February 21, 2015
Our national mythology leads us to believe in our own goodness. We have scriptures we turn to in moments of self-doubt, when our sense of righteousness needs stiffening. In them we find words such as, “We hold these truths to be self-evident…” or “…endowed by our creator…” or “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” These, among others, make us feel we’re special and so good and so exceptional —Americanly exceptional.
But to be really exceptional, to be really good, we must take responsibility for everything and credit for nothing, otherwise we slide down a slippery slope at an accelerating clip until we’re taking credit for everything and responsibility for zip. True, this may be the manner of saints, but it’s something to strive for, if you get my gist.
Fortunately, some politicians tap into our national mythology for the sake of The Good and work to that end with humility, but too many others tap into it for the sake of power and wealth and work to that end with arrogance. Where the nation finally comes down depends upon many things, the foremost being the depth of our ignorance. We can’t have an effective democracy that works for a common good if a significant portion of us are stupid. This is exactly why we’re seeing a vicious, top-down assault on public education (and here -here) by politicians abetted by certain of the religious.
What happens on a personal level amplifies to national proportions by the effects of arrogant ignorance. It takes honest self appraisal to be what may rightly be called “good”. Otherwise it’s just a short slip down that aforementioned slippery slope unless (best case scenario) we acknowledge that we’ve already sloughed goodness many times like snake skin for the sake of some small gain, some little leverage, some edge, some in, elbowing out some less able contestant in Darwin’s world to gain what turns out to be a plot of worthless sand by means of tiny sins —which, of course, is only human.
The problem is that while the freedoms we tout in our mythology may have helped make us the richest nation on the planet, they have also blown a huge cocoonish bubble around us making it hard to be honestly self-reflective about what’s happening in the world and our responsibility for it. But, look, it’s tough, discernment’s not easy in the muddle of desire, everything we think we require is righteous so we turn to gods that fan that fire. We whisper prayers into corners first then, picking up a head of steam, we’re bellowing our righteousness from peaks as our minions mutter lies up and down mean streets and many bubbles burst.
One big bubble of recent years was burst by the events of 9/11. Look at what that bursting did to our sense of security, self esteem and honor: we started a war under false pretense spending billions and killing thousands of our own and others in the bargain, all out of an affront to our specialness and all done in the bliss of necessary nation-wide ignorance. Look at how that has fanned the flames of hatred by others as it exposed not only the self-interest of our motives in the Middle East (essentially oil) but the deep arrogance of our might. And notice how that has gotten us absolutely nowhere good. All this was done as we fanned the fires of national indignation and turned to the High Priests of gods that fanned that fire: The High Priests of politics, media and religion all stoking hate, while those of corporations were envisioning billions in blood.
But we can’t blame them entirely because ignorance starts here, on the ground, with us and our profound willingness to be duped, which brings us to the second big burst bubble. Think: the financial crash of 2008 which left us floundering in the lies of bankers, politicians and corporate talking heads —a crash that is certainly the fault of crooks in suits who, despite the depth of the debacle, have not personally paid for their crookedness— why? because we live in a land that honors megalomaniacs— why? because the other face of our national mythology is radiant with the hope and desire that we may, ourselves, become one —a tiny megalomaniac that is, at least.
Look, our fattest, most disgusting megalomaniacs did not become so in a vacuum, they became so as a result of human nature nurtured in and abetted by a cherry-picked mythology. We may not all reach the pinnacle of megalomania that our congress-people, presidents, bankers, and media personalities have. No— more often than not we don’t get that far. We settle for a provincial fiefdom running a big firm or corner bar, equally worthy jobs if our heart’s in the right place and we understand the limits of all and know we’re in this universe under an umbrella of chance, lucky to be small and know we have just a tiny part in the making of this curious dance.
Without that kernel of smallness, of humility, we’re all candidates for megalomania, tiny or otherwise. We’re all capable of heaping disaster and dishonor upon ourselves.
by Jim Culleny
February 9, 2015
Ask yourself this: is it possible to run out of time? I don’t mean personally and finally —although, even in that case we don’t really run out of time, it’s like time runs us out —kicks us out of its realm. “Bye, bye,” says Time, “you’re no longer relevant.”
No, what I mean is, is there an infinite amount of time or is there a finite amount that will eventually be depleted —say, a hundred billion years, just to pick a number. For instance, let’s say we add 30 seconds to anytime, what’s that interval? Hell, if we double it what’s that? Have we added to time?
What I’m driving at is, have you ever had a day that lasts three or one that goes so fast it’s past —instantly? Are those durations short or long, if hours mean anything? Bob Dylan once wrote, “Time passes slowly up here in the mountains.” I think those of a certain age know what he meant. Why does some time pass slowly and some fast? Is time elastic?
