Sunday, April 03, 2011

I Got Nothin'

My creative energy seems to be inspired only by the short form (Twitter) or the book I'm writing. In the meantime, for those few who care, I apologize for the dormant nature of this blog.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Crime of Silence

It’s been a month since the attempted assassination of my Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson. Six people were murdered in the massacre, including a nine-year-old girl, and twelve others were wounded.

I have felt the desire to write at length about this many times in the past month, but the pain, sorrow, and anger made it impossible. I was actually surprised by how deeply it affected me. Giffords is a centrist Democrat, not even very liberal by my standards, and I’ve been critical of her in the past. Nevertheless, I voted for her last November. Her opponent was a “tea party” fanatic, a loud-mouth nobody, representing the ugliest and most reactionary aspects of Arizona politics. She barely squeaked by to a victory, which in itself is a cause for disgust if not despair. In any case, she is my representative in Washington, and by all accounts a very nice person. Somebody saw fit to shoot her in the head, and it felt like a ripping apart of the veneer of civilization in Tucson. If someone this moderate is at risk, then we are a lot closer to fascism than I thought.

Of course the rightists have spent a lot of time protesting that they had nothing to do with this. The shooter at least appears to be nuttier than a fruitcake, and in any case there is rarely a provable, direct cause and effect link from rhetoric to crime in cases like this. Even in incidents where a shooter was clearly influenced by right-wing rhetoric, such as with the guy who killed two people at a church in Tennessee in 2008, the rightists always deny any responsibility. After all, they say, who can tell what will set off a crazy person?

The crime is really an occasion to question the entire thrust of right-wing rhetoric, and to decry its effect on the atmosphere. Because, you see, a constant barrage of high-decibel lying and hate talk does have an effect on the atmosphere of public discourse. Fox News, for instance, works 24 hours a day spreading lies and fomenting anger and hatred about a multitude of mostly phony issues that they dream up for just that purpose. AM talk radio features one bellicose demagogue after another, always doing one thing—attacking liberals as dangerous enemies of America.

The rightists would have you believe that this has no effect on the atmosphere of the country. If that were true, it’s hard to imagine why they do it. There is no discussion involved, no exchange of ideas, no openness of any kind. Slogans, talking points, and fabrications are simply lobbed out into the airwaves in order to dominate and distort gullible minds.

There is a long list of despicable human beings who make a living dividing us into warring camps. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, Tammy Bruce, Erick Erickson, Megyn Kelly, Bernard Goldberg, Dick Morris, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and quite a few others comprise this shameless bunch of liars. They are not patriots. Their aim is not to disagree, but to destroy. They have no morals, no standards, no credibility. Yes, the Constitution protects their right to free speech. I also have the right to not buy products from companies that pay for these unscrupulous hucksters. I have the right to let other people know who sponsors them, and to let the companies know what they’re paying for as well.

Don’t tell me it’s not political. It’s all political. Rush Limbaugh would shoot you in the head himself if he knew he could get away with it. We saw what right-wing hatred could do in the 20th century when it had total power and was unrestrained by law. And that’s what these people represent. Through the power of their media, their fascist rhetoric irradiates the land. The mentally unstable are especially prone to seduction by the paranoid fantasies, the sociopathic projections of fear, the unthinking xenophobia, misogyny, and racism. So when some nut starts believing all this crap like it was the word of God, he snaps and ends up shooting people. And scum like Hannity or Beck shrug and say, “Who me? I didn’t do anything.”

But I reserve my greatest contempt for those who should know better, the media establishment figures outside of the Fox News-AM radio nexus, who turn a blind eye to the destruction of our sociopolitical life, buying into the lies and the talking points, helping to push the phony narrative. People like George Stephanopoulos, David Gregory, Diane Sawyer, Tom Brokaw, Chuck Todd, Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, Brian Williams, and all the mainstream pundits on TV and in the newspapers who think that this is normal, that this kind of thing is business as usual and to be expected, and who always frame every issue through the right-wing prism provided them by the extremists. They abandoned journalism and took on an “objectivity” that doesn’t exist, in which one side gets to lie with impunity without any consequences, and the tenets of reactionary Republican doctrine are never seriously questioned. These are the cowards that watched the third estate die, and yawned over their martinis.

