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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Memes

Donald Trump is a criminal sociopath. Or at best, a criminal psychopath. This has been clearly documented by a number of keen observers, most notably George Packer and David Cay Johnston. If he shows up for the Inauguration, he will be President of the United States on January 20. More than 60,000,000 "Americans" voted for him.

This says something about how easy many of us are to fool. I wrote about the inundation of scams in this country in a previous post, and there wouldn't be so many of them if they didn't work. I get scam calls every day. Some of them, to save money, are recordings, offering a "back brace" that I supposedly requested, anonymous offers to update my credit card security, and so on. A foreign guy called me the other day with a warning about my Internet connection, claiming to be from Microsoft. I don’t have an Internet connection. I do all my online activity in libraries.

Trump, one of human history’s great scammers, won't last. Though he may be a criminal sociopath, he is also a mortal human being. I believe he is in the early stage of dementia, and that declining health will force him from office before he does much harm. Michael Moore also believes Trump won't complete his term in office, but his reasoning is that Trump will do something criminal and get impeached. The only question is which will come first – mental incompetence or criminality. Bookies should be taking bets.

Trump may not have been elected anyway. Convincing evidence is gathering that voter suppression by “Republicans” may have reduced “Democratic” votes by enough to flip the results in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and of course, the reliably corrupt Florida. Hillary Clinton beat him by over 1,000,000 votes by people who cast a ballot that was counted. By the time the nationwide tally is complete she may end up winning the popular vote by over 2,000,000 votes. Trump "won" by leveraging the obsolescent “Electoral College,” which gives relatively greater weight to states with lower population.

So here we are, stuck, seemingly, with this terrible human being and his wrecking crew of bad people behind him. We likely won’t be stuck for long, but it will be bad for this country and the rest of the planet for as long as he remains in office. If he assumes office, that is, a prospect that is still not 100% certain.

On the bright side, Trump’s "election" is a call to action. A larger majority of people who have been silent as this debacle has been pending are now awakened, and an awakened populace is the first requisite for change. Great evil calls for its opposite, and Donald J. Trump is a great evil.

This awakening can be squandered, though, and if it is left to "the left," it almost certainly will be. I can say this from long years of experience, and from my understanding of human psychology. For the uninitiated, the terms "left"and "right" refer to supposedly opposite ends of a mythical spectrum of political belief, cohort and, most importantly, cliché. The "spectrum" doesn’t exist in physical reality, but that means nothing to those who believe in it with religious fervor. Humans need religion. When deity-based religious fervor no longer suffices, a material-based one takes its place. One opiate of the masses in exchange for another.

Once a person has identified with the mythical "left," some tenets of the myth need to be established. First and foremost, you’re either with "us" or against "us" – the binary divide. Shirts versus skins. “Packers” versus “Bears.” “Raiders” versus “Redskins.” Hmm. I wonder why there isn’t a pro football team named “The Cavalry.” How about “The 7th Cavalry?” An industry that allows a team to call itself “The Redskins” would, it seems, be open to balancing that disrespect with a team named “The 7th Cavalry.” Or, more symmetrically, "The Custer’s Last Standers."

But I digress. In an "us" versus "them" environment, identity is defined as much by who one is against as much as – if not more than – who one is for. In the case of “leftists,” it’s the “right wing,” an undefined broad-brush of individuals, groups and beliefs. “They” are pronounced as “ists” of one kind or another: racist, sexist, misogynist (which is an extreme form of sexist), fascist, ageist, classist, nativist and even speciesist. There’s also xenophobe, but that doesn’t end in ist, so it’s usually applied when a greater ego-sense of sophistication is needed.

Making homophobia into an ism would be awkward without a new term for bigotry against homosexuality, but someone should come up with one. In Latin, homo is the word for man, and phobia comes from the Greek word for fear, phobos. Fear of man, or men, would more commonly be experienced by women, though men by and large have good reason to fear other men. Fear of, or more accurately, prejudice against homosexuals and homosexuality, should have a name that is more precise, but it will likely be a long wait before homophobia is replaced in popular speech.

Donald Trump is of course the handiest of bugaboos, and can be called all these names, though the only real, consistent belief he has exhibited is in his own ego-aggrandizement. The state of being is known as narcissism. Hmm. An ism. A person with such a personality is known as a narcissist. And, or course, sociopath/psychopath. All these terms describe a mental state more than a belief system.

So how is it that the "world’s only superpower" has elected a criminal sociopath to its highest office? The reasons are sundry, as I have written before, but psychic resonance has to be a big part of it. A big guy was trying to taunt me in downtown Madison the other day, hovering towards me while whistling "God Bless America." I ignored him, so he was reduced to saying "hi." I said "hi" back to him, and continued on my way. He looked like the guy leaning on the guard rail in the picture at right, but as a prototype rather than the exact person. It may well have been the exact person.

