Friday, December 31, 2010

The New Year's Mullet

As promised, the business first, and the party later.

The Business:  American Against American

This is the hardest essay I have yet written, not least because I’ve left about a day-and-a-half to do what normally takes me four or five weeks and 17 drafts, but also because this essay requires me to do exactly what I have been wrongly accused of doing in the past – of causing dissension among the (seemingly homogenous) anti-war/peace and justice community.   This isn’t something I take lightly.  There’s a part of me that thinks even small steps at peace and justice are better than none at all, even if they will never, as we can plainly see, end our government’s war mongering.  On the other hand, though all freedom-loving Americans gaped in dismay when Barry Goldwater, while running for president 45 years ago, claimed otherwise, I know it to be as true today as it was when Benjamin Franklin wrote to James Madison, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” There’s no such thing as a little freedom any more than there’s such a thing as a little peace and justice; justice delayed is justice denied.  And so, today I set my hands on the keyboard once again in the hope that I can demonstrate sufficiently that I am not undermining any legitimate antiwar/peace and justice movement that may exist in this country by exposing what there is of it as the pretense that it is but am instead offering the necessary bellwether to those who may merely suspect, and therefore be too afraid to accept, that none of us is free because our government is controlled by fascists who have no interest in preserving our nation other than for the continued abuse, degradation, exploitation and lucrative murder of its citizens.  Just as there is no such thing as a little freedom, or a little peace and justice there is also no such thing as adulterated truth.  It is for those citizens that I write this blog, and to begin today’s essay, I offer a review of a legendary lesson from military history.

In the Iliad, the 8th century epic poet Homer depicts the end of the ten-year siege of Troy by the Greeks following their gift of a hollow wooden horse statue containing a secret group of soldiers to the Trojans, who brought it into their fortress themselves and were thus ambushed and conquered.  We get the phrase, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” from this story.  It tells us the invasion was successful; the Greeks subsequently rescued Helen from Paris and returned her to King Menelaus.  Trojan horses of one type or another have been used in warfare ever since.  After all, what better way is there to defeat one’s enemy than from within?  Today, there are computer viruses that may be disguised as innocent-appearing email attachments that users introduce into their systems by opening which then turn out to be bots that corrupt the boot systems of the host computer and all computers which are contacted by it.  They’re called “Trojans” because they use the disguise of an innocent-appearing email that requires the unsuspecting recipient to introduce it into his or her own computer and computer network. Several years ago, the computer on which I am currently typing this essay had a man-in-the-middle virus, ARP Cache POISON, attack while it was connected to the T-Mobile network through a Starbucks’ gateway that neither the Leopard OSX firewall, nor Symantec’s Norton firewall, successfully thwarted (though Symantec was perfectly happy to tell me that the attack had happened!)  Now, I see from the email count in my mail client all the emails that I’m supposed to get – but rarely do – because this virus is programmed to divert them somewhere else. Who gets them, who sends them in my name, I have no idea, but since it is my government that has targeted me for political reprisal, and my government that has developed this particular virus, and, indeed, the only entity that has a reason to fear me, it seems a safe bet that’s who now controls my identity.  Computer technologies such as these are but one type of covert warfare in our country’s growing arsenal of covert warfare technologies; clearly, the ancient Trojan horse tactic has sired many beasts.

Of all the pernicious technologies designed and used by our government against the citizens of our country (and others) has to be its collection of PSYOP:  MK-Ultra, COINTELPRO, and mixed PSYOP/intelligence collecting, Phoenix, all of which require the participation of what are now countless millions of average Americans – contractors, subcontractors, employees and other consultants of our military dictatorship – in the persecution of law-abiding Americans such as myself, who’s only crimes are political dissent.  The persecution of dissidents of this military dictatorship has a long – and surprisingly largely hidden – history, and that’s because our government lied repeatedly to us while it was pioneering and perfecting methods, technologies, agencies, organizations, and sciences to manage your perceptions so that you don’t see the totalitarianism under which we live.  But now that our society is closed, that’s all changed.  It knows that even if you know everything there is to know about how it employs your neighbors, doctors, grocery store clerks, clergy members, employers and others to oppress you, there’s nothing you can do about it – because today, in America, it’s American against American.  That’s what every totalitarian government dreams of – pitting all citizens against each other so that we’re not fighting those we should be fighting (guess who that is).  I say, “we,” because, as Ghandi rightly pointed out, a people’s freedom must not be measured by how a government treats everyone, but how a government treats its dissidents; today, I may be the persecuted dissident, but tomorrow, you may be the one who’s dragooned against your will into a government bioweapons research program, and then decide to speak out about your enslavement, once you learn the truth about it.  And to do that, it will lie, lie, lie and lie some more to prevent others from knowing what it does to you.  My government has lied so much to me, you’d think I’d be used to having my mind interfered with by it, but I’m just as outraged by the propaganda today as ever I have been, and you should be, too, because our government is at war with us and using each one of us against us.  This could not have happened except with the cooperation of those who have had even more opportunity to learn the history of our government’s covert warfare, both old and new.

So many things have happened to me when I’ve approached the antiwar/peace and justice community in Boston and Cambridge that it’s no longer possible for me to question whether or not they are controlled by our government.  I remember the first time I went to the Park Street protest and was told by the alleged founder of it the history of ANSWER in Boston – how it had allegedly repudiated itself as being exactly this type of organization, a false flag.  Then I remember having gone to one of ANSWER’s rallies in Government Center and someone who had gotten hold of the microphone beginning to encourage the crowd to rebel against the government by any means necessary, instantaneously linking ANSWER with what our government has termed an extremist group, the Black Panthers, and ever one of its members as an extremist. I thought, “What a shame agent provocateurs infiltrated and are destroying this organization.” And then I got the hell out of there.  I thought, when the Park Street protest organizer was triumphantly claiming victory against the government in uncovering ANSWER as a false flag as (an assessment that this was both too na├»ve and too inaccurate for a 40+ year veteran of the peace and justice movement to make), “But this is the world’s superpower.  It didn’t get to be a superpower by losing its covert wars at home.”  For the longest time, it made no sense to me whatsoever when this guy flaunted his relationship to the head of ANSWER/Washington right in front of me, refusing to acknowledge me and the fact that we had just been engaged in conversation, and failing to introduce me to her.  Then, after witnessing a number of other peculiar things he did, I slowly realized that he wanted me to know that he has access to the leadership of antiwar/peace and justice organizations such as ANSWER’s and that he could prevent me from having access to it also.  He wanted me to know that he had the power to prevent my association with antiwar/peace and justice organizations.  Bingo – here is the true agent provocateur, and one cog in the machinery that put a snitch jacket on me.  I say, ‘cog,’ because he is just one of several agent provocateurs in a position of power I’ve witnessed in the Boston and Cambridge antiwar/peace and justice coalition, all of the organizations of which are led, curiously, by the same half-dozen or so people.  I had the opportunity to be screwed with yet again by these fake antiwar/peace and justice activists just this past December 17th, at a panel discussion to (in part) rally support for those activists who were arrested by the FBI on Friday, September 24, 2010, and have now formed the coalition, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression.  Here’s what happened.

