RadicalEyes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARed, white, and blue, gaze in your looking glass
You’re not a child anymore
Red, white, and blue, the future is all but past
So lift up your heart, make a new start
And lead us away from here

– Styx

In Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna: “He lives in wisdom who sees himself in all and all in him.” The same might be said of the good global citizen. She is one who sees herself in all peoples and all peoples in herself.

The problem is that we are not trained to see things in this way. In fact, we are trained actively to not see things in this way. We view the world through nation-state-colored glasses; anything else is but a cataract begging for removal.

This is a singular form of myopia, characterized by an inability to see ourselves as a part of, rather than apart from, the rest of the planet. It is not restricted to any one nation or nationality; we all suffer from it to one degree or another. D.T. Suzuki, the great Westernizer of Zen, explained that “it is in the nature of the intellect to set up a series of antitheses in the maze of which it loses itself.” And the greatest antithesis of all is “us against them.”

We understand ourselves by categorizing the Other. This in itself is not a bad thing. But we tend to go farther than that, and imbue those categories with moral significance, as if we cannot conceive of our own importance without calling into question the importance of our opposites. Insert whatever label you like–white, male, European, Christian, heterosexual; the point is the same: knowing one’s place and defining it as more.

National borders serve a similar purpose. There is some benefit, of course, in fellow feeling and shared identity that has nothing to do with imaginary political delineations: to be “American” (or “South African,” or “Iraqi”) is to share a journey, to participate in a greater vision born of multiplying one agent by many. We are part of a whole, larger than ourselves and cumulatively purposeful. Nationality is not in itself a bad thing: it can show us who we are, where we’re going, and give us an inkling of how to get there.

Difficulties arise, though, when nationality bleeds into nationalism:

Nationalism gives rise not only to the affirmative mischief of exceptionalism and the various paranoid doctrines of “un-Americanism” by which our modern history is so unfortunately disfigured, but also to narratives of patriotic sovereignty and separateness that are inordinately bellicose about enemies, the clash of civilizations, manifest destiny, “our” natural superiority, and, inevitably (as now), to policies of arrogant interventionism in politics the world over, so that, alas, in places like Iraq, the United States today is synonymous with a very harsh inhumanity and with policies whose results are particularly and, I would say, even perniciously destructive. (Edward Said)

Keep in mind that Said died in 2003. He wrote these words with relatively little reference to post-9/11 history. And yet…a decade later, the prophecy in his words could not be more evident. In the midst of an election cycle defined by one man’s wall, and in the wake of Paris and all its implications for our national morality, it’s hard believe Said didn’t pen these thoughts last week.

Speaking of Trump’s wall, one of the truisms often voiced by presidential candidates from both major parties is that, for a country to be a country, it must have strong borders. This suggests, incorrectly, that national borders are real. They are not. If they were, we wouldn’t be spending so much time talking about walls.

At the end of the day, national borders are lines drawn on a map, and we’ve all been taught the evils of coloring outside the lines. The Fun Pad is not just a toy; it is a tool of indoctrination. Rather than embracing the creativity of broad and reckless strokes, we instill the aesthetic of prescribed limitation. Overstatement? Perhaps. But consider the utter joy that characterizes the liberal scribblings of a crayon-wielding child, before the authoritarian imposition of “lines.” Is it any wonder that the accomplished artist in the adult world is one who succeeds, at long last, in pushing past the rules governing a lifetime of expressive orderliness?

Talk of wall-building also suggests, sadly, that in order to be a country, a nation must vigorously decouple itself from the rest of the world, to avoid, as George Washington counseled, any “foreign entanglements.” I think we can all agree that the isolationist ship has sailed; for better or for worse, there is no returning that genie to its bottle. And even if we could, should we?

Perhaps the day of the nation-state, like that of the city-state in ancient Greece, is passing. We boldly went where no corporation had gone before–everywhere–without considering the logical outcome of the process: having gone everywhere, it is now incumbent upon us to be everywhere. Be there as if we belonged there, as if we had a true stake in the places we are. “In but not of” is not a sustainable model, either for business or for citizenship. Not anymore. Not in the 21st century.

It is not enough to think in terms of natural resources as materials dug out of the ground and loaded onto airplanes for transport. We cannot just get our stuff from “other countries” anymore. People are resources as well, not to be used up but to be learned from, worked with, respected and cared for. Our profit must be their profit as well, or it is no profit at all.