Much worse than whistling "God Bless America" is going on around the country, with verbal and physical assaults taking place in several cities. While these people may have beliefs that could be called "right wing," their behavior is more accurately described in psychological terms, such as antisocial personality disorder, paranoia, authoritarian personality disorder and emotionally stunted. There is also, as described in a recent Salon article, the Dunning-Kruger effect, where stupid people don't know they are stupid. They have a metacognitive inability to recognize their ineptitude. While this portrayal may apply to "right-wingers," it certainly isn't limited to them alone. Many, many people in this country think they are the smartest of the smart, when the exact opposite is true.

If "right wing" is more a mental state or condition, what about the supposed "left wing?" Is "left wing" an ideological cohort or a mental condition? In my experience and understanding, mental state precedes ideology. Since the election accusations are flying by "leftists" that Trump and his inner circle are racists (or R-R-RACISTS!), sexists, misogynists and homophobes, as if these epithets convince people of something, or inspire them to action. Or, more accurately, reinforce “solidarity.”

Bandy these terms about, and add sprinkles of people of color and democracy and you build coherence in the cohort, where a hopefully widening matrix of people speaking in the same memes builds to a "progressive" crescendo that overpowers the fascists. Progressive is another meme word. Here in Madison it is progressive, progressive, progressive, progressive, in between racist and people of color redundancies.

Barack Obama in PhotoshopPeople of color is a hackneyed "leftist" meme, an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by nongenetic means, especially imitation (Urban Dictionary). It is in-talk, a term that identifies the user as a "member" of the non-racist intelligentsia. Grammatically it is meaningless. Of is a preposition that means from or away from, by or coming from (Random House Dictionary). People are not from or away from color. They (we - all of us) have skin, and our skin has color, no matter who we are. We are not our skin color, and are certainly not "from" our skin color. I am not white or "a" "white," or from white. The term people of color came into vogue gradually, starting as far back as the 1970s, a heady and pretentious expression of solidarity with people from non-European ancestry. Say it enough and you gain credence, or at least the illusion of credence, with other "leftists."

During the day I usually listen to Wisconsin Public Radio while doing other things, but sometimes tune in to Madison’s leftist station WORT, especially Friday’s bluegrass show, but also its weekdays-at-noon public affairs show. I can only stand a few minutes of this, as it is usually an hour of whinging about Governor Scott Walker, ALEC, the Koch Brothers, and related issues and people. And now, President-elect Trump. It isn’t simple whinging, but a feigned intellectual sophistication combined with arrogance that creates an air of aboveness, that, though "we" are powerless on the "left," we are better people, and "we" volunteer pundits are more pundity than the pundits who make millions on TV.

Hardly anyone listens to these shows, and the same people call in every day. The station manager used to call in from another room in the building as an anonymous listener, and the pundit of the day would answer, referring to the well-known manager as "Caller." These conversations of course go absolutely nowhere. There is some useful information to be gleaned, depending on the guest, but listeners are left hanging about what to do with that information. I take it in, let it merge with everything else I have taken in over a lifetime, and the ongoing synthesis emerges sometimes in what I write, sometimes in dialogue, sometimes in support for a cause, and sometimes in a change of behavior.

It is frustrating, though, realizing that these shows aren’t much help in moving the dialogue, but serve mainly to reinforce the egos of the show hosts. It’s frustrating for some of the show hosts too. The station has fund-drives every few months, and one of the public affairs hosts was practically begging people to call in and "pledge" a donation. No one did, and she soon left the show and moved to Texas (she may have been moving anyway. I didn't get the details). Show hosts appeal for people to call-in, especially new callers, but it is usually the same few people every day, and sometimes no one at all.

Necessity is the mother of invention. The country – and the world – need an elevated level of dialogue, something I have been stressing since I started this blog, and indeed  it is the stated purpose for publishing it. Now that we are entering the Trump era, assuming he actually shows up for the job, a higher level of communication is vital for the survival of human civilization. We are at an existential crossroads.

I’m optimistic. Trump is like homeopathic medicine – a strong dose of the symptom of the disease stimulates the cure, or healing. We have had a long descent of human interaction and communication since the emergence of Ronald Reagan as a political force. His ascension ushered in an era of scapegoating, invective, deceit, bullying, marginalization of declared out-groups, condemnation and disenfranchisement. An entire "news" network is dedicated to these low-level forms of communication. The highly paid "stars" on this network are welcomed on more mainstream commercial networks as legitimate celebrities in our fame-obsessed pop culture. It's all showbiz.

Thanks to Trump, the entire apple cart has been upset. He is a total wild card, and if he is, as I suspect, afflicted with serious mental and/or physical health difficulties, great instability lies in our future, even if he doesn't assume office. Add-in the unsustainability of our infinite-growth economic system along with increasing severity of the effects of climate change, and far worse than instability looms. Complete breakdown and chaos may ensue. Out of chaos comes opportunity. We can seize the opportunity or we can squander it. I am confident that when push comes to shove for the survival of the species - and of all life on this planet – we will choose to seize.
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Here's an appropriate song for the times in which we live. Here's another. And another. John Prine. Bob Dylan. Liam Clancy. Utah Phillips. The Mothers of Invention. Some classic Frank Zappa. One of my favorite Frank Zappa tunes.
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Update, November 21: Here's a story that gives more detail about how the "Republicans" stole the election.

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