A wolf howls in the night; your friends are gone and there’s bloody mud under your fingernails.
The coyotes shout the twisted moon; your love is gone and the trench is caving in.
Who will stop the evil?
Who will find the song to combine this troubled inland empire
into one spirit, one heart, one love, one calm and steady push
to a kinder, a gentler,
a more interesting, more creative, more joyful, more beautiful
life, land, world?
Poetry in the dark of night.
Poetry in the light of day.
Poetry in the heart of hearts.
The turning of the wheel.
The kind that overtakes by sinking slender fingers deep down
into the place where the heart meets the mind meets the soul.
We Shall Know Commonwealth Again.
We’ll stand within ourselves straight and tall,
admitting the Truth of our common hold.
Some people, living large here in the freeworld,
say we’ve got to stop Trump,
keep the train upon the tracks.
Sure–but that’s not enough and if that is our sole goal we won’t even manage that.
When was it that the rich sat in their silverbirds,
looking down for the first scurries of the rebellion?
And how did the West avoid the Marx’s inevitable evolution?
Regulations contra world-shaking investments and other exploitations;
taxes that relieved the aristocracy of their excess and built roads, dams, parks,
The GI bill.
Things like that; things we could do again.
But how? How to relax enough that we can all show up in the same room?
How to stop dreaming of perfect safeties, perfect securities, perfect attitudes, perfect victories;
and focus on the great progress readily available?
What do we agree on? We agree that, insofar as the economic and societal structures can with impunity allow it, we should all have the chance to unfold the Love within in a way that is great and glorious cool. We agree that, insofar as the economic and societal structures can with impunity allow it, people shouldn’t live in the chains of poverty, illness, ignorance. So then we just need to know: can we get away with both happiness and decency? Can we have a nation that is safe, secure, and full of beautiful possibilities for all of us? Actually, even before we answer that, we know we have to fight for that because unless we are clearly and solidly headed in that direction, the center fractures and people vote for salvations and condemnations: the panic wins and the train skips the tracks.
The thing I sense is that with steady hand, calm mind, and open heart, we can chart a course that is OK. But I worry that we will blow our hand because we lack the empathy-imagination to grasp that we are all in this together.
In this Together
We shall know Commonwealth
Tis not too Late
To Seek a Newer World
AMW/BW, the loneliest desperadoes ever to spin a six-shooter.
June 29, 2016
I settle down, hangdog.
We call our wives, repentant.
You bleed the hen, sickened.
It was some several months gone that I, having found a copy freebied along a Brooklyn road, read Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land”, a book-length essay about the West’s (well, US and Europe) current (published 2010) predicament, how we’d gotten there, and how we could get to a better place. Several thoughts jutted out, caught my sleeve, tore my shirt. The above essay mentioned two of them: styling the US an “inland empire”; and the hypothesis that the US and some of Europe had avoided the supposedly inevitable capsize of the bourgeoisie by the proletariat by democratically choosing to redistribute wealth. It yesterday occurred to me, while conversing with a slight-but-curvy, slope-button-nosed, lizard-eyed young beauty sitting post-art and thus spattered with oil-based paint, that some European countries had succumbed not to the violent disaster that Marx predicted and celebrated, but to other violent disasters, and that the tab of these violent disasters must to some degree fall to the excesses of bourgeoisie privilege. Wasn’t the Great Depression a critical ingredient in the mood that gave Hitler a crowd? And wasn’t the Great Depression to no small degree the result of unregulated financial markets, and wasn’t this lack of regulation part of a general profiteering: the wealthy investment class reaping private rewards while shunting the risk off onto the collective?
Two other thoughts of Judt’s deathsdoor effort (he, dead the same year it was published, was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease when he wrote it) that stuck with me: philosophies of triumphant economic inevitability helped us dismantle the welfare state (this one I already know, Milton Friedman; it is what’s made me riff on Camus’s “the evil geniuses of our time are all philosophers” with “the evil geniuses of our time are all economists”; and, look here look here!, isn’t triumphant economic inevitablism ultimately the deadly trick within Marx’s philosophy: isn’t it that mixture of grandeur and certainty that makes Marxism into an intellectual religion disconnected from living breathing humans–and isn’t such folly just as much folly when it comes from the right as when it comes from the left?); and the 60s/70s focus on identity-politics, coupled with the lazy lux of growing up in a nice big safety-net and middle-class boom, took the youths’ eyes off economic justice and helped us dismantle the welfare state.
