Saturday, October 13, 2018

THE WINTER’S TALE: THE TYRANT AND THE ETERNAL FEMININE; FEAR OF LOSS GREATER THAN HOPE OF GAIN; LOVE’S NOT THE ANSWER BUT THE QUESTION; HERPES VIRUS AND ALZHEIMER’S

Leonardo da Vinci: Seated Man and a study of the movement of water, 1510
 
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THE FEAST OF TREES

Could you enjoy a festive banquet
if the host said, Eat and drink,
this is my flesh, my blood —

Could you partake
of this sublime
generosity if he began to bleed?

How different is the feast of trees,
beautiful even in their death —
splayed logs and limbs like open arms

surrendering to moss and saplings.
Or a eucalyptus grove
seared by fire, crowns intact,

trunks and leaves the same
pale unburnished bronze —
trees silenced into art,

motionless as Dante’s
Wood of Suicides.
The eloquence of thorns.

~ Oriana

The sight of the trees after one of our first great fires inspired this. The trees weren’t burned, but rather seared by the heat — the leaves actually stayed on. And they didn’t actually turn black — that happened to the remains of the chaparral brush above in the hills — they turned a gorgeous bronze color. If not for the deadness, it would have actually been a delightful sight — a unique still life.

But under normal circumstances, something even more marvelous happens. The old tree dies and falls. In forests that receive sufficient rain, we soon have a “nurse log.”

How different is the feast of trees,
beautiful even in their death —
splayed logs and limbs like open arms

surrendering to moss and saplings.

From Wiki:

~ “Various mechanical and biological processes contribute to the breakdown of lignin in fallen trees, resulting in the formation of niches of increasing size, which tend to fill with forest litter such as soil from spring floods, needles, moss, mushrooms and other flora. Mosses also can cover the outside of a log, hastening its decay and supporting other species as rooting media and by retaining water. Small animals such as various squirrels often perch or roost on nurse logs, adding to the litter by food debris and scat. The decay of this detritus contributes to the formation of a rich humus that provides a seedbed and adequate conditions for germination.” ~

Thus death feeds new life, and all is used, recycled, rich and lush again. This reminds me of a rabbi’s saying that we should give back all the love we’ve received — all those nutrients.

 
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“THE ELOQUENCE OF THORNS” — OUR FEAR OF LOSS GREATLY EXCEEDS OUR HOPE OF REWARD

~ “We're going to flip a coin. If it lands on tails, you have to pay us $10. If it lands on heads, how much would you have to win for this bet to be worth it? If it's anything more than $10—and we're willing to bet it is—that's loss aversion in action. This trick of psychology says the pain of losing something is greater than the joy of gaining something.

This concept was coined by legendary psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman way back in the early 90s. The coin-flip scenario above comes from a real experiment Kahneman performs in his university classes. So how much do students want to win before the $10 gamble is worth it? As Kahneman told The New York Times, "People want more than $20 before it is acceptable. And now I've been doing the same thing with executives or very rich people, asking about tossing a coin and losing $10,000 if it's tails. And they want $20,000 before they'll take the gamble.

You're less likely to walk away from a blackjack table when you've lost a hand than when you've won one. You're more likely to become politically involved when your rights are threatened than you are if there's a vote on a law that would give you more rights. Loss aversion is even an explanation for why people stay in dead-end jobs: the fear of losing a steady paycheck is greater than the potential happiness of finding a job you really love.

Evolution has made pain a more urgent matter than pleasure, since avoiding pain is the thing that can keep you alive to procreate.

**THE OVERNIGHT TEST**

When faced with a decision you fear might be affected by loss aversion, the New York Times's Carl Richards suggests using what he calls the Overnight Test. His test deals with money and investments, but you could potentially use it for anything. Take something you're afraid of losing, even though you know you'd be better for losing it—camping equipment you're never going to use, a dead-end job, even an unpleasant friendship. Imagine you went to bed, and overnight someone got rid of it (sold the equipment for cash, got you a different job, ended the friendship). The next morning, you could choose to get back the thing you lost, or stick with the new situation. What would you do? If you'd stick with the new situation, there's your answer—lose what's holding you back and get on with your life.”

https://curiosity.com/topics/loss-aversion-says-that-the-pain-of-loss-is-stronger-than-the-joy-of-gain-curiosity/

from another source:

~ “In the book, Thinking Fast And Slow, Danny Kahneman uses Prospect Theory to explain that, as human beings, we fear loss far more than we value gain.

In the book and in his studies, Kahneman said that our perspective of reality is actually exaggerated at least double when we’re afraid of losing something.

But that’s only what he reported in his studies because he knew his work would be under a great deal of scrutiny. In more private settings, he has said his data actually shows that people inflate or exaggerate reality by 5–7X when they fear avoiding loss.” ~

https://medium.com/@benjaminhardy/to-have-freedom-in-your-life-you-must-stop-avoiding-this-one-thing-78cf4d77ec1c


 

LOSS AVERSION ~ Wiki

~ “In cognitive psychology and decision theory, loss aversion refers to people's tendency to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring equivalent gains: it is better to not lose $5 than to find $5. The principle is very prominent in the domain of economics. What distinguishes loss aversion from risk aversion is that the utility of a monetary payoff depends on what was previously experienced or was expected to happen. Some studies have suggested that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. Loss aversion was first identified by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman.

Loss aversion implies that one who loses $100 will lose more satisfaction than another person will gain satisfaction from a $100 windfall. The effect of loss aversion in a marketing setting was demonstrated in a study of consumer reaction to price changes to insurance policies. The study found price increases had twice the effect on customer switching, compared to price decreases.” ~

Oriana:

I'm very loss-aversive. I feel the pain of loss much more acutely than any joy of reward (well, maybe not any reward, but when it comes to money, certainly). My first thought while reading about risking the loss of $10 was that I'd have to have a 50% chance of gaining $100. And the years when I was extremely poor are long over! But those years of poverty brand you for life.

When it comes to effort, I'm nowhere as aversive to loss. Working hard is its own pleasure, so even if it comes to nothing, I can just shrug it off. Physical pain, as long as it’s relatively mild, does not scare me. But a lot of emotional stress — a difficult commute in a traffic jam, having to deal with unpleasant people — now this is the kind of “loss” that can keep me from doing something when the gain isn’t especially alluring. And when I look at what’s out there, nothing seems all that alluring (everything is riddled with problems) when measured against the stress involved in gaining it. That knowledge seems to have come with age: the reward has become less rewarding, while the stress has become magnified and harder to detox from.

This is why the "overnight test" is a fabulous tool, I think. Imagine that during the night, without being conscious of it, you were to lose the thing you're afraid of losing. You wake up and it's gone -- the job, the relationship, a certain amount of money. How terrible is it, really? Are you able to adjust to the new situation, or would you prefer things the old way? This “thought experiment” can shake us out of our defensive posture.

For instance, we could give away (or lose) a lot of what we own and never really miss it. Some people will admit that for them it would be 90% of all their stuff. Imagine all the space in the house you’d gain!

But material stuff is the easy part. It’s choosing between the non-material things that can be agonizing. Say it’s one partner versus another, when you’ve lived long enough to know that no partner is going to be without problems, and basically you are exchanging one set of problems for another — that’s where we see loss aversion most at work, and that’s where taking a risk often makes sense.

But we can’t know that for sure — and that’s just how life is. What helps me is the motto that no matter what happens, I’ll manage to cope with it somehow. I’ll soldier on. Until that fails — since the way life is, eventually there comes a point when life may be no longer worth living. If that point comes when you’re in your nineties, you’re terrifically lucky and still a winner.

Most fears don’t come true. It’s what we didn’t think of fearing that tends to happen — IF anything happens. And then it’s not the end of the world — until it is. But again, if that “end of the world” comes in old age, that’s not a tragedy — that’s how life works, after giving us uncountable riches. Let’s just make sure to give back all the love we’ve received. 


How did I become so loss-aversive? My personal experience with taking a huge risk taught me some painful lessons.

MY PERSONAL COLUMBUS DAY

October, my month of fate. Columbus Day: a strange personal coincidence since it’s the anniversary of my arrival in America. By now I know it’s pointless (and dangerous to my mental health) to wonder if I’d made a gigantic mistake, the greatest mistake of my life from which all the rest followed like the unfolding of a Greek tragedy. It’s my number one no-think zone.

But I can’t deny that I made a leap of ignorance rather than a leap of courage. To switch mythologies, I learned the hard the lesson of Lot's Wife. Do not look back and risk turning into the salt of your own tears. A person must refuse to live a life of regret; must look to what good can yet be accomplished, regardless of past mistakes. 


Part of it was the premature closure of my life as a young girl. Now the heaviness of being an adult and having to cope by myself would fall upon me. I didn’t yet know how much I’d miss that relatively happy, curious, brave young girl. (Other young women told me that for them the Great Divide was getting married; “Where’s the young girl I was?” they’d later ask.)

When you leave your homeland, you often lose the people you love. What you’re not told that above all you’ll lose the self you love, yourself as you were in that city, in that landscape, with those people.

Of course I’ve also gained some things. I think I have a larger mentality for having grappled with the enormous difficulties of being an immigrant — of having experienced poverty, for instance. But that’s perhaps a rationalization, since I can’t predict how my intellectual and personal development would have proceeded if I’d stayed.

THE ONLY CERTAINTY: The price I paid in suffering is horrendous. To a prospective young immigrant: don’t even think about it. If life in your homeland is truly hard to endure, that may be the only good reason to leave. But if your life is rich and interesting (as mine was in Warsaw), don’t even think about it. Drop on your knees and deeply thank whatever gods you believe in that you that you have a homeland.

From a poem of mine:

In the morning I had a homeland.
In the evening I had two suitcases.

And yes, of course I thought that America was coast to coast Manhattan and Americans lived in skyscrapers.


