Sometimes, good strategy is overwhelmed by circumstances.
This week, time stood still as events bobbled up and down spinning by on a supernatural carousel.
My evidence: I have seen the arrest of a former Texas justice of the peace who planned and executed a district attorney and his assistant in revenge for his conviction for the theft of county computers with his invalid wife as his wheel woman and confessor. Radio show hosts in California, suspended for mocking the explosions at the Boston marathon, complained of bullying because of the public outcry. A Minnesota radio talker boasted if he met the Newtown families, he would tell them “go to hell.”
A Philadelphia doctor, on trial for the murder of woman patient, performed abortions in a clinic that smelled like urine, his refrigerator filled with fetuses in plastic bags. He joked about aborting late term babies “big enough to walk him to the bus stop,” and severed spinal cords from the heads by “snipping.” He collected each pair of tiny severed feet in wide, green lidded, clear specimen jars. He was saved them, he said, for the evidence of their DNA.
“You’ve got mail” took on a new meaning as a Mississippi man mailed poison-tainted letters to several officials–including the President–and included his standard sign off: “I am KC and I approve this message.” A part of that message, send to the President, read: “Even if someone must die. This must stop.”
A Texas fertilizer plant blew up. The tremors felt fifty miles away. It took days to find the remains of the first responders who rushed to the scene to minister to workers at the plant fire before the blast, felt in homes fifty miles away. One phone camera, taping the fire, shakes out of focus as the mushroom cloud hovered like an angry jinn marking its lure and conquest. A highly volatile ammonia gas, liquified and stored under high pressure in tanks that regulators were told presented no danger—at worst a release of ammonia to vent the pressure—proved fatal for an unknown number of people.
In the midst of bloody words; bombs, bullets, and dead babies dropped into our consciousness and politics. We see a distress deeper than grief. As I write, the Massachusetts governor has declared several suburban communities and the entire city of Boston on lock down–the official term is “shelter-in-place.”
When a gun is sheltered in a home, the chances of women becoming victims of gun violence increase. The Senate, which has electronic gates, guards, and pat-downs, voted no this week–not to make into law background checks for gun purchases that 90% of Americans approve–including 85% of gun owners.
A response to an act of domestic terrorism, the Boston lockdown was a consequence of backpack bombs made from pressure cookers filled with metal bearings and small nails triggered by kitchen timers that exploded within yards of the finish of America’s most famous marathon. The Boston race has nearly 30,000 runners, (9,000 still on the course when the explosions went off).
One explosion killed an 8-year old. One picture of him shows him with his fingertips holding high for the camera a poster he made after the Newtown tragedy. It says “NO MORE hurting people.” “PEACE.”
By Friday, as the trail of the accused was lost, a trail of conversations from Russia and Canada emerged. A father (living in Russia, speaking to an NBC correspondent fluent in Russian) asked his accused son to surrender and confess; the accused aunt (Canada) spoke to cameras and said “show me the evidence,” but urged her nephew “to tell them everything you know.”
As they spoke to their son and nephew on video clip, his older brother was dead, killed in a 200 bullet fuselage at the end of a car chase through an adjoining town that involved a car jacking, a wounded officer, the death of a MIT campus police officer, and the robbery of a Seven-Eleven convenience store. Thursday, both boys had been on social media briefly in the early evening, innocuously replying to friends. Three days before, on talk radio, a national talker accepted call-in jokes about banning pressure cookers the day the 8-year old died.
Media strategy: walk the bomb story to the edge; ignore the national strike of irascible jokes and voices walking through our pain, bury the great arc of lightning in a studied complacency about the wild surge of the furies that seemed to knock on every door; ask over and over is there a global plot (broadly, yes), are the two brothers and the Boston incident tied to it (specifically, no), and ask what my 97-year old uncle calls, “the stupid questions;” the ones obviously with or without answers: “can he die from his wounds?” “Where did they get the pressure cookers?”
What is the strategy for dealing with the events and damages of the national insanity? Strategy targets maximizing the middle. What’s the strategy when living is moving over the edge? When we are overwhelmed?
First, recognize the unusualness. And the uniqueness; the incredible effects on all of us. How it will amplify our bewilderment and burdens.
Increase your spiritual practice. Media avoids acknowledging the deeper inner space that lies beyond our feelings, but that where our most cherished beliefs find their foundation.
Violence is not only a physical danger. It splinters our emotional bedrock. But it reminds us there’s strength in the void. So listen to your inner voice. Look beyond first impressions. Let your inner feelings flow. In times like these, trust their source, follow its lead. It’s on your side. Just breathe. Pray or dance, laugh, cry; close your eyes, open your heart: beyond the smoke and blaze and wealth, build no bars; not pity, have courage and resolve. Stray not from the old 18th century word, the “gladsome.” Healing requires purging. It’s not getting worse; it’s actually getting better. Our vision is clearing.
“In the midst of bloody words, bombs, bullets, and dead babies dropped into our consciousness and politics. We see a distress deeper than grief.”
For, in this unique moment in our history–on the “occasion,” as W.E.B. DuBois called it in his book, Darkwater, “beset by constant perils”–the dark voices have never been more menacing, rude, or absurd. And dangerous. Politicians are wrapping the flag around tyranny.
They claim, especially on radio, that collective action, demanded and taken in close quarters, in concert, undermines the Constitution–as they collectively undermine and ignore the entire 2.5 million year history of humanity: an extraordinary accumulated record; marked in stone which shows from its beginnings on the African plains, humanity required teamwork, sharing, co-operation, peaceful settlement of differences, and mutual respect. Compassion, especially when the community suffered a loss, or when tragedy struck beyond its control. Silence, maybe song, when words were too much.
