Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bubbles 3 - Spirit

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So let’s ponder bubbles.

Here is what a bubble is: a mirror that won’t let you see yourself.

I find it useful to think of bubbles as the great temptations of the world, as various invitations to see the world through a distorted and self-reinforcing lens.

I’m still trapped inside many bubbles, I’d daresay, along with most everyone else. The better you have it, the luckier you are in life, the more illusions you can afford to give yourself. And it must be said, I have it awfully good.

There’s one bubble at least, though, that I’m finally free of. Call it a ‘liberal’ bubble if those labels interest you.

These types of bubbles don’t usually pop without a disruption. Something shocking. Something astonishing. Something that knocks the breath out of you and makes you wonder what you really know about the world you inhabit and the people with whom you inhabit it.

My bubble popped.

I'm told this is a photograph and not a Ralph Steadman drawing

I suspect it popped late last year for thousands and millions of us. When it popped, we all took a look around.

What we see now is that there is a malignant spirit alive in our country, which has captured the hearts of a large and growing portion of our population.

I use ‘spirit’ purposefully, by the way. I use ‘spirit,’ because I think our problem is spiritual. I doubt it will be solved by logic or reason. Those of us on opposite sides of the divide appear to have chosen alternate fundamental premises about the nature of the universe, appear to have actively sought out alternate realities to support these premises. Our moral propositions live on parallel planes, and our news sources present us with divergent universes. Our ideas do not contend, because they never actually meet one another—and this by design and by choice.

So, while the cause of justice is logical and reasonable, I doubt it is logic or reason that will save us. I suspect that what is required is not a change of mind, but one of soul. Spirit. Heart. Changes in the core beliefs of millions, new answers to fundamental questions of what is good and what is true and what is most important. Something so close to a miracle as to be indistinguishable from it.

Spirit it is, then. Do a find-and-replace of ‘spirit’ with ‘ideology’ or 'orientation' if you don't find the word useful.

This spirit gripping our nation is … bubbly. It creates many bubbles. It offers many temptations.

One of our great temptations now is to think that our relative comfort means that this spirit isn’t actually malignant and real.

Another of our great temptations now is to think this is a new spirit, rather than one of the animating forces of our national character, burrowed deep into our history, nestled near the heart, tendrils threaded throughout the body politic, contracting, expanding, regressing here, invading there.

Another of our great temptations is to imagine that this spirit has captured them, rather than us. This spirit has captured so many, and they are our friends and neighbors. So we can write ‘them’ as a matter of clear grammar, but it never means anything other than a subset of ‘us.’ The they … are, inescapably, us.

It has captured a lot of ‘them,’ this spirit. That has become clear to thousands and millions of ‘us.’ It’s also clear to me that most of ‘them’ don’t know it.‘They’ are in bubbles. ‘They’ want us to re-join them there again. 'They' refer to this act as 'getting out of your bubble.' And that’s the greatest temptation of all. ‘We’ want to join them. It’s comfortable in there.

What the malignant spirit that has captured us wants is this: genocide and slavery. Literally.

(Whoa. That’s quite a claim, I know. Hold on; it’s going to take a while to unpack. We’ll get there.)

Genocide and slavery. We need to oppose it with everything we have.

Thousands and millions of us have learned that our friends and family want mass-murder and slavery to protect their own advantage, or else (more likely) are willing to accept propositions that make such things inevitable, or else (most likely of all) are willing to accept and flatter those who believe these propositions, to protect an established order they find comfortable, without contemplating what those ends might be, and with deliberate and practiced incuriosity about making any inquiry into the matter.

And perhaps ‘we’ express our shock at this realization in clumsy and angry and hostile ways that ‘they’ find deeply offensive. But ‘they’ also find the simple fact that 'we' see it this way is itself deeply offensive. ‘They’ don’t see it that way at all.

And ‘they’ are angry and offended, and complain of uncompromising attitudes.

And ‘we’ mourn, because ‘they’ are still our friends and family.

They’re not bad people, we tell ourselves. They’re not evil. We know them. They’re integral parts of our lives. When we need them, they’re there. They’d give the shirt off their backs—and they would. Sometimes, perhaps, they have. They care about us. We care about them. They are us.

And the truth is—‘they’ aren’t evil. Many of ‘them’ are better than many of ‘us’ in any number of ways. More generous. More helpful. Braver. Smarter. More patient. 'They' might even have friends—real, actual friendships—with people who fall into categories 'they' propose to harm, when polled on general bloodless faceless policy. 'They' might even be willing, given proper criteria and circumstances, to sacrifice time and resources to help people within these categories. And ‘they’ love ‘us,’ many of ‘them,’ sometimes better than ‘we’ love ‘them.’ After all, ‘they’ are people. Humans. Unique and irreplaceable works of art carrying intrinsic and unsurpassable worth.

All of this is both important to remember and entirely beside the point.

The reason it's beside the point is this: 'They' have believed a lie, and we are fighting that lie.

The reason it's important to remember is this: We're fighting the lie. We're not fighting them.

The question is one of orientation. Are we oriented toward a justice with its foundation in love? Or are we oriented toward preserving an order that has selected some other thing—likely some good thing—as its primary guiding priority?

