Sunday, December 19, 2004

Peaceful Holidays Posted by Hello
Postcard from the Dead Novel Office

The impulse to play elder in the last post was prompted by a number of things, but this is one of them: some comments by Paul Theroux in a review of a biography of Graham Greene in the New York Times Book Review from October, which emerged from the pile in recent weeks.

"It is impossible now for any American under the age of 60 or so to comprehend the literary world that existed in the two decades after World War II, and especially the magic that fiction writers exerted upon the public."

It was the first time that the phrase "60 or so" seemed to apply. The "two decades" would mean until 1966, say. At age 20, I'd had maybe five years of absorbing that magic, which included novelists from earlier in the century (Joyce, Sinclair Lewis, Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, Kafka), plus more recent novelists (Mailer, Bellow, Styron, Roth, Updike, Flannery O'Connor) as well as giants of the 19th and 18th centuries. That after several years of falling regularly under the spell of novels, good and not so good, starting with the likes of Joe Archibald and John R. Tunis (boys sports), "Franklin W. Dixon" (Hardy Boys mysteries) and science fiction by Milton Lesser, Richard Marsten and Robert Heinlein (one of Heinlein's---Have Space Suit---Will Travel, I reread recently with great pleasure.)

The magic continued for my generation later in the 1960s, well into the age of movies and television, with Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, Ralph Ellison,Walker Percy, Malamud, John Barth, etc. as well as Kerouac, Henry Miller and William Burroughs, the underground of the 50s. Then Gabriel Garcia Marquez opened a new window of magic and mystique.

Novelists were important at least to me for most of my life. Theroux suggests that their mystique was at least partly due to their relative invisibility. Even into the 1960s, except for jacket photos, the occasional photos in magazines and very occasional television interviews, they were the distant magicians behind the words.

Some of these writers "who enjoyed that sort of fame as conspicuous absentees...have lived on into this age of intrusion," he writes, "where publishers conspire with bookstores to bully writers into the open and make them part of the selling mechanism."

"Invisible, they were the more powerful for seeming forever everywhere. These writers bewitched the imaginations of those of us who grew up in that period of glamour and solitude, and who wished to be writers ourselves."

That sounds familiar. My imagination was bewitched, and I wished to be a novelist. The mystique was part of it; the mystique of James Joyce, for example, was very strong, and Richard Ellman's biography of him traveled with me in the 60s, as near and dear as a bedside Bible.

I guess I am surprised to read how antique this apparently is. I know that the age of reading and writing is supposedly over, due to new media. But my dreams of writing novels coexisted with dreams of writing songs and plays and screenplays. I identified with Fitzgerald, but also with the Beatles and Dylan, and then Truffaut and Godard and Richard Lester . In fact my great dream as I left college was to produce a novel-in-a-box: a real print novel, accompanied by related recorded music and visuals, perhaps even a little movie, described in the novel. The kind of thing that these days is quite possible. (The closest I actually came was as co-editor of my college literary magazine. Our final issue in 1968 was a magazine-in-an-envelope: a print magazine of fiction and poems, two vinyl records, and 8x11 photographs and reproductions of student artworks.)

The novel remained vital in my life for many years, as I added heroes like Pynchon, DeLillo, Calvino, Kundera... In the 1990s I discovered Native American fiction, and so added Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Louise Erdrich, Thomas King and others. Though I read other contemporary novelists of various nationalities, the American Jim Harrison was the one that stuck.

And there are many more novelists I admire for what they say about literature and what they've done to keep literature vital, even if I am not particularly absorbed by their novels. (I might even like their short fiction better.) There are also many new novelists I've read with pleasure and admiration, but they don't mean the same thing to me, perhaps because they are younger.

I believed in the novel as the quintessential literary form, so full of potential that nearly every culture on earth has produced at least one great novel and great novelist. I used to quote with relish the statement of Marquez I found in an interview: "Some say the novel is dead. But it is not the novel. It is they who are dead."

Now the literary novel does seem tangential. It seems the greater energy and moment is going into genre fiction, such as detective novels and science fiction. It's not that the writing has declined so much in quality, but perhaps in scope. I don't know really. But I don't think it is entirely to be blamed on other media.

The lack of time to read, perhaps, though reading is still important to some people. I remember listening to a woman in an adult education class whose home life was so noisy and frenzied that she had to go outside and read in her car. But she did.

There is perhaps more to Theroux's point than a comment on mystique, which he suggests declines with exposure. The real mystique of the novelist is in creating the magic in the novel that we as readers recognize, because we were spellbound.

But something has undoubtedly happened at just about the time that novelists (along with other writers) felt they had to be part of the promotional machinery. The way books are sold has damaged the novel somehow, perhaps by placing it in the same category as promoting movies and TV shows, as well as soap and prescription drugs. Movies require huge promotion because they must make great amounts of money, because they cost great amounts of money. Novels don't cost very much really. Just a decent and somewhat secure life for the novelist, which wouldn't pay for the special effects in a cheap horror movie. Maybe not even the catering.
Novels still supply movies and television with stories, and even when they do, the novels can themselves be unlike the movie, or any movie. Novels can still be novels. They can still bring the multidimensional news.

But even though novelists must do the bookstore signings and the morning radio shows, they don't have all that much celebrity (except perhaps in the bookish cities like New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland.) Perhaps they are sinking back into the obscurity that nurtures mystique. And maybe you won't have to be pushing 60 to want to be a novelist like them.

Friday, December 17, 2004

No, it's not Karl Rove watching GW and Cheney---or is it? Posted by Hello
Say Kids, What Time Is It?

Winter solstice is icumen in. Story time.

Have I said this before? You know at my my age we repeat ourselves. Sure, short-term memory. But at my age repeating it until you get it right seems more important than something else new and goony.

Yes you start out being Howdy Doody and you end up looking like Mr. Bluster. And if Clarabell is your hero the whole time---you don't have any idea what I'm talking about, do you? Gather the kids around for another story by the Old Ranger. (No, not the Lone Ranger. I know the difference, thanks. Do you? )

It's nice to fill this with allusions almost nobody will get. Or is that the cynicism of age? Yeah, the good old days. They had Joyce and Pound. We had Neil Simon and that King fella. Sherman King was it? Bernard? I can't remember. Wrote those long spooky books I never read. Liked a couple of the movies though. That one with Anthony Hopkins. No, not that one. Hearts in Atlantis, yeah, that was it. Where was I? Was I rambling?

Stephen, that's it. Stephen King.

So, kids, let me pass on the fruits of my experience. Ready? It won't take long, believe me.

1. To stay warm in the cold, wear a scarf and a hat. Coats are good, but the essentials to feeling warm are a scarf and a hat. The French have been on to this for some time.

2. The best thing you can do for your day is to drink a full glass of water first thing in the morning. You'll live longer.

3. The best thing you can do for your car is to let it warm up a few minutes before you drive it. Your car will live longer.

4. Now we're in the neighborhood of bitter lessons. Let's not stay here too long, okay? Success in the world entirely depends on the enthusiasm of others. Especially others with power, which means either the right other at the right time, or lots and lots of others voting for you with money (or I suppose votes, if that's your thing.) A very hard lesson, I assure you. For an introvert, even harder.

That's about it. Or anyway, all that I can remember at the moment.

So now is the winter of our discontent, or to quote that other poet, it's not dark yet, but it's getting there. I suppose this so-called civilization has been simultaneously falling apart and reaching for new heights for a long time, but the reaching part seems to be losing out to the falling apart part. This last election may signal the fast stage decline, like a falling object looks to be floating down until it's a few feet off the ground and then, whoosh, womp. I'm trying not to project my personal prospects on the world, but as bad as they might be, they don't look so bad alongside this country's. At least it's unlikely I'll wind up killing a lot of innocent people.