I found out about the meeting at First Parish in Harvard Square the night before it was to take place because, again, I was inexplicably having trouble sleeping.  I happened to find the www.stopfbi.net website after surfing for organizations supporting political dissidents – those of us who are routinely persecuted and made civilly dead by our government’s not-so-secret secret army here.  The panel included:  Meredith Aby of www.stopfbi.net; an attorney working with her whose name I failed to record; embattled Boston City Council member Chuck Turner, the target of MK-Ultra smear campaigns; and former ACLU/Boston head Nancy Murray, now Executive Director of the Bill of Rights project at the ACLU.  The panel was moderated by a member of a peace and justice group in Albany whose members had also been targeted by the FBI and whose name I have also forgotten to record; and two local student activists working to rally support for a Muslim detainee whose name I’ve now forgotten and Mumia Abu Jamal.  I got there about a half-hour early to be sure I got a seat.  I pitched in my $5 donation, took off my coat, asked if I could lay out some of my business cards on the table inside the hall designated for activists’ materials and handouts, and proceeded to do so.  People were milling around the table, and as I had so few cards with me, and my arms were full with my coat and bag, I began handing the cards to those around the table instead of struggling to reach through them to get at the table.  A man who later identified himself as a 30-year veteran of the civil rights movement immediately confronted me and took a card, which said, “End Extra-Judicial, State-Sponsored Terrorism of Law-Abiding Americans.  End American Fascism.”  I’m still shocked by the violence that erupted from him after reading the card.  “Oh, no,” he exclaimed loudly.  “Fascism isn’t here yet.  We’re about 10, 12 years away from it being here, but it ain’t here yet.”  I almost burst out laughing when he implied he had a crystal ball and was tracking the rise of fascism in America as though it were Santa’s sleigh and he a meteorologist in front of a green screen on the Christmas eve news.  I thought he wanted to discuss the matter, so I began my reply, which he cut right into, raising his voice above mine and stepping into my face. “No, no, no, no – it’s not here. If it was here, we wouldn’t be able to have this meeting.  It’s NOT here.  I can assure you.”  Again, I tried to tell him about what’s been happening to me.  “This is 21st century fascism; this isn’t your granddad’s fascism,” I began, but he only shouted even louder.  “It’s not here.  It’s not HERE.” I had to back away from his screaming.  That’s when I was informed that my day-to-day experience of fascism in the form of daily terrorism and acts of torture in our community was of no significance to the great civil rights activist.  Not surprisingly, none of the many people in the hall seemed to notice his haranguing.  All I could do was disengage.  “Sir,” I began, raising my voice to a level above his, “Why do you keep interrupting me when I try to tell you about my experience of fascism in this community?  “Oh, I’m sorry,” he feigned.  “Go ahead.”  I tried once again to tell him about some of the things that are done to people like me on a day-to-day basis by our not-so-secret, secret police, but again, he interrupted me.  I finally exclaimed, “You seem only to want to fight with me, and that’s not why I came to this meeting.”  Then I walked away.  And he was only one of several civil rights leaders who denied that fascism exists today in our country that evening.

I felt as though I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone. Revolving around in my head were memories of my African-American literature class, in which I learned the heretofore most notorious fascists in American history would allow their slaves to travel from plantation to plantation once a week for the express purpose of socializing.  They weren’t concerned about slaves running away at these times because they knew the color of their skin would make them suspect anywhere in the south, and, even if they were presumed to be freeman, they slaves still had little means of traveling to the north and freedom safely.  They weren’t allowed to own property because they were property, and money – the means that could ensure their preservation – was denied them.  Of course, that didn’t stop them from planning their escapes, but they didn’t develop those plans and transmit them to one another openly.  They used Gospel songs such as Go Down, Moses, and allegorical tales such as the Brer Rabbit stories, to transmit information on escaping slavery and knowledge about surviving it, respectively.  I live my life exactly the same way – openly captive – and for the same reasons.

Chuck Turner outlined briefly the prosecutorial misconduct that had led to his indictment for bribery and his unseating on the Boston City Council – a shocking testimony of FBI abuse and corruption, if ever there was one. Meredith Aby was passionate and articulate about what happened to her during the September 24th raid.  She’s been a member of CISPES for nearly 20 years, and she told the audience that evening that she refused to attend her grand jury summons because she was afraid she would be forced to give the names of activists in Central America with whom she’s worked who may then be disappeared.  She said she instead submitted a letter to it invoking her Fifth Amendment right. Next, her attorney nonchalantly said the cases of the September 24th activists were being seen as “a test case” though she didn’t say what test was being made.  Nancy Murray gave a particularly fascinating brief about predictive policing (which is the colloquial term our military dictatorship uses to disguise its program of entrapment and incarceration, though Ms. Murray failed to mention that) and “fusion centers,” which are the alleged nerve centers that collect, collate and control all of the information our government now routinely gathers on citizens:  what library patrons read, where citizens are surveilled, their use of credit and debit cards, health insurance, what you bought at CVS when you used your “Rewards” card, etc.  Her description differed markedly from that given by Jesse Ventura, when he devoted an episode of Tru TV’s Conspiracy Theory to the fusion centers in America, and in which he claimed that, though they were designed as FEMA shelters, they’re being used to house illegals – of one type or another – in our country.  That’s not surprising, I suppose. But then (incredibly) she assured the audience that none of this represents fascism.  “It’s not here yet.”  Still, it’s clear that no one, other, single attribute of our police state qualifies it more strongly to be an exact replica of the society in which East Germans lived before the fall of the Berlin wall than this constant monitoring of every single citizen in our country.  The only difference between us and the East Germans is that our surveillance technology has exceeded Hitler’s wildest dreams because it’s no longer merely external, but internal as well. When killing its own citizens, or those of other countries, our military dictatorship believes remote is the way to go in order to conceal its culpability – the ultimate sign of its guilt.  I despair for all the victims of non-HIV/AIDS who were told their “chronic fatigue” was due to mercury poisoning in their fillings and subsequently went by the legions to their dentists to have them removed – and Lord only knows what thought-reading implants embedded into their jaws.  No wonder the larger society hears nothing from us.