Manhattan; Jan Pieklo

“Henceforth I ask not for good fortune, I myself am good fortune.” ~ Walt Whitman 
 
Oriana:

I think at this point I too could say that "I myself am good fortune" -- after lots of suffering, and then choosing not to suffer if I didn't have to. And past concentrating on people who did not want me here, who made me feel as if I were from another planet. That fit with my self-image as the eternal outsider, but it's possible to hold that self-image loosely, not to have it be so central. I'd no longer say, as I once did, "My primary identity is not a poet, not a woman, but an immigrant. That's what defines me more than anything else." Now I'm not really sure, and I'm fine with not being sure. It's not really that important, this question of "identity." I'd rather flow with momentary beauty.





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“People are bored by happy tales, and with good reason: happiness calls up those parts of us that are most melancholy and lonely.” ~ Inês Pedrosa


Christian Schoe: Cloud Trees

A MORAL PERSON VERSUS AN UNHINGED TYRANT: CAMILLO’S DILEMMA IN THE WINTER’S TALE

~ “Steven Greenblatt's new book, Tyrant, provides a concise and cogent look at Shakespeare's depiction of political tyrants, including but not limited to Macbeth, Richard III, and would-be demagogic tyrants such as Jack Cade (a fascinating character from one of the minor works, Henry VI, Part 3). Although Greenblatt is very politic, never mentioning any current U.S. politician by name, he explicitly considers the following tyrannical traits, reprising them from the Bard's canon while also asking how someone manifesting them could end up in a position of power and authority: impulsive, amoral, mendacious, pathologically narcissistic, verbally and physically abusive, misogynistic and dishonest.

Inspired in part by Professor Greenblatt's work, as well as my own fascination with Will, I began re-reading some of my Shakespearean favorites, including The Winter's Tale, a lesser-known fantasy/romance/comedy. In it, I encountered an intriguing tyrant-relevant situation, one not covered by Tyrant. Here — not for the first or last time — Shakespeare illuminates a deeply psychological, intensely practical issue that transcends time, place, and cultural specifics, speaking to a particular yet surprisingly universal human dilemma: what to do if you are stuck with a boss (or spouse, parent, teacher ...) who is mentally unhinged, and yet has considerable power and authority.

In The Winter's Tale, the problematic tyrant is Leontes, King of Sicilia, who has unaccountably developed a psychotic fixation that his wife, Hermione, has been having an affair with his best friend, King Polyxenes of Bohemia. It isn't true; in fact, all of Leontes' attendant lords know that the charge is utter nonsense, but none of them is willing to risk his — they are all male — position (or their life) by disputing the king's delusion. Leontes proceeds to demand that Camillo, his most trusted confidant and adviser, kill Polyxenes.

This places Camillo in an impossible situation: He is too moral to murder an innocent person (not to mention a sitting king), and yet, his own king makes it clear that if he doesn't do so, he will himself be killed. What to do? Camillo warns Polyxenes that his life is in danger, and then flees. It's certainly an option, albeit an uncomfortable one.

Reading of Camillo's conundrum, I found myself for the first time feeling some empathy for current appointed figures who are presumably moral and are confronted with similar dilemmas. Their boss may be unhinged, and although their lives aren't literally at risk if they express their worry, their careers may well be. Its a situation not limited to politics, and distressingly common in the wider workplace; moreover, when extended to cases of domestic abuse, personal safety is all too often threatened.

Telling truth to power is not for the faint of heart. It is even more difficult to act ethically when confronted with someone whose power is dangerously enhanced by mental instability. I am grateful not to be in such a position, while nonetheless wishing that those who are so situated would find the courage,  decency and opportunity to do the right thing.” ~

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/pura-vida/201810/whats-right-when-the-boss-is-wrong-camillos-conundrum


Oriana:

I can’t claim that this is much of an article. It doesn’t even mention Paulina, the queen’s friend and a very important character who does dare to speak truth to power and basically proves to be a female savior. But it is one of my favorite minor plays, and if this makes anyone read it or go see it, hurray! Much pleasure ahead, including songs and the comic villain Autolycus, a trickster and thief named after the maternal grandfather of Odysseus. The name means “lone wolf” — though in the Polish translation I'm familiar with, it was closer to Werewolf, in the diminutive to soften it. The mythical Autolycus was supposed to be the son of Hermes, the trickster god. 


Autolycus, The Winter’s Tale, T.C. Wageman 1828

Camillo is a minor character, easily forgotten. But given his dilemma, he does the right thing: he spares the life of an innocent man, and pays for it by ending his career at the Sicilian court and going into exile. Tough, Shakespeare seems to say: disobeying an unhinged tyrant is the only option, even if there are painful personal consequences. 


Disobeying a demented ruler has recently come to light in the anonymous letter to the New York Times, where a White House official confessed to snatching away harmful documents away from the president’s desk (taking advantage of the latter’s memory deficit — out of sight, out of mind).

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By the way, The Winter’s Tale features another lost-and-found daughter, Perdita, who is a figure of grace and reconciliation. It’s thrilling to have some respite from the traditional violent male hero, and to have a an embodiment of gentleness instead, a loving young woman. Lents becomes a tyrant because he has lost his soul — his ability to be loving. But in the magic of meadows and forests, all ends well: Perdita, the “lost one,” the eternal feminine, is found again. 



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But Jeremy Sherman reminds us that universal love is not possible. We need to ask focus our love, to allocate it wisely.

LOVE IS NOT THE ANSWER; IT’S THE QUESTION
(virtue of selfishness vs. universal love? time to grow up out of both lies)

~ “At odds in U.S. political debate these days are two extreme moral codes:

1. It’s every family for itself. Our duty is to our own lineage. We‘re entitled to what our ancestors gained and our duty is to pass on to our children what we, in turn, gained. We owe nothing to other lineages.

2. We are a global community now, the inheritors of what our collective ancestors gained. Our duty is to future generations collectively.

In both codes we are indebted to ancestors, a debt we pay off to future generations. The difference is one of scale—one local, the other global.

Organisms have no moral code but if they had one it would be the first—every lineage for itself. That‘s the moral code of the right-wing, Koch brother, prosperity gospel libertarianism that has fueled a radical minority to stage a political coup against the majority.

The first code has the backing of Darwinian natural selection. Non-human life is every lineage for itself. By that standard, Trump and his kind are highly evolved. In the wild, such critters would prevail. The second code doesn’t come naturally to any of us. Humans can extend loyalty easily enough to the tribe, clan, culture, or nation, but not, in practice, to all of humanity. People make most bequests locally, not globally. Most inheritances still go to one’s own offspring.

Humans have language and with it, a capacity to empathize broadly—to imagine, learn, and understand how others feel. We don‘t just act by instinct on behalf of our own lineage.

Language frees us to declare codes at any scale. With words, we can declare that our debt is only to ourselves, our lineage, our culture or nation, to all of humanity, or to all of life. We can also declare that our debt is to some imagined higher authority—to Allah, Jesus, God, or the great spirit.

Appealing to an imagined higher supernatural authority can settle debate so long as everyone is on the same supernatural page. With human technology, also made possible by our capacity for language, we can move around and communicate over long distances. The tower of babble has come true, people talking different moral languages and insisting on different last words. Our imagined Gods are at odds with each other. It’s not clear what we owe to whom.

Our capacity for language unleashes technology that allows for greater mobility and communication, but not just. It also makes the consequences of our behavior more mobile. Driving a gas guzzler for convenience causes hardships across the globe. Bargain goods here create sweatshop conditions elsewhere. What humans do locally has global consequences we can‘t and often would rather not track. Language helps us ignore these consequences.

With words we rationalize locally by ignoring our consequences globally, rationalizing our way into a state akin to that of other organisms, ignorant of their consequences but with a difference, since our consequences have a much more extended range than that of other organisms.

There’s talk of universal love, but talk is cheap. Some cultures recognize this. The Chinese and Japanese rarely declare love: Don’t tell, show. Real love is demonstrated, not declared.

 
We each can demonstrate only so much love because we have limited energy and attention. We can declare abstract regard for the global collective but we can’t demonstrate love to all. We have to prioritize. 

 
Spiritualists often speak of radiating loving energy, an imagined spiritual substance metaphorically parallel to a physical energy. If it were a physical energy, it would dissipate with distance in accord with the inverse square law. As with light, the farther from the source, the weaker the energy will be.

Therefore, there’s something to the parallel, but it’s not what the spiritualists embrace. In practice, we each have our radiated spheres of loving attention, effort, care, and influence. Unfocused love is like unfocused light, radiating out in all directions, dissipating with distance. That’s why in practice we focus our loving energy. We care where we point our care. We try to focus it right since for each of us it’s a limited resource.

Love-onomics or care-onomics should be a hot topic, the allocation of our finite love as demonstrated through attention and care in a world of near-infinite demand. In love-onomics and care-onomics, love and care aren’t the answer but the question. Where to focus and allocate them?

In politics, there are those who think as biology acts: Take care of you and yours, never mind people outside your sphere. Let them take care of themselves and theirs. If everyone does that, there should be enough to go round, but even if there’s not, tough luck as in biology. 

 
There are others who counter that we should love and care for everyone, often implying that we have an infinite quantity of love and care, as though abstract regard for all is enough.
The sacred texts are ambiguous on the right scale of care. As Robert Wright illustrates with a careful scriptural analysis in The Evolution of God, parts of them read as though the sacred secret is universal love but other parts read as though love and care should be focused on members of the faith. "Love thy neighbor” can be interpreted as love everyone or love thy most likely neighbor, a member of the family or clan. Wright suggests that the sacred texts, all products of their time in history, gestured love to potential allies, often in sacred battle against outside enemies.

Is Jesus revered because he was universally loving or because he focused his love well? It’s not clear from the gospels and it’s surprising how rarely Christians wonder. He shows plenty of disdain for people who don’t believe him. He often reads as disdaining people for not being more universally loving.

That’s a common theme across religious and spiritual faiths: “We are the ones who believe in universal love. We have the big inclusive picture, and if you don’t agree with us, you don’t deserve our love.”

Be intolerant of intolerance. Hate hate. These are inconveniently self-contradictory pronouncements. People rarely notice the troublesome hypocrisy, the ambiguity in their spiritual commitments.

Today’s spiritualism doesn’t escape this hypocrisy. It treats spirit, love, care, and attention as infinite resources.

Is mindfulness a practice that affords you infinite care or a practice that enables you to better focus your finite care? Like Christians, mindfulness practitioners often ignore the question. They talk as though mindfulness is not an occasional practice like physical exercise but a state of mind one should be in always, a state that affords you infinite loving attention and therefore frees you from wondering where to focus it.