Let me look a scorched-earth second at this latter thought of the departing historian. He particularly bemoans the phenomenon of minorities (he particularly mentions blacks and Jews; he was Jewish) joining fraternities of others in their ethnic/racial groups and majoring in studies focused on the history of their ethnic/racial groups. College is for going beyond the narrow definitions of self provided by such tribalisms is my understanding of his discontent. And feminism is in there somewhere too. Look at me and you, we are the same thing; my politics is mistaken if it doesn’t see that, but it isn’t just the right that can fail to grasp the ultimate sameness of human stuff, and Judt was, per my memory of my understanding of his book, unhappy with what he saw as the tendency of the 60s/70s left and thus the youthful energy of the 60s/70s to think so much on social justice that they forgot about economic justice for all groups.
Not that social justice for all isn’t important, but that for the collective to prosper, social justice and concerns for minorities needs to be paired with physical and economic security for all. And identity politics is not really that great for anybody (here I may be adding details not found in this book read some months ago): a human’s politics need to remain grounded in the understanding that we are all essentially the same–otherwise the common cause and nobler path is lost to angry struts and narrow group-thinks, us-vs-themisms, and other kinds of boredom disguised as being-real: we are all in this together and while it is true that a sustainable success requires that black kids from poorer parts of rusting belt towns end up winning; it is equally true that that it also requires that white kids from bummed out veins of coal country end up winning; as well as all the other racial groups, ethnic backgrounds, economic spots.
None of us are perfect; none of us grasp with perfect empathy the struggles of others, but playing up those imperfections and the cracks in others they sometimes cause hides the more promising but also more demanding truth: we all have at least some inkling of and compassion for the straights of other people, and we both can and must care enough about our fellow citizens to accept them and their perspectives as fundamentally equal to us and our vantage points. With “fundamentally equal” I do not mean that everyone is as fit for every task or every decision as everyone else. I mean that we all come from the same place; we all have the same basic innerworld of these various human longings shot through with the bright-light sense that we creatures matter and what we say and do matters and this Love matters; and we all are headed to the same place (some theologians might disagree this final point, but let us all at least agree that we will someday die and that what comes next plays by rules where money, musculature, intelligence, personality, social circles, math skills, philosophical essay writing, and so on disappear and each of us is left with only what one’s really become at the point of our physical/intellectual/emotional dissolution). With “fundamental equals” I mean that we are enough alike and enough bound up with one another that we cannot do what is best for ourselves without helping others do what is best for them.
The nation will fracture into angry clumps to the degree the center does not look each of us in the eye, human-to-human.
I read with interest the day other an article by NY Times columnist David Brooks. In an earlier article, he’d said that he had allowed himself, ensconced in elitedom, to lose touch with the trials and tribulations of many US Americans, and so he and others like him were partially responsible for the Trump disaster; and so now he must dedicate himself to the task of reaching out to everyone in the country (Something like that anyway), which I feel is a good goal for a public intellectual. Anyway, his column of my yesterday was about how Trump is fundamentally realigning the political debate in the nation: before it was about the size of government, now it is about openness. He said that of course he thought we needed to side with openness and that globalization will help us all economically (he included a couple facts about how it had raised our incomes and how the currently pillared Pacific Trade Agreement would raise it more) as long as we find a way to equip the momentary losers in the evolving economy to succeed. Of course, of course! And even without a clear economic advantage to free trade, there’s the diplomatic benefits of hearty economic relations between lands. On the other hand, should we really be encouraging poorer nations to work their people 12 hours a day for low wages? But then maybe the wages are better and the hours the same as what they’d been doing way back when, so–. So lots of different things to talk about.
US business interests really both hoarded and at its cake for the longest time now. They got free trade without the redistribution necessary for it to actually benefit everyone. When the US found the New Deal–a great redistribution of wealth that built roads, educations, and ultimately lives–it was to some degree a decision by the elites to spread the wealth around and thus avoid the disaster of rebellion. Around the same time, Russia did fall from monarchial tyranny into communist tyranny; and Nazi Germany fell from a sputtering democracy into a totalitarian state whose appeal was pride in “the folk” and contempt for whoever didn’t make the count as “the folk”. Right now we have–at least in the US–apparently reached a tilting point reminiscent of the one that gave rise to the regulations and safety nets created in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and steadily dismantled starting in the 80s. Brooks supposes Trump’s lean towards xenophobia, misogyny, and racism will keep him from winning the race; but he warns that another will take Trump’s isolationism, his trade-hating, his border-shutting, his zero-sumism (as in “win win” is impossible–a ‘fraidy cat unimaginative helterskelter fantasy hiding place disguised as “realism”), trim a bit of the obvious meanness and dilettantism, and win. We in the US who can find it in our hearts to believe in the chance of a center, of togetherness, of imperfect but real progress for all of us–this is the time to shout out our faith and to demand that our government find a way to make the economic realities and possibilities of our day work for all of us.
