Letter To A Young Girl

Dear A__,.

The decision to have you, to bring you into this world, was not an easy one; your mother and I agonized about it a fair amount. We went for it in the end because we were excited to see how our lives would turn out with someone like you in our lives. Our decision was the correct one; we cannot imagine life without you, and you have changed us for the better in many ways. All isn’t smooth sailing, of course; I regret that this world into which you’ve been born is not in better shape. Climate change is real; fascist political movements are on the rise all over the world; patriarchy is fighting very, very hard to maintain its power. And that’s just three of the many things that makes this world a worse place than it needs to be. I’m not a very optimistic person; and so I think that things will get worse before they get better. Still, there is plenty of occasion to cheer, and to offer me hope for what lies ahead of you. Here are the two biggest factors in my optimism–such as it is.

First, the world is still beautiful; you’ve seen some of it thanks to our family trips but there is so much more; literally, a whole world. I’ve only scratched the surface, but I’d like to think I’m exposing you to enough to whet your appetite. You like climbing, and I’m hopeful that you will keep it up–literally–and go to all those airy ledges that always seem to have the best views of the world below. There is much to see, much to explore; and if the big bad guys want to take away this wilderness from you, then you have a good battle to fight  waiting for you. It’s a good cause; you could do worse than to devote your life to keeping the outdoors wild and beautiful for future wild kids like you.

Second, young people are angry and politically organized. Just yesterday, a young and dynamic woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, won a primary election–she is going to be the youngest woman elected to Congress. She spoke up for the communities she represents, putting their interests front and center; she did not compromise or triangulate; she spoke clearly and fearlessly; and she inspired many to come out and support her. You don’t have to emulate her; you don’t have to run for Congress; but you should learn from her that sincerity and passion and honesty will take you a long way even as many around you will try to tell you to be insincere and dishonest.

So, there it is. You don’t get an inheritance other than a a beautiful world and some beautiful people to share it with. Oh, there’s tons of trolls and ogres as  well; they’ve got their eyes on the prize too. But what kind of adventure would life be if there weren’t any ‘wild things’ to take on and best at their own game?

Yours with many hugs,

Papa

Political Pathology And The Inability To Accept Love

In a post on ‘the underestimation of the capacity to love‘ I wrote of its converse, ‘the inability to accept love’:

That inability, that lowered view of oneself, the judgment that one is unworthy of the love, caring and commitment that is sent our way by our lovers, parents, children, and friends, leads many to reject the intimacy and caring of long-term relationships, the kind that require sacrifice and commitment. It causes the pushing away of partners, the cringing from their touch, the turning away. Those who do so suffer from impostor syndrome: If only the truth about me were to be known, no one would love me, least of all the ones professing their undying love for me.

This inability has a political dimension to it, which is alluded to in my original post: those suffering from it–that is, most of us–render themselves susceptible to political pathology. We cannot imagine ourselves the subjects of a state underwritten by benevolence; we do not imagine ourselves worthy of such an arrangement, part of a community founded on the desire to work toward a common, shared good; instead, we cast ourselves adrift, sometimes seeking the fool’s gold of ‘liberal’ political goods like ‘self-determination,’ ‘individuality,’ ‘independence,’ and ‘autonomy.’ Because we think we are unworthy of care and affection directed at us by others, we valorize instead the solitary, turning a self-imposed necessity into a virtue.

And because we imagine ourselves unworthy of ‘political love’ we are afraid to ask for what is our due; we accept all too readily the abuse of those who govern us. We imagine we deserve no better; we are sinners, always begging for forgiveness; we dare not ask–or fight–for our rights. We accept the handouts sent our way, the grudging political pittances that we imagine are our actual dues. Authoritarian and totalitarian regimes are sometimes surprised by the ready acquiescence of those they seek to rule; their rule is underwritten and facilitated by this kind of ready acceptance of their peremptory commands.  Rule us; for we are unworthy of anything else. We will not even ask for the satisfaction of our most basic human wants: a roof over our heads, clothing, shelter, and care of us when we are sick and infirm. The political subject who imagines himself unworthy of the love of his fellow citizens is all too ready to be possessed of a vengeful, retributive, spirit; he is all too ready to believe tales of the wickedness that surrounds him. I am fallen among the fallen; do with what you will; like me, they are unworthy of love, of giving or receiving it. The political self-abnegation here is complete.

Note: The political and psychological phenomena described above are exceedingly familiar. Humanist criticism of religion and the state begins from such standpoint; it urges us to view ourselves in a more kindly light, to accept ourselves more readily as a preliminary to letting our fellow political and social subjects into our homes and hearts.

Writing On The Bernie Sanders Campaign: The Denial Of Agency

Bernie Sanders cannot win the general election. He is unelectable. He will not win Ohio, Virginia, or Florida. The Republicans will eat him–a self-proclaimed socialist who keeps talking about ‘revolution’ and ‘economic inequality’–alive.

The most interesting of these several proclamations–all speaking to the hopeless, Quixotic, quest that calls itself the Bernie Sanders campaign–is, by far, the last one. The one that says that the ‘Republican machine’ would prefer that Bernie Sanders–indeed, it desperately ‘wants’ him to–be the Democratic nominee for president.

As this vision of the future goes, there is a well-oiled, Swiftboats-at-the-ready bunch of Republican party operatives who are just waiting to go to town on Sanders, and when they do, by golly, the rest of us are going to have to, just like those passive plastic sheets in Dexter‘s kill sites, stand back and let the gore and body parts splatter all over us. Because those Republicans, they are so powerful, so effective, so efficient, in their demonizing and their summoning up the forces of darkness, in their control of the media machine, that when they get to work on a mere human being, who is only supported by, you know, other humans, those Republicans are just going to chew him up and spit them right out and then its all going to be over, because you know, evil Republicans are just about the strongest force there is on this planet and we can’t fight them, so we might as well just call off the elections right now.

In this awe-inspiring conception of Republican operatives who can make and enforce any narrative they choose of reality, the universe is divided into two components: Republican Architects of Reality and then the Rest of Us. The Rest of Us do not have access to words, ideas, images; we do not have access to media; we do not possess rhetoric, writing, or any other tools of persuasion; we are incapable of responding to invective; we cannot summon up flights of fancy; we do not possess the means by which to purchase access to the airwaves;  we are objects, the Republican architects of Reality are agents; we are the objects that are acted upon, molded, pressed, manipulated; they press forth, we respond; we are putty, they are molds. They make, we accept; they give, we take; They do, we are done unto; theirs is the power, the glory, for ever and ever, amen.

Phew. Just writing about how powerful those guys are–and how weak we are–made me a little excited. So much power; who needs to go to the movies and watch lame Death Stars when you can fantasize about a real-life Death Star like this? One that has no single point of failure?

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled off was not that he made us think he didn’t exist, but that he made us think his power could be taken out on interest-free loans by any two-bit rogue passing through town.