Even the Tao Te Ching is ambiguous on the question, though with a teasing self-awareness of the ambiguity. “Tao” means the way things are all together but also the way to be with the way things are, in other words, how to focus your care. The Tao dances back and forth between these two very different meanings with a paradoxically inclusive exclusivity: The Tao includes absolutely everything, but don’t be out of step with absolutely everything or you’re not included in the Tao.

Whatever we declare as our moral code, our walk counts for more than our talk. Whether we admit it or not, we do allocate our finite love and care. To the extent that we want to claim that we’re exceptionally loving and caring, we employ confirmation bias to make our case. We point to what we love and care about and ignore that we don’t love and care for other things.
I’m exceptionally loving, as is evident in how much I love my family.

Falling so in love with you proves that I’m exceptionally loving.

I care more than most. It’s obvious because I love Jesus and the unborn. It’s why I hate Muslims and abortion.

You outsiders may think I’m not generous but you’re wrong. I’m not selfish. I also believe that my fellow insiders deserve my generosity more than you outsiders do.

We rely on a token, trinket care or two to demonstrate that we’re universally caring.

Will Rogers said, “We’re all ignorant about something.” The same goes for our loving, caring attention. We are all unloving and uncaring about something.

We must do better about admitting to our limited love and the imperative we all face in choosing how to focus it. We must if we are to survive. With human technology, we no longer inherit just from our family line but from global culture. Our children won’t just inherit what we pass on to them but the world we pass on collectively. Billionaires can bequeath an island refuge to their offspring but that island won’t exist if the climate crisis remains unaddressed.

So is the right moral code universal collective love and care? No. It’s impossible. One way or another, we have to focus and prioritize. Our highest priority will always be local, but it can no longer be just local if we are to survive. With language, humans have the foresight to admit, if we’re brave enough, that you can’t optimize locally and pessimize globally for long.

Whatever the right moral code, we should finally admit to what we all do in practice. We allocate our finite love and care. Love isn’t the answer but the question: How should we allocate our finite love for the best local and collective effect? How can we pay out our debt to our collective ancestors by leaving an intact world to our offspring?

Option one, the lineage-only moral code, while natural, won’t work anymore. Human consequences spill too far and wide for that. With our technology, what goes around comes around over too great a distance. We will destroy our children’s chances if we don‘t think more globally.

But we can‘t just declare ourselves to be universal lovers, either. It's a self-aggrandizing lie. No one loves everything. It can't be done.

 
In politics, the mantra is, “It’s the economy, stupid,” the allocation and focus of finite resources. For each of us, the same goes for love. It’s the love-onomy, stupid. Where should we focus our loving effort for greatest effect in the service of not just local but collective, sustainable well-being?” ~ Jeremy Sherman

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/ambigamy/201810/the-self-aggrandizing-myth-universal-unconditional-love



“The iron horse, a piece of artwork that had to be removed from the University of Georgia due to abuse by the students. The horse was created in the early 1950s an it appeared to be too modern for the students. The horse was placed in a field at the UGA Plant Sciences Farm.” I read some more on this — it was vandalized at least twice.

Oriana:

“Love is not the answer, but the question.” I try to “live the question” by practicing my “little way.” For instance, I try to chat amiably with people even if I don’t terribly feel like it, and it might seem more gratifying to just enjoy the landscape. But I discover that the joyful smile I get in return is often more rewarding than even a stunning bougainvillea.

As for the globalism/nationalism question — because ultimately that’s the big divide — I think a  lot depends on “threat levels.” When we feel threatened by outsiders, as we did on 9/11 before we knew who was behind the attacks, there was no question of universal love. But when W started his war-mongering, a different mind set had already had the time to be restored in at least a portion of the population. 


Mary:

Surely it is true universal love may well be dissipated until a mere abstraction, and focused love much more personal and limited in scope. Love may not be The Answer in any simple way, but surely we can achieve less hate.

That may be our best chance, our best choice--refuse to hate the stranger, however he is defined. Refuse to divide the world into us and them, friend and enemy, saint and sinner, master and slave. The world grows smaller and smaller. It becomes more and more impossible to continue blind to the fact that we are all in this together, and will sink or swim, preserve or destroy ourselves as a species, that the greed of some, and their hegemony, cannot continue in destructive practices that maintain their abundance at the cost of everyone else's poverty, because those practices have already destroyed the basis for providing that lofty and private citadel of wealth.

Even that Darwinian vision of eternal strife between and within species begins to be challenged. At least in examinations of the plant world intricate cooperative relations, systems really, have been discovered between trees and fungi--connections so vast and complete it becomes difficult to think of these partners as separate organisms---or even, to think of the discoveries concerning our own internal biome--comprised of organisms essential to us, whose effects and actions may be far more extensive than we can imagine--are we separate, or a collective?

In the same vein whales have recently been noted demonstrating inter-species cooperation, if I remember correctly, a beluga traveling with a pod of right whales--of course not much is known about this beyond observation. I have great faith in everything we don’t yet know — there is so much, so many wonders yet to discover!
 


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Oriana:

I don’t know anymore. All seemed easier before the election. Now with the indecency of the head of state daily in the news, all is in question, including whether we can feel anything but alienated from those whose views and values are nothing like our own. Before, we took some things for granted — we may disagree about militarism, say, but we’d never insult the parents of a fallen soldier. I personally never would, but now I know that there are people who would — just as they spray-paint swastikas on Jewish tombs or say that slavery was a good thing. That’s just too much for me to accept. I'm love-less in such instances — though later I may wonder about the wounds that would make someone so abusive toward others.

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“The advantage of the emotions is that they lead us astray.” ~ Oscar Wilde




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“Hoodlums and bullies always feel victimized, put upon — because even when they crow about being the greatest of winners, they are the ultimate losers, and they know it. No, one should not be hesitant to hurt their precious little feelings. When they go low — and they are always in the gutter — push back, strike back, give them a taste of their own bitter medicine.” ~ M. Iossel

 
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“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e., the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e., the standards of thought) no longer exist.” ~ Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism


HOW CONSERVATIVE AMERICAN CHRISTIANS DEFENDED HITLER

 
While it often gets glossed over today, Adolf Hitler was a popular figure in American politics back in the 1930s. He was seen as a person who brought order and stability — two things conservative Americans have always valued more than freedom and individual liberty — to Germany after a liberal Weimar period.

Men like Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and Father Coughlin all lined up to support Hitler, and Americans loved him. It was a love affair that didn’t last, and it’s one that Americans run from today. We want to paint ourselves as the heroes of this world narrative, after all. It’s a bit hard to do that after fawning all over one of the most despised people in human history.

Consider this letter to the editor purportedly published in Moody Monthly, a magazine put out by the Moody Bible Institute, back in October of 1933:

    To the Editor:

    After much prayer to our Saviour, I send you this word. I think you very much for your article in June about our brethren in Germany. God bless you that you give justice to Adolf Hitler, that you do not misjudge him. He tries as best he knows how to help Germany. You know that he was a Roman Catholic and he still knows little about the Bible. But he studies the New Testament, and we who know Christ as God and Saviour who died for our sins on the cross, love him, and we have to pray for him and not to believe everything his enemies speak about him.

    I am a German. Two years ago I was on a visit in Germany for three months. All my relatives live in Germany. They are Christians that believe in the shed blood of Christ for our sins. They praise Hitler. They have full freedom to preach Christ crucified for our sins. We believe that Christ will come soon and that He will be merciful to Hitler too. Hitler’s father was a drinker, but Adolf lives with his mother and is a very good son. I am an old woman and pray for the coming of the Lord.

    Sincerely yours,

    Hedwig Nabholz

What I want to call attention to, though, is the language used by Ms. Nabholz: “He tries as best he knows how to help Germany” and “he still knows little about the Bible” but “he studies the New Testament” are directly parallel to some of the justifications that right-wing Christians gave for Trump.

As this letter shows, justifying strongmen is a long and storied human tradition — a long and storied human tradition because we’re too stupid to learn from it, even though the rhetoric barely changes at all, as we deftly demonstrated in 2016.

http://www.gopocalypse.org/check-out-how-evangelical-christians-defended-hitler/


Oriana:

In the light of history, Hedwig’s letter is a tragicomic masterpiece. I’ve recently concluded that the biggest divide between me and people I tend to disagree with is not so much party line as whether or not they are religious. The true believers who actually talk the church talk are the ones with whom I don’t share important values and attitudes. The depth of their ignorance and especially their lack of compassion were a surprise at first, given my understanding of Christianity as kindness, as caring about others  — but not anymore.


JOHN CAGE ON THE “MEANING OF LIFE”

 
No why. Just here. 


Mary:

Every day we remain in the presence of beauty and wonder is a gift we are so very very lucky to have. Yes, sadness, losses, disappointments, worries — but even so, even so.

Oriana:

“Just here” — without a why. I agree — but if not for the beauty, I don’t think I could endure the constant losses and disappointments. Whether or not beauty will save the world, as Dostoyevski dared hope, I'm sure it has saved many individual lives, mine among them. So yes: after nearly a lifetime of feeling unlucky, my life botched, one mistake after another, and so many illnesses, surgeries, travesties, disappointments — finally I’ve come to the conclusion that I'm very lucky after all. Why? Just to be here.

 **

COLUMBUS AND THE POTATO REVOLUTION

 
~ “There really was no spicy food in the world before the Columbian Exchange,” said Nancy Qian, an economics professor at Northwestern University who has studied how the back-and-forth flow of new foods, animals and germs reshaped the world.

Researchers don’t know what use indigenous Americans made of the capsicum peppers that originated in Bolivia and Brazil. But as they spread around the globe, the zesty pods that are the ancestor of modern bell, cayenne and jalapeño peppers allowed cooks to conceal the tastes of foods that were still edible but going a bit off. Soon peppers would form the base of dishes around the warmer latitudes, from Vietnamese pho to Mexican salsa.