We do not need walls, Mr. The Donald. We need doors. Lots of them. Open doors, through which relationships are formed, through which people come and go as neighbors, not doors that are closed and fastened against “the rest of the world.” The rest of the world is really the rest of Us, and without it we cannot be strong. Not really. Fear is never strong. And we are afraid. Of everything. And fear breeds enmity.

We need new eyes. Radical eyes. Eyes that see past the false logic of strong borders to the real strength of fair, honest, and equal relationships. We must be brave enough, human enough, to color outside the lines drawn for us by the process of industrial globalization, which insists that we spread our nets for our benefit alone. To seek out the softer, more graceful lines of a shared globalism, diverse but united, that is not a threat to our national identity but its complement.

We need to stop fortifying our borders and learn to cross them. We need to stop creating enemies by way of recognizing our friends. We need, simply put, each other.

Enough with the walls. What we need is a bridge.

Do What’s Right, and Risk the Consequences

800px-hands_holding1

All those with agency are confronted by a choice. We can use that agency to secure for ourselves a safe and comfortable existence. We can use our life, that one unrepeatable product of four billion years of serendipity and evolution, to earn a little more, to save a little more, to win the approval of our bosses and the envy of our neighbors….We can, quite rationally, subordinate our desire for liberty to our desire for security. Or we can use our agency to change the world, and, in changing it, to change ourselves. We will die and be forgotten with no less certainty than those who sought to fend off death by enhancing their material presence on earth, but we will live before we die through the extremes of feeling which comfort would deny us.

– George Monbiot

The above quote is from a book called The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order (2003). It’s posted on my cubicle wall at work; it makes my mind tingle every time I read it. It is, quite simply, magnificent. And at the moment, quite apropos.

Everyone says original thinkers are those who “think outside the box.” That’s not enough for me. I want to take the box outside, smash it to pieces, set it on fire, and forget there was ever a box in the first place. I want to start fresh. Every. Single. Time.

We have reached a point in our evolution as a planet at which this sort of thinking is the only way forward. Postmodernism paved the way, pointing out the moral potency of language and reminding us that individual perception is at least as important as collective interpretation to understanding the world we live in. But I would argue that we’ve moved past even that: it’s time now for the rise of a new metanarrative. We must reassemble what we’ve so assiduously deconstructed. The individual must once again become part of a whole.

That whole is the global community. Not a new world order, necessarily; that’s a loaded term that conjures for many the abandonment of identity. Perhaps instead a “new world understanding.” Not the rejection, but the redefinition, of identity. Now that we have come to appreciate the value of the one, how do we build something bigger, better, and stronger on that foundation? How do we reconstruct?

Here in the United States, the first step toward this new understanding involves a reassessment of who we are as a nation. The “superpower” paradigm is no longer viable. The world doesn’t need watchdogs; the world needs good global citizens. We need to embrace the global community that, in large part, we created, by way of corporations like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and McDonald’s.

This means reining in those very corporate actors, the ones who give us such a bad name around the world. The ones that go into developing nations in the name of solidarity, use up all the local resources, enrich the local despots, and then move on to greener pastures once the well’s been sucked dry.

This means actually being a member of the United Nations: not just drafting resolutions, but adopting them in good faith, and living by them instead of just forcing everyone else to. Addressing climate change and the global economy as more than simply electoral leverage, and recognizing the multitude of ways in which our actions affect strangers on the other side of the planet.

It means thinking past national security and “peace in our time.” Not thinking in terms of our problems and their problems. Their problems are our problems; there is no parsing that away anymore. If that weren’t the case, the attacks in Paris wouldn’t be making us so nervous right now. We know how easily troubles move about the globe these days. The next step is to accept our responsibility for helping to solve them. Which includes taking in the refugee.

It means rethinking the idea of nationality itself. I’m not saying we should do away with our shared identity as American citizens. But we should not allow our definition of the United States to stand in the way of a united planet. We can be American citizens, and global citizens, at the same time. We simply have to find the will to do it.

I would wager that most people are familiar enough with the cultural meme of the Good Samaritan, so I won’t take the time to explain the whole thing. I’ll just leave you with this thought:

Who is my neighbor? Everyone, everywhere.

As my good friend Russell commented on my previous post, we need to have the courage to do what is right, together, and risk the consequences. It’s the only way to survive the future.

Spread the word:
Open the doors!!!

Refugee

SYRIA-CONFLICT

(Photo from BULENT KILIC/AFP/Getty Images)

Rationalize me; patronize me;
pat me on the head–here’s a cookie go to bed–
proffer a tent from someone’s garage. I
am not a mirage: this tide never ebbs,
infinite spider, intricate web.

