Build no Mosque Near Zero

August 30, 2010

The controversy over Manhattan’s “ground zero” mosque signifies the power of fear over faith,  hate over ideals, demagoguery over decency, and nonsense over sense.

In the case of nonsense over sense, the proposed “mosque” is actually intended to be a cultural center which is to include not only a mosque but a swimming pool –and  it’s not even at ground zero,  it’s to be two blocks away from ground zero.  Therefore, it would not be not a “ground zero” mosque at all, it would be a “two-blocks-away-from-ground-zero” mosque; or a “two-blocks-away-from-ground-zero Muslim swimming pool”; but that doesn’t work well in a demagogic sound bite. So, one question for the hopelessly fastidious might be, “What’s the cut-off distance for mosques or Muslim swimming  pools—three blocks, five, ten, a half mile?” At what distance does a mosque or swimming pool become a “ground zero” facility, or not?

The answer is, “If it’s close enough to my political angst and innate fear of “the other” to give me night sweats it’s a “ground zero” mosque.

Build no mosque near zerozero’s too near the hole in our hearts; to near the naught we know at night when the bogey-man bites

This is where demagogues come in: through the door in our brain marked “fear”.  In many people this door is often not secured tightly enough to keep a house-breaking demagogue out. In others a welcome mat for demagogues is placed at its threshold at the first hint of the possibility of personal loss.  This leads to the victory of demagoguery over decency. After a session with a demagogue, this is the door a previously decent person voluntarily walks through into the world of hate.

Build no mosque near zero — zero’s too near the nadir of our understanding,  the O in no, the void which flowers in our capacity to destroy, the nil of unknowing, the aught of un-wantin

What demagogues really don’t like are constitutions.  A political constitution, if it contains things he or she loathes, will unsettle a demagogue big time and ruin their golf or wolf-shooting day. A case in point is the Constitution of the United States of America and its pesky Bill of Rights. Our Bill of Rights is our protection against the tyranny of the majority.  It’s a list of things government cannot do no matter what a majority may say. It says things like, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” I know it doesn’t say, Islam or otherwise, but you get the gist.

We should be thankful that in building our constitution  founder James Madison “understood factions”, as constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley observed in an article about the difficulties of forming a government in Afghanistan. Turley then went on, “In his study of why governments fail, Madison found factions to be the chief culprit.”  In this day of Tea-Parties and the Party of No Madison’s insight is something to be seriously considered. When factions get out of hand, when a majority of Christians, say, may not like what a minority of Muslims believe, our Bill of Rights kicks in —unless the power of hate over ideals kicks in first.

Build no mosque near zero — zero’s too near the zip we feel when we love hate, the cipher that numbers the digits displayed in a holy fist, the nada of exclusion which seethes in the interstices between faith and fear

Faith as I understand it (especially religious faith) is an antidote to fear: fear of the unknown, the great mysteries of life, death. Faith, on a religious level, is believing  a good God exists despite the evidence of the things that are glaringly wrong in the world. On a political level faith is belief in our constitution and the ideals of which it consists.  A loss of faith in either arena is a sure-fire road to defeat.

Build no mosque near zero — zero’s too near the nullification of our presumptions of God’s will in the midnight of His contradictions

I must confess I’m deeply troubled by the Islam represented by fanatics who express their faith in destruction.  But, at the same time, I have to remember the history of the religion(s) to which the majority of Americans lay claim: the Christian crusades, its burning and torture of heretics; the anti-Semitic pogroms of Europe; the lynchings by white Christians in the deep south, the ruthless god we find in the Old Testament —the only difference between these and the excesses of Islam is time: the time required to reach modernity, time for Islam to experience its own Enlightenment.  Whether this is accomplished in enough time to turn things around before Christian America back-slides into a Glenn-Beckian, Limbaughian, Gingrichian, Palinesque fascist theocracy is the question.

Build no mosque near the silence of the negative space in which god speaks his or hers apparently futile promise of peace and good will among men  —no mosque and no church






In 1726, in The Political History of the Devil, author Daniel Defoe wrote, “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”  Ben Franklin, paraphrasing Defoe said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  Both Defoe and Franklin were giving voice to what we most loathe and/or fear. 

