driven by someone else to the place they want to go. The deeper question is of course, where do the citizens want to go?

Equality, theoretically a central feature of the American ideal is in opposition to the American dream that everyone has an opportunity to become rich and powerful. Obviously, what it takes to be rich and powerful is exactly opposed to equality. In other words, “equality” is used as a starting line in the race for the inequality of superior power and opportunity. Perhaps this is to be expected considering that the founders of the United States were reacting to European feudalism.  It isn’t easy to erase old habits, and of course, people have different qualities and talents. Some are valued in our society more than others. Hawks have more social prestige than doves in the world we live in, and capital more value than heart. Perhaps that is the testing ground for survival in a changing climate.

The American Dream has an underside of royalty envy. This is apparent in the American dream of land ownership.  Everyone wants his/her (but more often his) personal kingdom to rule. The fact that this often generates an ecological disaster is not yet being addressed and inevitably leads to enormous problems as this style of individual ownership and dominance collides with the greater good and splits the land owner’s intentions from the health of the land itself. It also becomes a selling point for real estate agents and developers who exploit the fantasy dreams of their clients.

 Does equal opportunity mean that all participants begin a race at the same starting line or is it like a handicap race where each competitor is placed in a starting position that is most likely to equalize the field. Of course, some runners are naturally faster than others and would surge ahead if not handicapped.  However, if some of the runners are ill or malnourished it cannot be an equal playing field. Just beneath the surface of the American Dream is an overwhelming temptation to rig the race. There is no possibility of equal opportunity when the lower state of human nature sets the rules of engagement. Losing a rigged race is not founded on innate inferiority. A predator’s way of acquiring overwhelming power requires ambush tactics or pack cooperation.  Social equality and valuing the individual’s well-being and rights are inevitably in conflict with the capitalistic ideals of anything goes to get ahead and stay ahead.  Humanitarian and opportunistic concepts are always in opposition because they are based on opposing values. The robber barons of the 19th century set the tone for this equality oxymoron.

Above the concept of equal opportunity is the reality that certain talents have more social support than others. The ability to acquire wealth is valued over compassion, power is valued over authenticity and cleverness above wisdom. These are cultural biases that skew the values by which success is measured. However, imbalances in cultural values inevitably create social weaknesses that eventually cause the foundation of clay to give way and the top to topple. We seem to be approaching this situation.

With this kind of system, those on the lowest rung of the ladder of social and monetary success have very little chance of rising. There must always be a lower rung to provide the superior climbers with a first step.  There is no true independence. In nature, predators cull the sick, wounded and old from a herd thus giving the more fit animals a better chance to thrive. Social Darwinism provides a rationale for this position. However, human hunters prefer to cull the healthiest and most beautiful animals from a herd and thus leave breeding to the less fit. Equality and dominance exist in unavoidable tension. In addition, the playing field itself changes. I suppose this is the cogent basis of our two-party political system. However, real people are always moving back and forth between these extremes in various aspects of life. Being fit for one kind of contest may make one unfit for another kind. There are always cultural values that may themselves be out of balance. History is not static, nor is the natural state of the world, and as circumstances change, so must the definition of social power and success change.

Opposites are always in danger of becoming oppositions. But for united efforts, walking with competing legs isn’t possible.  Every culture has certain talents and abilities it values above others, probably based on early needs or even values once imposed on its culture from a foreign takeover. Religions have this effect as does war, climate change, and greed, all are threats that impel a population to relocate—which is the main reason America was recently peopled by Europeans, Asians, Africans and so on. Some came willingly some didn't but it isn't unique. People have been moving around the planet for thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of years displacing and mingling with the previous population. It seems to be human nature to become possessive about one's new neighborhood.

I used to feel despair about the negative fate of revolutions and how typically they begin with humanistic ideals and end in rigid dictatorships.  History is replete with heroes that morph into villains and gods that morph into devils. Our current political scene is locked in combat with each side believing it should have the righteous final say. Real progress requires coming together to achieve a higher creative understanding of the issues that transcend both viewpoints. Movement requires this! The winner/looser assumptions must be unencumbered by fears of loss and humiliation.

What seems correct for known circumstances, may not be fit in the unseen future.  I remember botanist, John Kimmy speaking of what the native people taught him about seeds. While helping local elders set aside seeds for the next spring, he was culling irregular ears of corn from those to be saved for the next planting season. One of the older women scolded him for not saving at least one of every kind, however imperfect it appeared to be. She said that we never know what the next growing season will bring and the seed that seems inferior now might be the very one that thrives next year. This brings two principles to mind. One is the importance of time and experience which is currently being ignored in our modern techno youth-based culture, and the other is the importance of not being fixated on one ideal of fitness.

America will never be great again, because the standards of greatness must evolve, and the past is not a good program for the future if one believes in any kind of growth. The current, sometimes absurd and if not so serious in potential consequences, comedic state of our politics may be just the state of confused chaos needed to propel growth beyond the fantasies of a past greatness that was never without complexities and contradictions. Confusion, neurotic symptoms and disillusionment are usually necessary to drive growth. The ideals of democracy have never thrived in America because they are ideals not realities. They will never be any more real if we don’t accept the importance and nature of our imperfections and use them as rungs to a higher level.