Before Columbus landed on Hispaniola, the European diet was a bland affair. In many northern climes, crops were largely limited to turnips, wheat, buckwheat and barley. Even so, when potatoes began arriving from America, it took a while for locals to realize that the strange lumps were, comparatively speaking, little nutritional grenades loaded with complex carbohydrates, amino acids and vitamins.

“When [Sir Walter] Raleigh brought potatoes to the Elizabethan court, they tried to smoke the leaves,” Qian said.

Eventually, starting with a group of monks on Spain’s Canary Islands in the 1600s, Europeans figured out how to cultivate potatoes, which form a nutritionally complete — albeit monotonous — diet when combined with milk to provide vitamins A and D. The effects were dramatic, boosting populations in Ireland, Scandinavia, Ukraine and other cold-weather regions by up to 30 percent, according to Qian’s research. The need to hunt declined and, as more land became productive, so did conflicts over land.

Frederick the Great ordered Prussian farmers to grow them, and the potato moved to the center of European cultures from Gibraltar to Kiev. "Let the sky rain potatoes,” Shakespeare wrote in "The Merry Wives of Windsor.” Their portability made them ideal to transport into the growing cities, feeding the swelling population that would be needed for a factory labor force.

“It’s hard to imagine a food having a greater impact than the potato,” Qian said.

 
Cassava, which remains the foundation of many African diets, had a similar nutritional impact as it spread from the Americas. Sweet potatoes, too, proved hardy in flood-prone fields. In China, some scholars credit the sweet potato with reducing the frequent uprisings against emperors, whom peasants tended to blame when floods destroyed their rice crops.” ~

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2018/10/08/christopher-columbus-potato-that-changed-world/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.474f09f92fe2


The yam is a more nutritious New World tuber. Butter adds valuable short-chain fatty acids. 
 
THE BIBLE AS THE WORD OF SATAN (wow, that he had the courage to say it!)

 
~ “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize.” ~ Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason (1792)

Yes, Enlightenment, sure. But to say anything so directly opposed to what you were indoctrinated with . . . . to think for yourself . . . to suggest that it would be more fitting to call the bible the word of Satan . . . (“Happy is he that dashes the heads of their little ones against stone.” And today, if someone heard a voice in his head telling him to kill his son, would we assume that the voice comes from god?)

(By the way, a car used to park near my house with this on its bumper sticker: “Accept Jesus or burn in hell forever!” Is that the REAL message of Christianity, the so-called religion of love, as Islam is the so-called religion of peace?)

Tom Paine also said, “My mind is my own church.” This would be daring even today, when again we are assured by many that we are no good and weak-minded.


Now, I realize that it’s too extreme to say that the bible is the word of Satan. Like so many “holy books” dating back to an era of oppressive hierarchies, it’s a mix of the word of god and the word of Satan: imprecations to take care of the orphan and the widow mingle with the urgings to commit exactly the kind of mayhem that produces orphans and widows.

Still, centuries ago it took courage to point out the hate-filled parts. I'm blown away by Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, men of genius, men of vision, and so astonishingly daring. And then: where did it all go? Why weren't the later presidents and statesmen of that quality? 


Thomas Paine. Interesting: one look at that face , those bright eyes, and right away you know that this is your kind of person. The distance of centuries doesn't seem to matter.

*

HERPES VIRUS AND ALZHEIMER’S 
 
~ “HSV1 infects most humans in youth or later and remains lifelong in the body in dormant form within the peripheral nervous system.

From time to time the virus becomes activated and in some people it then causes visible damage in the form of cold sores.

The Taiwanese study identified 8,362 subjects aged 50 or more during the period January to December 2000 who were newly diagnosed with severe HSV infection.

The study group was compared to a control group of 25,086 people with no evidence of HSV infection.

The authors then monitored the development of dementia in these individuals over a follow-up period of 10 years between 2001 and 2010.

The risk of developing dementia in the HSV group was increased by a factor of 2.542. But, when the authors compared those among the HSV cohort who were treated with antiviral therapy versus those who did not receive it, there was a dramatic tenfold reduction in the later incidence of dementia over 10 years.

Professor Richard Lathe added: "Not only is the magnitude of the antiviral effect remarkable, but also the fact that -- despite the relatively brief duration and the timing of treatment -- in most patients severely affected by HSV1 it appeared to prevent the long-term damage in brain that results in Alzheimer's.

Professor Itzhaki said: "It was as long ago as 1991 when we discovered that, in many elderly people infected with HSV1, the virus is present also in the brain, and then in 1997 that it confers a strong risk of Alzheimer's disease in the brain of people who have a specific genetic factor.

"In 2009, we went on to show that HSV DNA is inside amyloid plaques in Alzheimer's patients' brains.

"We suggested that the virus in brain is reactivated by certain events such as stress, immunosuppression, and infection/inflammation elsewhere.
"So we believe the cycle of HSV1 reactivation in the brain eventually causes Alzheimer's in at least some patients.” ~

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180712100515.htm


from another source, concerning DIFFERENT KIND OF HERPES VIRUS

~ "Two common herpes viruses appear to play a role in Alzheimer's disease.

The viruses, best known for causing a distinctive skin rash in young children, are abundant in brain tissue from people with Alzheimer's, a team of scientists reports Thursday in Neuron. The team also found evidence that the viruses can interact with brain cells in ways that could accelerate the disease.

"Our hypothesis is that they put gas on the flame," says Joel Dudley, an author of the study and an associate professor of genetics and genomic sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York City.

The finding adds credence to a decades-old idea that an infection can cause Alzheimer's disease. It also suggests that it may be possible to prevent or slow Alzheimer's using antiviral drugs, or drugs that modulate how immune cells in the brain respond to an infection.

But the study doesn't prove that herpes viruses are involved in Alzheimer's, says Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the research.

"The data are very provocative, but fall short of showing a direct causal role," he says. "And if viral infections are playing a part, they are not the sole actor."

Even so, the study offers strong evidence that viral infections can influence the course of Alzheimer's, Hodes says.

Like a lot of scientific discoveries, this one was an accident. "Viruses were the last thing we were looking for," Dudley says.
He and a team of researchers were using genetic data to look for differences between healthy brain tissue and brain tissue from people who died with Alzheimer's.

The goal was to identify new targets for drugs. Instead, the team kept finding hints that brain tissue from Alzheimer's patients contained higher levels of viruses.

"When we started analyzing the differences, it just sort of came screaming out at us from the data," Dudley says.

The team found that levels of two human herpes viruses, HHV-6 and HHV-7, were up to twice as high in brain tissue from people with Alzheimer's. They confirmed the finding by analyzing data from a consortium of brain banks.

These herpes viruses are extremely common, and can cause a skin rash called roseola in young children. But the viruses also can get into the brain, where they may remain inactive for decades.

Once the researchers knew the viruses were associated with Alzheimer's they started trying to figure out how a virus could affect the course of a brain disease. That meant identifying interactions between the virus genes and other genes in brain cells.

"We mapped out the social network, if you will, of which genes the viruses are friends with and who they're talking to inside the brain," Dudley says. In essence, he says, they wanted to know: "If the viruses are tweeting, who's tweeting back?”

And what they found was that the herpes virus genes were interacting with genes known to increase a person's risk for Alzheimer's.

They also found that these Alzheimer's risk genes seem to make a person's brain more vulnerable to infection with the two herpes viruses.

 
But just having herpes virus present in the brain isn't enough to cause Alzheimer's, Dudley says. Something needs to activate the viruses, which causes them to begin replicating.

 
It's not clear what causes the activation, Dudley says, though he suspects some sort of change in the internal functions of brain cells.

Once the viruses do become active, they appear to influence things like the accumulation of the plaques and tangles in the brain associated with Alzheimer's. "They are sort of throwing a wrench in the works," he says.

The herpes viruses also seem to trigger an immune response in certain brain cells, Hodes says. These cells are part of an ancient immune system that has previously been implicated in Alzheimer's.
Most previous efforts to prevent or treat Alzheimer's have involved trying to reduce the plaques and tangles associated with the disease. Those efforts have failed to improve brain function even when they accomplished their immediate goal.

Those "distressing and disappointing failures" suggest it's time for some new approaches, Hodes says. And the new study suggests at least two.

One is to give antiviral drugs to people with high levels of herpes virus in their brains. The Institute on Aging is already funding a study to test this approach in people in the early stages of Alzheimer's, Hodes says.

Another approach is to prevent the brain's immune cells from reacting to the virus in ways that accelerate Alzheimer's, Hodes says. That's tricky, he says, because simply disabling the brain's immune cells could be harmful.

Even so, Hodes is optimistic.

"The more we learn about the disease process and the more targets we can address," he says, "the greater the probability we are going to slow or prevent the progression of Alzheimer's disease.” ~

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/21/621908340/researchers-find-herpes-viruses-in-brains-marked-by-alzheimers-disease


Herpes virus

*
 
ending on beauty:

(so glad our fog is milky, and not the soot-polluted kind)

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

~ T.S. Eliot, Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock



Anubis, Egyptian god of the Underworld

Saturday, October 6, 2018

DANTE’S ABANDON HOPE: A WAY OUT OF HELL; NOT BIG BROTHER BUT BIG DADDY; FASCISM AND PRETEND DEMOCRACY; SIMONE WEIL: ABOLISH ALL POLITICAL PARTIES; THE RAGE OF INCELS

storks in Lithuania convening before the start of their great migration to Africa (belated — these storks are somewhere in the Nile Delta by now)

**
 
TO A TERRORIST

For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem

without hope, knowing there's nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one

might offer his father's ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there's nothing else to do.

Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall

in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you're hating me now,
I who own my own house

and live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man's holiness, another's absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I'm just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.

~ Stephen Dunn

**

It’s sad to start on this note, continued elsewhere in this blog: at the moment, the forces of evil are gaining. Terrorism is finding new forms — and new ideologies, such as white power — in which to thrive. But we may still find some joy in sheer poetic excellence of this:  


I offer [this poem] as one

might offer his father's ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there's nothing else to do.


~ and of the final stanzas:

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man's holiness, another's absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I'm just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.




ABANDON HOPE

 
When Franz Wright first sent a few of his early poems to his famous father, James Wright wrote back: “So you are a poet. Welcome to hell.” Dante’s Canto III comes to mind, the inscription on the gate:

Through me the way into the suffering city,
through me the way into eternal pain . . .
Abandon hope, you who enter here.