Just before I left Pittsburgh---I've told you this one, right?---well, listen to it again. Just before I left Pittsburgh I was selling about half of my record collection to a used record dealer (probably should have sold the other half, too. My record player doesn't work, and new ones are now luxury items.) The dealer was about my age. One of those 60s type rock albums must have inspired some mention of global heating, the environment going to hell, fundamentalist fascism, nuclear annihilation or maybe all of them. Anyway he said something like, well, looks like by the time the shit hits the fan we'll be gone.

I laughed. I'd made the same damn calculation. Yeah, the world is ending but probably not till mid 21st century, by which time I will have lived my life in relative freedom and prosperity, with fish still in the ocean,a few trees left in a few forests and some air somewhat fit to breath.

Well, thanks to GW Bush and his hypnotic evil laying a numb pall of "partial-birth abortion" and "reality TV" (two expressions that are as completely nonsensical as privatized social security) upon the land, which in my worst nightmare I couldn't have imagined in 1996, it's all speeding up. (Actually that's not quite true. I imagined it in 1989, in a novel that not only predicted somebody very much like Bush in the White House, but also a national siege protected by something I called Homeguard. An unpublished novel naturally.)

The apocalypse coming up fast, by design apparently, so no time for horsing around. Time to pony up. Time for horseshit until the cows come home, and the chickens come home to roost. Funny about those farm metaphors and barnyard epithets, or epitaphs as my spell check wants me to say, when none of us have been on a farm since childhood. Because there aren't any. But then, they're in the Bible, so very contemporary. The earth is 6,000 years old, haven't you heard? What I don't understand is why they don't also insist it's flat and the center of the universe, which is also in the Bible.

Where was I? I've got one more thing to say to you kids. What the hell are you doing? You've got an insane immoral war going on! You've got this toxic moron in the White House who is sinking you into terminal debt to profit his fat ass pals. Now you've got voting rights being taken away from African Americans, as well as others, right out there in the broad daylight of Ohio, not to mention Florida and Pennsylvania and so on, and not a peep.

I'd like to think My Generation would have made all the noise we did even if we weren't being drafted. Some of us were marching for Civil Rights before the draft entered into the equation on the war. But maybe we would have given up before we did, which was when we were exhausted. Then the world got disco and it's been downhill from there. Anyway, we only made so much noise because we were a big big generation. The noisemakers were a small percentage, at least until the early 70s, but impressive in numbers.

But you guys. All I see on the political blogs is, why isn't Kerry doing something about this! Why isn't Clinton! What would Oprah do? And I tell them: forget about daddy. Everybody's looking for daddy to do it for them, and daddy can never do enough. Daddy Kerry issues a statement, then why doesn't he sue in court? Daddy Kerry sues in court, then why doesn't he go on TV?

You can't count on daddy politician or mommy officeholder or daddy media star or mommy talk show host. The kids have to do it themselves. Again. We did.

If there is a grassroots effort, then leaders have to take notice. Political leaders are never the first to commit. JFK knew the Democrats would lose the South for generations if they supported Civil Rights. It took 300,000 of us marching on Washington in 1963 to provide political cover and to convince the world that the time had truly come.

It was a test of leadership. LBJ failed it in 1968 when we marched on the Pentagon. Nixon failed it in 1971 when we marched behind John Kerry and Nixon circled the buses around the White House. But JFK invited the leaders of the 1962 march to the White House that very day. Then he took the chance.

New leaders emerge from that kind of movement. If you've got smart people who can talk, new media voices emerge, too. There's so much on these blogs about people power and net power. But they're still looking for daddy.

I said some of this on one of those political blogs. Somebody's comment agreed with me, said taking it to the streets is the thing to do, now if only somebody like Jesse Jackson would get behind it... Uh huh. I think I'll go back to talking to myself on my own blog.

All those marches against the war in Iraq didn't stop anything, but they did change the debate in the Democratic primaries. But since the election a shell-shocked quiescence has settled over the land. Maybe it's finals week, I don't know. But daddy isn't going to do it for you. And by the way, neither is granddad. Although being one sounds like it could be fun.

Friday, November 26, 2004

I've recently confirmed that my memo on why the Kerry campaign should adopt the slogan, "A Fresh Start," was forwarded to the upper echelons of the Kerry campaign by a person of importance known to them, in June. More than that I don't know yet, but I'm intrigued. My high level contact has promised to find out more.

The reason I bring this up is---well, check out the Kerry photo below.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Blue President Posted by Hello

Jung Posted by Hello

Friday, November 12, 2004


The postelection reaction continues, composed of analyses, harranges, acid jokes, hopeful statistics and expressions of sadness, emptiness, fear and despair. There are numbers, maps, riddles, conspiracy theories, exhortations, and bitter litanies flying through cyberspace--- even a poem, posted on T. Goddard's Political Wire:
The election is over, the results are now known.
The will of the people has clearly been shown.
We should show by our thoughts, our words and our deeds
That unity is just what our country needs.
Let's all get together. Let bitterness pass.
I'll hug your elephant.
You kiss my ass.

Some rose to even greater eloquence, though we readers of the SF Chronicle have come to expect it of columnist Jon Carroll. He reminded those inclined to flee the country or otherwise give up the fight that "The same people are underserved as were underserved on Nov.1. The need for courage and compassion and hard work is as great as it ever was. If you quit now, the bastards have won....We are political players in the most powerful nation in the world, and that is a responsibility." You can find the rest of this column here:

Despair and deep sadness still hover and the consequences of the election will continue to devastate: the Iraqi children and the American Marines dying in Fallujah, the polar bears dying in the Arctic, the suffering that will ensue in a million lonely ways, when pain goes untreated for want of health care, and the politically deluded as well as the disenfranchised struggle for their uncertain survival.

There is also plenty of anger. More than one politico has advised that it's time to play just as dirty as the opponents. One analyst pointed to an attack ad in which the Republicans portrayed their congressional opponent literally as the devil, with graphic suggestion of the apocalyptic consequences of his election. This Democrat's advice was not just to go negative but to get vicious, because it works.

There is undeniable emotional satisfaction as well as some political sense in unrelenting attack. If the Republicans want total war, let's see if they can take it. But then, it's the appeal to only emotions that in itself is scary. Do you defeat the enemy by becoming the enemy?

For some it is the losing, and the manner of it that fuels anger: the cheating and lying that put the triumphant smirk back on the dopey face of the man we are ashamed to call this country's choice for president. The disasters, ineptitude and stupidities of this administration are writ so large in such garish colors, yet they won. (Or did they? There's just enough evidence of fraud, tampering and suppression to seriously doubt whether George W. Bush actually got more votes, especially in Ohio and Florida, than did John Kerry.)

In any case, we know our society needs to change, and there are lots of people doing that work. Awhile back, I wrote about what I called the Skills of Peace. I started out exploring a variety of subjects, efforts, people that seemed to me to contribute to dealing with conflict and creating peace on various levels. I came to see that there were three essential divisions: the political skills (which also meant economic, sociological, history etc., anything that applied to the world, nations, regions, and large groups), communication skills for all of these large groups, and also for small groups and relationships; and skills applied within individuals (spiritual, psychological.) In other words, the outer worlds, the inner worlds, and the interfaces (communications.)

I managed to get a little of all these into a single magazine piece, though it was the psychological that got the shortest shrift. In some ways it was the hardest to quickly identify as a skill area. People understood that Peace Studies equipping students with geopolitical knowledge is pertinent, and so are various methods of communication, especially if the purpose is mediation or resolving conflict. Readers also understood the search for inner peace through meditation or religious study or even philosophy.