I managed to extract myself from the barricade of chairs and coats that had grown up around me during this well-attended theatrical performance just after another man in the audience got up to assure us that fascism isn’t here yet – but that we must be on the lookout for it.  He was one of the people who had taken my business card when I first entered the hall, and whether or not it was his mission to do so when he took it, he was clearly there also to quash any talk about the state of American fascism in which we now all live.  It makes me want to vomit, this propaganda.

Legendary COINTELPRO target and Black Panther activist Angela Davis said of the September 24th raids, “While the immediate targets of the raids were activists in movements in solidarity with trade unionists and others facing violence in Colombia and the Middle East, their purpose is to disrupt the unity of progressive movements by sowing suspicion, distrust, and an aura of guilt by association. I am not too young to remember the dark days of McCarthyism in our country, and I know very well what the effect of such government reprisals can be.”  While Ms. Davis is someone we should have been listening to a long time ago, I want to make one thing perfectly clear:

I am not denouncing the Committee to End FBI Repression, or stopfbi.net and the activists engaged in it, as illegitimate shills.  I believe this military dictatorship is perfectly happy tormenting and terrorizing genuine activists and other people because its modus operandi is indiscriminate chaos, and that the Committee to End FBI Repression activists have been thus tormented and terrorized.  What I am saying is that our government does these things for many reasons, not merely over-zealous policing.  Some of those reasons are so that they can set up their agents as legitimated victims to whom we flock to support and to find community with.  Are all of the Committee to End FBI Repression activists legitimate?  It’s a question that must be asked, and it must, unfortunately, be asked of those who lead its members, especially.  And the only way this question will be sufficiently answered is if the Committee to End FBI Repression accomplishes the goal of disempowering all our secret agencies – because the FBI is merely one teeny, tiny, very redundant part of a now vast infrastructure of our surveillance society which has been given all the tools of repression (as have all our branches of the military and their contractors) by which Americans are denied their freedoms today.  Every single contractor of our government that does the work of the FBI -- whether it calls itself a contractor, a subcontractor, by the name of another agency such as the Joint Forces – has got to go, and the victims of these companies, organizations, institutions, alliances have to be recognized as the political dissidents they are and battles for justice on their behalf must also be waged.  If we want to end the repression of political dissidents and activists in America, they’ve all got to go.  ANY organization, or person, or talking head, or politician, or anointed saint of the antiwar/peace and justice movement that does not work for this is not working for a free American society and people.  I said this many months ago now, months before the September 24th raids, even.  Misdirection is a key feature of the covert war our government is waging against its activist communities.

Another reason our military dictatorship is openly terrorizing Muslims is because terrorizing Muslims a great way to manage people’s perceptions and behavior:  it placates the racist, hating ignorant, who believe our government has virtuous reasons to engage in and perpetuate the War ‘on’ Terror, but also, doing so placates opponents to the War on Terror by giving them what they expect – Muslim victims of it.  This keeps them engaged in fighting our government in a way that our government can control (see above), and that type of misdirection means that the larger antiwar/peace and justice community’s energies are turned away from helping those of us our military dictatorship terrorizes in its secret, covert war.   Here, we’re not allowed to vote, to have security of person or property, or association, or freedom of movement.  I’m not even allowed to fulfill my civic duty and perform jury duty because the minions of our military dictatorship know perfectly well that if I get within a half a foot of an attorney, or a judge, I’m liable to give them a voir dire they’d never forget.  The ACLU is a great example of a shill organization.  At a recent book signing in my neighborhood, attorney, adjunct Harvard law school professor, alleged civil rights attorney and ACLU board member Harvey Silverglate waved his hand and brushed aside the issue of civil death we targets of our military dictatorship who have no constitutional rights experience, saying, “That’s another book . . . for someone else to write.”  The book he was promoting, Three Felonies a Day, is about FBI prosecutorial over-reaching and details the 21 year-old case of his client, Michael Milken.  A TWENTY-ONE YEAR-OLD CASE.  That’s how (apparently, willfully) out-of-touch the ACLU board is.  His book signing came the same week I tried for the fourth time in ten years to get the support of the ACLU, this time, at the suggestion of Professor Charles Ogletree.