It took me years of despair to come to see that the last words written on gate also pointed to the paradoxical way out of hell, especially the hell of trying to get published. “Abandon hope” — stop striving for consistent perfection, one masterpiece after another. More obvious: stop struggling for recognition, and enjoy the peaceful pleasure of concentrating on the work itself, on the beautiful unfolding of the creative process.

The poets’ hell was also mentioned by Milosz, but it wasn’t presented as the agony part of writing or as the frustrations of “marketing” one’s work. For Milosz, the hell of poets it was a part of the larger hell of artists and achievers: those who put the love of art (or the work they loved) ahead of the love for other human beings — the work ahead of life, as Yeats would put it, or “work ahead of family,” as popular media would phrase it, especially in articles meant for women readers.

Milosz said that Anna Kamińska was not an eminent poet; she was too good a good human being to become that. Her life was rich with human joys and suffering rather than creative agony and ecstasy. I would not dismiss Kamińska’s poetry quite so readily, but I know what Milosz implied: she was a large-hearted human being, so she put human love ahead of her love of poetry. She did not become obsessed by her creative work. But I'm getting away from Dante here, and the idea of abandoning hope as a way out of this dilemma, and many other troublesome situations as well.

Agony and ecstasy, the cross and the delight: the agony of poetry’s difficulty, the capriciousness of inspiration, waiting ten years for the right ending (now and then it’s precisely what happens), the impossibility of writing good work every time. And this before we even begin to lament the wounds in the struggle for recognition, the constant rejection and humiliation. “You die not knowing” if your work was any good, as Berryman says in Merwin’s poem.

For Franz Wright, there was also the problem of being regarded as “the wrong Wright,” the son not half the lyricist that his father was. “No magic,” I kept thinking when I read Franz’s poems. But all poets have the less personal but even more demanding mothers and fathers, the great poets whose best work set the standard.

 
Abandon hope: this is Buddhist and Taoism wisdom, but not exclusively so. Some Western thinkers have also discovered the bliss of dropping the striving, of dropping the self-flagellation with the whip of “Achieve! achieve!” They advise dropping the dream, the great ambition, and concentrating on “micro-ambition”: the task at hand, without thinking of the results. Against all the self-help books, they dare say, “Don’t have a dream!” Focus totally on what’s in front of you.

It’s also a matter of trust, of relinquishing conscious control. The best writing (and often knowing the best course of action in general) flows from the unconscious when it is ready, in its own time. Once writing ceased to be overwhelmingly important, I began to watch with pleasure how it emerges, one image leading to the next, one idea opening an infinity of ideas. That’s where the inner critic must awake and choose only the best — again, with as little struggle as possible, since choice too is part of the inspiration, and will come when it is ripe.

There is no circle of poets in Dante’s hell. Virgil is one of the noble pagans who dwell in Limbo. Brunetto Latino, Dante’s mentor, runs on the burning sand under a rain of fire as punishment for homosexuality. Most unforgettable is Bertran de Born, who holds his severed head like a lantern. But no one is in hell for dedication to his art rather than to god.

In Dante’s hell I’d probably find myself in the circle of the heretics. For Dante it meant those who denied the immortality of the soul, i.e. the afterlife. Those who dared to think for themselves and concluded that consciousness dies when the body dies, are doomed to live in open tombs filled with flame. After Judgment Day in the Valley of Josaphat near Jerusalem, the heretics, their bodies restored, will return to lie down in their tombs — but now the stone lid of the tomb will be shut.

One might point out that the suffering would be greater if the heretics had some hope of getting out of the tomb and seeing “the sweet light” of earth. Then they’d be trying and trying, only to fail again and again. But without hope, they will not engage in useless struggle. Strange as it may sound, they’ll be at peace while consumed by the eternal flame.

 
*

Recently I’ve had another “abandon hope” experience — in a different context. This is not surprising: I am now in a different stage of life when matters such as career and ambition begin to recede — or have already receded — while health becomes a priority. Namely, I have resigned myself to being at least partly disabled.

I say “partly” because I am not in a wheelchair, and I can walk for about fifteen minutes or so without pain or so much fatigue that I need to sit down, apply my pain salve and get sufficient rest before I can continue. Normally I use a walker, but even with the walker, I can walk only for so long. But let me emphasize again — I am not in a wheelchair. To a healthy person, that will not sound like a triumph, but to those with limited mobility, it is.

I had more and more trouble walking before my surgery, but I didn’t consider myself “disabled.” After all, there was always the knee replacement surgery as my last resort — after recovering from it, I expected to be in the eighty percent (an inflated statistic, as I later discovered) of patients who regain “unlimited pain-free walking.” Instead, I ended up in the category of partial recovery. I can indeed walk without pain — as long as we are talking about walking from my desk to the kitchen or the bathroom — short distances on a soft, even surface. I can also do some minor gardening — watering, weeding — as long as I do it in short spurts. I can climb the stairs, be it awkwardly. I can stand long enough to chat with a neighbor. I can do some limited exercise that doesn’t require twisting or put my body weight on the prosthetic joint. These are genuine blessings.

At this point I can truly count those blessings and feel grateful. In early June, as I reached the anniversary of the surgery and it became clear that I would not be joining the lucky group of those who regain “unlimited pain-free walking” and are able to go dancing, bicycling, golfing, sight-seeing etc  — in other words, doing a lot of activities other than running or jumping or strenuous mountain hiking. Even in my most daring fantasies, I certainly wasn’t counting on running or jumping. But I was counting on sightseeing — and going to Europe means a lot of walking. On a more daily basis, I was imagining taking nice long walks just in the streets, in the nearby parks, or occasionally on the beach. It never entered my head that getting out of the car on the driver’s side would require any special maneuvers. Above all, I was counting on being free of chronic pain.

The pain isn’t as bad now as a few months ago, when I had a setback (apparently due to bronchitis, which caused a general inflammation) and the pain was excruciating again, worse than before the surgery. Now it’s a steady dull discomfort, with about a half a dozen to a dozen bouts of sharp pain per day, depending on whether it’s a good day or a bad day (that’s just the simplest way of putting it: there are the good days and the bad days). My further blessing is that on a good day, the bouts of sharp pain subside fairly quickly when I apply my inexpensive salve (vastly superior to the expensive Rx salve), and take an occasional aspirin in the buffered form proved not to harm the stomach.

On a good day, I consider myself very lucky.



On a bad day, there is considerably more pain — disruptive, disabling pain that steals energy and the ability to think. On a bad day, I am reminded again of how limited my life has become now that I can walk only for short distances — my life shrinking as if in proportion. There are places I no longer go, events I can no longer attend. And I can’t help mourning the self I thought I’d regain — my hope for at least ten good years when I’d finally get to do certain things I was planning to do once able-bodied again. Again, that wasn’t anything spectacular — no plans to climb Mt. Everest or run the marathon.

But I no longer keep the number of at the suicide hotline next to my computer — I don’t want to be directed to a “pain clinic” where they’d just give me opiates. I’ve pretty much sampled all the anti-inflammatories there are — and besides, these days even rheumatologists seem to have given up on trying to fight inflammation, and just dispense opiates. I stick to trying to reduce inflammation. Above all, there is still room for joy and productivity even in my restricted life.

There is still some room for a modest further gain in function and maybe fewer daily bouts of sharp pain. But when it comes to “unlimited pain-free walking,” I have stopped tormenting myself with hope. That kind of doomed hope is not a “thing with feathers” as Dickinson called it. It’s a thing with claws.

*


Pema Chodron writes: “One of the most powerful teachings of the Buddhist tradition is that as long as you are wishing for things to change, they never will. As long as you’re wanting yourself to get better, you won’t. As long as you have an orientation toward the future, you can never just relax into what you already have . . . This simple ingredient of giving up hope is the most important ingredient for developing sanity and healing.”

When you give up hope, you stop thinking and saying “I want X.” And Buddha was right: when you want something and are not getting it, you suffer. When you stop wanting it — really stop wanting it — you stop suffering. It’s magical: I had to experience it to believe it.

I'm not saying that it’s always best to abandon hope anymore than I'm advocating clinging to hope at all costs. Sometimes hope is the best course; sometimes it’s the worst — even though parting with hope is almost always a crisis. The relief and serenity come afterwards.

Only some of my readers will understand what I mean by the kind of hope that’s a “thing with claws.” They are the ones who also understand the peace that can come once that kind of hope is abandoned.

**

This is what the things can teach us:
to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours

Abandoning hope works well when it means that you accept yourself as you are, “warts and all” — a Buddha with a disability, why not?


Jerusalem, the Valley of Josaphat, assumed to be the site of the Last Judgment. In the foreground, is that a cemetery?

Mary: YOU CAN BECOME THE GHOST OF YOUR PROJECTED FUTURE SELF

I think peace and freedom come when you move the focus of your attention from the future to the present. If completely focused on attaining some future good, some dream of accomplishment, you miss all the riches of the present. It is as if you are constantly postponing your life, which will only happen when you get to some ideal point in the future. So you become the ghost of your projected future self, and expend all your energies struggling to embody those long distance dreams.

Happiness comes only in the present moment, the only place you can actually live. And in the work you do for the love of it, not for what it might earn or win. Releasing your stranglehold on ambitious hope does not mean despair — that is the result of disappointed ambition. In a paradoxical way, to cease the constant struggle and striving might actually allow the joy and fulfillment to occur.

Oriana:

I remember talking with friends once, years ago. I said, “If only I managed to let go of ambition, I’d be actually quite happy.” They stared at me with little comprehension. At the time I didn’t think I’d ever be able to let go of ambition — it seemed to me like a genetic disease I was born with.

But, behold the power of stages of life — it has finally happened, and yes, I'm pretty happy.
 

 
**

“Even the ghost of love can ground you wherever you’ve landed, even years after you’ve flung yourself away from it.” (? I don’t know who said it, but I couldn’t resist it — pardon my hunger for enchantment)


Oriana:

By coincidence, just recently I read a chapbook by a distant yet dear friend — all about an unconsummated love she experienced at 17. You may be tempted to say, "What's the big deal? Who among us at a proverbial "tender age" has not experienced etc etc" — but it *can* be very intense, it can be a big deal that stays with us forever — in a good way, like a guardian angel of that wistful longing that guards us from complete bitterness.

