Wednesday, November 3, 2010
The Obliterating Arc of Hope and Optimism in Suicidal Tiimes
"Tell me about despair, yours. I will tell you about mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on." [Mary Oliver, from "Wild Geese"]
It was a strange weekend of ghoulish, pre-election mayhem, Halloween weirdness (those Tea Partiers, for instance, who seem to like wearing costumes all year round), and Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity." "We are in hard times," Stewart told the huge crowd, "not end times."
Instead of trick-or-treating with my neighbors up the road on Sunday, I stayed home and watched 60 Minutes, which turned out to be a program about American towns in which people have tragically lost businesses and jobs. It was very painful to witness. I have already seen quite a bit of this kind of media coverage across the country, where people can't stop crying, including the men. Parents, who can't afford to put food on the table or send their kids to college. So many folks in tears, while three billion dollars were being lavished, nay, squandered, on election attack ads. I found myself sitting alone and wondering, has the human race always been this way? Is this just how things are--and meanwhile the world goes on?
Thinking, too, about my last blog, I wondered if, way down deep, we are more Jim Crow than Desmond Tutu? How do Tutu and the Dalai Lama manage to chuckle over human foibles and frailty? Personally I have always shied away from eternal optimism, as if it were less a sign of enlightenment than some sort of protective sheen. It grates on me--which is why I decided to ask some friends what they thought in an email. I asked them about Desmond Tutu's statement, quoted in my last blog, that "the texture of our universe is one where there is no question at all but that good and laughter and justice will prevail...[and that] the perpetrators of injustice or oppression... will bite the dust." I asked point-blank: Has Desmond Tutu discovered the culminating secret of the universe? Or is he just singin' in the rain? Do you think the human spirit will ultimately prevail? Or are we, as Derrick Jensen says, fucked? I definitely got answers, many more than I expected, as follows:
I like [Tutu's] frame of mind. It’s a good meme to live by. Do I think it’s true? Well, Evolution works in strange ways, so it is hard, if not impossible, to know the outcome of the Evolutionary process. But Tutu’s optimism is undoubtedly grounded in his belief in God, and a God that will ultimately prevail in seeing to it that “the meek will inherit the Earth”. I don’t believe in such a God, but I do concur, with Tutu, in that I think those that live by greed, war, etc., will self-destruct; but I also believe they will take a lot of the “innocent” with them, as they are already doing. Still, I wish to believe that living a life of compassion and wisdom will ultimately assure our survival, over the oppression/violence/exploitation option. And of course, a giant meteor hitting the Earth could make all of this irrelevant. [Kirk Ballin, a friend in Roanoke, VA]
About Tutu...today I am starting out as an optimist. In an email to some last night, I was not...I said, “Unfortunately my Halloween costume is not that of an optimist!” Today I think just maybe he could be right...and how else to make it a true prophecy than to join in as many people in such a proclamation. Seeing Dachau recently oddly filled me with a strange pairing of disbelief/horror and hope. [Hank Foreman, a friend in Boone, NC]
Hmmmm, I wonder which direction I’ll go with this. Maybe singing in the rain is the secret of the universe? Yeah, I like that. I have some issues with “faith” as I perceive it to be espoused by mainstream religions but I do have faith “that good and laughter and justice will prevail”. I have to believe this at my core because if I can’t see the world this way then it might not exist, if nobody sees the world this way then I’m sure it won’t exist. Well said Mister Tutu. [Paul Zenner, a friend in Blacksburg]
I think what Desmond Tutu means is no one gets to leave alive. We are all heading in the same direction no matter what our plans are or how we live. Does he know more of what the next chapter will be? I do not know. When you step back and see how we repeat the same patterns over and over again from the beginings of civilization to the present, it starts to make us look pretty silly: what, another war, more stealing and cheating, more bad behavior? Ego and control out of hand again. I believe that there are enough of us who are aware so that we can make a shift and change. [Fern Shaffer, a friend in Chicago]
I don't know that the human race "has always been this way." We have created violence toward each other in every century of our known history: most agree that the 20th century was the most violent! As our human population doubles and quadruples in the 21st century, as oceans rise, polar ice and glaciers melt, forests diminish, fossil fuel runs out, clean water becomes increasingly polluted, arable land is covered in highways and cities, it seems inevitable that the competition for food and shelter can only intensify. The human spirit will prevail as hope is our only option. Whether our species does is another question. I think as long as we are in the limbic ancient parts of our brain arguing about whose God is the only God; denying the science of Gaia, we are ultimately doomed. The last 60 years have been about trying to "wake up" and we are no less ignorant, perhaps more ignorant due to fear now, than we were then. [Ciel Bergman, a friend in Santa Fe]
I went to the rally in Washington. It all went well and there certainly was a good vibe. Some ladies from New York felt that it should have had more political clout and that there should have been more Sarah-bashing. I think that it did show up the liberals as not aggressive.
I do hate all the money being spent on negative campaign ads. I try not to feel too deeply about all the injustices happening in the world and set little time aside to think about it, it is selfish but that is the only way I can prevail. I try to invite as much joy into my life as I can because I have to get thru it.
I did not buy any candy this year, did not want any corn syrup candy in the house because I knew I would be tempted to eat it. As I usually get a lot of really cute trick-or-treaters here, I decided to go see The Social Network. Did not feel like hiding in my own house. So, went off to the movies by myself and ended up being the only one in the theatre. Which is ok, except that three quarters thru the movie a commotion. Some of the employees thought that somebody had put this fake person in the seat, which happened to be me, and they came to investigate and when I moved, every one got a fright. [Renet Schuld, a friend in Roanoke]
The times are uneasy and there is the stench of hunters approaching, but I will not be quiet any more than you, and perhaps, at last, the proverb about pearls before swine is a lesson not in beauty but in force. Pearls, besides being beautiful, are too small. We need big heavy insulting baseball-hard BLOWS of truth with which to wallop the brutes on the temple, to scare them away. So I propose we keep blogging, keep painting, and keep loving each other...So I say, glory in our difference from these brutes. Show no fear, sally forth with swishes and fangs, and scare the hell out of the hunters until they run back to their same old retreats. Now may not be the time for dialogue but only for some distance between the two irreconcilable species. [Jane Vance, a friend in Blacksburg]
A wise teacher once said to me “one of the secrets to a happy and good life is to ”forgive yourself and everyone else immediately.” I have kept on believing that putting out into the world visions of love and compassion is vital, and I must stay with this vision of the sacredness of all humans. Due to the suffering all around us and the inequities we see every day, keeping to Tutu’s vision is much more important now then ever before. Every act of generosity and love helps. [Beth Swartz, a friend in Scottsdale, AZ]
The history of civilization is the history of crime.—P. D. Ouspensky. Laughter makes the world bearable, so I’m with the archbishop on this point. His belief that justice triumphs after a long struggle is an assertion of faith, not fact. Gurdjieff would call this “self-calming.” Good and evil are qualities we attribute to the world based upon our entirely subjective impressions of it. The world simply is. The responsible life is in the struggle to act toward the world and toward others with charity and compassion and understanding, without the expectation of reward or of an outcome to our liking. Life is in the living and not in the goal. [Bob Walker, a friend in Blacksburg]
We're fucked. [Bill Rutherfoord, a friend in Roanoke. This comment arrived on my computer early this morning, after last night's election.]
There are more comments, which will be in the next blog. Feel free, meanwhile, if you haven't already, to send me your thoughts. The sculpture in the illustration is by Meredith Bergmann.