To ignore the plight of what is now tens of millions of Americans simply because they are not Muslim-Americans, or so-called leaders in the peace and justice movement, or the wealthy, will only perpetuate no actual peace or justice for anyone (other than that for those leaders who are working for our military dictatorship and who were never in danger of repression to begin with).  Even after studying the lengthy history of civil rights abuse by the FBI (from Watergate, to John Lennon’s surveillance, and the surveillance of actual civil rights activists such as Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.), I’d be much happier if the organization worked as it was intended to work, instead of as a weapon our government uses against its citizens.  I’d rather see more Eliot Nesses in every not-so-secret, secret agency and organization at the command of our military dictatorship than the end of the FBI – if we can’t get rid of all of them entirely, which is my most cherished desire.  In fact, I’d rather get rid of Clinton’s Infra-Gard, which keeps people such as me unemployed, and the Joint Forces, who can do anything the FBI and CIA can do (thanks to Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama) first, and then deal with the FBI/CIA, which are now one and the same since they both have use of the same technologies and techniques for torture and they both operate here in our military dictatorship.  Until whomever that appoints itself (or who is set up as) the guardians of our civil liberties stands up for us and demands the dissolution all of these agencies – indeed, of the entire infrastructure - they will always invite justifiable skepticism and censure. I’m even having a hard time believing that Bradley Manning and Julian Assange are legit; what we’ve been told about Mannings’ secret disclosures doesn’t seem in the least bit secret, controversial or in any way threatening to our government (that we’re unhappy with the Arabs’ efforts to curb terrorism and that bribes were exchanged for other countries’ cooperation with the invasion, occupation and colonization of Iraq, all of which is either justifiable criticism of our ally, or old news), and if Julian Assange really was at any time hunted all over the globe by our government, you’d never know it – because the ongoing war our military dictatorship is engaged in is covert.  His name would be as unfamiliar to you as mine is, and he wouldn’t be on worldwide satellite TV complaining that the government made PayPal shut down his account.  That’s not how this government works.  Neither PayPal, nor our government, would have ever given him notice that his account was going to stop accepting donations; anything he received would be like my email (and my PayPal account, apparently) - simply diverted.  Our military dictatorship, you’ll remember, doesn’t have to ask permission from any FISA court any more to surveil and impede anyone electronically (or otherwise).  Are they misdirection to make you believe there are those who have the freedom to work against our military dictatorship who are doing so?  To me, it seems they are, and while I’m sorry for anyone that’s isolated in solitary confinement, the fact of the matter is that Bradley Manning is an intelligence officer trained in PSYOP.  Surely, the unequivocal test of a spy is that he tells us things that either are happening, or are about to happen - not things we already knew.  I'm sorry, but I can’t feel sorry for Manning yet – until I have absolute proof he is still not working with our military dictatorship.  Neither he, nor Julian Assange, is working for my freedom, or the freedom of the many millions of Americans like me.  That’s for certain.

I said at the beginning of this essay that the reason I chose to write about this is because a fake antiwar/peace and justice movement here in America is equivalent to no antiwar/peace and justice movement here in America.  And we need a true antiwar/antifascism/peace and justice movement here in America more than we ever did.  The proof is in the pudding, they say.  This movement not only did not stop the Bush regime’s invasion, occupation and colonization of Iraq for no other reason than imperialism, it also didn’t slow or otherwise impede it.  In fact, President Obama not only continued with the Bush regime’s plan, he actually escalated it in Afghanistan.  And at the risk of being redundant, we now live in an actual police state in a closed society where the bill of rights for the vast majority of [now former] citizens has been scuttled.  For as many millions of people who have been actual members of this movement here, for the many hundreds of millions of like-minded people around the world who stood with us when we stood against our military dictatorship, and for the many, many, many innocents who’ve died by this massively heinous killing machine that is our military dictatorship, both abroad and here, we activists have had no practical effect on that military dictatorship.  Well, that is how a military dictatorship operates, isn’t it?  No individual freedom in America = corrupt government working covertly.  That’s the reason I was screamed down by an alleged civil rights worker at a peace and justice meeting, who couldn’t repudiate himself enough in denouncing my experience of this fascist government’s repression.  Never was it more true than when Ghandi observed that you must be the source of change in the world – because many of those you’ve relied upon to change our military dictatorship have betrayed and are betraying you.  It’s American against American.  If you consider yourself an American patriot, it’s time for you to stop supporting this military dictatorship and start supporting your fellow Americans.  Since everyone’s a target, no one is exempt from non-cooperation.  If you work for a defense contractor, stop doing so.  Take your 401(K), combine it with that of some of your colleagues and start your own business, pledging not to work for our military dictatorship as you do.  Organize other SBA members to stop participating in fascist organizations such as Infra-Gard, and advertise your anti-fascist philosophy.  If you can’t do that, you can still organize your colleagues to petition your company not to participate in the promotion of this fascist military dictatorship through non-cooperation with government.  That’s what you can – and should – do.

Why non-cooperation?  The unfinished case of COINTELPR victims should be more than enough proof as to why this military dictatorship should not be cooperated with.  In 2001, American activists Susie Day and Laura Whitehorn testified before Congress about their brutal repression by the FBI subsequent to the Rockefeller/Church hearings of 1974, in which Congress promised the American people it would discontinue COINTELPRO.  Today, targeted individuals (“TIs”) are still being herded into useless Congressional testimonial hearings.  So support the Committee to Stop FBI Repression – give them your money, time and energy – but realize that this activity alone is not going to end government repression.

The Party:  The Abundant Life

There’s a certain under-rated courage in those who embrace life each and every moment that I often think about at Christmas – first, because true courage is getting harder and harder to find in America, and second, because Christmas seems the perfect time to ponder just what it is about the most enigmatic heroic figures in history that bewitches us so that we retell the fantastical tales about their births, lives and deaths instead of the more mundane stories to cover up the fact that their lives, like every human life, is messy, lived in uncertainty and want, and at times, painful.  And, too, I’m reminded of the underdog’s ignominious fight whenever I hear Shane MacGowan and the lovely and enormously missed these past ten years Kirsty MacColl signing Fairytale of New York, which I tend to listen to only at Christmas because its operatic highs and lows and raw sincerity make me choke up.  I’m happy – truly, deeply happy – that Mr. MacGowan seems to be dealing with his legendary addiction, even if we may never hear from him again such poetry as, “Still, there’s a lot of hope before me.  You’re the measure of my dreams, the measure of my dreams.”  I can live with his charming rendition of The Little Drummer Boy with the three priests, though I live in hope for more of his epic lyricism one day.  Each of us has a unique gift we can give to the world, but often we let the difficult circumstances in which we sometimes find ourselves overshadow these gifts until we come to believe them burdensome – even to the point of turning them into actual burdens instead of cherishing them as our greatest assets.  Genius does that a lot because the world doesn’t welcome a genius.  But if we have the courage to accept our gifts for what they are, our reward will be the abundant life, the chance to continually co-create this magnificent experience we call life – engagement with the divine.  This realization is surely at the heart of the saying, “Work is its own reward.”