"Here is the terrible beauty of being in love: that you will know things together that no one else will know, that there are events that exist only in the commingling and exchange of memories.” ~ from an article in the New York Times
Oriana:

That’s why the second wife often feels jealous of the first wife — she knows that her husband and his first spouse had those precious shared experiences that created their own unique world.




NOT BIG BROTHER BUT BIG DADDY: HOW FASCISM WORKS

 
~ “Over the last 20 years, I've worried that gay rights might be killing our chances on climate crisis, I worried about fighting the coup AND fighting for a black or woman president at the same time, like fighting the ultimate battle with one hand off doing something else.

Reading a new book "How Fascism Works," I recognized how gay, women's and minority rights are frontline issues. Fascism is borne of the haves natural progression from privilege, to cozy detachment, to annoyance with all obstacles, to self-justification, to delusional self-assertion as the eternally entitled.

As such, fascism is the military reassertion of paternalistic authority, a pecker-based pecking order with the fascist leader as the supreme father figure.

Trump cult fascism fits the diagnosis perfectly. No wonder it marginalizes women, gays and minorities. It's not the bible but fascism that drives the misogyny and xenophobia.

Recognizing fascism as a militant absolutist reassertion of eternal god-ordained white male superiority gives me context. The fierce and fearful opposition to women, gays and minorities is part of a larger plan, to make us all the supplicating subordinates to not big brother but big daddy, the boorish, profligate monster-man who thinks he can do no wrong and therefore does lots of it.” ~ Jeremy Sherman

Oriana:

YES! Not Big Brother but Big Daddy — whether the one in the sky (heaven) or the god-chosen (in the eyes of his most ardent followers) earthly ruler.

Although Orwell made us used to the phrase "Big Brother," I think Jeremy is right: it's the Big Father. This may sound odd and unidiomatic, so Jeremy chose to say "Big Daddy," but this softens it. Fascism is about patriarchy and the absolute power of the Supreme Father.

The more I think about it, the more it seems about bullying and displays of dominance. It's all about power. Even when Jesus starts saying "My Father" (likely part of his schizophrenic delusions) instead of "The Lord", it's often in the context of how he, Jesus, can do "nothing" on his own, but his father does everything through him, as if controlling a drone.

This also fits with “strong-father” theory of the authoritarian personality. The judgmental, punitive father produces a son who finds it “just” to make others suffer. The bully, like the mafia boss, believes he’s meting out “justice.”

Still, I admire the insight that it’s not the bible but fascism that drives misogyny and xenophobia. To be sure, you can find misogyny and some xenophobia in the bible, but you also find the contrary, esp in the NT. The actions and teachings of Jesus are mainly friendly to women and the "other" in general — he's on the side of the outcast. Fascist leaders, including church leaders, can't have it, so they find ways to oppress the other and still pretend to be Christian — the utmost hypocrisy.

 
I'm also pondering the words of Howard Zinn that it would be naive to expect the Supreme Court to protect the right of women and the poor. How naive I used to be, reading Gone with the Wind and expecting the Supreme Court to protect the rights of women and the poor . . . It’s a never-ending battle against the entrenched privilege. It will probably take a new generation before the sense of justice starts to prevail . . . if it does. 

**

Mary: THE VAST AND DEEP RESERVOIR OF HATRED

I must share my apprehension about the Kavanaugh confirmation. It seems nothing will be allowed, and nothing will be enough, to stop the agenda of those in power now, and that agenda is to accomplish here what can only be described as a totalitarian state that will not even give lip service to democratic principles and the democratic state it has so gleefully dismantled. Any truth in opposition seems so quickly shuffled off as false, replaced by lies convenient to their agenda — no matter how preposterous and baseless those lies are. Maybe the final result will be loss of any capacity to distinguish truth at all, leaving us only with Big Daddy, as the last and loudest and impossible to oppose.

What is even harder for me to accept is the vast and deep reservoir of hatred these powers have uncovered and encouraged — hatred that seems to be given a platform and a legitimacy that gives it power and increases its danger. These are hatreds virulent as rabies, so hideous as to be almost unbelievable, as the howls of the “incels” for instance, and I wonder what of us will be left to survive these poisonous infections.


**


HOW FASCISM TODAY DIFFERS FROM THAT OF THE 1930s

 
~ "I would argue that current trends reflect a significant divergence from the dictatorships of the 1930s.

The fascist movements of that time prided themselves on being overtly antidemocratic, and those that came to power in Italy and Germany boasted that their regimes were totalitarian. The most original revelation of the current wave of authoritarians is that the construction of overtly antidemocratic dictatorships aspiring to totalitarianism is unnecessary for holding power. Perhaps the most apt designation of this new authoritarianism is the insidious term “illiberal democracy.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary have all discovered that opposition parties can be left in existence and elections can be held in order to provide a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, while in reality elections pose scant challenge to their power. Truly dangerous opposition leaders are neutralized or eliminated one way or another.

 
Trump has shown unabashed admiration for these authoritarian leaders and great affinity for the major tenets of illiberal democracy. But others have paved the way in important respects. Republicans begin with a systemic advantage in electing senators and representatives, because the Democratic Party’s constituency has become heavily concentrated in big states and big cities. 


By my calculation every currently serving Democratic senator represents roughly 3.65 million people; every Republican roughly 2.51 million. Put another way, the fifty senators from the twenty-five least populous states—twenty-nine of them Republicans—represent just over 16 percent of the American population, and thirty-four Republican senators—enough to block conviction on impeachment charges—represent states with a total of 21 percent of the American population.  


 With gerrymandering and voter suppression enhancing even more the systemic Republican advantage, it is estimated that the Democrats will have to win by 7 to 11 points (a margin only obtainable in rare “wave” elections) in the 2018 elections to achieve even the narrowest of majorities in the House of Representatives.

In the five presidential elections of the twenty-first century, Democrats have won the popular vote four times. Two of these four (2000 and 2016) nonetheless produced Republican presidents, since the Electoral College reflects the same weighting toward small, more often Republican states as the Senate. Given the Supreme Court’s undermining of central provisions of the Voting Rights Act (Shelby County v. Holder), its refusal to take up current flagrant gerrymandering cases (Gill v. Whitford for Wisconsin; Benisek v. Lamone for Maryland), and its recent approval of the Ohio law purging its voting rolls (Husted v. Randolph Institute), it must be feared that the Court will in the future open the floodgates for even more egregious gerrymandering and voter suppression.” ~

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2018/10/25/suffocation-of-democracy/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20Democracy%20Pauli%20Murray%20Joe%20Frank&utm_content=NYR%20Democracy%20Pauli%20Murray%20Joe%20Frank+CID_204a4aa7a4c544ac17def33f6d578be5&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=The%20Suffocation%20of%20Democracy


"That buffoon," my mother invariably said. "How could a civilized country fall for that buffoon?" Well, he promised to make Germany great again.

Oriana:

This is the most depressing article I’ve read in a while. All the Facebook triumphalism about the upcoming “blue wave” looks silly next to the strategies that make the popular vote irrelevant next to the iron-fist rule of a minority.

I got the first taste of this when someone on FB told me, before the 2016 election, “Your opinion is irrelevant. You live in California, so your vote doesn't count.” This wasn't the kind of lightning-strike revelation as T's statement about shooting someone on 5th Avenue and not losing any votes, but close — I immediately sensed it was true.

So much for remnant delusion about democracy.





“In 420 [Alcibiades] was elected one of the ten generals, and began those ambitious schemes that led Athens back into war. When the Assembly acclaimed him Timon the misanthrope rejoiced, predicting great calamities.” ~ Will Durant, The Suicide of Greece

**

THE RAGE OF INCELS
 
Women are socialized from childhood to blame themselves if they feel undesirable, to believe that they will be unacceptable unless they spend time and money and mental effort being pretty and amenable and appealing to men. Conventional femininity teaches women to be good partners to men as a basic moral requirement: a woman should provide her man a support system, and be an ideal accessory for him, and it is her job to convince him, and the world, that she is good.

Men, like women, blame women if they feel undesirable. And, as women gain the economic and cultural power that allows them to be choosy about their partners, men have generated ideas about self-improvement that are sometimes inextricable from violent rage.

In the past few years, a subset of straight men calling themselves “incels” have constructed a violent political ideology around the injustice of young, beautiful women refusing to have sex with them. These men often subscribe to notions of white supremacy. They are, by their own judgment, mostly unattractive and socially inept. (They frequently call themselves “subhuman.”) They’re also diabolically misogynistic. “Society has become a place for worship of females and it’s so fucking wrong, they’re not Gods they are just a fucking cum-dumpster,” a typical rant on an incel message board reads. The idea that this misogyny is the real root of their failures with women does not appear to have occurred to them.

Incel stands for “involuntarily celibate,” but there are many people who would like to have sex and do not. (The term was coined by a queer Canadian woman, in the nineties.) Incels aren’t really looking for sex; they’re looking for absolute male supremacy. Sex, defined to them as dominion over female bodies, is just their preferred sort of proof.

If what incels wanted was sex, they might, for instance, value sex workers and wish to legalize sex work. But incels, being violent misogynists, often express extreme disgust at the idea of “whores.” Incels tend to direct hatred at things they think they desire; they are obsessed with female beauty but despise makeup as a form of fraud. Incel culture advises men to “looksmaxx” or “statusmaxx”—to improve their appearance, to make more money—in a way that presumes that women are not potential partners or worthy objects of possible affection but inconveniently sentient bodies that must be claimed through cold strategy. (They assume that men who treat women more respectfully are “white-knighting,” putting on a mockable façade of chivalry.)

When these tactics fail, as they are bound to do, the rage intensifies. Incels dream of beheading the sluts who wear short shorts but don’t want to be groped by strangers; they draw up elaborate scenarios in which women are auctioned off at age eighteen to the highest bidder; they call Elliot Rodger their Lord and Savior and feminists the female K.K.K. “Women are the ultimate cause of our suffering,” one poster on incels.me wrote recently. “They are the ones who have UNJUSTLY made our lives a living hell… We need to focus more on our hatred of women. Hatred is power.”