But it was a harder sell to include the relevance of psychological concepts as tools, and their use as skills of peace. Yet to me this is equally essential. We've seen what politics alone can and can't do. Spiritual quests alone don't do much for Iraq. But as an added skill in conceptualizing geopolitical problems and their contributing factors, in judging right and wrong actions, and in communicating, it seems to me psychology---specifically Jungian psychology and its derivatives---offers essential tools.

Jung offers a wealth of tools and insights, but I believe that if people learned only a few, and worked with them, the improvement would be enormous. If every school taught the basics of the conscious and the unconscious, the personal and collective shadow, and the tendencies towards projection, inflation and denial, we would be on the way to a better world. More to the point, to one with a better chance of surviving more or less intact.

But what does this have to do with politics? Let me quote the opening of Jung's essay, originally titled "The Present and the Future," and published in English as "The Undiscovered Self." Jung wrote this in the mid 1950s, responding to the specific history of World War II and the then-current Cold War: the ongoing gathering of the world into two camps ostensibly based on ideology, fueling the nuclear arms race and threatening Armageddon at any moment.

"Everywhere in the West there are subversive minorities who, sheltered by our humanitarianism and our sense of justice, hold the incendiary torches ready, with nothing to stop the spread of their ideas except the critical reason of a single, fairly intelligent, mentally stable substratum of the population.

One should not overestimate the thickness of this stratum. It varies from country to country according to national temperament. Also, it is regionally dependent on public education and is subject to the influence of acutely disturbing factors of a political and economic nature. Taking plebiscites as a criterion, one could on an optimistic estimate put its upper limit at about forty percent of the electorate."

"Rational argument can be conducted with some prospect of success only as the emotionality of a given situation does not exceed a certain degree. If the affective temperature rises above this level, the possibility of reason having any effect ceases and its place is taken by slogans and chimerical wish-fantasies. That is to say, a sort of collective possession results which rapidly develops into a psychic epidemic."

Individuals can arise as leaders and participants whose "views and behavior, for all their appearance of normality, are influenced unconsciously by pathological and perverse factors....Their mental state is of a collectively excited group ruled by affective judgments and wish fantasies. In a milieu of this kind they are the adapted ones, and consequently they feel quite at home in it. They know from their own experience the language of these conditions, and they know how to handle them. Their chimerical ideas, sustained by fanatical resentments, appeal to the collective irrationality and find fruitful soil there; they express all those motives and resentments, which lurk in more normal people under the cloak of reason and insight."

Around the same time, Jung gave one of his few lengthy filmed interviews---for a professor in Houston, Texas no less. Probably the most quoted part of it is this:

"Nowadays particularly the world hangs on a thin thread... Nowadays we are not threatened by elemental catastrophes. There is no such thing as an H-Bomb [in nature]; that is all man's doing. We are the great danger. The psyche is the great danger. What if something goes wrong with the psyche? And so it is demonstrated in our day what the power of the psyche is, how important it is to know something about it. But we know nothing about it. Nobody would give credit to the idea that the psychical processes of the ordinary man have any importance whatever."

But even the most cursory glance at this election shows that importance, as well as the legacy of ignoring the psyche. America has never taken the psyche seriously; even its psychology has been dominated by mechanistic behaviorists who insist that designing better drugs is the beginning and end of their job. A still conspicuous victim of this ignorance is the Vietnam veteran.

The first conventional idiocy is that everything we think is under our conscious control is under our conscious control. The second is that the world is divided between good people and bad people, and the good people are thoroughly good, while the bad people are uniformly evil. Not many people would admit that they believe this, but their actions suggest they do.

Most of us recognize, though perhaps we don't admit, that we are prey to compulsions that may arrive with their own delightful rationalizations and excuses attached. And we may even admit that there is good and bad in all of us, though in a very profound way, we can't let ourselves really believe this. It would mean that we aren't totally good, which in our either/or way of thinking, means that I am bad.

When America supported the Vietnam war, all soldiers were good and the enemy people, which included all protestors, were evil. When the majority of Americans got conflicted about the war, and then the U.S. pulled out and our soldiers hadn't won the war, the returning soldiers were abandoned. (I include myself among those who ignored them at first, though for different emotional reasons.) America's shame (for losing, for all the awful killing and the atrocities, for the uselessness of it all) was projected onto the soldiers.

Those soldiers got no help in dealing with their return, and the war was a forbidden subject for decades. The Wall seemed to help heal the veterans and the country, but it wasn't enough, apparently. Because the Republicans found they could exploit (and finance) their residual resentment, and a small group of Vietnam veterans---led by a man who had been Republican political operative for decades, and others who were exposed as bad officers in an historian's biography of John Kerry---not only engaged in character assassination based on demonstrably false charges, but acted out a classic projection in insisting that Kerry had accused all Vietnam veterans of engaging in heinous war crimes, when he had done no such thing.

But our establishment media---from our most august newspapers to the cable news channels of ill repute---doesn't even have the vocabulary to begin to discuss this. And on this politically exploited psychological tangle the election may have turned.

The greatest danger of fundamentalist Christianity isn't that it injects religion into the political dialogue. Between the scientifically-based, purportedly value-free rationalism and moral relativism of the blue state, and the dogmatic, anti-intellectual, intolerant fundamentalism of the red state, lies the psyche as Carl Jung described it. Psyche is one of the Greek words for soul, and Jung believed that religion (which he saw as an attitude and an experience, not a creed, set of dogmas or practices) is as essential to humanity as reason.

The real political danger isn't religion, it is dogmatism, linked with the belief that one group knows the truth and is wholly good, while others believe falsely, and among them are the wholly evil.

Nor is the problem stupidity, or ignorance of what every scientific rationalist knows. It is ignorance of the psyche, and a willful blindness to its workings and its effects, based perhaps on one dogma or another. It is a failure to take responsibility for ourselves, for our own psyche, and to give it over to some church, or some voice on the radio, or some determinist theory.

The Jungian view of the psyche (not exclusive to Jungians certainly) is that there is both good and evil in all of us. That some evil resides in our unconscious, in what Jung called the shadow. Now at least some Christians believe we all have the capacity to sin, that there is sinfulness in our natures, but they believe they can be redeemed of sin either by being born again, or by belonging to the right church of chosen people, or by following their rules of righteousness, or seeking forgiveness in prescribed ways. They don't see how the shadow shapes how they see things.

The Jungian view is that we can't face seeing certain things about ourselves, so we project those exact qualities on others. We think of ourselves as generous, but are afraid to give away too much, but we feel guilty about it. So we project that feeling onto someone else: we criticize them for being selfish. Is that person actually selfish? Maybe, maybe not, but projection invariably exaggerates: you see the bad more powerfully, because in some unconscious way you feel very bad that there might be some bad in you.

Projecting from the shadow is a normal part of our relationships, in marriage, the workplace, the community, and in our dreams. Everyone does it. The crucial difference is in accepting and understanding that this happens, and checking ourselves---asking ourselves the question, am I projecting in this situation? Because the shadow has the energy of the unconscious, most of the time we trick ourselves into believing we are justified. But getting those feelings out of the shadow and into the light of consciousness is a crucial task.

There is no shame in having a shadow. The unconscious is a completely vital part of us. (Jung believed it was the source of our creativity.) But people can't consciously control what they deny or don't understand, and so they continue to be ruled by the shadow aspect of the unconscious.

But what does that have to do with politics? According to Jung, the individual who withdraws his own shadow projection from his neighbor is doing work of immense immediate political and social importance.

Says Jungian Marie-Louise von Franz, "If more people don't try to reflect, and take back their projections, and take the opposites back into themselves, there will be total destruction."

But there is another level in Jungian thought, which pertains to the section of "The Undiscovered Self " quoted above. Jung believed that in addition to each of us possessing a personal unconscious, there is a collective unconscious that we all inherit. And just as we have a personal shadow, there is in any given time and place a collective shadow: a collection of unwanted tendencies too awful to admit. There are times as well when this collective shadow leads to collective projections.

