Toads for Bernie 2016

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(Image from MotherJones.com)

What we want are unpractical people who see beyond the moment and think beyond the day.

– Oscar Wilde

There is much, much more to being progressive than just “making progress.”

The progressive doesn’t just act progressively, he or she thinks progressively, beyond the merely possible to the possibilities inherent in the impossible. Last night’s debate on MSNBC made it clear which of the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates understands this.

Again and again, parsing the term in a highly simplistic fashion, Hillary Clinton insisted that her ability to “make progress” makes her a “progressive.” And again and again, she dismissed the big ideas (universal healthcare, reinstating Glass-Steagall, taking the price tag off of public higher education) as third-rail politics. They’ll never pass, she insisted, so why bother?

Why bother? The true progressive “bothers” with these issues precisely because they will be hard to sell, and even harder to implement. Precisely because there is a good chance they will never pass.

The true progressive understands that forward movement is often mistaken for progress when it is really just inertia. That sometimes true progress entails no movement at all. That progressive rhetoric must fail often in order finally to succeed.

The true progressive knows that sticking with ideas that fit within the present paradigm is not enough. True progressives deal in ideas so big that the paradigm can no longer contain them, explain them away, or hide them from view–because then, and only then, will the paradigm shift and make way for real, meaningful change to happen.

Clinton has already referenced, repeatedly, the fact that she would be the first female president, and has presented that as a selling point on its own merits. And while that would (and will one day) be a milestone of great importance in American history, it cannot be the sole motivating factor in a voter’s decision.

It is not enough to vote for the first female president simply because of her gender. Were that the case, every feminist in America should have marched to the polls in support of Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. No, the first female president must also be a good choice on policy grounds, and the refusal to contemplate big ideas because they offer a challenge (perhaps even an impossible one) to policymakers makes Clinton a bad choice on those grounds.

The former Secretary of State also claimed, last night, that there are few who would consider her a member of the establishment, based largely on the fact of her gender. Well, I count myself among those few. Again, Palin, Bachmann, and now Fiorina offer a ready counter to the suggestion that women cannot belong to the establishment. And while, on the whole, I prefer Clinton’s approach to those of the aforementioned contradictions, her repeated rejection of the monumental but difficult in favor of the small but doable causes me to question her ability to effect meaningful and lasting change. Not because she couldn’t if she wanted to, but because she seems unwilling to try.

One day, hopefully soon, the United States will meet its first female president, and she will blow the doors off the way we think as a nation, and redefine the parameters of social justice as applied in our society. And that woman will receive my whole-hearted support (not to mention my whole-hearted vote at the polls). But Hillary Clinton is not, to my mind, that woman.

So, we are left once again with a choice between men, and of those men, Bernie Sanders best embodies the imagination and big thinking that are the hallmark of the true progressive. If nothing else, he has shed a more positive light on the idea of socialism, and reminded us of the “social” part of it all: one can embrace communitarianism without surrendering to authoritarianism. It is possible (and more than that, it is necessary if we are to thrive as a nation) to put our neighbors first without ourselves disappearing from view.

Being a toad (being The Toad) is all about rejecting the limits others would place upon my imagination and/or will to change. It’s about insisting on my right to wild, idealistic dreamery. And Sanders’ campaign is built on toads–people who refuse to discard ideas because they are difficult, or because they’ve never worked before, or because they challenge the status quo. After all, we would not as a nation even exist were it not for our willingness to pursue freedom in new and mold-breaking ways.

So this Toad’s for Bernie…even if he doesn’t win. I’d rather back a long shot who dreams big than a sure thing who thinks small. And Sanders’ success to this point proves that, in this, I am not alone.

There is much, much more to being progressive than just “making progress.” It’s about making progress that matters.

