I have mentioned many times that I love a lot of people who would really hate each other. Because of this, I understand very clearly that no team on earth is being completely fair, honest or truthful about their description of whoever they think is their greatest opponent. Instead, we now insist on defining others, in ways which provide emotional satisfaction to ourselves – mostly in the form of flattering our rage. Very sad and wasteful stuff, not just a damn shame for human relations, friendships, families, love trust and honour, but also a real insult to truth and integrity.
It’s actually even stranger than that though – because for the most part, the really passionate groupings which like to call themselves political now, are also completely wrong about who and what really is their greatest challenge. And they seem quite determined to stay wrong, again, in order to serve entirely negative emotional purposes.
Are ‘the Jews’ screwing the blacks, as Ye insists in his ever more obviously imbalanced manic tirades? Nope. Some Jews screw blacks over, some help them plenty, and most have other things to do with their time – because there is no such thing as “The Jews” that’s a construct designed to obscure real humanity and wide and wonderful variation. Thing is – exactly the same goes for white people. Simple as. (OMG the ‘new righteous definitions’ of whiteness and blackness are beyond horrible for both supposed teams – and also emotionally simplify many other people right out of existence).
Likewise (and yes of course I am sorry to wade into this sky high cow-pie) I have never met anyone who conforms well to the new definition of cisgender – and the assertion that any form of feminism which does not concern itself with people born male is evil, is bonkers (outright dickish, in fact). Humans are not abstracted rigid theoretical categories or logical types, and all of the hysterical attempts to insist that such categories are more important than real and always contradictory and highly complex people, inevitably take us in a dehumanizing (which means incredibly dangerous) direction. We simply could not be acting like this if we still understood the basics of compassion, principle, psychology, history and humanism. Even if the mob is sometimes right (rare enough) it does not ever MAKE right.
But now, rather than getting bogged down in these great lines of super-popular false contention, I want to go right past them to get PRACTICAL.
What are we trying for? What tools are we using? How often do we check if our plan is working? What can we learn from other tryers?
I don’t want to be a bastard here, but at this highly stressed moment, I think most of us have been so spun-around that we are actually mostly looking for who we can be mad at, so that we can explain our deep unease and fear in simple, far less emotionally terrifying terms.
I know, I know – what could be scarier than x? (you can fill-in the blank here – the Armageddon buffet is so well stocked these days, I’d hate to leave out your favourite flavour of doom). Simple, what is scarier than ANY x is not knowing. Not having an answer or a clear enemy. Mystery is as scary as it gets for us humans (and if you don’t believe me, ask someone with a serious illness and an incomplete diagnosis).
BUT – even though this means it is perfectly understandable that we would seek a comforting simplifying explanation for our stress – we are all in serious danger of forgetting that down this path we stay stressed forever – unhappy and almost completely powerless, too.
It seems to me that a very big error entered our thinking a long time ago, and we’re still struggling to separate this damage, from many positive changes which seemed to come along around the same time. An error along the lines of confusing explanations like that, for why weakness or fault is understandable, with justifications, which has lead us into decades of wrong-headed rationalizations for unhelpful behaviour, ever since.
The explosion of personal freedom of expression in the sixties and seventies – which was very much continued and expanded in the eighties and nineties – though under ever tighter economic circumstances for the working class and poor especially – is so compelling an approach to life that the general idea of it has become a part of middle class aspiration for many millions around the world.
Defining yourself, instead of being defined by family, society, bosses or priests who do not seem to really understand you, is all about allowing your own unique qualities to have the kind of full expression that no one else but you, can even understand is there in potential.
The thing is – this isn’t actually easy stuff – not at all. You have to have a plan, and you also need serious relentless self-belief, to be not only the person who can do something – but also their coach, their agent, their housekeeper, their bookkeeper – etc. In a screwy way, it is almost the creatives version of the high pressure entrepreneurial mindset. GO GO GO! Because no matter what unique creation we might want to contribute, we can never ignore the fact that there are eight billion other uniques out there, with no less right to their own stage time and self realization.
I have seen a lot of people on personal quests which they thought were heroic, who were actually forcing others – people to whom they had what should have been unbreakable duty – to make their sacrifices for them. Self belief can easily become toxic, when it overwhelms things like honour and love in our lives. I am pretty sure this is why modern industrial capitalism loves this model of self understanding – marketing to the selfish obsessive is EASY.
Weirder still, even though so many feel they crave it – very few of us are actually suited to living like this in every phase of our lives. What’s more, millions of other good people do not even seek it – because they are at their happiest when they have an honourable well-defined (what some might smugly call conformist) lifestyle option, which involves contributing in established understood ways, and earning respect by pleasing the community with genuine contributions of value. This is bedrock stuff and still of great value to us all, even if it does not get the respect it once did.