Earlier this month, Ross Douthat, in a column for the Times, wrote that society would soon enough “address the unhappiness of incels, be they angry and dangerous or simply depressed or despairing.” The column was ostensibly about the idea of sexual redistribution: if power is distributed unequally in society, and sex tends to follow those lines of power, how and what could we change to create a more equal world?

[But] incels are not actually interested in sexual redistribution; they don’t want sex to be distributed to anyone other than themselves. They don’t care about the sexual marginalization of trans people, or women who fall outside the boundaries of conventional attractiveness. (“Nothing with a pussy can be incel, ever. Someone will be desperate enough to fuck it . . . Men are lining up to fuck pigs, hippos, and ogres.”) What incels want is extremely limited and specific: they want unattractive, uncouth, and unpleasant misogynists to be able to have sex on demand with young, beautiful women. They believe that this is a natural right.

It is men, not women, who have shaped the contours of the incel predicament. It is male power, not female power, that has chained all of human society to the idea that women are decorative sexual objects, and that male worth is measured by how good-looking a woman they acquire. Women—and, specifically, feminists—are the architects of the body-positivity movement, the ones who have pushed for an expansive redefinition of what we consider attractive. “Feminism, far from being Rodger’s enemy,” Srinivasan wrote, “may well be the primary force resisting the very system that made him feel—as a short, clumsy, effeminate, interracial boy—inadequate.” Women, and L.G.B.T.Q. people, are the activists trying to make sex work legal and safe, to establish alternative arrangements of power and exchange in the sexual market.

We can’t redistribute women’s bodies as if they are a natural resource; they are the bodies we live in. We can redistribute the value we apportion to one another—something that the incels demand from others but refuse to do themselves.  . . . Over the past week, I have read the incel boards looking for, and occasionally finding, proof of humanity, amid detailed fantasies of rape and murder and musings about what it would be like to assault one’s sister out of desperation. In spite of everything, women are still more willing to look for humanity in the incels than they are in [women].” ~

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-rage-of-the-incels?mbid=contentmarketing_facebook_citizennet_paid_culture_the-rage-of-the-incels_1-visit


A soldier reunited with his baby daughter — I’d rather post an image of the opposite of an incel
 
Oriana:

There used to be a song, “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.” I used to rebel at those lyrics — what about all the solitary geniuses who apparently failed at love or any form of close connection, but who still managed to make a great contribution? Newton, Spinoza, Schopenhauer — nobodies? Or, aside from the famous, what about the reclusive individuals who appear to function well enough, are good at their job, and have simply found a different way to be reasonably happy and productive?

The song may indeed be too extreme, but it shows that decades ago the belief in the primary importance of love and human connection was unquestioned. An isolated, loveless man was regarded as a failure, even if he managed to be financially successful. There was more romance than violence in the movies. Even war movies could be counted on to glorify romantic love.

An unloved man was usually shown as a pathetic human being — a Scrooge before his transformation. If the transformation failed to occur, he was generally a villain. And even villains were sometimes depicted as having a romantic side. A secret lifelong love? Better than never having loved at all.

But now we have some young men who claim to feel only hatred toward women. Women are to blame for their lack of erotic fulfillment — beautiful young women in particular. Women allegedly willfully deprive incels of what these men feel is their birthright, and women should be punished for that — humiliated, assaulted, even murdered. The men don’t see themselves as evil.  It’s only women who are evil; men who dream of killing them see themselves as victims.

To be sure, these are extremists who are a small minority, but it’s troublesome that there appears to have been a general shift in the culture. Perhaps those old songs and movies glorified romantic love too much. But without love and connection — at least deep friendship — what are we? I shudder to think how common and open misogyny has become. 


 *

from another source:

~ “It’s age-old phenomenon. I found plenty of evidence of misogyny, from Roman poetry in the first century BC to Page 3 of the Sun. But it was bearable because equality legislation was coming thick and fast and job opportunities were opening up for women. I counted myself lucky that I had missed out on witch trials and the selling of captured women into slavery.

Woman-hating has come roaring back, borne on a tide of recession, economic uncertainty and religious extremism. In this country, we have just witnessed misogyny in its “jokey” form, prompted by May’s arrival at No 10 Downing Street. “Heel, Boys” declared the Sun, showing a pair of kitten heels trampling on the heads of six of her most senior colleagues. Haven’t you got a sense of humor, love? It revived memories of an old trope of Margaret Thatcher as the Conservative party’s dominatrix, confirming that some people cannot see a woman assuming power without thinking of men being humiliated. Tragically, the presence of women in powerful positions seems to unleash misogyny rather than curb it.

Misogyny has deep roots. It sometimes becomes dormant – usually when the economy is doing well – but it never really goes away. It is a mistake to regard it as just another form of abuse; it is a peculiarly intimate form of hatred, rooted in relationships carried on behind closed doors but that frequently spill over into the public world. (Racists rarely marry their victims but misogynists often do.)

Misogyny flourishes when politics become polarized, for a simple reason: it is as prevalent on the hard left as it is among religious extremists. . . . A day after Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, the three great offices of state in his shadow cabinet were given to men. It came as no surprise to feminists, who know that the hard left rarely pays more than lip service to a movement it regards as a distraction from the struggle against imperialism. Nor am I surprised that Labour has become a poisonous environment for women MPs. Last week 45 of them signed a letter to Corbyn, demanding that he do more to stop harassment, vilification and intimidation.

I have watched these developments with outrage – and a weary sense of deja vu. Many brave women died for freedoms that are under attack once again, all over the world. And I am as offended by people who play down outbursts of misogyny as I am by those who unashamedly revel in it. After the murder of Jo Cox, I don’t want to hear anyone telling worried female MPs to toughen up or whining that they have received death threats, too.

Woman-hating should be a nasty anachronism, but it’s back and we have to confront it.” ~

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jul/28/woman-hating-has-come-roaring-back-we-must-confront-it



MANY EAST ASIAN WOMEN ARE REJECTING MARRIAGE

 
~ “Fertility in East Asia has fallen from 5.3 children per woman in the late 1960s to 1.6 now. In countries with the lowest marriage rates, the fertility rate is nearer 1.0. That is beginning to cause huge demographic problems, as populations age with startling speed. And there are other, less obvious issues. Marriage socializes men: it is associated with lower levels of testosterone and less criminal behavior. Less marriage might mean more crime.

Can marriage be revived in Asia? Maybe, if expectations of those roles of both sexes change; but shifting traditional attitudes is hard. Governments cannot legislate away popular prejudices. They can, though, encourage change. Relaxing divorce laws might, paradoxically, boost marriage. Women who now steer clear of wedlock might be more willing to tie the knot if they know it can be untied—not just because they can get out of the marriage if it doesn't work, but also because their freedom to leave might keep their husbands on their toes. Family law should give divorced women a more generous share of the couple's assets. Governments should also legislate to get employers to offer both maternal and paternal leave, and provide or subsidize child care. If taking on such expenses helped promote family life, it might reduce the burden on the state of looking after the old.” ~

(I can no longer retrieve the link to the article in The Economist, but there are similar articles on the Internet)

Oriana:

The model of marriage in which the wife is completely subjugated certainly needs to change before modern Asian women see marriage as an attractive option again. To a lesser extent, the West has the problem as well — a lot of women are now less willing to bear the sacrifices that come with marriage and child-bearing.

The answer to improving fertility seems to have been supplied by Sweden, which made having children “ridiculously easy” by providing abundant quality child care. That, rather than child-support payments, seems to have been the most important factor. Provide help with child-rearing — because it really “takes a village.” 



 

SIMONE WEIL: LET’S ABOLISH ALL POLITICAL PARTIES
 
~ “On the Abolition of All Political Parties never apologizes for its radicalism, and never makes concessions to practical objections. The book proposes exactly what the title promises: Weil wants to get rid of them at once.

Certainly she’s thinking particularly of the Nazi Party in Germany, the international Communist Party based in Stalin’s USSR, and other infamously dictatorial parties of the 1940s. But she also bluntly declares that “totalitarianism is the original sin of all political parties,” not just the most menacing ones. She gives three reasons for this assessment: first, political parties exist primarily to “generate collective passions,” in order to bring out voters; second, parties apply pressure on members (such as elected officials) to conform to a set platform regardless of their conscience; and third, and most importantly, “the ultimate goal of any political party is its own growth, without limit.” Weil sees this desire for growth as inherently totalitarian.

Much of her hatred of political parties stems from her rejection of conformity, and she worries that the attitude of political partisanship has become pervasive in matters that aren’t exactly political. Weil decries intellectual tribalism in all its forms, observing that not even science and the arts are free. “Cubism and Surrealism were each a sort of party. […] To achieve celebrity, it is useful to be surrounded by a gang of admirers, all possessed by the partisan spirit.” But, in Weil’s view, this kind of conformity is intrinsic to political parties:

In fact — and with very few exceptions — when a man joins a party, he submissively adopts a mental attitude which he will express later on with words such as, “As a monarchist, as a Socialist, I think that…” It is so comfortable! It amounts to having no thoughts at all. Nothing is more comfortable than not having to think.

What’s interesting is that much of what Weil observes about partisanship anticipates the research cited decades later by Christopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels in their 2016 book, Democracy for Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. They describe party groupthink in similar, albeit less value-laden, terms:

~ A party constructs a conceptual viewpoint by which its voters can make sense of the political world. Sympathetic newspapers, magazine, websites, and television channels convey the framework to partisans. That framework identifies friend and enemies, it supplies talking points, and it tells people how to think and what to believe. ~

Achen and Bartels muster a range of data demonstrating that party identification often comes through identity, rather than ideology, validating Weil’s contention that party members usually defer to the party line rather than puzzle out issues on their own. For example, they present evidence that as the Democratic and Republican Parties began to polarize over the issue of abortion in the 1980s, many voters (particularly men) began to change their beliefs to match their party’s newly articulated platform. But their main point is that voters are drawn to a party for social identity reasons, and then — only after joining — begin to adopt the party’s ideological language, meaning their “partisanship often has little real ideological content.” Just like Weil contends.