Now, I’m no genius, and I’ve spent plenty of my life denying I had anything worthwhile to offer the world, by force or choice.  But not any more.  There’s nothing I can do about my enslavement and imprisonment, and so I’ve decided that every day I’m lucky enough to draw breath, so long as there’s a gray cell in my brain that sparks, and poverty does not prevent me, I’m going to spend my energy creating art – specifically, the story of my bioslavery and imprisonment.  For the longest time, I’ve been half-heartedly writing my life’s story because I’ve despaired that no one would read it, and thought that even if they could and did, they wouldn’t know what to do about it anyway.  But recently I happened across a quote by Flannery O’Connor in which she talks about the engagement with the divine that can happen when one sits down to write:  “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” O’Connor often said her characters portrayed gracelessness in those who are called to choose grace and don’t.  It’s a struggle she sought to elucidate for us in all her exquisite writings, and reminds me of another master of literature, Oscar Wilde, who spoke about his craft, “Any man can make history.  It takes a great man to write it.”  I don’t know if I have it in me to be an Arthur Schlesinger, or a Shakespeare, but I’ll be damned if I leave this earth without having tried.  The engagement with the divine is all there is, really, and the abundance of life that can be had in those moments will be my aim to achieve over and over in 2010.  I wish you the same.  And to Shane MacGowan - whose 53rd year of hopefully abundant living began on Christmas - I’d like to wish a healthful and creative new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Christmas!



I posted a comment last Sunday morning on Ricky Gervais’ op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “A Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais:  Why I’m an Atheist.”  It’s a charming, passionate, and at times funny, essay, and it has sparked a lot of comments – about 3,500, to date – as one would expect a provocative piece challenging the existence of G_d at Christmas to do.  I repost my comment here, with my apologies to those of you who’ve seen it already; I believe, if you’ve followed the blog link in it to get here, you’ll appreciate the few (hopefully) elucidating thoughts I’ve appended to it, below (or at least, the slight editing).

“Hi, Ricky. Love the Brit-Com, The Office (and Ghostown, and The Invention of Lying). Never thought I'd be doing this, but I want to answer your question.  Problem is, I don't think this blog gives me enough space.  A sincere question requires a sincere - and full - answer.  If I have to post an incomplete response, please see my Easter 2010 blog (linked in the archive, or in the first line of John Donne's poem, in the blog's sidebar). It's at www.dontfearyourfreedom.blogspot.com. First, though, let me assure you that I am not trying to convert you - just trying to do as you try to do, which is to give a reasoned answer.  Also, while my blog does deal with the sensitive issue of what it means to be free in America today, I am not an extremist of any kind.  You have nothing to fear.  So here goes.

When I was about five years-old, I was playing in the street with my Super Pinky.  It rolled under a neighbor's car just as the neighborhood bully and his Alsatian came into view.  My brother is 16 months older than me, and so I had had, by then, enough experience with being bullied to know that it only encourages a bully when you back down.  I decided not to run and instead went about trying to shag my ball.  I mean, fetch. (Shagging in this context means retrieving, not knocking boots, obviously).  Sure enough, the inevitable happened.  Joel saw me and decided I'd be his target for the day.

Unfortunately, my experience with bullies wasn't limited to just my relationship with my brother.  My mother was a pretty stressed out, over-worked mess who screamed more than she ever discussed anything rationally.  Before I could retrieve my ball, Joel had managed to roll it out from under Mr. Snyder's car.  He held it aloft, right in front of my face, and began taunting me. ‘Well, look what I found - a brand-new ball.  I guess I can keep it, since no one's around.’  Just then, I realized that Joel and my mom were a lot alike - they had no true friends, and didn't know how to make them, and so that made them even MORE miserable, which misery they felt compelled to share with everyone else; it does love company.  I felt sorry for him.  But not sorry enough to walk away without my ball, to a coward's ignominy.  I thought, ‘There must be a way to get out of this with my ball, without fighting.’ And then, the entire neighborhood receded out of view, and time ceased.

I felt as though there were no longer such things as minutes, or seconds - that I could stay here as long as I needed to for my solution. I was anxious because I didn't know what was happening, but I calmed myself and thought, ‘This special moment is for me.  I can create what happens next here.’  It was the compassion software we all come bundled with kicking in.  I thought about how my older sister engaged my mother when she was being impossible, and I knew then what I had to do.  I looked up into Joel's face and said, ‘Want to play night tag with us tonight?’  He jerked his head to the side, then slowly he turned to me and said, ‘Sure. I'll be there.’  And you know what?  He DID play with us kids that night - and several other nights more that summer.

As you can perhaps imagine, I thought a lot about my moment with Joel. I've thought a lot about it since.  Then, riding home in the car after church one Sunday (mother is Danish-American, so we were raised Lutheran; Dad's from Mississippi and he was Methodist), I asked my father to explain what Pastor Hanson meant when he said G_d is omnipotent and omnipresent. (My father was a construction lineman, a journeyman who worked away from home weeks at a time, so when he came home, I never wanted to leave him, and insisted on being in the church’s sanctuary with him on Sunday instead of nursery school.) Dad said, ‘All powerful and everywhere.’  That was when I realized my 'moment' with Joel had been a moment with G_d. What's more powerful than that which can stop violence, even wars, like the desire for and creation of peace?  That was also the moment I realized that G_d is not - G_d cannot be - an entity of any type.  Entities, like all objects, have space/time limitations.  They can’t be omnipresent, or omnipotent.

Naturally, there are other things I've realized in the intervening 43 years since my encounter with Joel about G_d, such as the fact G_d doesn't just change from Old Testament to New, or even the G_d of Abraham to the G_d of Issac and then back to the G_d of King David.  People have been changing G_d almost since the moment Moses introduced G_d to us:  remember what happened to that first draft of the first top 10 list in history?  Moses destroyed it when he found his followers had reverted to idol worship when he was grooving on Mt. Sinai.  I'm convinced that even after 40 years of trying to get their act together, they STILL were idol worshippers (though their new idol was a man-like being), and Moses gave up trying to get them to worship the G_d that is.  That's why he didn't follow them into Canaan, telling them that G_d wouldn't let him (even if God may have).

I hope this answers your question about why I believe in G_d.  Is it orthodoxy?  Certainly not.  But your love for Jesus will no doubt enable you to appreciate that I arrived at these cherished beliefs by doing as he bade us in the sermon on the mount (and on the hill, and many other places, I'm sure):  I have loved G_d with all my heart, mind, and strength to gain this understanding of G_d, as often as I can, except during (sometimes lengthy) crises in faith - in my writing, my cooking, my work, my relationships, among people I encounter - wherever I can create goodness.  Am I perfect?  Certainly not. Perfection is not what it's about - just better than I was a moment ago, hopefully, in this new moment we call 'now,' where G_d, as Moses told us in Exodus 3:13-14, 'is.'