Let's assume I mean orientation and spirit as one in the same.

Your orientation is your compass. It's your founding assumption.

The compass determines the navigation. The navigation determines the course. The course determines the path. The path arrives at the destination.

Any compass that does not use as True North a justice founded in love (that is, a justice that ensures the inherent dignity, legal equality, and provision for basic need, of all human beings) will inevitably fail to recognize that people are art. It will arrive at one barbarism or another. Intention doesn't really come into it. Even a well-intentioned navigator will lose her way, if her compass is wrong.

Nor is perfection required. Navigation can be corrected. A course can be adjusted. New paths can be devised to arrive at the correct destination. But if the compass is wrong, the corrections and adjustments will be incorrect, the new path just as wrong as the one before, and the destination will remain a foul one.

By way of illustration, here's just one example.

Let's imagine our compass is the law, rather than justice. The law is a very good thing. I can't imagine a society working without it. It would be difficult to imagine any sort of justice could be achieved without it. We might do well, then, to make the law our compass.

But if law is our compass, we will only be as good as our laws can be—and we won't meet the challenge of changing them when they fail. In fact, we won't even recognize them as having failed, because they, being our compass, will be the realized purpose of themselves. Intentions don't come into it, if we are unwilling to consider whether a law is just or not, or if our priorities have caused us to define 'justice' as something other than the recognition that all human beings are art, holding value simply because they exist.

Everybody knows this is true. Look:

An action can be deeply unjust, even if it is lawful ...

A Presidential pardon of a torturing bigot: perfectly legal
...while breaking the law can be fundamentally and heroically just.

Pictured: Criminals
If we petition solely to the law for questions of morality, we will arrive, whatever our intentions, at barbarism. And if this were a particularly ironic universe, people might once again make yesterday's mistakes, might once again define today's crusaders for justice solely by their disruptions of the legal order rather than by the obvious justice of their complaint, might at the same time defend barbarians on the pedantic grounds of their proper adherence to legal documentation. It's amazing the sorts of things many law-oriented people will permit, provided only that they have the proper permits.

"At least they had permits—unlike Antifa!"
- People in my Twitter mentions, who for some strange reason felt compelled to defend Nazis

"The racist fury of BLM led to white nationalism.
You reap what you sow." - Also my Twitter mentions

Example over. Let's sum up.

A spirit has captured this country.

A spirit might be expressed as a foundational orientation. You might think of a compass.

The compass determines the destination.

Presently, in the United States of America, our compass is a set of terrible lies, leading to genocide and slavery.

We are primarily fighting the lies, not the people who believe them. Which is not to say that this fight does not involve confronting with the truth people (even the good people—especially them) who have believed lies. Which is not to say that this fight may not involve defending with our bodies other people who those lies are meant to harm and enslave and kill.

Our focus is not on a battle between good things and evil things. It’s on priority between competing good things, and against the spirit that has captured us, which tells us the lie that there are priorities higher than human dignity and life. Justice grounded in love is our priority, and we must insist on it. Any other priority inevitably arrives at barbarism. Any other priority is based on a lie; and even the best person can believe a lie.

So we mourn, not because of ‘their’ evil, but because of ‘their’ goodness. We weep, because we all belong to each other, and because justice demands that the great priority over all others is a justice grounded in love, is the life and dignity of human beings. We weep, because we can no longer unsee that those who suffer because of our unjust systems—those within our borders and those outside of it—are also our brothers and sisters, and always have been. We've been abandoning them for the sake of our comfort.

We mustn't ever abandon them again. They are us, too.

We all belong to each other, but we’re captured by a lie that says we don’t. We're looking into mirrors that don't allow us to see ourselves.

As a result, we are all in serious danger. Some among us are deeply sick, and are hurting others among us with weapons that will inevitably spring back to maim even those who wield them. Others among us are deeply sick, and have chosen to make ourselves comfortable by taking the less disruptive path and aligning with those who are doing the hurting rather than those being hurt. Still others of us are deeply sick, because while we are now aware of this, we don’t know what to do about it, and we feel numb and paralyzed in the teeth of this new knowledge.

Our new knowledge is this: many among us are being hunted and hurt and killed by the rest. Many will suffer that otherwise would have received relief. Many will die who might otherwise have lived. And, while some will profit from it unintentionally, and others will profit from it very deliberately, intention is beside the point. Spirit is what matters. Orientation guides us.

We had heard it before. We even ‘knew’ it. But now we know it.

The bubble is popped. For thousands and millions of us, there’s no going back.

But how can we possibly go forward?

* * *

And Thomas berated his wife, for her lies against his character. And Abe scolded his wife, for her unwillingness to hear both sides. But Sally would not deny what had happened. And Mary refused to open the door.

0. ART



  1. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your beautiful soul so soulfully. I love that you recognize each person (and I would add eagle and raccoon and salamander....) as a precious work of art as well as our need to re-set our compass, our values and priorities on ensuring that each person's dignity and life is paramount. And thank you for the reminder that we are not fighting "them" but rather their dangerous and destructive ideas. What a gift.


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