When you don’t speak out against evil, you assent to it. You allow it. The most shameful appeasement of our time is the media’s surrender of responsibility, its groveling before the rightists and the imperial state. They are the hollow men, the hollow women, the empty husks from which nothing can be hoped for and nothing can be believed.

When people of decency marched in the millions against the invasion of Iraq, let the record show that the American press and media ignored them, and marginalized their views. And let the record show that when a bogus “movement” of white resentment, paid for by right-wing operatives, staged a display of thuggery calling itself a “tea party,” the same press and media rolled over like little dogs.

So to you reporters, pundits, anchors, experts, and analysts I say: I will no longer listen to you. You have failed, and the answers to our problems will not come from you, but only from those people of conscience left unseduced by your lies. You will keep talking on and on into the empty air, but your time is over.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Nobodaddy's Last Stand

William Blake, a Christian himself, albeit a highly unconventional one, called the jealous, judgmental, anthropomorphic god of Western tradition “Nobodaddy,” surely one of the cleverest verbal constructions ever made. He is Nobody, because he is silent and invisible, and Daddy because he lords it over us as the first father of patriarchy.

I have written elsewhere of God as a metaphor for the “self” or “subject” of the world, and how this poetic identity between existence and experience validates the inherent necessity of conscious life, especially in the face of death—or rather the human awareness of death, which created that struggle for meaning unique to our species.

But this understanding of the metaphorical nature of theism has become practically irrelevant in terms of the social and political problems posed by god-based organized religions. The relationship of the soul to a personal god or gods has a purely subjective value. The supposed relationship of a personal god to the social order, on the other hand, has consequences that have everything to do with the wielding of power and almost nothing to do anymore with personal experience.

Nietzsche was the most important critic of Christianity, and of theism in general, because he evaluated it in historical, cultural and political terms. The rationalists of the Enlightenment, such as Voltaire, Hume, and Thomas Paine, criticized Christianity primarily in terms of logic, disproving the logical arguments for a god and exposing the logical absurdities of scripture and church doctrine. The present-day leaders of atheist or skeptical thought, such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, seem to follow mostly in their footsteps rather than Nietzsche’s, defending reason and science from the irrationalism of religion. They often display a lack of interest in the complex phenomena of religion and spirituality, and talk as if merely demonstrating the illogic of theistic arguments will change people’s minds about God. They seem to think that religion is a mere superstition like being afraid of the number thirteen, or not walking under ladders.

Nietzsche attacked the Judeo-Christian God as a metaphor for a social order that hated nature and life, and that posited a second “other” world by which human beings would be effectively controlled. This potent critique has often been misrepresented or ignored. I don’t think it’s complete, and my view of the spiritual impulses within Christianity is more favorable in many respects. The important thing is that Nietzsche criticized theism from the standpoint of what it sought to accomplish in terms of social, cultural, and political power, rather than as a merely abstract thesis to be logically refuted.

Nobodaddy has many faces; too many to enumerate here. One of the most important is the all-seeing eye. God sees everything—not only everything you do, but everything you think and feel. It’s like having your father looking over your shoulder, forever. A sort of double consciousness is developed in which the person not only experiences life, but imagines another being, usually a male authority figure, observing him while he experiences life. Fear of this being, who has the power to punish and reward in this life and after death, will supposedly motivate you to behave morally, i.e. however morally is defined in your religion.

It’s not as if some group of evil priests got together and decided to propagate this belief in order to control people. The belief is very ancient, and it helped human beings work together in larger groups. The social order, including the priesthood, was gradually formed in alignment with it. When human consciousness was narrowly focused on the collective, the belief in the all-seeing god wasn’t that much different from the general belief in social cohesion itself. But as the human ego gradually developed, with a broader self-awareness that included a heightened awareness of private thoughts and feelings, the sense of being watched by an all-seeing god became more problematic and ultimately more oppressive. The contradiction between self-motivation and motivation through fear of authority became more acute, and that contradiction continues to cause problems down to the present day.