Going the other way, subtract 5 hours from anytime. Do we really think we’ve minced minutes? As we tick them off are they really not there? No. There’s a continuum called “now” outside of which is guesswork because our chronometers only work here. Slice it any way you want, it remains still and whole. Our clocks do not affect it.
These are important considerations because some people think eternity is elsewhere. They imagine some other timeless realm, which would be fine if such thinking didn’t diminish the significance of now and its imperatives and obscure the fact that eternity is now.
I’d argue that the eternity we should be paying attention to is the one we’re immersed in now —the now that changes. Yes, in fact, now is never what it was before because things change and will change again, now, not yesterday or tomorrow, it only happens now. Practically and personally speaking now is the only thing we have to work with. Now only knocks now. So the question is, should we be putting all our eggs in some other basket, or should we pay attention now?
Some great teachers advise just this. Yeshua bar Joseph advised, “Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” This is really another way of saying that we should just forget about what happens after we die and pay attention to what’s happening now.
Or you may prefer something from a more contemporary guy, one who became expert in most of the world’s mythologies: Joseph Campbell. Campbell wrote, “When you realize that eternity is right here now, that it is within your possibility to experience the eternity of your own truth and being, then you grasp the following: That which you are was never born and will never die.” But, being as finite as we seem to be day to day, I admit that’s a tough nut to swallow, no matter how full of truth it might be.
And, finally, poet Emily Dickenson succinctly pointed out (in case we hadn’t noticed) that, “Forever is composed of nows.” Emily had a way of being concise and weighted with wisdom simultaneously.
The reason I bring now up now (when else could I do it?) is that there’s a lot of off-the-wall rhetoric flying around now that takes our mind off the certainly-now ball and focuses it on the maybe-then-for-eternity ball. In my humble opinion that’s just not a rational approach to the huge planetary problems we’re faced with now. Let any afterlife (any life after now) take care of itself (to paraphrase the wise Yeshua), right now there’s this life, the one we’re living now.
A few examples of irresponsible afterlife responsibility-displacement might help explain why now-thinking is important to those of us who place great importance on the present, while then-thinking is seriously problematic:
During the Reagan administration James Watt, a very religious man, and Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior (the Cabinet head charged with paying attention to the well-being of the environment) said, “We don’t have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.” Watt was of course talking about the second coming of the same Yeshua who specifically warned against this kind of thinking.
Then there’s this stunner: Ryan Dobson, son of the more famous James Dobson, again a very religious man said, “Kids today are looking for something to die for… If you give them something to die for, they’ll go to the edge of the earth for you,” —which is exactly the sort of philosophy we see creating terrorist hell worldwide: to die a warrior/martyr and be honored in an eternal afterlife. Maybe if such (again) very religious zealots were encouraged to live a good life in an eternal now, explosive vests would not be such alluring means of transport to an afterlife.
But afterlife philosophies have been around a long time and I doubt they will disappear soon, if ever, so for those of us who want to leverage as much goodness as possible in a very precarious world it might be wise to wake on each of the mornings of now and think…
……………………. here’s this day blaring like a fanfare
……………………. from a new horn crisp as frost on glass
…………………… its brink sharp as the edge of a blade
…………………… slicing off another piece of eternity
by Jim Culleny
January 11, 2015
In this era of guns, bombs and sectarian hysteria, having a thick skin is like wearing a permanent Kevlar psychic vest. A thick skin protects you from the verbal, written and graphic slings and arrows of not only the offenses of others but of blowback of your own as well. Thick skin, having properties to deflect snark (psychological or theological) has this built-in cooling off property. Gives you time to think. You do not lash out first. You think. Unfortunately some do not like to think and this might be at the crux of our problems.
Thick skins are especially protective against ideas that push the envelope of civilized conventions. Among such ideas are those that flow from religious scriptures. At the best end of the spectrum, scriptures tend to bend the truth just enough to make the bending palatable, but at the opposite end call for a total rejection of reason, science and fraternity. Also affected at that extreme are two other historical ideals: liberty, equality.
“Liberty Equality Fraternity” is French for “stability”.
On a religious plane (one I admit I don’t fly): it’s well known that a religious person with a thick skin is on of the great blessings of God, especially in a pluralistic society. But a religious person with a thin skin is often tight with Satan, linked in a bond of hate —sectarian skin with the thickness of tissue paper causes fanatics —ones who will hurl themselves passionately into Satan’s bonfire while raking a Kalashnikov through the ranks of infidel cartoonists in the offices of a satirical magazine.