In Nazi Germany, von Franz said, people fell into a collective shadow through their personal shadows---through personal greed perhaps, or feelings of inferiority, they rationalized Hitler and what Germany had to do, to rule inferior people perhaps, or return itself to greatness, take its rightful share of the spoils, and destroy the evil nations thwarting its destiny. Only a perverse and powerful collective shadow could apply an ugly residual racism to a need for identity and national pride and transform it all into a vicious, inhuman and systematic genocidal frenzy. Taken separately, German grievances against other nations had some validity. Taken more moderately, its aspirations might have been constructive. But the energy of an unleashed collective shadow created a monstrous paradigm, which built up over years before reaching a climax with Hitler's rule. What people would normally SEE as monstrous became rationalized as ultimately good, partly because they believed it, and in the atmosphere created by the force of the collective shadow, it felt good.

"In our most private and most subjective lives we are not only the passive witnesses of our age and its sufferers, but also its makers," said Jung in 1934. "We make our own epoch."

The power of projection, for instance, can be seen in the fear of terrorism. In rhetoric and behavior, the Christian Fundamentalists and the Islamic Fundamentalists are mirror images; they are each other's shadow. Yet our media would never suggest that the fear of terrorism is predominantly psychological. But how could it be seen as anything else? Most Americans travel daily at speeds exceeding 60 miles an hour, in vehicles that crumple and kill the occupants when they encounter each other at a fraction of that speed. Drivers, riders and pedestrians, we are all in proximate danger on the street, every day. But most people don't sit in a corner petrified at the possibilities of accidents. On the other hand, even if an individual knew that a suicide attack would take place on New York City on a specific day, the chances that any individual would be at that place at that time is minute. And of course, nobody would have that kind of information, so the odds of being in the particular part of the particular city at that moment must rival the odds of getting struck by lightning while sleeping. 9-11 has become such a symbol because there has only been one 9-11. It is the psychological response to the images, the associations, the fantasies and the projections, that gives terrorism its power.

Note that the only places where Americans experienced 9-11 deaths went to Kerry, while those who voted with their fears were among the most remote. Note that millions of people in heterosexual marriages vote their fear of homosexual unions, which have no impact whatever on their marriages, which are likely not trouble-free (for few if any marriages are.) How much easier it is to fulminate over others than deal with conflicting emotions in the morass of one's own life. Or to project objectless anger over one's economic plight on some symbolic evil, some distant and indistinct alien.

This should remind us not only of the importance of knowing the psyche, but of all that we think, feel and do in making change. So some of us may do the world some good by going to Canada and liberating something stifled within, just as others stay and engage in political debate and action. Those who have retreated these past days into music or Star Trek (I've done both, I'm afraid) or art and drama, may also be performing necessary work, or at the very least, necessary play.

Just as this world needs people willing to battle traffic and idiot bosses, it needs people walking the wilderness in solitude. The world needs people connecting with reality and real people to make a better future, and people connecting with fantasy and unreal people, to summon the archetypes for a better future. We probably all need to talk a little more to the animals, plants, rooms, skies, electronic devices and pots and pans that make our time on this planet possible and good. And don't forget to give that shadow a good--but safe---workout (Robert A. Johnson's little book, "Owning Your Own Shadow" is a good place to start.)

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

so long, Florida Coast; goodbye, polar bears

Poetic justice for the Bushes, maybe, though Jeb will be long gone before global heating wipes out the Florida coast. But what have the polar bears done to deserve extinction? Yet more evidence on the onrushing consequences of global heating...

Arctic Melting Fast; May Swamp U.S. Coasts by 2099

Friday, November 05, 2004

These are post-election notes relevant to the election day post which follows.

After a hopeful weekend, a frenzy of election day activity, and even a first flurry of very promising exit poll numbers, everything slowly fell apart. David Gergen, counsel to Republican and one Democratic president, commented as the hoped-for Kerry victory was slipping away, that his university students were going to be devastated, they would not be able to understand this.

How could they understand it when it doesn't make any sense? Beyond that recognition is the intensity of effort and commitment many of them gave. Young people worked for Kerry and voted for Kerry in record numbers. In Ohio, some stood in line for up to ten hours just to cast their votes.

I got an email from a young Kerry activist in California that is well worth quoting. I won't name her because I haven't yet solicited her permission, but this was an email sent to a number of Kerry supporters. Read it in conjunction with the story that follows.

I feel like I’ve been punched in the chest. Like I did after September 11th. Like I did when my mother died.But it’s not because of any self absorbed pity for us having put so much blood sweat and tears into this campaign. It’s because John Kerry should be President of the United States. And America will realize that only when it’s too late. John Kerry is a man of integrity, grace, strength and maturity. He embodies the America of my dreams and distant memories.

I was honored and deeply transformed by participating in the massive mobilization to get this man elected. I was also honored and deeply transformed by working with, and getting to know and love all of you, my compatriots. Your dedication, humor, professionalism and goodness reassures me that this nation cannot and will not suffer for long. She will once again be a beacon to all who want to be shown the light. But it is up to us.

I truly believe that in order to see our vision for this country realized, we must stay unified, energized, organized and positive. There is much work to do both locally and nationally, politically and culturally, physically and spiritually.

Take the month to mourn, rest and regroup. Spend Thanksgiving truly giving thanks for a fight well fought, and a man worth fighting for.Then, I invite all of you to join me as we look to the future and begin that work. We here in Southern California will keep our structure, though we will shift our focus. To those elsewhere, please keep in touch, let me know how you are staying engaged. What groups you recommend, people you believe in that may need support as they run for office, issues and news that needs to be investigated and exposed. Help communicate our values and reframe the debate with those who have been misled by a political and media machinery that is broken and needs to be replaced. Continue to give of your talent, time, money and networks so the foundation upon which we stand will be the only dry, solid, high ground left when the flood comes. Thank you again, and God bless us all.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Future of Hope

We get hope in various ways from various places, inside and outside, in good times and bad. But there's often learning involved, and models. Something that we've seen work in the real world, and someone we could observe in some way, if even from a distance, and perhaps if even through a glass too brightly.

I'm reminded of this because in my meager campaigning efforts, I made some calls to swing states through the Kerry "phone corps" organized on the campaign website. I talked to a woman in Florida (I think it was), whose fifteen year old son was on the volunteer list, and my call to him hadn't been the first. She was a Kerry activist herself, and her son was involved in a political campaign for the first time, though she seemed to feel he wasn't ready for canvassing and phone banking activities. But John Kerry had sparked his interest.

I was fourteen when I got involved in my first political campaign, for John F. Kennedy. It was in a way the last of the old fashioned campaigns, and the first of the new media-dominated ones. I participated in what would be the last election eve campaign parade for many years in Greensburg, Pa. I imagine they've revived them now. John Edwards was speaking there yesterday.

It wasn't called a swing state in 1960. Greensburg was a pretty reliably Republican town inside a heavily Democratic county and region. We lived outside the city limits, in Democrat country. Unions were powerful, and though the tiny city hall was Republican, the big county courthouse was Democrat.

Now I'm out here in California, in a town where there are five Green candidates for city council, one of them named Harmony Groves, another Phoenix Fyre; three unaffiliated, one Democrat, and no Republicans. California was the key to Kennedy’s election, but this year nobody has even visited, certainly not in this little town. We're not a swing state. My sleepy little hometown of Greensburg was one of the first stops for John Kerry and John Edwards after Edwards was selected as the v.p. candidate.

But I know that in Greensburg now, as in Florida now and in Greensburg then, some young people are focusing their hopes on John Kerry, even as they are learning to define what they hope for. If he wins, as JFK did, they will be invested in learning even more. For instance, how to make their hopes happen. And what happens to hopes as they meet the present.