Which brings us to the final piece of Judd’s dying words that extra-resonated with me: citizens in countries like the US and Great Britain (places where claiming the political process is completely hopeless requires a cynicism and flippancy so pouty and negligent that I think it appropriate to at least begin speaking of the real evil of being a big baby) can work together to change their country’s trajectory and they have a duty a duty a duty to do so. And the way to do that is to embrace the political process and accept the challenge of discussing the nuts and bolts of policy decisions. Babies! A bunch of squabbling, he-hit-me-first-no-he-hit-me-first babies! Agghh! You drive me crazy!
Simmer down. OK. OK. We need the better elements within ourselves to enjoy politics again–instead of just our get-offs on fighting and crushing and strutting and lamenting to enjoy politics. And we need to stop letting the political process live in the side-track of mindlessly repeated talking-points and mindless screaming side-taking. But that’s OK, because there’s a way to correct both those errors at once: we need to start making a safe and fun space for people to talk about the details of policy decisions. Not these stupid roundtable argument where everyone goes home believing in the same preconceived notions they came with. And not quite these political comedy shows tuned in by one side or the other and also putting everyone to bed with the comfy certainty that, though our country is doomed, it is fault of the “other side” (Note: some of these political comedy shows are more helpful than others; more helpful is honest playful discussion; much less helpful and indeed part of the evil downhill rolling snowball is standard mockery). A place to have fun with the nuts and bolts of policy ideas; of budgets; of trade-offs. We cannot continue to hide behind the “experts” of our choosing–the “other side” just chooses different experts: perhaps those experts are baloney, but we cannot rightly say that without taking some time to understand the topic.
I don’t know how to do this. Suggesting it makes me think of various blowhard fools I’ve encountered reading articles by thinkers who agree with them and going on about how we all need to do the research and think for themselves like they do. Ah well, we can but try: despairing in the supposed impossibility of good conduct and/or good outcomes is ultimately just as counterproductive (read: evil) as pouting over the supposed impossibility of good conduct and/or good outcomes. We can try to talk for real with one another.
How to do it? You can’t let just anybody say anything. That view of what is required for a free exchange of ideas just ends up filling the air with loud certainties. Oh thick, un-breathe-able, immobile, useless humidity!: an infiniti of options equals, for finite creaturethings, no options. You can’t let your prejudices oversway you, but you can’t let other people’s prejudices oversway you either. How do we do this? And remember: it has to be fun for everybody–overseriousness will make the participants lose sight of the relative nature of their knowledge and wisdom and it will also similarly lame the excellence of the audience. But note also the necessity of some seriousness and some type of elitism: while one cannot have any useful knowledge or real wisdom without insight into the limits of those goods, some ideas, attitudes, and feelings are better than others, which is to say: degrees of knowledge and wisdom exist and are very important.
There are no white people and no black people, no Asians, no Indian Indians, and no American Indians. We all slide together in personalities, temperaments, types and degrees of intelligents–all that stuff is varied within races, not across races. Who knew? The only way you really learn it is by interacting with a bunch of people with different skin colors and facial features; over time it just sinks in undeniably deep that you see patterns in thought and emotion in human beings within and not between races.
There is here in the world no good guy, no bad guy; no hero and no villain. There are some bad ideas, some bad feelings–some bad strands within the flowing togetherness that is the Reality of the human experience.
Whatever. The thing that here must happen is social justice and economic justice together. We must have both the right attitude and the right management. It is terrifying evil for human organizations to slide into chaos, which is another word for death to society, to rights, to chances. We must maintain calm and dignity and work for steady progress on all fronts. The danger of youth is to throw it all away for swelling heroisms and dreams of victory. The danger of old age is to throw it all away for grand pouts and dreams of escape. We must come together and ask together for the Truth. We already know the Truth; the Truth is we’re all in this together and we can manage ourselves more or less wisely and the decisive aspect is how much space we allow for within each individual: we all need enough security, calmness, time, patience, energy, love to live for real–we all need to learn, work, think, grow, have fun, take ourselves and others seriously.
Give me a poetry that tears the walls down. Give me a poetry that frees our minds and hearts by melting lies and exploding Truth. POW! The Power of the Word.
Give me a poetry podcast that contemplates the power of the word for good and for evil. Give me a poetry podcast that dances, that is fun, that plays, that thinks and feels together, that knows we are all in this together and that seeks for the words that stop the evil and embolden the Good.
AMW/BW, the one from small Midwestern town Pennsylvania, the other from all across the possibilities; the one suntanned, the other transparent.
God forgive them, God help them, God explode them and gather the pieces to God’s bosom, where this begins, where this must end.