Security councils peddling dreams
become nightmares, garnering blank stares,
raising the hairs on the back of God’s neck.
I am the dreck, the flotsam and jetsam of
a race overrun.

Are you quite done?
Have you even begun?

Stateless, displaced, limbic, replaced–
not a trace of a life vetoed by men
and women of peace after a piece of mine.
Peel the onion; perhaps you will find that
your peace of mind is sight that’s gone blind
to itself. United you stand, dividing us all
into those who may live and those who must crawl:

I am the tired; I am the poor; I
am the huddled mass cast up on your shore.
Before dimming the light and bolting the door,
take just one more moment–an arduous chore–
to look in my face and witness a war
that rages time without end:
the war between neighbors, family, and friends

this globe is never
quite what it pretends

American Idiot

Donald_Trump_2_March_2015 (Image by Michael Vadon)

We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

– H.L. Mencken

Has anyone ever considered that maybe a Trump presidency is exactly what this country deserves?

They say that hauntings are the result of past trauma, passions accumulated through the years and then released in a catharsis of spectral manifestation. If that is true, I would like to submit this as an explanation for the remarkable, yet not entirely incredible, success of The Donald’s presidential campaign thus far: as a nation, we are being haunted by the ghost of ourselves.

Trump, as a political thinker (if such is an accurate term for the regurgitative extrospection he exercises on camera) is the immaculate culmination of the phenomenon known ’round the world as “the ugly American.” He is our national id, as Jon Stewart (may his memory increase) so aptly noted after the initial announcement. He is everything we want, but are too afraid of social sanctions, to say. Since Trump can afford to ignore those sanctions, he is rapidly becoming a collective escape valve for our inner sociopathy–the means whereby we dump our boiler, lest the Overlook explode around us, blanketing us all in a cloud of radioactive Fox-planation…

But this is nothing some pundit or other hasn’t already said. The salient point here is simply this: we asked for it.

I recently asked a Dutch friend what he thought about our two-party political system. It does not, he said, allow for nuance: two parties mean two sides to any given issue, black and white, right and wrong (interchangeable according to the views of the speaker). Yes, we have “third parties” and “independents,” but I think Ralph Nader’s political career is indicative of those groups’ viability. Two parties, two teams, two ideological armies locked in rhetorical stalemate.

Add to this the fact that politics is considered a “career,” and that anytime someone dares to mention term limits they are immediately shouted down (by the very people who spend all their time complaining about “imperial presidencies”), and it’s a wonder we’ve made it as far as we have as a nation. It’s not democracy; it’s pure dumb luck.

Given the incessant pissing contest in which we’ve engaged the whole world since the 1950s (at least), it was really only a matter of time before somebody ended up pissing on us. I’ve never quite figured out the dismay with which people react to terrorist threats and/or attacks on US soil; of course they are a bad thing, an evil thing, but to expect anything else is simply naive. One cannot spend his days tossing bombs over the back fence without assuming that, at some point, his neighbor’s gonna toss one back.

We have rested too long on imaginary laurels. We police the world but consider ourselves accountable to no one. We are not the watchdog; we are the bully. And we worry now that Trump’s foreign policy will alienate potential allies? That cat, my friends, done got out the bag.

Ultimately, we can’t talk productively amongst ourselves, which means we can’t talk credibly to our “allies” (defined, lately, as “whoever we aren’t bombing today”). And underneath a thin veneer of cosmopolitan globalism, a strong current of pre-1940s isolationism still flows: there is a fine line between exceptionalism and “go-fuck-yourselves,” and Donald Trump seems determined to erase it, one idiotic tweet at a time. The longer we insist that we don’t need the world (that we, in fact, are the world, Coca-Cola and all), the more likely it becomes that the rest of the world will realize it doesn’t really need us at all. At that point, it won’t matter who’s in the White House, because we’ll all be in the dog house.

Perhaps what we as a polity need is a swift kick to the groin, as a reminder of our unmitigated hubris. And what better stand-in for Uncle Sam’s crotch than good ol’ D.T.? And it’s an honest mistake: he is a bit of a dick.

If the prospect of Trump in the Oval doesn’t get us to sit up and take notice; if The Donald doesn’t inspire us to re-engage one another in some sort of peaceful and constructive way; if we continue to be so deeply inspired by idiocy, well, then…I give you…

Trump 2016:
When we can’t pretend we aren’t who we are
anymore…