For one thing, Nobodaddy as watcher failed to create a moral society, because at some level people could not believe that any being could possess omniscience, and because the moral values propagated were so various and arbitrary. It turned out that Nobodaddy was only against killing in certain cases, but in other cases it was sanctioned. His negative attitude towards sexual behavior, as well as many other natural functions, tended to be both cruel and self-destructive. In mythical terms, the interest of the creator of all things in the petty concerns of human interaction came to seem more and more ridiculous. The personality of God, if you will, displayed the fussy and obsessively narrow concerns of his human acolytes, in a way that belied his supposedly divine and cosmic nature. In short, God’s nature as a projection of human thoughts and desires becomes more evident over time, even if only subliminally.

Theism has often purported to provide meaning for events and circumstances by saying that there is a divine plan. Although the higher levels of religious thought had long questioned this simplistic notion—even many centuries before the Book of Job—it has stubbornly maintained its popularity. Here we are confronted with the famous “problem of evil,” the solution to which always involves a contradiction, if one assumes an all-powerful and benevolent personal Being. The “divine plan” line of thought was part and parcel of the historical God, Nobodaddy as the architect of history. The apostle Paul’s rhetorical contortions explaining why Gentiles could inherit the promise of the chosen people is a striking example of the lengths that religious people can go to in trying to make sense of historical events in terms of a plan. Unfortunately, anyone can play this game, interpreting history in terms of prophecy or vision, and of course, anyone does. The simple truth staring us in the face—that history is an abstraction that only offers conditional lessons, and that injustice does not represent a mysterious higher good—is too painful to admit, since it removes all possibility of a divine plan and knocks down the house of cards set up by religion to justify whatever the social order might be.

We are left with ourselves, which is no contradiction for a mystic, but is outright treason to organized theism. The duality of self and other has been reified by religion into the duality of the mortal human being (a sinner) and the Being who created him, rules over him, and requires submission to his laws, as spelled out in the scriptures and interpreted by the religious leaders and experts.

As the social order has become more repressive in the modern age, political structures have brushed aside all but the most strictly authoritarian forms of religion. In the 20th century, the Nazis, Stalinists, and Maoists relied on submission to authority without reference to any metaphysical entity, at least not overtly. The democracies give lip service to religious principles while demonstrating their true allegiance, which is to capitalism and imperialism. Fundamentalist versions of Islam and Judaism gain greater influence in the Middle East, while the more liberal factions and sects are made ineffectual and irrelevant. Fundamentalist Christianity is encouraged by the American ruling class, and continues to struggle for dominance of the American sociocultural landscape through its political influence. Where are the liberal forms of Christianity in the current American political discourse? They are marginalized, partly because of their own integrity in refusing to breach the church-state wall of separation.

Fundamentalism is the doctrine of Nobodaddy stripped of almost all efforts towards the development of subjective spiritual experience. The fundamentalist is allowed to feel righteous and superior without any of the work involved in self-questioning or self-improving. Only adherence to the authoritarian rule book is required. The true expression of fundamentalism is not a relationship to God, but an antagonistic relationship to those outside of the fundamentalist group. The fundamentalist Nobodaddy spends all his time judging and condemning those who are different from the idealized standard of the core group, and he fumes and obsesses over those who, like homosexuals, deviate from the norm.

It is in this context that we must view controversies between theism and atheism, or religion and science. God has developed primarily into a tool of destruction. It is now simply a flag or banner for patriarchal domination. The atheist argument, then, is an argument against the principle of domination and its attendant violence and repression. The religious people of the world need to wake up and acknowledge that the authoritarian metaphors have failed and are invalid. God as king, God as punishing authority, must be repudiated. Meanwhile, Nobodaddy makes his last stand on the ramparts of fundamentalist hatred. The alternative, whether personalized or not, is a spirituality and ethos of non-violence and love.