When in doubt, think, “thick skin”.
Thin-skinned members of sects tend to rant against those who offend God. And liberals often gloss over such declarations. But it’s not unreasonable to assume that what’s really offensive to any god worth his or her salt is the idea that God (The Almighty) would be offended by the predictable utterances of such flawed and clueless creatures as homo sapiens —who some say are under God’s wing.
S/He must be proud. .
There is one question religious fanatics will never ask themselves: why would God, being omniscient and already knowing what to expect, be offended? God probably got over that eons ago.
Religious offense (or any other psychological offense, verbal or graphic) is not only an affect from the outside, but is also an interior matter. Giving offense is not offense’s only voluntary aspect, taking offense is also responsible for trouble —both tango in violence’s spotlight.
The religious authorities of Jesus’ time thought Jesus offended God, but the truth was: Jesus offended them —them, their doctrines and authority. What Jesus suggested was that the real offenses against God were perpetrated by the faux-spiritual, the sanctimonious, the self-righteous.
Offensive ideas vary with the political and theological winds. It just seems more likely to me that God would take offense at the arrogance of anyone who assumes they know what offends God. Better to take the risk of offending those peddling crazy ideas than to let those ideas fester and erupt.
by Jim Culleny
December 20, 2014
It’s Christmas for corporations! A majority of congressional and executive elves have loaded Santa’s sack with bundles of compliance and servitude which he delivered pre-holiday, as if he couldn’t wait to please his masters. He popped in via megabank chimneys, and arrayed the goodies under gold-and-diamond-studded trees. There the green things stood wrapped in garlands of thousand dollar bills which, by corporate tradition, will be burned in a New Year bonfire upon which the poor and middle class will be spun on spits.
This holiday giveaway is, of course, the recent, congressionally-concocted legal permission for the same banks that gutted the economy in the run-up to 2008 to go ahead and do it again —and, again, dump the inevitable bail-outs into the laps of taxpayers. The bill, ghost written by Citibank, is called the CRomnibus bill by some, but Crummybus by those who’ll be hauling the freight of big banks when the S hits the F.
Santa, what a guy! It’s enough to make you want to barbecue Dasher or Dancer, or the fat little guy in red himself. But, the joke’s on us as it has been since the first Noel when angels did say to certain rich bankers in big beds where they lay fleecing their sheep.
Is it time for pitchforks yet?
It’s absurd, isn’t it? A provision in the recently passed government-funding CRomnibus bill was slipped into the 1,600-page, $1.1 trillion spending bill. It gave big banks permission to once again steal from the least among us. It did this by eliminating a regulation in the post crash 2008 Dodd-Frank law that prohibited banks from “…trading some of their most exotic financial instruments which had been covered by the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). The rub was (and now is again) that, sure the FDIC insures your deposits against bank defaults, but when big bankers who do greedy, risky things to make billions are bailed out by government you wind up contributing chunks of that insurance money to the treasury in bail-outs to the crooks who risked it!
This is another example of an historical, political truth: laws are made by and for the rich. Any collateral effect that may be beneficial to anyone but the rich is just a necessary (and usually temporary) evil put in place to keep the crowd under control or to salve the tenuous guilt of lawmakers. This is especially true in so-called democracies. Although human decency occasionally creeps into the thinking of politicians and financial plutocrats it is eventually overridden by the impulse to greed, therefore: Dodd Frank and its corrective, H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, aka, CRomnibus. And greed and self-interest win again.
What’s important for average and poor Americans to realize is the evident fact that the United States is once again becoming the wild west of social, economic and legal inequity. The US is The place to be if, as a business, you want the freedom to pursue your self-interest regardless of its social, economic and environmental impact —as long as your self interest advances the interests the plutocracy.
Over the past few years, for instance, we’ve heard a lot about the Koch brothers because they are today (in terms of mythic American westerns) the swaggering ranchers who come in with cash and goons, kill off the buffalo, slaughter the natives, fence off a billion acres, control the water rights, the local paper, the sheriff, town council and judge, then make a showy appearance at the little church for Sunday prayer. What I want to know is where’s the Pale Rider when we need him? Oh, my God, Clint’s a Republican!
The Kochs are the elite, labor-crushing, corporatists who back ALEC —the American Legislative Exchange Council. But what the terms “exchange” and “legislation” in ALEC’s name refer to is the process in which corporations exchange with congress the text of bills they’ve written, along with greasy, good-faith “donations” (legal bribes, thanks to the Supreme Court). Congressional members, in turn, then enter that dictated text into legislation. In many cases corporate wording appears in legislation verbatim.