Spoils of War

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You put me in my place
in the ground
where the sound of my voice
won’t disturb
won’t curb your appetite
for this fight you’re bound to win
because no one else is in it

I didn’t fit the bill
so you gave me the boot
please don’t shoot the messenger
I’m just a fellow passenger on this red eye flight
this may seem trite
but brighter than bright only works
if no one shirks the labor
of making neighbor out of foe
and on we row
row row our boat gently down the stream
this dream was but a fancy
it would seem

Take the victor
and evict her
it’s time to ring the curtain
though you may be certain
the show is far from spoiled
a well-oiled machine are we
you’ll see me
when the ghost light’s lit
and from the pit the orchestra
will play
on

A Hymn before Dying

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Dig down deep in the well of your soul
till you find that the well’s run dry
Stretch your wings, cut the strings,
and hope dead birds can fly
We’ve all tapped out of an empty ring
at the height of an ongoing battle
and we can’t even choke; the only sound in our throats
a hollow and meaningless rattle

Nobody’s right until everybody’s wrong
You can’t write these lyrics if you already know the song
When those who believe don’t really belong
It won’t be long till we’re gone.

They say they want our words, our voices,
these referees of our silence
In the name of peace they command that we cease
with threats of respectable violence
Lest we speak, lest we compromise all,
they offer up stairs to the top of the wall
only to pull out the rug from our feet,
handing out blame as we fall

Nobody’s right until everybody’s wrong
You can’t write these lyrics if you already know the song
When those who believe don’t really belong
It won’t be long till we’re gone.

Whatever ghosts we fear the most,
they pale next to the shadow
of freedom offered by those who have it
to those whose fields lie fallow

‘Cause nobody’s right until everybody’s wrong
You can’t write these lyrics if you already know the song
When those who believe don’t really belong
It won’t be long till we’re gone.

Who Does a Guy Have to Piss Off Around Here?

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Better to win by admitting my sin
than to lose with a halo

Evita

Vance offends half the world: 115 views, and a crapload of comments.

Vance apologizes for the offense and attempts a reformulation along more sensitive lines: 25 views, and one comment.

How’s that for a MasterCard commercial?

Welcome to the wonderful world of bits and pieces. A world in which one’s image depends on the snippet view. A world in which, as Madalyn at Wary Wonderlust pointed out, opposition often carries more weight than fellow feeling, and anger becomes the motivating force that both drives and derails our desire for communication.

Last week, I set off a barrage of protest with a post I wrote about race and gender relations. Most of the protest centered around the fact that, being neither Black nor a woman, I should check myself before venturing an opinion. Much of it was valid. And there was much of it: my blog stats went through the roof. One of those situations where your graph looks like it’s flipping you off: nothing, EVERYTHING, and then nothing again.

In my perceived offensiveness, I became a momentary celebrity. Not because I said something worth celebrating, but because I opened myself to easy attack (perhaps justified, but attack nonetheless). I painted a bullseye on my head, and people opened fire.

Okay. Fair enough.

The day after everything exploded, in an attempt to rectify whatever foul I had committed, I wrote a second post, in which I tried to explain myself more clearly and less offensively, and to acknowledge the possible poverty of my initial approach.

Then, I sat back and counted the tumbleweeds.

The pitchfork-laden crowd that had done such an effective job of raining criticism down upon my head the first time around apparently had other barns to burn. A couple of the people who had taken me to task stopped by, but for the most part…silence. No linking, pretty much no commenting. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Now, you may be tempted to take this as me making everything about Me. But I’m really not out to be patted on the head, or to be showered with compliments for addressing my own misstep. That’s just what decent people do; no big whoop there. It is telling, though, that given the central remonstrance (men never listen) offered to the first post, no one had much to say when one of us tried.

But it’s a broader point I’m making here:

This bloggy-sphere of ours is the quintessential typecasting machine. It nails us to the lowest point in our rhetoric, and leaves us there to rot. It catches us on our worst day, at our darkest moments, and etches the image in stone. We become the villain of the story no matter what that story really is.

Now, I’ve been told exhaustively that it isn’t the blogosphere that does this, and that’s a valid point. The Internet doesn’t kill people; people who use the Internet kill people. At the end of the day, it’s us. We’re the ones who determine the nature of this beast, and the fact that its nature is so prone to conflict and confrontation says far more about us than it does about the medium in question.

We tend to choose the shortest possible route from A to B, and the shortest route from post to response is too often a bloodthirsty yell. It is your label of choice. It is the distance from the target, the remove that displaces responsibility from the one who pulls the trigger.