My hope is that they get that chance this time. The 1960 campaign was really formative for me, as was the thousand days of JFK's presidency. It happened to coincide with my experiences in high school forensics, in the system of extemp speaking and debating in competitions. I learned quite a bit from those experiences in those few years.

So in honor of all that, and in hopes that things will turn out well for John Kerry, I want to reproduce a column I wrote for the In Pittsburgh weekly in 1988, about those hopes on an election night when they were cut short.

Young Hearts

For awhile, there was hope. As the sky darkened to dusk beyond the glass wall of the Dukakis headquarters in Chatham Center [Pittsburgh], staffers started hearing about heavy turnouts and early strength in the key states.

The news sent another pulse of energy through the last hours of effort, as staffers collecting numbers from key precincts dispatched their troops---many of them college, high school and junior high students---to where they were most needed. Some volunteers had been up all night hanging leaflets on doors that said "Good morning! Vote Today/Dukakis-Bentsen." They'd been on the phones at the United Steelworkers phone bank, or canvassing and passing out flyers, knocking on doors and stopping people on the street, or simply standing at major intersections waving signs at passing cars. They returned for new instructions to this temporary office, where the message boxes for staffers were white Styrofoam cups tacked to a room divider. They picked at the wilting cold cuts and the pasta salad in the makeshift kitchen, then grabbed their maps and headed out again. For most of them, this was their first campaign.

I was fourteen when John F. Kennedy ran for President. That was my first campaign. I learned about primaries when he ran in Wisconsin; I learned poverty's name when he ran in West Virginia. I thrilled to my first roll-call of the states as I watched the 1960 Democratic Convention, and I taped his acceptance speech on a clunky cut-rate reel-to-reel: "But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises----it is a set of challenges. It sums up, not what I intend to offer to the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not their pocketbook---it holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security..." This was the speech that Vice-President Nixon thought was over the heads of the American people.

I went to the local "Citizens for Kennedy" headquarters. The director there may have been the first adult in the public world to take me seriously. He gave me a copy of Kennedy's book, "The Strategy of Peace," which I still have. I handed campaign literature to strangers outside supermarkets and on the street. Once my two best friends and I were sent by bus to a nearby town, Kennedy posters affixed to our persons, front and back, and we stuck leaflets in doors in the pouring rain. I'd read those pamphlets---I was prepared to discuss the issues with anyone. I'm sure we won a few votes---we were so young and enthusiastic, and so completely devoted. And so soaking wet.

Around 8:30 pm, the young Dukakis volunteers began returning from the polls and streamed into the Hyatt ballroom, under the big banner that said, "The Best America is Yet To Come." By then the staffers already knew the score, and their eyes had that peculiar shining---part tears, part defiant excitement. I asked Peg McCormick, the western Pennsylvania campaign director and CMU professor, what effect a Bush victory might have on the young. "If I were sixteen years old and George Bush was President, I wouldn't have excitement about the future---and that's what this is all about, it's the future, it's for them."

I asked the same question of Margaret-Anne McKibben, who teaches some of these high school students. "It could be emotionally devastating," she said. "It's like first love. You believe it with all your heart. And that's why these kinds are here---they really care. They believed that if you work hard, it'll happen. And all these young hearts---they really did work hard."

I stayed up all night to watch the election returns, because it all came down to California. After a few hours sleep, I awoke in mid-morning to watch JFK read, in a voice thick with a morning cold, Nixon's concession telegram. My candidate had won. I had relatives in Washington and I took my first long bus trip alone to visit them on Inaugural weekend. We watched the parade on Friday, toured the monuments on Saturday, and on Sunday we went to the Georgetown church where JFK was known (by me) to go. We lucked out. We sat several pews behind him, and on his way out, the brand new President of the United States---my President---shook my hand.

When I was 15 I knew the names of everyone in the Kennedy cabinet (with a little time, I can recite them still.) I knew his speeches, filled with allusions to philosophers and statesmen; speeches about courage, commitment and moral responsibility, challenging the country to look beyond their immediate present to the future they created with every decision they made. I watched his press conferences, filled with fact and wit. I knew details of his programs---the minimum wage increase, the Peace Corps, the Alliance for Progress in Latin America---and I followed his battles with a reluctant Congress. I learned about the many facets of leadership, as I learned about the world. The next time I was in Washington was for the great Civil Rights march, but I never thought of this as opposing him. He understood dissent. He was my President. I imitated him in my extemp speeches. I played touch football, and learned to like Boston clam chowder, and to aspire to be educated and seek after greatness.

I was 16 when I watched the world almost end in the Cuban Missile Crisis. (When we came back to homeroom one day, someone had drawn a big mushroom cloud on the blackboard, ha ha.) I read and listened to everything about those events, and learned about decision-making, about strategy and the interplay of personalities, and about different kinds of strength. Then came the nuclear test ban treaty, and I learned what the presidency could be as a force for good, from a President who was so obviously learning and expanding his horizons every day, as I was.

I was 17 when my President was shot to death in Dallas. Kennedy had appealed to our youth with his sense of urgency, and held out to us the opportunity to make a difference, to move forward and not just fight to keep from slipping back; to get at what he always called the unfinished business of America. That sense of urgency filled those three years, the only three years in my conscious lifetime when I looked to a President for leadership. Then the man he defeated for his party's nomination became President and escalated the Vietnam war; then the man he had defeated in the general election became President and prolonged it, and lied and cheated and subverted the Constitution. The nightmare had begun.

That was 25 years ago, as a spate of television documentaries will remind us this month, interspersed with the dopey grin of George Bush, a President-elect whose campaign makes him impossible for me to respect; and the vice-president-elect of the United States of America, Dan Quayle. To me, the history of the presidency since JFK has been a prolonged insult, a black comedy, a tragedy of the absurd, starring twisted or ineffective men.

Even several of the Dukakis staffers from out of state were very young, just out of college. Reagan had been President for more than a third of their lives. Vibrant, intelligent and eager, they've never had a President to emulate, to respect. But there was no overwhelming pall of gloom in the ballroom as the networks made their fatal projections. It wasn't like Boston in 1972, when McGovern workers sat stunned in front of TV monitors, and the ballroom was empty and as quiet as a tomb. The Dukakis kids ran to the TV sets in the four corners of the room to cheer the good news they got, including the fruits of their own efforts: a 120,000 vote plurality in Allegheny County. They talked about catching up on sleep and laundry, and took snapshots of each other, and cherished the bonds they'd made and the feelings that only those who have fought together know. They found what strength and hope they could in each other.

But still...two college students watched Lloyd Bentsen speak to his supporters in Texas. "Mike Dukakis and I waged a campaign that's worthy of the American people," Bentsen said. "Too bad the American people weren't worthy of the campaign," one of them said. "The American people suck," said the other. This was their first campaign. The first one (she's a freshman) said it will be her last. The second (a junior) said she'll be back.

At one point, when Teddy Kennedy was being interviewed, I turned and looked at those who were watching the TV---there was something special in the eyes of the older ones. They remembered.

The young campaigners listened to comments from the podium by Peg McCormick, and County Comissioner Pete Flaherty, and United Steelworkers President Lynn Williams, all of whom took pains to tell them of the progress and the contribution they'd made, and gently urged them not to be discouraged. And when the ballroom became quiet and everyone clustered in the four corners to hear Mike Dukakis make his concession speech from Boston, he also singled out his young supporters, and urged them to realize the satisfaction of working to help others and---a specific Kennedy echo---of making a contribution. He called politics " a noble profession." In Boston, the crowd started chanting, "92!" In the ballroom here, a young voice shouted, "Don't give up!"