The spirit of unfettered individuality which has risen so widely and proudly does not get along that well with the spirit of tradition and community. We don’t like to talk about this much, but this is one of those genuine social tensions, which a lot of passionate huckster misdirection takes advantage of.
But both of these modes are absolutely necessary – and I mean for absolutely everyone. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to have to wait for inspiration to strike before they could begin, and then always try to come up with a completely unique and individual surgical technique, every time out. That kind of approach is what you want to see at a concert, or a great comedy or improv show. You want your surgeon to conform absolutely to best practises.
Individualists rely on traditionalists for crucial life-sustaining services and reliability throughout their lives, but they also create a ton of economic and artistic activity by turning over the soil and trying new hybrids, to see what might grow well in the climate of any given cultural moment.
You have to be a special kind of modern crazy person to think that one is simply good and the other evil. But most of us do, in one form or another.
And to be fair, large numbers of people have been this foolish for at least century now (READ Ortega Y Gasset for proof – it’s a mind blower!). Once basic survival needs are met, people begin to explore second order problems, and delve into their complexity. But when we concentrate too hard on what we feel and want, we can all too easily forget that many in the world still lack basic survival stuff like clean water, power and sanitation.
This is hugely simplifying – but in a way, the twenties thirties and forties were about the poor in the industrialized nations organizing and pushing many workers up into a broad middle class – because the middle classes of the time felt precarious, and their sympathies were with the poor, not the owners.
I’ve done a few pieces recently about the history in between, but let me bookend that solidarity with the poor feeling, with something which shocked many at the time, but is now so much an accomplished fact that we don’t even question it anymore.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher did indeed make changes to tax codes in particular, which favoured speculative investors, and put both workers and also old-school productive capitalists at a disadvantage. But if we stop there, we are missing their slickest and perhaps most damaging trick.
What they achieved politically was to flip the sympathy of the middle class, by in-effect, dangling lottery tickets to the new speculative capitalism in front of them. From that time to this, the middle class has stopped being the dependable allies of workers and seeing them as the part of their family which is trying hard, but hasn’t yet got the break they need, to make it. Instead, they now see themselves as rich people who haven’t quite made it yet, and the working class and poor as heads that must be stepped on, for them to keep or hopefully enhance, their own already advantageous position.
The word privilege belongs here quite solidly – because this attaches to sustained material advantage, which seeks to perpetuate that advantage at the expense of others. But we should note, though this key group of steady hard workers who so often carry the balance of social aspiration still skews somewhat white, it is really chaotic, and large numbers of people who were born elsewhere and taught to be more focussed dedicated and hungry than we usually teach our kids to be, also do extraordinarily well in this social class.
I mentioned recently that Nietzsche said “god is dead” many years before, but it was popular writers like W Somerset Maugham who sent millions into new questions and questing. Likewise, I can’t help thinking that there was a clear and frightening foreshadowing of this celebratory shift in middle class sympathies in the still debated (and mostly obscured) tumult of the anti Vietnam war protest era.
A whole lot of free thinking individualists with the money for higher education or other deferments, ended up denouncing a whole lot of honourable traditionalist folks who were sure they were pitching in for community, and felt profoundly betrayed when they came home to find themselves regarded with active and seething contempt.
Taking the components apart one step further than we usually do – the war really was a disaster and a tragedy for all concerned. Being upset and angry about the war was entirely understandable. So was the extra emotional edge added when we feel helpless, against forces which are incomparably more powerful than us – literally demonstrably and unapologetically lethal.
But the people who were drafted and SERVED never came up with the idea that America has the right to tell other people how to run their country, and they sure as heck never designed a plan which would end up killing millions of Vietnamese civilians, to punish them for disobeying American oligarchs with delusions of godhood. That was all about the super powerful lying to both the middle and working class – and to both the aspirational individualists, and also the faithful traditionalists. Of course, they needed two major sets of lies, one to effectively pacify each – BY SATISFYING AND DIRECTING THEIR FEAR AND ANGER AT THE OTHER – which of course also meant sustaining that anger indefinitely, and in the process enshrining the division between the individualist middle and the loyal working classes, permanently. (When you wonder – WTF happened to the dems?)
This same screwy game maps rather well onto a personal bugaboo of mine – the extent to which the boomers went too far, and our failure to notice this and repudiate it, has meant many harmful social games based upon the ego-overshoot still persist, long after the evidence of their harm is clear.
In a funny way, by becoming the largest richest middle class in all of history (and not incidentally, the first generation raised with television based mass marketing), they became the greatest marks ever seen, for that con job about identification. With the combination of extreme individuality and extreme self-belief, the idea that they were ripped-off rich people, instead of lucky poor people, was immensely appealing, even more so when combined with the idea that they earned every advantage by personal merit, none by luck.
