Sunday, April 10, 2011

Flattering the King

Anthony deMello an Indian Jesuit priest and psychotherapist Roman Catholic in the mold of that religion's social justice wing wrote a small parable I have often found inspiring.

He references the father of cynical philosophy Diogenes and demonstrates how individual integrity can be found in acting as a stoic. It reads,
"The philosopher Diogenes was eating bread and lentils for supper. He was seen by the philosopher Aristippus, who lived comfortably by flattering the king. Said Aristippus, 'If you would learn to be subservient to the king you would not have to live on lentils.' Said Diogenes, 'Learn to live on lentils and you will not have to be subservient to the king.'"
We are a country of lentil eaters who seek to flatter the King to improve our diet and we pretend this flattery somehow constitutes an enlightened philosophy.

My criticism comes as a reaction to the recent budget dispute in Washington and the support working men and women have towards the Republican party's rhetorical fear-mongering that casts government, rather than unchecked plutocratic Capitalism, as the source of their restricted diet.

My gorge does not rise because of the incompetence demonstrated by the politicians involved.

I think incompetence is the primary job description of those who truck in politics.

I am wasted by the popular opinion of my fellow citizens who somehow believe empowering policies that benefit the top 1% of wealth in this country translates to the best path towards integrity and a democracy for, of and by the people.

Roger Ebert has an excellent piece on his latest blog that demonstrates the by-product of our current financial ethics and the sheer stupidity of the former Middle Class, now the growing working poor, who deny our recent history in the hope of being excused from the lentil dinner they are forced to eat.

This kind of popular cowardice dressed up as ideological discipline is not new or unexpected.

Orwell wrote in 1942 when remembering his time in the Spanish Civil War, while fighting fascism for the sake of worker's rights, how conservative MPs cheered the bombing of British supply boats by Italian aircraft because these supplies would furnish aid and comfort to the Communist Russian forces looking to overthrow Franco (who had to be on the side of Capitalism because he opposed Socialism.)

History shows that the Communist Russian forces implicated in the pursuit of Franco never existed and were a bogeyman invented by Conservative politician rhetoric to furnish their industrialist base with perceptions of ethical integrity within their plutocracy and, when given the opportunity, Franco conspired with Adolph Hitler to bomb the shit out of England when he had the chance.

Orwell goes further and identifies how the primary desire of those that allow totalitarian rule is not individual freedom but mindless comfort when he rightly states,
" . . . the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, 'It never happened' - well it never happened. If he says that two and two are five - well, two and two are five."
We are living in the aftermath of a conscious decision to maximize greed as a catalyst for growth. And we ignore the fuzzy math of our recent history because to question the games played in the stock-market with home mortgages would demand that we interrogate our Capitalist system. It is easier to pretend that our enemies are those that would challenge Capitalism rather than ask why it was necessary to eliminate financial regulations put in place to avoid the kind of unchecked speculation that atomized the Great Depression. Why was an allegiance to derivative math that could inspire exponential debt financing the best social policy? Or do we simply ignore this because trying to understand it takes some thinking power and it is better to invoke our collective risibility and believe 2+2=5.

But when this speculative greed had to face its losses those that drove the gambling fit, the Wall Street Bankers, were protected by casino bosses, our Federal Government, and given better suites and more chips while those that cheered them on at the craps table, the average Middle-Class home-owner, were bounced from the club.

Instead of recognizing the bullying eccentricities of this collusive elite, the Middle Class has queued up like perky titted cheer-leaders looking to win the affection of the handsome football star (who unbeknownst to the fecund bubble-head in this analogy wants nothing more than to slip a roofie into her coke and sodomize her to his heart's content).

And yet the loudest outcry comes from a chorus of Aristippuses who will embrace all manner of irrational flattery and invite rape so they can deny the lentils they are left.

Ebert states it well when he writes,
"What puzzles me is why there isn't more indignation. The Tea Party is the most indignant domestic political movement since Norman Thomas's Socialist Party, but its wrath is turned in the wrong direction. It favors policies that are favorable to corporations and unfavorable to individuals. Its opposition to Obamacare is a textbook example. Insurance companies and the health care industry finance a 'populist' movement that is manipulated to oppose its own interests. The billionaire Koch brothers payroll right wing front organizations that oppose labor unions and financial reform. The patriots wave their flags and don't realize they're being duped."
The self-interest we are succeeding in applauding serves the King well. I wish we would start trading lentil recipes and tear down his authority. I doubt it will happen. Imagined comfort is too tempting when realistic integrity needs facing.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Anything, Nothingness and Becoming

At the end of Robert Bolt's play "A Man for All Seasons" the Common Man who acts as narrator and audience-proxy assures us (with dripping irony) the nobility we opt for when we make our identity ulterior.

He says,
"It isn't difficult to keep alive, friends- just don't make trouble - or if you must make trouble, make the sort of trouble that's expected."
In the Preface to the Vintage International edition of the play Bolt explains this theme by offering the idea that,
". . . we no longer have, as past societies have had, a picture of individual Man (Stoic Philosopher, Christian Religious, Rational Gentleman) by which to recognize ourselves and against which to measure ourselves; we are anything. But if anything, then nothing and it is not everyone who can live with that, though it is our true present position."
The themes of this play are relevant to me, probably because I am going through a mid-life crisis, while enjoying early fatherhood, and the worry I once carried about other people's impression of me fades in the face of my son's life and his smile.

The collision of these experiences have made me reconsider the necessity of basic values.

The world seems to invite each of us to be anything yet when this achievement is reckoned there is a nothingness about it.

Mark Erelli, one of my favorite singer-songwriters, summed our current social values (when commenting on the recent teacher demonization in Wisconsin) by observing that,
". . . the American Dream has taken quite a hit in recent years. We have 'American Idol' but there's no popular TV show called 'American Expert.' We deride the educated as 'elites,' preferring instead the sexier narrative that one event or contest could pluck anyone from obscurity and set them on a pedestal to be revered and worshiped."
There is a nothingness about a popularity that chases after notoriety for its own sake (as evidence of its value).

When faced with this nothingness, I've decided to take stock in my innate desires and consider what I am rather than what I do.

The adjustment has led to a joyful experience where the act of becoming has replaced a need to arrive.

Sir Thomas More says prior to the death sentence brought by his unwillingness to compromise his self and his values,
"You have your desire of me. What you have hunted me for is not my actions, but the thoughts of my heart. It is a long road you have opened. For first men will disclaim their hearts and presently they will have no hearts."
As I face the second half of my life I hope I can strive for this sort of courage and if I discover unexpected trouble I won't make my heart ulterior as a condition for "living".