When Mike and Kitty Dukakis disappeared from the screen, Kenny Blake's band played again, and the young staffers and volunteers clustered together and hugged and said goodbye. Then they danced. And then the music stopped.
* * * *

Now the young Lieutenant Governor in the Dukakis administration is the repository of the hopes of young hearts like those in 1988 and 1960. Our hope is that as a result of their efforts, the music won't stop so soon. It'll still be playing on Inauguration Day.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Burning Bush

I had a curious reaction to seeing George W. Bush in his third debate with John Kerry. I felt sorry for him. I'd never seen anyone look so uncomfortable and frightened as he had seemed over the three debates. His famous smirk and defensive sneer, and his dissociated fumbling of answers in the first debate were replaced by overcompensating anger in the second. In the third debate he grinned with the desperation of a trapped animal showing good will so he wouldn't be abused. When he watched Kerry, his eyes were blinking so rapidly I thought he might faint.

I saw a man stripped naked and afraid. I saw a weak person trying to survive until he could once again be sheltered and loved. Putting him up against even a tired John Kerry, with his serious intent, his command of the issues and his full adult humanity, was almost cruel. John Kerry is flawed, as we all are. But John Kerry is a man. George W. Bush is a wounded boy.

We've seen that frightened wounded boy before, sitting in front of children of grade school age, a child's book in his hands, immediately after he'd been told that a second airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center, and it wasn't an accident. He was then, and still is, President of the United States.

The debate was last Wednesday. This past Sunday, an article appeared in the New York Times Magazine that electrified Washington and the blogosphere. It was by Ron Suskind, who authored the best selling book in which former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil chronicles Bush's obsession with Iraq and his willing ignorance of anything that contradicted his preconceived views.

Suskind begins by quoting Bruce Bartlett, a Republican official in both the Reagan and Bush I administrations, speaking about G.W. Bush: "This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."

Bush explained his decisions by saying he went on instinct, on intuition. But soon he wasn't explaining his decisions at all. The circle of advisors grew smaller and tighter, and knew not to question. Because Bush is Chief Executive, his faith-based initiatives were no longer a personal quirk. They were holy writ.

The article quotes Christie Todd Whitman, former Secretary of EPA as saying on the day she announced her resignation, "In meetings, I'd ask if there were any facts to support our case. And for that, I was accused of disloyalty."

(Suskind notes that Whitman, "her faith in Bush...renewed," now denies saying this, and heads the Bush campaign in New Jersey. Which is evidence why Suskind's initial premise---that a Bush victory would mean a civil war within the Republican party-is wrong.)

The article states that Bush really sees the war against terrorism as Christians against the heathens. It quotes Bush talking to a private dinner of fat cats and suggesting his second term priorities will be faith-based initiatives, drilling for oil in the Alaskan wilderness, mollifying the Saudis, and that he expect to make up to four appointments to the Supreme Court. Suskind writes that Bush's appeal is his sense of certainty, gained from his faith-based decision-making. In perhaps the most widely quoted portion on the blogosphere, Suskind writes:

"And for those who don't get it? That was explained to me in late 2002 by Mark McKinnon, a longtime senior media adviser to Bush, who now runs his own consulting firm and helps the president. He started by challenging me. ''You think he's an idiot, don't you?'' I said, no, I didn't. ''No, you do, all of you do, up and down the West Coast, the East Coast, a few blocks in southern Manhattan called Wall Street. Let me clue you in. We don't care. You see, you're outnumbered 2 to 1 by folks in the big, wide middle of America, busy working people who don't read The New York Times or Washington Post or The L.A. Times. And you know what they like? They like the way he walks and the way he points, the way he exudes confidence. They have faith in him. And when you attack him for his malaprops, his jumbled syntax, it's good for us. Because you know what those folks don't like? They don't like you!'' In this instance, the final ''you,'' of course, meant the entire reality-based community. "

This final observation has already become such a rallying cry that one well-known left-leaning blogger, Atrios, has added to the title of his blog the legend: Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community.

But the opposition of faith and reality doesn't quite get to what really is going on in Bush, or even in the Bush followers, it seems to me. I see it in different terms. I'll express it in the simplest, shortest possible way: when G.W. Bush believes he is listening to God, he is listening to his own unconscious. Bush is a captive of his own shadow: at least his personal fears and rages, and perhaps by now something of the collective fears and rages.

Because he is ruled by his unconscious, when he looks at the Other he sees mostly his own projections. He can't discriminate in realistic terms, to discern who is an enemy and why. He sees only the evildoers, the projections of his own shadow.

He is a captive because he does not know this is happening. He believes the source of his certainty is elsewhere. He must have certainty, because he is a wounded mess, and fundamentally has a weak ego, which requires constant reassurance and approval. The only place he can go for certainty is his unconscious. It speaks to him. But even if he could understand this, he couldn't face it. He can't face that he could be wrong. Not any more.

Many now enable him, for their own benefit. Without his protectors, flatterers and supporters, he is naked, he reverts to the behavior of a scared child.

Many people who had their doubts about his intelligence were reassured when he named Dick Cheney as his v.p., and then Colin Powell as his Secretary of State. They would tell him what he didn't know. But the essential problem with George W. Bush isn't his lack of knowledge. It is his lack of self-knowledge.

For one thing, it's why he doesn't listen to anyone like Colin Powell when they tell him what he doesn't want to hear.

But his well-known disdain for introspection is not just the personality preference of a clearly extraverted executive. It is essential to his equanimity. He couldn't remain sober, let along function, without the certainty that his projections provide.

All that is bad enough. It means that the most powerful human on the planet is in very meaningful ways a buried child. If he had been President of the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis, none of us would be alive today.

And that may not even be the worst of it.

Also this week, I took another look at the play I wrote two summers ago, which features a fictional meeting between H.G. Wells and C.G. Jung in New Mexico in 1940. This sent me back to reading a biographical account of Jung in the years preceding and during the rise of Nazi Germany and World War II. That in turn sent me to related texts.

The similarities of issues and ideas in 1940 to the present political context have definite echoes in my play, and they would be quite clear to a contemporary audience, if any ever had the opportunity to see the play performed. But after the debates and reading Suskind's article, reading an account of Jung's activities and thoughts in those years by someone I hadn't read before (Barbara Hannah, a student and later long-time friend of Jung) took on new textures of relevance.

Jung was horrified by the rise of Hitler, and it influenced the course of the last series of books he wrote, in the 1940s and 1950s. They all concerned the conjunctions of conscious and unconscious. I don't pretend to understand very much of what little I've read of this work. But Hannah's biographical account makes it clear that Jung believed there were times when the unconscious predominated in society, and one of those times was the 1930s and Hitler's Germany in World War II. Germany was possessed. "It's no use saying you are not at war with the German people, you are," Jung told Hannah, who was English. "They are all possessed like Hitler and absolutely unapproachable."

Hitler, a fundamentally weak person who flew into childish rages, used modern propaganda techniques and other emotional manipulation to convince Germany he had the simple, correct answer, and he was the strong leader who would protect them and make them conquerors again. They would have control over their lives, and take their rightful place in the world. They would avoid injury and humiliation by smashing their enemies before their enemies could attack them.

Now suppose you were reading or seeing a fiction, in which an American President, in office by virtue of a Supreme Court decision that stopped a vote recount and endorsed his victory by a handful of votes out of millions, took the nation to war against a smaller country that hadn't attacked the U.S. or even a single U.S. citizen. Suppose that later, when the U.S. armed forces are bogged down in that country, and violence and terrorism are increasing there, it is discovered that every single pretext this President gave for going to war has turned out to be not true. Further, there is informed suspicion that much of the evidence was known to be false.