We are all human, and we all respond to criticism or disagreement in human ways which are often less than constructive, if not outright destructive. We all have our dark side and our light. We all have our triggers, and we’re all quick to pull them. And we all leave little chalk outlines strewn behind us as we go.

Sometimes we are the villains. More often, I think (I hope), we are simply people with complicated things to say and little clue how to say them, desperate for the patience and understanding of others, but unwilling to grant either ourselves. And here’s the rub: when we’re not willing to extend the same consideration to others that we desire for ourselves, everyone becomes our enemy. We arrogate to ourselves the best of intentions while assuming everyone else is out to get us. And you know what they say about assumptions…

They make bloggers out of U and Me.

The Potter in Me

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Hey, my eyes aren’t glistening with the ghosts of my past!

– Harry Potter

It is December 2007, and I’m standing across George IV Bridge from The Elephant House in Edinburgh, one of the several places J.K. Rowling frequented while writing her Harry Potter books.

At the time, I wasn’t nearly the Potter fan I am now. Mind you, I’m still not the Potter fan some people are: I don’t own a Ravenclaw scarf, and I’ve never taken a quiz to find out which Hogwarts house suits me best. But I am a big enough fan to reflect more seriously upon what it means, why it appeals so strongly to young and old alike–and why so many fear its “corrupting influence.”

Simply put, we all live for the moment in which our Hagrid comes for us, the moment we realize we are not Muggles after all, that we are really all magical beings, witches and wizards in the making. The moment we realize the sorcery that is part and parcel of being human: our magic may be metaphorical, but it can still change the world.

The Harry Potter series is about the breaking of chains, both internally and externally imposed. Perhaps one was raised in a severely restrictive household, not unlike the Dursleys’. Or, conversely, perhaps one was, as a child, perceived as “different,” whether through temperament, inclination, or physical limitation, and thereby came to perceive herself as in some way limited or less-than.

These are those of us to whom the Potter books speak, and the reason they speak so universally is that all of us, from the biggest nerd to the biggest jock, from the math club to the cheerleading squad, we all feel our limitations. Each of us in a different way, but each of us, nonetheless.

A good book frees the imagination, and Rowling’s are good books. Will they stand as “great literature”? Who cares? “Great literature” is for eggheads in academia (although I suspect that the eggiest of heads sometimes wishes himself in the rush of a Quidditch match). Rowling’s are great books, books that touch us on a visceral level: we want to be free to be who we really are. We want to feel that our differences, the ways in which we stand out from the crowd, are our strengths. That in the battle between good and evil, we all have a wand to wield.

The Dark Lord is real, and he is legion.

The Dark Lord is embodied in the ways in which society forces upon us prescribed images of “who we’re supposed to be.” Erich Fromm wrote of the “marketing character,” the insidious manner in which the capitalist ethos seeps into our consciousness and compromises our will to authentic self-representation. We are induced, in the name of individualism, to renounce our individuality in favor of the “norm,” to sell ourselves on the stock market of impersonal choice. To become whoever or whatever others want us to be, in the desperate hope that we won’t be left on the shelf, or discarded in favor of a better model.

The message? Go along to get along, so that society can move along. And whatever you do, DO NOT ROCK THE BOAT!

The Dark Lord is systematized within all the nomological structures by which the status quo is enforced on a daily basis, from the Ten Commandments to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” We ascribe to the law of God and of the market protection against that which we fear as humans: that one soul brave enough to stand up and step out of line. Because, as John Hughes taught us, if one gets up, we may all get up. And then where would we be?

In the end, the reason people hate Harry is the same reason people love him: he is the poster child for seeing things differently, for being brave enough to be ourselves, even when the rest of the world doesn’t approve or understand. For allowing our imaginations, rather than our fears, to dictate how far we can take this thing called humanity. In short, in the wizarding world we find the key to being better Muggles.

The truth is, all our eyes are glistening with the ghosts of our past. But such is the magic of life, a magic inherent in each of us, Muggle or no: the magic of transcendence, of unlocking the present in ourselves (Alohomora!) so that we may overcome the past, so that we may learn from it without becoming trapped in it.

This is the gospel according to Harry Potter:

The Firebolt is not a broomstick. It’s a state of mind.

Perception is Nine-Tenths

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You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.