The bones of barefooted ancestors show they didn’t complain loudly about the abridgment of their rights when the time came for them to contribute to something beyond their own satisfaction. Without shame or embarrassment, they rose up as one in feats of hunting, wisdom, healing, and protection, laughter and silence–that set the foundation course of our civilization and society.
From China to Chile to Zimbabwe to England to Russia to Australia to the Solomons and Seychelles, to the Great Plains and the Mississippi, the long march of human time shows one constant: that every hero knew we shared one heart and one blood and those with real courage sacrificed to protect others.
Today’s cowards and their ilk couldn’t carry the stone tools or spears of the ancients, couldn’t build their pyramids, or heed their gods, couldn’t feed their children, or protect their lives. They claim the airs of freedom, but their actions and words are fronts of fear. Their bravura and rage is fake, out of step and weak. Their bombast rejects our most important challenge. To find our way through without giving in to their version of “because.”
In our differences, we honor those with whom we differ if we find in their behavior the important virtue of respect. “Manners will get you where money won’t,” my grandmother always said. Rudeness is a visible sign of leave-taking from community, a sure sign that someone is unreliable and undependable and can’t be trusted–and will be more than a little boorish. A louse. To be held in contempt for throwing away a life’s worth.
After a well-known conservative woman frequently on television remarked that if political offspring are often misfits, John McCain’s daughter should be slain for her views, Megan McCain (John McCain’s daughter) tweeted that she “couldn’t imagine living a life that seems so void of love, compassion and perspective.” Those who claim plain speech, fill their words with threats and insults and evil wishes and mock our traditions.
The anger and jokes heard in the public square are a fabricated pretense of having it all together when it is really all a platform of insensitive cruelty and shallow insults, de jure. The emergence of this growing sector of mean comes at the intersection of three critical social tools: technology, power, and money. Social forces drive choices and if money and technology are added, these forces widen their collusion.
The Looking Glass Syndrome
The real function of these negative forces is not in what they tear down, but in what they preserve. Power. Wealth. Fear. Their strategy preserves a status quo in which wages are at record lows and unemployment at record highs as the propaganda machine screams its misdirections. Enter writer Ralph Ellison’s blindfolded battle royale (from his novel, The Invisible Man): hate destroys discipline and chokes off understanding–the natives swing wildly and knock each other out–it is the crowing point and finish to their education. All to loud applause which papers over the noise of national despair.
The confusion of values and actions is a part of the looking glass syndrome. It’s an interior dialogue that ignores other voices and views. This ignorance is labeled freedom.
It has a narrative; it peers from the looking glass, where what you see is “me.” And that image of me–to me–is reality. So things are the way of me in a social mirror of filled with damaged beliefs and an overwhelming faith in the worst traits of pride.
I see a hubris that is a formula and reflection of ruin.
The bad news is this mirror has no rock bottom. Conspiracies are the reigning apolycapse. The government is a straw man for evil. Every bad act is a means of absolution.
“If you listen to African music, there’s a moment where the placement of the beat shapes the pattern to become the driving force within the larger sound.”
The strategy against this moral weakness, the images and visions drummed at us and tied to cataclysmic failure, is to comfort ourselves, go on about our routine, but grow watchful and quiet, observe the shifts and hidden movements from the shadows and thoughtfully listen in.
Where is the money going? If Washington is gridlocked, what’s happening in the states? Is every individual only a group identity? Is every individual identity stifled by the group? Are Buddhists pundits? What’s eating the world?
Look up: No less an institution then the World Bank is pledged to end poverty; it sees its scourge as something outside of ourselves, a product of the social structure and political economy, of an imbalance of policy and power; an inefficiency that can be addressed and corrected.
American conservatives take a different view: poverty is an attitude and behavior that results from within a person’s choice and personality. Yet some also claim the human events of the week are the result not of choice but of policy. What do the facts say? No policy absolutes prevent violent tragedies. Despite differences, we can treat each other with respect. Poverty? The World Bank reports strategies to reduce extreme poverty in the developing world are working; extreme poverty ($2 a day) fell from 43 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2010. And the strong growth outlook for developing countries in the medium-term suggests this momentum will continue.
The Gullah, enslaved Africans living in South Carolina/Georgia coastal and island communities that added African newcomers from many cultures, faced the extreme conditions of slavery; its legal restrictions and physically intimidation (mitigated today in the minds of white supremacists who, in the looking glass syndrome, see in slavery only “free” rent and food!). My study of their survival strategies taught me the truth of what I wrote earlier this week for Democrats for Progress:
“If you listen to African music, especially drumming, there’s a moment where the placement of the beat colors the sound and shapes the pattern to become the driving force within the larger sound. Those of use who study culture look for these moments. Some come from inside, others from outside, but the impact of these moments calls to order a unity of purpose. Is that unity progressive?”
Today we see it as entertainment, but African drumming was about trust and collective action. Newtown, Boston call us to a new trust. But in our politics, these moments of special attention are increasingly becoming an opportunity for blame. But blame kills the propelling and healing force, breaks up the shared spirit of the larger whole, makes us lose the rhythm of our common courage and creativity.”
The elements of that creative courage, prudent policy, enhanced delivery of resources, and a relentless focus on meeting targets, will help us achieve the world we all want: One free of poverty. Poverty is external, conditional; it can be changed. Even poverty of the spirit.
Except for the poverty of spirit of those yoked and bound in the closed spiral of the looking glass syndrome.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”
~Alice, Through The Looking Glass.