Still, this President announced that he would attack any nation he deemed a danger, without provocation and more or less without evidence. Whenever anyone within his administration or even near it questioned his premises, strategy or public relations imagery, his minions would vilify them without scruple, and attempt to destroy them utterly by any means possible, including lies.

Suppose this war continues to go badly, at the same time as enormous deficits are accumulating, and the economic well-being of the country is in question. There are grave questions about the continued vulnerability of the country to terrorism, while some measures taken to prevent terrorism have turned out to be inept intrusions, randomly violating civil liberties and punishing innocent citizens without system of redress or justice.

Suppose as well that most citizens are economically worse off, and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the system of medical care, which seems on the verge of collapse. Public education is unequal, and mostly very bad; Americans are becoming the worst-educated, least-healthy citizens in the industrialized West. Then gasoline prices go through the roof, signaling a grave energy crisis in the near future. At the same time, a shortage of flu vaccine just as the flu season starts, not only threatens the health of vulnerable people, but suggests the public health system is itself highly vulnerable, if not in shambles.

Suppose corporate greed is unchecked and is rapidly being consolidated in a few hands. Financial institutions practice usury with impunity. The U.S. government improperly imprisons both foreigners and citizens for years, and engages in torture and abuse in Iraqi prisons and Guantanamo prison. America, once admired throughout the world, became feared and hated by most of the world, all in the course of two or three years. And hovering above all of this, is an atmosphere inexorably heating, threatening all life on the planet, but which this President ignores, while he denies that he is ignoring it.

Confronted with all this, you would be justified in saying this plot is over the top. Any one of these things in the past would have been sufficient to bring down a presidency. Yet the president in question is apparently leading in the polls, and has at least an even chance---some say a likelihood---of being returned to office.

How can this be? Some are now looking to the faith-based versus reality-based model. I believe that's too simple, and it is not entirely accurate. Evangelical Christianity is to Bush what German nationalism was to Hitler. It's the form taken by the appeal to the collective shadow, the national unconscious.

The unconscious is itself a reality. It is part of all of us. In many ways it nourishes us, and is the source of much knowledge. But consciousness is crucial, to be aware of what comes from the unconscious, to judge and discriminate, to decide. To tap the unconscious is vital. To be dominated by the unconscious, to be unconscious, is fatal.

Why might it be erupting now? The ecology of ignorance, and its constituent parts (the contemporary forms of "modern propaganda"), is a contributing factor. My intuition, my instincts tell me there is also a class component. Middle class Americans are uncertain about their status. Many came from (and are headed back to) the lower middle class or working class; in the recent past they had money, but they weren't sure they had class. Now they don't have money but they still have some stuff, and the uncertainty is joined by whiffs of fear only symbolized by the bogie man called terrorism. Bush has wounds like theirs, the lack of self-knowledge like theirs, (though probably worse) but his inferiority feelings are linked to a legacy of superiority from his very certain ruling class upbringing. They feel his pain. But they see his certainty. Their inferiority needs his sense of superiority, and the confidence he gets from his projections, from his shadow in the unconscious.

Jung took a longer view, analyzing a dynamic of opposites and how they turn into one another over eons-as, for example, "the dilemma of Christ and anti-Christ." The reversal of dominants, called enantioendromia, was a tendency Jung explored in his last books.

Those familiar with the Biblical Apocalypse may note that the anti-Christ appears to be the Second Coming. Perhaps those of a strictly reality-based rationality cannot admit the possibilities of eras of evil erupting and possessing entire peoples. Fortunately, if that is indeed what happened in the 1940s, there were nations strong enough to stand up to Hitler and his Germany, and their allies, and defeat them. Hitler appeared to be a tower of strength and resolve. But like most bullies, he was actually a coward. Perhaps even a wounded child. Nevertheless, much of Germany followed him. And his followers crushed anyone who dared to oppose them.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Christopher Reeve

I never met Christopher Reeve, although I knew people who had, and I came within a few hours of crossing paths with him, years before his riding accident. That was on Martha's Vineyard, where a friend was managing a residential resort (where, she said, the rich who owned homes would send their less prestigious guests to stay.) It had its own dining facilities and Reeve had dined there the evening before my visit. (He liked the chef's chocolate souffle, and he was sure right about that. I've never tasted anything like it.) So people were still talking about him, how friendly and genuine he had been.

I saw him in a play in New York once,accompanying another old friend who had worked with him on a movie. It was "The Fifth of July" and he was playing a paraplegic veteran. This was after the first few Superman movies and he was doing parts as far away from the Man of Steel as he could find, my friend said.

I also remember the premiere of "Superman" in New York City. It was the first of the big event special-effects movies. (It also started the trend of the endless credits, so now the gaffer's hair stylist's caterer gets named, even on films with six special effects houses.) It was the big deal of 1978, and the press premiere had two showings. I was in New York and got a ticket; on my way to the second showing I ran into Jon Landau (later Bruce Springsteen's manager, at some point film critic for Rolling Stone, and before that, a movie and music reviewer in Boston; that's where I'd known him, and where we'd seen a few films together.) He was with director Brian DePalma (who he introduced) and DePalma's squeeze, actress Nancy Allen (who he didn't.) So it was a prestige event as well as a popular movie.

That first Superman movie was the purest American myth the cinema had seen in a long time. A lot of the credit belongs to Christopher Reeve. One of the sillier conventions of the Superman story was that nobody could see that Superman looked exactly like Clark Kent without the glasses. Reeve made that a little more believable with his voice, his posture and mannerisms. He made Clark Kent and Superman seem like different people (even if they still looked a lot alike), and besides adding to the verisimilitude, this illuminated an important element of the myth. The "secret identity," the theme of the superhero inside the timid bumbler was basic to the myth and its power, linked in this case to the classic American story of the country boy in the big city.

For common to both Clark Kent and Superman was a purity, an innocent belief in simple values---honesty, equality, justice, helping others and using violence only as a last resort--- that tradition places at the heart of being American. In Superman, those values were brought from the country to the city, and in a way, from the 1930s origin of the Superman myth, to the contemporary city.

The 1930s story also symbolizes the immigrant's journey, which also was often from rural peasantry to the city, but even when it wasn't, involved being different, out of place in an alien environment. Yet the essence of Superman's power comes from a higher realm, symbolized by his Krypton origins (linking this myth to both the divine origin and the royal child abandoned and raised by peasants.)
This meaning of this origin is also reflected in Superman's most thrilling power---and the one everyone wanted to see if the movie could really pull off. The conflicted boy becomes (in Francois Truffaut's words, talking to me about the movie later that year) "the man who flies." It is our dreams' favorite transcendence.

In the first film as in several that followed, Superman is conflicted, his nature divided against itself, just as aspects of our natures are in continual conflict. Christopher Reeve played these conflicts, including a battle with the dark side of his super-herohood. He created one of the great American film characters, in a series of often witty and mostly entertaining films. (Richard Lester, director of the Beatles films, brought some of that wacky energy to the second and third Superman films.)

Between the second and third Superman movies, Reeve made his other memorable film, "Somewhere in Time," (1980) his most romantic movie, opposite the surpassingly lovely Jane Seymour. (They became close friends, and Seymour named her son after him.) He combined his love of theatre with his film career in the witty "Deathtrap" with Michael Caine. (1982)

His confident, nuanced character part in 1993's "Remains of the Day" seemed to signal a new turn in his film career, suggesting he wouldn't have to either accept the Superman-like roles or the opposite. His life changed soon after, when a fall from a horse in 1995 left him paralyzed. He continued to act and also to direct, but much of his public life was devoted to raising money and encouraging research to be applied to spinal chord injuries. He had been politically involved before; his self-produced Superman IV was called "A Quest for Peace." Now this medical research became his passion, and as testimonials today reiterate, he was perhaps an even greater inspiration in this role than as Superman.