One example of how this works happened in Republican Governor Scott Walker’s Wisconsin. A Headline at The Huffington Post sums it up: Koch-tied Group Pushes New Union-Busting Bill in Wisconsin. In this case the ruse being foisted on voters is the euphemism “right to work” as if the choice really was about a right to work. What that term actually means in its intended effect is “the right to work for less”.
The gist of the bill written by ALEC and presented to Wisconsin’s GOP-controlled legislature has to do with busting public employee unions. But private sector unions are certainly affected as well. As the Huff Post article says, “Now out-of-state special interests and the Wisconsin GOP will use that drop in (public sector) membership to argue that private sector workers deserve the same “choice.” The poison pill for private sector unions is likely to be a model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) with the Orwellian name of “right to work.”
Whether it’s reversing common sense legislation or busting unions, govbiz Santa is working day and night throughout the year, in the USA and globally, to bring the fattest possible gifts to his boys and girls whether they’ve been nice or not. And, even when they’re “nice”, they usually have their naughty not-so-hidden agenda operating underground.
So, if not Clint Eastwood who, Elizabeth Warren on a horse with serape and cigarillo?
How about you and me with all of the above —and pitchforks?
November 7, 2014
“You can’t sanitize your dirty laundry and then not offer up any real solutions. Humanity has an inherent need to protect itself and there are always more good and honest people willing to fight to make things right.”
I read than this morning. It’s the closing remark of an article at The Daily Kos about Arnold Abbot, a 90 year old man in Fort Lauderdale, Florida who’s been illegally feeding homeless people —gratis.
The law that makes Arnold Abbot a felon has been explained by Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler. Seiler says he has to take care of Fort Lauderdale business owners and residents. Since his city is a major tourist destination, the city’s economy depends on being attractive, and the city authorities say having homeless people visible on the streets doesn’t help that.
“The parks have just been overrun and were inaccessible to locals and businesses,” Seiler said.
Before getting into the rationale of a law that makes a man a felon for feeding people, just stop a second and think: there is actually a law in Florida which says you will be arrested if you feed hungry people without making them pay for it. You may not choose to feed people on some streets in Florida if they are too destitute to feed themselves. You will actually be arrested for feeding hungry people on certain streets in Florida.
Imagine this: just yesterday Jesus offered a piece of bread and fish to some of the homeless in Fort Lauderdale and was summarily crucified on the beach by uniformed police who sat at his feet in the warm sand casting lots for his chef’s jacket. He was being so commercially destructive, you know.
Has it occurred to you that something seriously bent and immoral is going on, not only in Florida, but in the rest of the country? I’m not talking about illegal immigration or same sex marriage or gay sex or gun control or any of the red-meat “moral” issues certain factions lose sleep over. I’m talking about the degradation of a fundamental sense of decency toward others by those in our upper echelons (and their fearful constituents). The ones who run businesses and make laws such as the one making it a felony to feed hungry people on the street in sight of others —offending those who have plenty to eat, ruining their shopping experience, making tourists uncomfortable, screwing up business —the ones, as the quote says, who want to sanitize our dirty laundry “and then not offer up any real solutions.”
Well, what might be a real solution to homelessness and hunger?
Jobs for everyone might help. Imagine that, everybody working¸ bringing home the bacon. Or how about a minimum wage— everybody making, not a killing, but enough to maintain the dignity of having a place to live while bringing home the bacon. These are two simple and reasonable solutions but ones blocked or opposed by the party that voters (and non-voters —especially) just put in control of the United States House and Senate. The party that has made it their six-year-long priority not to find ways to create jobs, not to find ways to establish a decent floor to wages, but (as made clear by Republican Mitch McConnell) to make Barack Obama a one-term president. The party that has spent the last six years throwing up red herrings in attempts to legislate against families, women, homosexuals, workers, the poor and the middle class in order to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
Does anyone see the irony in this latest election?
But the election is not the only irony, another is that this obviously anti-poor political party has just won a solid victory in a nation of so-called Christians. Christians who have thrown their Jesus under the bus in favor of the party of Caesar (a one-time CEO of an Imperialist Roman monopoly) who crucified Jesus for anti-monopolistic practices such as dignifying the poor by being their advocate not only in word, but at the same time offering them food (see above) and medical care (healing the lame and blind, etc.). And without pay, no less! In Fort Lauderdale Jesus would be trundled off like Arnold Abbot, bleeding heart that he was. But Fort Lauderdale is not alone. There are other, similar laws in Daytona Beach, Houston, and at least 30 other cities.