Personally, I loathe death more than taxes, but that’s because I’m not a conservative.  But whatever our political inclination, we tip-toe around death out of a profound sense of impotence regarding it, and because, of the two, (death and taxes) death is the most final. In fact, if you die you won’t have to worry about paying even one more cent in taxes which is why conservatives (especially religious ones) have built such finely detailed architectures around death.  Preferring death to taxes they’ve made post-death more palatable: a heavenly place with seraphim and cherubim and no IRS.

I don’t mean to be gloomy but two recent personal experiences have made me more sensitive to my mortality and that of my loved-ones. One I won’t go into because it’s awful and heart-rending enough to make an honest fundamentalist question the idea of a benevolent god. The other is just plain narcissistic; namely, anxiety at having just had a birthday represented by too many digits over 6.

As with most things a simple, straight-forward acknowledgement of death might be best; but we’re fearful creatures, so, when dealing with end-of-life issues we beat around the bush with a million euphemisms.

In a funk a year or so ago, considering our universal and mysterious end I penned a poem I titled Whatcham’callitI opened Whatcham’callit with the simple, straight-forward acknowledgement I mentioned above but then, to lighten up my meditation of the worst of events, I found myself setting down some of our oblique references to our basic taboo.  This is how the poem goes:

“She’s dead,” he said
“So’s he,” said she.

“Kicked the bucket,” he said.
“Bought the farm,”
said she.
“Under the clover,” he said.
“Crossed over,”
said she.
“Iced with a heater,” he said.
“Sleeps with the fishes
,” said she.
“Taken for a little ride,” he said.
“Gone to the other side
,” said she.
“Flat-lined,” he said.
“Out of mind,” said she.
Up to this point in the poem I merely jotted a few of those less-than-lethal terms we use to gloss over what really happens. They cover much of the verbal territory we high-tail it to for sanctuary from death by robbing it of some of its sting. But for centuries (maybe even eons) we’ve speculated that there’s more to “passing on” than meets the eye. You might say we crave an after-life, otherwise how could this one make any sense? 

For instance, Christians will meet Jesus when they cross over and Jesus will introduce them to his father.  There will be untold joy and fulfillment in (according to Revelation) a place of  “… unspeakable beauty, a city and streets of gold, gates of pearl, and precious stones” and they will again meet all those they loved in life. By contrast, who would not love that sort of place and party.

When Muslims buy the farm (according to the Koran) they will come to a place which is “…a Garden, as wide as the heavens and the earth; … prepared for those who keep their duty.”  A lush garden; very appealing to life-long desert dwellers.

For Hindus who kick the bucket heaven is not so much a place but a period of rest for souls between death and rebirth, until they achieve release from the cycle of births —which is not unappealing, especially now, given the current state of global affairs.

Native Americans are eclectic about the afterlife. Some apparently believe in reincarnation, with a person being reborn either as a human or animal, while others believe that humans return as ghosts, or that people go to another world. Still others believe that nothing definitely can be known about one’s fate after this life. This last indicates a realistic humility I think would appeal to god.  “I just don’t know,” is refreshingly honest.

Whereas some atheists seem as arrogantly certain as any fundamentalist, agnostics take the position that a simple declaration of ignorance in face of the ineffable and inscrutable is not a cop-out, but an admission of the limits of our intellects in dealing with the most persistent of mysteries. It’s a perspective not of denial, but of wonder. 

And so Whatcham’callit ends:

 “Flat-lined,” he said.
“Out of mind,” said she.

“To a better place,” he said.
“By heaven’s grace,” said she.

“Under the sod,” he said.
“To be with God,” said she.

“To Paradise?” he said.
“Would be nice,” said she.

“Could it be?” he said.
“Could it not?” said she.


A Climate for Crooks

August 18, 2010


Only politicians of a so-called democracy could, with a straight face, challenge the fundamentals of human rights and common sense and redefine what a person is. The Supreme Court did this when it invented the corporate person, which it did with the sole intent of maximizing the sequestration of wealth by the few.

There’s a great warning in the Tao Te Ching, a book written in China about in 500 BC. It says, “If you inflate some to greatness others necessarily diminish.  If you covet possessions you’ll create a climate for crooks.”