– Oscar Wilde

I find that, no matter the situation in which I find myself, there is a Wildeism that applies. Today, this one’s mine.

Simply put, I’m often too clever for my own good. I’m often overly convinced of my own vision and acumen, of my own position in the master-student hierarchy. Convinced that in a kingdom of the blind, I’m the only one who can see. In short, as was pointed out to me rather bluntly a few days ago, I am often an arrogant bastard.

On one hand, I’m not persuaded that this is necessarily a bad thing. The very act of writing something down for public consumption entails a certain “humble arrogance”: to think that something one has to say might actually be of benefit to others. To hope that some pearl of dim wisdom, derived from the relatively quotidian experience that is the average human life, might in the end shape the essence of things, might change the world as we know it. This requires a special kind of arrogance indeed.

On the other hand, though, there is the sometimes overlooked fact (at least by me) that the experience of average human life is quotidian precisely because it is shared. I am not the only one watching the world through perceptive eyes; although I may have something of value to contribute, in that I am surely not alone. Failing to acknowledge this entails a not-so-special kind of arrogance.

There are two sides to every coin. And my coin, much to my chagrin, seems to be rigged. It’s a trick coin, a Harvey Dent coin, a coin with a mind of its own. In other words, in the battle between arrogant bastards, the humble guy generally gets his ass kicked.

A few days ago, I wrote a post about gender and race relations. I tossed the coin, aware of the risk I was taking, but not as prepared for the fallout as I thought I was. Like I told a friend, my skin is never as thick as I think it’s going to be. I tossed the coin, and it landed pretty much right on its edge. Which didn’t work for me. So I knocked it over. The wrong way.

Let me be clear: I still believe what I said is in many ways correct. I’m not the type to grovel and scrape, and I don’t feel any need to here. That being said…it has become clear to me that a) I didn’t say it nearly as eloquently or innocuously as I thought I had, and b) what is more important by far, I am perhaps not the right person to say it in the first place.

I want to revisit the Alicen Grey quote that started me down this argumentative road in the first place:

It’s painful when I hear/see quotes from men, waxing poetic about how violent and inhumane “we” “humans” are “to each other”. When historically and globally, males account for the vast, vast majority of violence. Mostly against women. I used to wonder, how could these men – fancying themselves profound and in-on Truth – possibly call “humans” violent when they are technically the source? But I guess that’s what happens when the only people you consider humans are other men.

(I’m going to borrow a bit from a recent e-mail to a friend, sent in the aftermath of the “post-ocalypse,” in the hopes of explaining myself a bit better. I hope she doesn’t mind.)

I believe Alicen Grey is justified in her feelings in ways that (as I said) I cannot understand, being neither Black nor a woman. I’m telling you that I believe her (yes!) imperialistic language is used in this case in an attempt to right wrongs in a system in desperate need of righting, but in a manner that sells itself short by angering the people (men) she holds responsible rather than inspiring them to self-reflection. Not unlike my own reaction. Sometimes people who have a point worth making make it in unfortunate and counterproductive ways. Again, not unlike myself. I can’t hold it against her, because I wouldn’t want it held against me. So, yes, given the opportunity, and given the benefit of the doubt, I would gladly work alongside her. I’m not just saying that. Once I’ve gotten over myself, I truly believe there is no one on this planet with whom I could not find some common ground somewhere.

You see, I forget sometimes that perception is nine-tenths of the truth. I said what I said, convinced of its accuracy, with little regard for the ways in which it might be taken. In other words, I did exactly what I was suggesting Alicen Grey shouldn’t have done. So…shame on me.

Whatever else you take from what I write here (and I’m stealing from the e-mail again), please take this:

I truly desire nothing more than to make the world a better, more equitable and just place for all of us. But at the end of the day, I’m human; I can’t be more than that. No one can. And my humanity, as everyone’s, is the thorn in my flesh. It allows me to soar, and it causes me to crash back down to earth when my wings collapse under the weight of my own hubris. And it always will.

According to Oscar Wilde, the world needs a few more fools. In my case, perhaps an acknowledgement of my own episodic foolishness will do, as a step toward a more Wildean equilibrium.

I will write on. And stumble from time to time over my own wayward ego. And then, get back up, dust myself off, and write on further.

It’s the best I can do…