After analyzing voter behavior, Achen and Bartels conclude that “[t]he evidence demonstrates that the great majority of citizens pay little attention to politics.” But, unlike Weil, this doesn’t trouble them. “Human beings are busy with their lives,” they write, pointing to careers, child care, and other drains on citizens’ free time. Achen and Bartels’s insouciance stands in sharp contrast from Weil’s insistence that thinking is a good in and of itself, necessary both for good citizenship and a meaningful life. It’s worth coming back to this, because the major difference between the two is that Achen and Bartels see political activity as in some way separate from people’s lives, and Weil does not.

Weil is rather ambivalent about democracy. Indeed, in On the Abolition of All Political Parties she insists: “Democracy, majority rule, are not good in themselves. They are merely means toward goodness.” One reason Weil abhors political parties and other collective organizations is that they represent “a reversal of the relation between means and ends.” She believes that people should lead their lives focused on the abstractions that carry the most ethical and moral weight — truth, beauty, justice, and, most importantly, God. For her, “[g]oodness alone is an end. Whatever belongs to the domain of facts pertains to the category of means.”

Achen and Bartels, like all political scientists — and most other inheritors of the liberal tradition, including the vast majority of contemporary American political actors — are almost exclusively interested in means, which is why they don’t object to people who choose to prioritize work and family commitments over political involvement. They see parties as an important tool of any “realistic” democracy, insisting that “policy making is a job for specialists,” and “interest groups and parties have to do the work.” Their reasoning is straightforward: parties are useful because they are effective.

Precisely because they are starting from such different places — Weil from a philosophical quest for the good, Achen and Bartels from an interest in following hard data — it is fascinating to see how much they overlap. For example, both see propaganda in similar ways. Weil, unsurprisingly, hates it. “The avowed purpose of propaganda is not to impart light, but to persuade,” she writes. But it is essential to the workings of parties: “All political parties make propaganda. A party that would not would disappear, since all its competitors practice it.” 


Mexican fire agate. Someone commented, “The Thumb of Zeus.” If we put it this way, that’s poetry. If we make it the thumb of a dictator, or a mega-rich pastor of a mega-church, the human capacity for wrong worship reveals its disastrous quality.

Weil is certainly correct here — all campaigning is designed to persuade, rather than “bring light.” But Achen and Bartels are also sensitive to the way campaigns can distort citizens’ views. Countering those who reason that the “wisdom of crowds” (where ordinary people’s misjudgments would essentially cancel each other out), they note that “[w]hen thousands or millions of voters […] are swayed by the same vivid campaign ad, no amount of aggregation will produce the requisite miracle.”
 
Since Weil is so virulently opposed to collective thinking, and to propaganda, it is unsurprising that her ban on parties come with serious restrictions on civil liberties. Weil bluntly proposes, “Whenever a circle of ideas and debate would be tempted to crystallize and create formal membership, the attempt should be repressed by law and punished.” She expects, and supports, informal political factions gravitating to journals and other publications. But even there, she sees the need for limits, writing, “At election time, if contributors to a journal are political candidates, it should be forbidden for them to invoke their connection with the journal, and it should be forbidden for the journal to endorse their candidacy.”

One can imagine Achen and Bartels responding by claiming that voters are not simply swayed by political propaganda, but by their own mistakes, and that this will render Weil’s efforts insufficient to create the kind of engaged populace she seeks. Citing the work of Philip Converse, who observed that most people “do not have meaningful beliefs, even on issues that have formed the basis for intense political controversy among elites for substantial periods of time,” Achen and Bartels argue that in surveys and other studies, many voters have a difficult time even sorting different policy ideas by their ideology (meaning they don’t know when a given proposal is considered a liberal or conservative idea), and that people’s views are highly unstable, changing frequently over time. 


Even more pointedly, they make a case that voters often base their decisions on clearly irrational grounds. One particular example stands out: “Voters along the Jersey Shore punished the incumbent president, Woodrow Wilson, for the panic and economic dislocation stemming from a dramatic series of shark attacks in 1916, reducing his vote share there by as much as 10 percentage points.”

But Achen and Bartels’s primary thesis is that most voters are influenced not by shark-related panic but by group attachments. According to research they cite, “Even in the context of hot-button issues like race and abortion, it appears that most people make their party choices based on who they are rather than on what they think.” Weil expects this, noting, “The artificial crystallization into political parties coincides so little with genuine affinities that a member of parliament will often find himself disagreeing with a colleague from within his own party, and in complete agreement with a politician from another party.” 


But Weil’s notion of citizenship — really of humanity — is an intellectually strict one, and is unsympathetic to the idea that people should let any kind of social group influence their decisions. For her, engagement is a moral good, in and of itself. From this perspective, the divisions that parties themselves promote are therefore responsible for voter ignorance.

Reformers impressed by Weil’s arguments but unwilling to give up parties altogether would be wise to draw upon Achen and Bartels’s findings and focus on empowering organized groups and smaller parties. Ideas such as ranked-choice voting and proportional representation offer good starting points.  


But the real lesson of Weil’s work is that a democratic politics needs to be expansive, acknowledging that everyone is entitled to an equal stake in society and an equal say in how society works. In effect, democracy needs to be a system of principles, not a system of practices. Weil is far too idiosyncratic to offer a workable blueprint for society, but her ethical seriousness remains compelling, and she certainly forces readers to think hard about what it means to create a just society.

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/party-of-one-democracy-political-parties-and-simone-weil/#!


Simone Weil, 1921

*

THE NEVER-ENDING AMERICAN CIVIL WAR

 
~ “Trumpland is the modern-day incarnation of the 1860s Confederate South — a softer, gentler, nicer, smoother, smilier, more inclusive version, certainly, but still: scratch off the thin veneer of 21st-century civilization — and there it is. And so it goes, the never ending Civil War of the American political process.” ~ M. Iossel

 
Well, broadly speaking, in terms of white supremacy and male supremacy having become so blatant again . . .  But no, we don’t sell human beings at auction anymore. I don’t accept the argument that the human trafficking still currently going on is “just as bad.” But that we are still fighting over the same issues is pretty amazing.

So perhaps the title “Gone with the Wind” got it in reverse? The answer that is currently “blowing in the wind” is certainly unpleasant. But winds do change, the young seem less attracted to the “God and Fatherland” and “Blood and Soil” ideologies (maybe I'm kidding myself), and every time a confederate statue comes down, we can take a breath of fresh hope. 


*


“The destruction caused by hate-mongers is evident to anyone with a cursory knowledge of history; their ongoing influence is equally clear to viewers of the daily news. Through their rhetoric they fundamentally alter the swing of the pendulum in the conduct of human affairs from compromise to conflict, from inclusion to vilification, and from compassion to cruelty.” ~ Ian Hughes

THE GREATEST MURDER MYSTERY OF ALL TIME: THE END-PERMIAN MASS EXTINCTION
 
~ “If there is ever a competition for best-named geological phenomenon, the Great Dying is surely a contender.

Over a relatively short period of time some 70% of vertebrates living on land and around 90% of ocean species were killed off. The end-Permian mass extinction, as it is more formally known, was quite simply the biggest disaster ever to hit life on Earth.

Until around a decade ago, the trigger for this deadliest of catastrophes 252 million years ago was often presented as the greatest murder mystery of all time, with scientists offering up some half a dozen “suspects”.

More recently, advances in dating techniques and new geological evidence have provided a very prominent smoking gun. Most earth scientists now agree the greatest of the Earth’s “Big Five” mass extinctions was triggered by 1 million years or so of intense volcanic activity.
Somewhere in the range of 5 million cubic km of lava spewed out across what is now northwestern Siberia – enough to cover the Earth’s surface to a depth of about 10 meters – and it did so shortly before the start of the mass extinction. This triggered the release of huge volumes of greenhouse gases that drove global warming and critically disrupted the Earth’s life support systems.

The death toll from the Siberian Traps was extreme. The effects were greatest in the oceans, especially on the sea floor.

 
Many groups were wiped out entirely, including one of the earliest known arthropod groups – the trilobites – as well as primitive rugose and tabulate corals, and the nut-shaped blastoid echinoderms – relatives of today’s sea urchins and starfish. Others, such as brachiopod shellfish, bryozoan “moss animals”, squid-like ammonoids, and flower-like crinoids, lost most of their species.

“The biggest extinction event we have in the history of life has a lot in common with the environmental changes occurring today and that we anticipate in the next 100 to 1,000 years,” he says. “In fact in the long run, it had a stimulating effect on ecosystem diversity, but the recovery took millions of years to kick in, so loss of diversity is not something that should be thought of as useful or relevant to human society.” ~

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20151218-when-a-volcanic-apocalypse-nearly-killed-life-on-earth



Crinoid lily; drawing by Ernst Haeckel

**

NOTHING YOU FEEL OR THINK IS “SIN”
 
Maybe you don’t know what the nights are like
for people who can’t sleep.
They all feel guilty —
the old man, the young woman, the child.
They are driven through darkness
as though condemned,
their pale hands writhing; they’re twisted
like a pack of frenzied hounds.

What’s past lies still ahead,
and the future is finished.

~ Rilke, The Book of Hours

Oriana:

To me this is a description of toxic religion: the old man, the young woman, even the child —  they all feel guilty. Judaism and Buddhism were such a relief: nothing you feel or think is "sin." You're responsible only for your actions.

The last couplet could be interpreted as a brilliant capsule summary of depression. You keep brooding over the past. There is no vision of the future, unless as even worse than the past.


The need for 24/7 praise (or so we were taught — we were created to praise him) was a big turn-off for me. Seemed like ignoble, insecure vanity, and appeasement of a capricious (or downright vicious) archaic tribal deity who's always on the edge of a tantrum — an angry god. Or, to be more realistic, like a heavy-drinking, unpredictable dictator — say, Stalin. Stalin had to be praised non-stop. Poets wrote “Odes to Stalin.” Now, the psalms have a better literary quality, at least in the King James translation, but the essence remains abject adulation. Because if he isn’t pleased, he just might strike you with a loathsome disease.

Ending on beauty:

“There is a silence more musical than any song.” ~ Christina Rossetti