The common-sense of Lao Tzu’s observation seems irrefutable, yet the common sense of the common man is no match for a system rigged by common crooks. In fact the Supreme Court institutionalized a “climate for crooks” in 1886, when it gave corporations human rights. Recently the court heaped insult upon injury when it confirmed the right of corporations to swing elections by giving corporate persons the right to spend human persons  into the ground during election campaigns.

What is a corporate person? As defined by U.S. law a corporate person has the rights and privileges of a human person and, in many ways, may usurp the rights and privileges of human persons —may supersede human sovereignty— especially when it comes to money.

So many conservatives whine and moan endlessly about the government (with good cause) and fear government’s threat to individual liberty (with good reason) without uttering a peep about liberties lost due to corporate governance.

President Ronald Reagan claimed that government could not solve our problems because government is the problem. What he carefully did not positively state is what might replace democratic government. The sub-text of Reagan’s dismissal of democratic government is his unspoken suggestion that business/the private sector/corporations are the best repository of freedom and liberty.

But the flip-side of Lao Tzu’s simple but brilliant observation is this: if you diminish the greatness of some you necessarily elevate others. This is where we stand now. With the elevation of corporations to personhood congress diminished human personhood. In Reagan’s odious case he bashed democratic government and elevated a ruthless alternative to greatness.  Being a private-sector-worshipping conservative, it’s not a stretch to assume Reagan was giving his nod to plutocracy. It appears that for the Great Communicator the venerated “free market”, not necessarily the constitution, was the apotheosis of liberty and its best protector.

Ok, but it’s legitimate to ask, how does the corporate person actually trump the human person?

Answer this: What person having killed 2,500 people and contaminated water supplies (to this day) could get off without a trial?  The answer is: a corporate person —one named Union Carbide. In fact, Mr. Carbide killed by means of a cloud of deadly methyl isocyanate in Bhopal, India in 1984,  then settled with the Indian government out of court for an amount that “…wasn’t even able to cover the majority of (victim’s) medical expenses, not to mention their suffering” –University of Michigan News.
Approximately that number died in the 9/11 attack and we went to war, but the corporate person, Union Carbide, was able to settle out of court for peanuts  —and continued to exist without the scathing public condemnation we give terrorist persons. The truth is, there is no death penalty for a corporate person. Corporate persons have a singular advantage over human persons: they may live and collect profits forever; or as long as they can win in court. And going to war with a corporation is just plain un-American in some circles.

But how did it come to be that a non-breathing, heartless, soulless entity could be equated with a living, breathing, and thinking human being?  As was already mentioned, it was done by Supreme Court fiat when the court ruled that a private corporation was a “natural person” under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment. But, Supreme Court Justice William 0. Douglas said sixty years later, “There was no history, logic or reason given to support that view.”  The court did it simply because it could.

Despite the bad judgment of politicians like Ronald Reagan, and despite the myopic inclination of too many Kool-Aid drinking followers, blaming government for all our ills solves nothing. Government is not the fundamental problem, corporations are the problem: colossal corporate persons with colossal power whose colossal boots leave colossal footprints upon the landscape in which we tiny human persons strive. Any problem we have with government can be traced to top dogs who pull golden strings. Government is not the top dog.

This is not a wacky conspiracy theory.  As someone said in the 1970s, “Follow the money.” Although a bribee (a politician) is also culpable, the briber (the corporate person) is the one with the real nefarious intent. The briber is the instrument causing direct damage to our way of life, our liberty, and our environment. Modern legislators are just punks for corporate persons.

Unless we rein-in corporations, blaming government is futile.  Our problems issue from the effects of corporate persons buying government persons to thwart the power of human persons. And those who seek change through exclusively government-bashing Tea Parties are victims of “…the colonization of minds,” says Ward Morehouse.

Morehouse, president of the non-profit Council on International and Public Affairs says that those who seek global change must focus on one radical goal: “…to legally redefine the role of corporations in our society and drastically limit the wealth and power they are allowed to amass.”

What Tea-Partiers should be demanding is the extinction of the corporate person. Short of that we are nothing but little people destined to become even tinier as over-eating corporate persons pig-out on everything in sight.