Happy Christmas!”

It was about 8:30 in the morning when I wrote it, so I was a bit bleary-eyed and, as I’ve said, I’ve cleaned it up slightly.   The blog’s had hundreds of hits since I posted it, so I guess it gets where I wanted it to go even though I would have elucidated a few other points as well if I had known that I had the space to do so.  Here, for your contemplation, they are.

Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon.

I can hear it now:  “You can’t sit around, meditating all day and hoping for an ecstatic experience and the kind of enlightenment you had as a five year-old.  Life has to be lived.”  “Too true,” say I.  And then, “Thank heavens, I don’t have to!” And neither do you.

I was a pretty ordinary little five year-old when I had my moment of G_d with Joel – hanging out in the street, playing.  Just playing.  And the fairly typical five year-old experience happened to me – older kid bullied me.  Nothing special about the event at all – except the intensity of my awareness of it, and my subsequent fearless willingness to engage in that awareness.  The payoff?  Activating this little-used awareness “muscle” brought me to that (for lack of a more concise word) transcendent moment, that moment of ecstatic mystery.  Some part of me recognized that I was being led to a ‘space’ in which I could find the answer I then needed.  I call that part of me my soul, or spirit.  It’s the key that unlocks the gnosis, wherever that gnosis may ‘be’ – within my memory of past lives, within the collective subconscious, within both (or are they the same?).  Joel and I couldn’t have faced each other, eye to eye (or, really, eye to knee), for more than a minute, but in all honesty, I felt as though I might as well have been in my jammies, dallying with my toothbrush in the bathroom, reluctantly getting ready for bed while someone nagged me to hurry up.  I was just taking my own, sweet time, waiting for my answer, waiting to be shown what to do.

These are the things I've deduced in the 43 years since my moment of G_d:  (1) this experience of what is ordinarily beyond my perception was as 'real' as any other I've ever had, from the mundane experience of handling a toothbrush to clean my teeth to the more expanded perception of being able to appreciate a line of poetry or another great work of art beyond being merely cognitively assaulted or titillated by it in some way; (2) the full knowledge that this moment was a moment that would change the course of our lives - was the genesis of the alternate 'reality,' or one of the string 'tunnels' interwoven among the parallel universes that quantum mechanics tells us exist, if you prefer - was palpable. I sensed it, it was outside my normal perceptions but there nevertheless; (3) ergo, the fact of this type of human experience existing is just that - a fact - and this existence is a prioi; (4) it takes a skepticism of one's perceptions to be able to engage in this type of encounter with the infinite, the humility we are so much exhorted to in scripture that pietists mangle into some type of abusive self-loathing; (5) goodness comes from engagement with G_d. For me, it was peace. For an artist, it is not only the 'product' of the creative process - whether it is a moving sculpture in dance harmonized with another work of art, or a mind-bending short story (Flannery O'Connor had A LOT to say about encountering G_d through writing, and the belle of gore is probably the LAST person one would think would be able to effectively do so, but she certainly did in her many treatises on writing) - but the actual creative process itself; (6) theologians call this experience the 'hand of [God]' reaching out to us in revelation. Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked of this hand.  Though I am fairly certain he conceived of G_d as a finite being for most of his life,  he certainly had the opportunity - in fact, he made the opportunity often - to understand others' conceptions of G_d, most likely even this type of one, which many native American tribes hold. I base this opinion on the fact he wrote Act and Being.  It's entirely possible he read Martin Buber's 1923 treatise, I and Thou (Ich und Du).  Bonhoeffer was clearly thinking about 'metaphysical' issues. I maintain it's high time we start calling them supraphysical issues.

I’ve heard sculptors, woodworkers and jewelers speak about being led as they worked with awareness to liberate from their material the art within.  Your ‘material’ may be something completely different – the language of math, or, like my five year-old self’s, violence. Biography channel did a fantastic two-hour documentary on Jimi Hendrix that finally showcased Jimi’s thoughts on his creations, such as Purple Haze, and the experience of engagement with creation that gave us – well – The Experience, and the song Are You Experienced?  Some people call G_d source; Jimi called G_d ‘experience.’   And if you’ve ever seen clips of Jimi in concert, you cannot fail to recognize that he had soul - and that he knew how to use it.  You sort of expect a guy who gets what sacrifice is about enough to light is favorite guitar on fire on stage as an offering to have an old soul, but I’ve been a Hendrix fan since I was 15 and I have to tell you, I was deeply moved and incredibly impressed with his ability to express his thoughts about ‘experience.’ (Duh.  What else should we expect from a genius?)  And I’m not doing them justice here; if you have the chance to see the program, do.  Spoiler alert - Sorry, all you psychedelic/acid blues rock haters out there; Jimi wasn’t trippin’ when he wrote Purple Haze; he had just read a sci-fi novel that featured a monster made of purple miasma.

My point is this:  you don’t have to groove on a mountaintop, or in a church sanctuary to find, or to know, G_d.  You don’t even have to be a rock legend to know G_d.  G_d is.  In fact, the guy who’s birthday we are celebrating at this time of year told us, in his words and his deeds, that G_d could not be known but through all of our deeds because ‘the kingdom of G_d is at hand.’  The degree to which we experience G_d is the degree to which we allow ourselves to be aware of G_d.  Louisa May Alcott, author of the Christmas classic, Little Women, said of her experience of G_d, “I had an early run in the woods before the dew was off the grass.  The moss was like velvet, and as I ran under the arches of yellow and red leaves I sang for joy, my heart was so bright and the world so beautiful.  I stopped at the end of the walk and saw the sunshine out over the wide meadows.  It seemed like going through a dark life or grave into heaven beyond.  A very strange and solemn feeling came over me as I stood there, with no sound but the rustle of the pines, no one near me, and the sun so glorious, as for me alone.  It seemed as if I felt [God], and I prayed in my heart that I might keep that happy sense of nearness all my life.”  For Louisa, it was when she ran in the woods around Walden Pond and marveled at creation that she felt nearest the source of creation, when she had one of her ecstatic experiences; who knows when, where or how many others she had, but I can guarantee you they certainly happened when she wrote.  She writes further, “. . . for I most sincerely think the little girl got religion that day when dear mother Nature led her to [God].”