As soon as advantage is won always by merit (or as soon as we begin to believe this widely) the converse becomes true by default – poor people just aren’t trying hard enough – therefore they deserve it – therefore screw them. Reagan didn’t win because those sixties individualists all stayed home, he captured large numbers of them from their former home in the Democratic party, just by promising them more personal advantage.
The really messed-up thing is that if you talk to most boomers, they STILL haven’t noticed that the economic circumstances they encountered in their early and mid career weren’t normal at all. Not only was economic activity boosted by post war reconstruction and infrastructure expansion, the sheer size of that baby boom from which they got their name, has created markets around them, to suit (and bilk) every new stage of their life. Nobody else has seen a sustained surge of prosperity since the mid seventies – except for the super wealthy, who have done fabulously well.
But of course – it has to be a complete coincidence that when the middle class began to see themselves as hard done to, instead of fortunate – and began to identify with the wealthy not the poor – the wealthy began to rake it in, and the poor suffer more and more loss of work, dignity and even housing.
As our active gratitude was diminished and our egos boosted (freedom as inebriant?), we found whole new ways to overcome our own compassion.
Which leads me to another subject where absolutely everyone is wrong, because they oversimplify – immigration. When a government says they want to bring in a half a million new citizens a year, starting in less than two years, they must also say they will construct three quarters of a million units of housing before that time – or else the unambiguous unsaid part of that statement is SCREW THE HOMELESS – LET THEM FREEZE.
People who are starting out in a new place usually start out with the basics, the cheapest place they can find and whatever work is open to those without local degrees and qualifications. They aren’t competing for middle class jobs and housing, most live and work first with the poor and working class.
Historically, the left has always understood this. Capitalism likes to keep wages low and job insecurity high, and so to serve the working class and not just the corporate masters, you need to make sure you have surplus economic activity (jobs), housing and all other necessary infrastructure growing, so newcomers can be welcomed friends right away, instead of becoming, through absolutely no fault of their own, the sacrificial pawns of the wealthy, in their long and vicious game of screw the poor.
A lot of immigrants move out of this basic economic phase in a few years, a lot of locals do not. That isn’t about anyone being better or worse – just as I was saying before – there is not one ideal type of perfect human, but rather tons of different ways to live a life which contribute to life for all of us.
Amongst other things I’ve been a soda jerk, a dishwasher, a salesman, a courier, a repairman, a school librarian, a trade school teacher and even an art model. I took a lot of pride in trying my best to do all of these jobs well, the simple ones just as much as the fancy ones – not because I was well paid, respected, or bound for careerist glory of any kind (not in any of those roles). Just because we only get the moments we get – and using them to do things well and feel good about it, really is more satisfying than slacking-off and then feeling like crap later on, instead. Tempting as it often feels, we really can’t win any advantage from a game in which we cheat our own integrity.
Reminds me of the questions I was teasing about earlier – I am clear about seeking some usefulness and satisfaction in my finite moments, and so I do my best to notice things that help me learn, build capacity, or be of use to others, and also to note the things that make me feel lazy, ashamed or dull.
As always, I’m just trying to bear humble and specific (hopefully somewhat relatable) witness here, really not offering myself as any sort of model (just because I’m not a parallelogram, that does not make me a paragon) ;o)
I get scared and angry a lot too – and very very sad. Like most people I know, I have personal reasons for anger fear and sadness (the damage done by child abuse really does not ever go away). I also know that I’m incredibly lucky to be in love, still, after almost forty years as a couple – but of course my heart is pained by every pain she feels and challenge she faces – we cannot help but connect to both the joys and the sorrows of our closest hearts.
But even when confronting such mortal fears, I once again have to ask myself – what do I want to do with my minutes/hours/days/years?
Do I want to seek to overcome obstacles and find more happiness, wisdom, usefulness, satisfaction, compassion, knowledge and joy?
Or do I want to find explanations in the world around me, for the emotions which cause me the most pain (and were almost all the result of the unkind actions of people who had no right to have that much impact on my life and thought), so that I can LIVE INSIDE THAT PAIN FOREVER.
The news, politics, capitalism, the deep state, the Rand Corporation, the CIA, Bezos, Goldman Sachs, the patriarchy, whitey and the jews – pick your favourite form of emotionally entertaining demonic expression however you will – “they” all say CHOOSE PAIN! (sucker).
I say, maybe we are kind of addicted to that easy candy sugar-rush hit, maybe it is too much to ask, to get past tribalism, all in one go.
But you eat your damned vegetables first, and get your proteins down your gullet – starches too – slow burn fuel for activity.
And then, once you have made a complete meal of striving, compassion, curiosity, openness, forgiveness (for the bugger in the mirror, as well as the buggers out the window) and a constant spice of humble humour to give it all flavour. That is – once you have taken in what you NEED.
Well then, if you really feel sure you still have some room left over – by all means, enjoy a fun little tantrum for dessert.