The problem for those who’d prefer to hide our dirty laundry —who want to discourage people from not looking for jobs that don’t exist by preventing Arnold Abbot from buying them lunch— is that you can’t sanitize your dirty laundry by jailing good people for being compassionate and generous. Unless, of course, you want to lose your place in the queue to heaven by going against the example of your Lord.
Capitalism and Christianity (of the kind Jesus practiced —but as a Jew) just do not mix. Yet here we are in an overwhelmingly rich “Christian” nation arresting 90 year-old men for inviting Jesus in and clothing him and feeding him as we’ve been instructed to do by the very person 77% of us claim to worship.
I for one don’t buy it.
by Jim Culleny
October 10, 2014
What’s with ISIS?
ISIS it the latest demon to come down the pike: irrational, brutal and bloodthirsty, faux-pious, faux-devout; but it’s really nothing more than another instance of what we do to each other —another historical example of what we are, in part, about. There’s nothing new about these men in black except perhaps the modernity of their technological clout.
ISIS (which calls itself the Islamic State) is, in barbaric terms, similar to earlier religious entities. It’s not an expression of an unfathomable god but of the very plain and ordinary human will to dominance and power. God is just a rationale. But God often is just a rationale for the sort of fear-inducing brutality which (today) is ISIS, Death’s latest instrument, which now taints Islam.
Given the late video evidence it’s probable that God says things like this to ISIS:
“Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”
But in that case god (not Allah, but Yahweh) was not commanding ISIS, but was instead pumping up the Old Testament Israelite king, Saul. It may have been another time, but the divine MO was exactly the same: a convenient god, in service for the political ends at hand. And Saul, being a shrewd and devout guy, did not shrink from God’s command. He
“…attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.” —Samuel 15.
Saul may even have beheaded a few; but there was no social media then as we have now so we’ll never know. But if there had been it’s likely Saul would have used it to scare the loin-cloths off potential adversaries.
Nicholas Kristof , in the New York Time recently, suggested the current opinions of many about Islam do not take into account either the lives of non-violent Muslims nor the history of violence which has also been practiced by claimants of other religions.
Kristof notes that Christianity has encompassed the likes of “…the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: Kill them all; God will know his own.” And Kristof went on to mention the Congo warlord who styled himself a Pentecostal pastor…” suggesting that all who claim to be sheltered by the umbrella of God are actually themselves the ones who rain death and fashion the lightning bolts they hurl at innocents.
And the beat goes religiously on: on one hand take the Hindu, Gandhi; on the other the fanatic Hindu who assassinated him. And while today’s Dalai Lama is venerated as a humanitarian, the fifth Dalai Lama ordered children to be slaughtered “like eggs smashed against rocks.”
In fact much of what has been passed off as religion has nothing to do with God, neither then nor now. What brings us to the brink of condemnation of all Muslims today is the historical proximity of a hoard of psychopaths who claim the inspiration of Allah. They threaten us here and now, but the so-called god-worshipping psychopaths of the past were no less threatening in their ruthlessness to those who lived in their time. Jews before the Inquisition or “infidels” under the knife of ISIS were and are caught in political cogs, not spiritual ones, because religion really is more about politics than it is about God.
In his The Evolution of God, Robert Wright discusses how in 2300 BC Mesopotamia “The melding of religious beliefs or concepts…(was) a common way to forge cultural unity in the wake of conquest, and often…what gets melded is the gods themselves.” What Wright is talking about are the effects of politics on religions; or more accurately how religions are expressions of political power. And Wright goes on to show how this was true not only in Mesopotamia, but in Israel, and later in Roman dominated Palestine and (I would argue) right up to the present moment.
Wright tracks the many gods of the Middle East and how with every invasion and conquest the gods of victors and vanquished grew more or less powerful. He tracks this political progression of gods from polytheism through monolatry to monotheism until, finally, Yahweh, one of the gods of Israel has defeated all other gods to become the one God. But in the meantime during those centuries of political upheaval and change everyone claimed their god as their protector and made sure their deeds, constructive or destructive, were sanctioned by their god. God is always the perfect, unarguable excuse because my god is always flawless, as the poem suggests:
…….All Gods may contradict themselves
…….without flaw, say men
…….(who always give their God
…….the benefit of a doubt
…….in any argument)
The political forces that make ISIS possible are not new. They have to do with the condition in which people live, their hopes, disappointments, the oppression they suffer, the inequities, their humiliations, grievances, angers, hates, you name it. Roll all of that into the politics of religion along with the global issues we ignore and fail to address and you have a festering planet with a certain future of chronic outbreaks of this or that ISIS no matter how many bombs, drones and troops at your disposal.
Hope is not a question of religion it’s a question of enlightened will.
by Jim Culleny
Related: Bill Maher