From G_d, goodness comes.  That’s G_d’s chief feature.  In Alcott’s case, we have her immense oeurvre of not only novels for girls and boys but also her gothic horror tales – not, perhaps, acceptable reading material for fundamentalists of the day, but certainly an enjoyable entertainment for thousands of individuals and families in a time before radio, TV, and internet.  She understood the power of creation.  And isn’t this force that which is described in the Judeo-Christian creation myth, the one we are told begets goodness?  This story gives us the first morality lesson in scripture; it’s the first place we see a moral qualifier, the word (translated into English), “good.”  “And G_d ‘saw’ that it [creation] was good.”  Sure – Moses may have personified G_d in this story to give us a retrospective sense so that we could vicariously reflect on the process that gave us this goodness, but he only did it because we cannot perceive all, all the time, and can only conceive of a process retrospectively.  That’s a literary device for which I can forgive Moses because he equivocates in much of the rest of his writing on the personal god, as we see him doing in Exodus 3:13-14 (‘Who should I tell my people have sent them?’ ‘Tell them, I AM THAT I AM hath commanded you.’).  I’ve said it before, and I’ll remind readers again:  G_d is not a Billy Mays-like pitchman in the opening passages of Genesis, who introduces us to his ‘products’ so we can ‘buy’ them.  G_d is.  It’s worth noting that these first monotheists were a group of people who lived in a society that worshipped entities, and Moses knew, just as the Catholic Church a thousand years later would learn when it converted paganism into Christianity, that gods evolve.  ‘Almighty’ G_d in this community was too great a leap for most people to understand, and evidence suggests it’s still a tall order.  There are still plenty of people in the world today that believe G_d is an entity – usually, a capricious and vindictive, old man in the sky – and that’s why Jesus told us that one – and the very first – of the only two commandments we have to observe is to love G_d by using all our mind (cogitation), heart (will) and strength (assiduity), whether we are five, or fifty-five, or 105 years-old. That means, seek G_d everywhere, all the time (because G_d is). People who accept uncritically the beliefs of others – their parents, their church or temple leaders, their cliques – aren’t doing this.   They’re missing out on the dynamism that characterizes the G_d that is, the "one, true" G_d (sorry if this offends you; there's only one infinite).  In this arrogant state, where we just assume that we don’t have to make an effort to ‘know’ G_d, is it any wonder there are large groups of people who deny the existence of G_d fighting with those that say G_d is an entity?  That’s where arrogance gets you – really far away from G_d.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  We don’t have to fight over G_d, or anything else.  We can change our disposition toward G_d.  All we have to do is to keep one thing in mind: we have to make the effort.  We have to love G_d with all our mind, heart and strength.  And to do that, we have to admit that we don’t know G_d; we don’t have the answers to G_d; we have to mindfully open ourselves up to G_d right here, right now.  We have to be humble.

The humility with which we are exhorted to conduct ourselves in sacred texts has nothing to do with religious observance, or any type of saintly behavior.  This is the type of humility to which scripture alludes:  an ongoing awareness that our mere perceptions cannot give us true knowledge about G_d.  Not our cogitations about G_d.  Not our conversations about G_d.  And certainly, all attempts to craft the perception of one’s saintly character through obsessive religious devotion will result in a false piety that has absolutely nothing to do with the type of humility with which we are charged in scripture to behave.  These admonitions are less against unsaintly behavior than they are practical instructions on how to allow your soul to engage the infinite; less prescriptive and more descriptive.  It’s not a plan, this humility, but an awakened sense of acceptance and expectancy.  And this is what we’re admonished to accept:  that our ability to perceive G_d is going to be restricted because we, ourselves, have space and time limitations (not to mention, mind and personality limitations), and G_d is infinite and does not because (all together now) G_d is. When we run around arguing with others that the god entity does exist, or doesn’t exist, we’re supremely deluded by our limited perceptions, and these admonitions are the reason we are exhorted in Judeo-Christian scripture to be humble – to accept that we have limitations which preclude our total knowledge all the time of G_d.  Now, my father assured me that when he died on the operating table during heart surgery, he saw ‘the old man,’ and I have no doubt he encountered beings in spirit form that were powerfully loving in that realm.  But I am extremely dubious that any one of these spirits was God since the man recounting this tale has never questioned the prejudices about the Almighty that he was given; he’s never abided by that first commandment Jesus gave us, and I can assure you that when a 60-something year-old man who’s never tried to know G_d as Jesus told us we should try dies, that’s not the time he’s going to suddenly know G_d.  G_d is.  Right here.  Right now.  G_d is not ‘transcendent,’ or other-wordly.  G_d (say it with me one more time) IS.  When you accept that you can’t commune with G_d constantly and you must, therefore, dispose yourself to do so, it becomes much easier to ‘know’ G_d and to choose to know G_d whenever you have the chance: opening the door for someone who needs it; writing a poem; making your employees’ lives better.  The way to know G_d is everywhere our actions create a better life because G_d is. That’s what those admonitions to be humble are about.

You don’t have to be Jimi, or Jesus to know G_d.  Go for a run and stop to marvel at nature and you, too, like Louisa May Alcott, will get some sense of G_d, and if some sense is all you can have in a given moment, isn’t it still better than none?  Isn’t it enough?  Artists throughout time have said, ‘yes’ with their creations, and when you create goodness, you have an opportunity to know G_d even more, perhaps even to an ecstatic degree.  You can beat the limitations of most of your time/space and other restrictions, even if for only ‘moments’ at a time – because (well, you know).  So that’s enough about why and how to avail yourself of G_d.

What else? Ah – the negative covenant.

The only way you can be sure you’ll never experience G_d is by exercising your will over others and treating them not as individuals with the capacity for this subjective experience of G_d, but merely as objects for your use; merely as consumers to sell your wares to; the trophy wife or husband; as your most handsomely paid CEOS who run your companies regardless of the devastating “externalities” that pollute, maim and kill; as serfs you recruit into your military to kill for you, certainly – all of which requires you objectify yourself, too, as the bastard boss, or user spouse, or exploitative corporate board.  Exercising one’s ego - because ego is self-objectification – and treating life as a game in which you have to be the winner at all costs, including the cost of life to others you subjugate to your will, ain’t gonna get you knowledge of G_d, or put you anywhere near the neighborhood of the kingdom of G_d.  Though Jimi trained as a 101st Airborne, he understood this, too.  He was about as unconcerned with his image and the impact of his music, or the money he could make from it, as any sage could be; he was universally regarded among his peers as incredibly humble, this inventor of entire genre of music, the greatest electric guitarist in history.  On the other hand, the Bush dynasty/regime and G_d? Ah – no.  Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the regime’s propagandists, both right and pseudo-left (because there is no left, left)?  Again - no.  Don’t be ridiculous.  You can’t approach people with any kind of agenda and expect to experience G_d with them.  Not how it works.  And you don’t have to be a bastard boss; you could be your bastard boss’s victim and quash any chance of knowing G_d with him or her because of your expectations s/he will mistreat you.  Stop worrying about what may never be.  The last line of the Sermon on the Mount, remember, is, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil therein.”  Live in the moment.  But if your problem happens to be that you’re the bastard boss, can you ever expect to completely escape ego? Of course not.  (Sorry you young Buddhists; the middle way is the way.)  All we can do is stop it from getting out of hand, even if we’re the victim of a bastard boss, and stop seeing others, or ourselves, as mere objects.  That takes grace.  Accepting our objectivity when we must, but also not relinquishing our, or denigrating others’, subjectivity.  We don’t have to pimp our misery on 16 and Pregnant any more than we have to vote others off our islands.  Reality and truth are two different things, people, and you’re not going to find the most fulfilling type of human experience clamoring after (or participating in) ‘reality’ shows. (That’s the reason scripture advises modesty.)  Stop objectifying yourselves and one another.  Start experiencing your subjectivity to its fullest.  And accord others the right to do so.   Groove on – whenever, wherever, however.  Could the Bush dynasty/regime know G_d?  Certainly.  Because (are you tired of saying it, yet?) G_d is.  But I see a lot of solemn runs in the woods for each of them individually, a lot of packs of crayons, maybe a kazoo or two, some quadratic equations, ENDLESS community service in their futures, if they ever have a hope in this hell they’ve made for the rest of us of doing so.  Now there's something to pray for.

Reconciliation.

I blanch when I re-read the messages I exchanged with Davidson Loehr earlier this year, after I found his November, 2004, essay on fascism on the web.  I had asked him what, if anything, he would change in it, and he was kind enough to reply that he would change one or two materially insignificant things about it, but not much else.  It's a comprehensive, concise and accurate essay that I strongly encourage you to read, but I was angry with him when I received his reply.  It's conclusion offers ways of resisting American fascism, but nothing about helping the what is estimated to be the already millions of victims of it.  I thought, “Anyone who’s writing an essay about American fascism ought to be willing to write about the actual experiences of its victims.” But, of course, this was misplaced anger.  I had been rebuffed by a talking head who publishes prolifically on the subject of American fascism, and when Loehr said he originally intended on publishing his essay without the hopeful ending consisting of these suggestions which it now contains, I exploded.  There are those of us out here for who American fascism is a fact - not a theory, or supposition, or possibility - and our stories need to be told as much as we need to tell them (guess why).  For more than 20 years I’ve had to hear from people who’ve reified my body with hideous bioweapons research to hope for a better tomorrow, so I’m a bit dubious of the peddlers of hope.  I want G_d with them now, not tomorrow.  I don’t want to be objectified for their profit, or convenience, or comfort.  I don’t want to be anyone’s cash cow, or object of pity.  Not today.  I could be dead, after all, tomorrow; today is all I have.  But then I realized this covert war that Bush promised us would last in perpetuity is just that – covert – and if it were readily possible for those in positions to do something about it to see that there is a need for them to, it wouldn’t be covert.  Duh.  Likewise, I have always felt I have a right to expect G_d experience with other human beings; it’s what I try to give them – at least, most of the time – even though, cognitively, I know now that not everyone is in the same place on his or her journey to know G_d that I’m in.  This is where a runaway ego gets you, folks – a loss of integrity where you can’t walk your talk.  I never heard from Loehr again (surprise, surprise), and I’m certain I’ve alienated a potential ally.  So go carefully, my friends.  You’ll regret not having done so, and who needs to live with regret and the knowledge you’ve caused another pain?  The knowledge you put not goodness into the world, but more evil that has to be ameliorated?  Go carefully.  If you think you’re the bomb because you put food on your table by pretending to be Jack Bauer, informing on and terrorizing your fellow law-abiding citizens, or propagandizing for the fascists in control of our country, in the covert war against us liberals, you need to make a U turn because you’re only doing evil on behalf of those whose single-minded goal in life is the persecution and subjugation of us all, and you’re never going to know G_d doing so - not ever.  Not asking you to be a saint; a saint is not what you have to be; every “moment” is a potential moment for you to engage G_d: smiling at the barista at Starbucks and creating a pleasant encounter therefrom; watering your ficus and enabling its growth; composing and/or playing a piece of music; crafting a work of art (even a Haiku qualifies); working out a math problem; turning a confrontation into a moment of peace.  It’s all good – and all G_d.  Just asking you not be a menace that helps create hell here.  Go carefully, my friends.  Go carefully.  Be a blessing, not a curse.  Do as Hannah Arendt suggested when she said, "Most people never decide to be good, or bad," in The Banality of Evil - choose to do good and to not do evil.

Where Are We Now?

I’m just a middle-aged, menopausal, chronically ill, unemployed target of the US government’s covert war against liberals who actually oppose its imperialism, and if you don’t want to take my advice, you don’t have to.  But you should know that others besides Moses, Jesus, Jimi, Louisa and I have experienced G_d – many, many, many others all over the world, in every culture and every period of recorded history, and then some.  If the only person you will esteem with your trust on the subject of G_d is a white man, then I encourage you to read Martin Buber’s I and Thou, which expounds much more poetically than I have on the “is-ness” nature of G_d.  But if the only thing you do after reading this essay is one thing, I pray that it be that you understand that G_d is.

Next week’s post, my final of the year, will be like that most popular of hairstyles in the American south, the mullet – business in the front, party in the back.  You won’t want to miss it.  Happy Christmas, everyone – and may every moment of your holiday and new year find you in the kingdom of G_d.