Reeve insisted a cure was close, and he vowed he would walk again. Last Friday, Senator John Kerry mentioned him in the second debate, in connection with the stem-cell research issue. Reeve and Kerry were friends, and Kerry said that Reeve continued to exercise every day, to keep himself ready to take advantage of new therapies.

But as photographs show, time was catching up with him. Only 52, Reeve seemed to age 20 years in 24 months. Weakened and stricken by a sudden infection, he died Sunday.

One of the last phone calls Christopher Reeve made was to John Kerry on Saturday, to urge him to continue to keep the stem cell research issue at the forefront of his campaign for the presidency. As Kerry said today, we have the power to try harder to help others before their time runs out.

This applies most specifically to stem cell research, but it also applies to affordable health care. Christopher Reeve lived as long as he did, and as comfortably, because he was well-off and a celebrity, and had so many famous friends to help him. (Those friends, by the way, stuck by him even outside the limelight all these years.) But people without those resources suffer as much or more, from conditions that medical science can already cure or alleviate. Yet in this, the wealthiest nation in human history, we are among the last to recognize that medicine needn't be reserved for only the highest bidders.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Relevance of Ignorance

In an email response to the "Ecology of Ignorance," (posted below) an old college friend mentioned the fate of the great library of Alexandria, where "the wisdom of the ancients was burned for heat because the authors failed to make the knowledge relevant and the burners saw no value in the knowledge. The modern twist is that today we have agents who intentionally turn the scrolls into firelogs before marketing them to the cold and hungry."

Bill Thompson, who is currently counseling factory workers in a dying plant in Hamilton, Ontario, recalls this interpretation of what happened in Alexandria from Carl Sagan's TV series and book, Cosmos.

According to Sagan, Alexandria was a city devoted to knowledge, beginning with its founding by Alexander the Great in 300 B.C. The library was "the brain and glory of the greatest city on the planet, the first true research institute in the history of the world.... The Alexandrian Library is where we humans first collected, seriously and systematically, the knowledge of the world."

The library reflected the city's zealous commitment to books. Ships in port were searched, not for contraband but for books: in those days, prized handmade and often unique repositories. When found, the books were seized, copied and returned to their owners, and the copy became part of the library's huge collection.

But it was more than a repository of the known or proposed: the library contained "ten large research halls, each devoted to a separate subject; fountains and colonnades; botanical gardens; a zoo; dissecting rooms; an observatory; and a great dining hall, where, at leisure, was conducted the critical discussion of ideas." Among the community of scholars were Euclid, Ptolemy and Archimedes, and lesser known names like Herophilus (who first located the thinking functions in the brain), Dionysius of Thrace (who defined the parts of speech and "did for the study of language what Euclid did for geometry,") and Heron of Alexandria, who invented gear trains and steam engines, and wrote a book on robots.

Alexandria was the cosmopolis, where people of all nations came, lived, traded, studied: Greeks, Egyptians, Hebrews, Persians, Italians, Arabs, Iberians, Syrians...This amazing city and its library thrived for six hundred years. Yet we know almost nothing about the library, because it was totally destroyed by a mob composed of the city's own citizens. Not a single scroll out of thousands survived. Because many were rare or unique, that destruction meant the complete loss of the works themselves, in mathematics, physical sciences and the arts. All the works of Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles were there, and most were lost forever. Of the 123 plays Sophocles is known to have written, we have but seven. A three volume history of the world by a Babylonian author was lost entirely.

The Christian/Catholic Church is usually blamed for the library's destruction, and indeed it was the Archbishop of Alexandria who inflamed followers, leading to the murder of the library's last great scholar, Hypatia, and the burning of the library itself. The Church was trying to obliterate rival "pagan" beliefs and practices, and it was here that learning and science became identified with godlessness and specifically paganism.

But even though Carl Sagan saw what we would call fundamentalist religion as a perennial threat to science, he did not attribute the loss of the Alexandrian library, which set the human race back centuries, only to the Church. By this time Alexandria was under Roman rule, and there was slavery. As to why this library and its knowledge were destroyed, Sagan writes (in the book version of Cosmos) "I cannot give you a simple answer. But I do know this: there is no record, in the entire history of the Library, that any of its illustrious scientists and scholars ever seriously challenged the political, economic and religious assumptions of their society. The permanence of the stars was questioned; the justice of slavery was not."

"Science and learning in general were the preserve of a privileged few. The vast population of the city had not the vaguest notion of the great discoveries taking place within the Library. New findings were not explained or popularized. The research benefited them little."

Sagan sums up: "Science never captured the imagination of the multitude. There was no counterbalance to stagnation, to pessimism, to the most abject surrenders to mysticism. When, at long last, the mob came to burn the Library down, there was nobody to stop them."

There are three points here: the scholars did not involve themselves in the issues of the day that affected the whole society; they did not explain their work in ways that people could understand; they made no practical applications of what they learned that would benefit people.

The third point is complicated in our time, for science certainly does lead, rather too quickly at times, to practical application. It's the nature of those applications (along with the honesty of the science leading to them) that is the public issue of our time. Carl Sagan's own career showed how seriously he took the first two points: he was perhaps the greatest popularizer of science of his generation and since, especially in translating and transmitting his enthusiasm and wonder. And he was foremost as well in applying science to political issues, notably nuclear weapons.

Though his comments on mysticism were problematic at times, and his faith in science perhaps excessive, the lessons Carl Sagan drew from the burning of the Alexandrian library are pertinent to our time. If we are suffering through a period of decline marked by a sappy cynicism personified in every television commercial, part of the ecology of ignorance is the gap between those in the academies of knowledge, and those who are not. If we are to truly learn from history, we ought to recognize that as different as our world now is, the relationship of the academy to society and to other institutions has roots and echoes in Alexandria.

Yes, we have many scientists and journalists who popularize science with great conscientiousness and skill. There is probably more quality work available than ever before, especially with the addition of video. But beyond stars and dinosaurs, genes and brains, what fields of knowledge are popularly explored? There have been fine efforts in ecology (like David Suzuki's tv series on the web of life) and environmental issues that call for political response. But what about the intersection of economics and ecology that society finds most difficult to deal with? Here the science as well as the communication are the problems. The same is true in another crucial area, psychology and society.

Within academia a variety of points of view is one thing, but self-referential confusion and inner directed concentration on careerism and academic politics is another. In some instances, clear communication would reveal mostly the essential confusion and irrelevance in the discipline itself. Only obscurant vocabulary and self-consistent but dubious systems of analysis mask it.

For in the end, ignorance does go both ways. The cubicle worker may be ignorant of academic concerns, but there's trouble too when the academic is ignorant of the cubicle worker's life, let alone the lives of the struggling families at the frayed and jagged edges of the self-sustaining middle class, or black children who have few elder men in their lives because so many black men die young in America.

Then there's Bill Thompson's additional point: "that today we have agents who intentionally turn the scrolls into firelogs before marketing them to the cold and hungry." There is the echo of the old Church in the fundamentalist right's insistence on ignorance of everything that they interpret as not being part of their revelation. But academics who get apoplectic on the subject of religion, are missing the bigger picture (and obscuring potential allies if they don't differentiate better.) The politicians who serve and are served by the rabid right (in its fundamentalist or other true believer mode, or simply in its strategic guise of dogmatism) are also in thrall to the corporate faith in the obscuring power of public relations, advertising and marketing. These are the primary tools of dominance in our day (apart from the often less successful military and economic oppression) and they require an audience that is satisfied to be ignorant.

We have some evidence at the moment that when reality impinges too painfully on the carefully constructed shared fantasy, people get restless. Right now they are watching the presidential/vp debates in uncommon numbers. The Bush campaign is throwing everything it has into attacks that have less and less to do with reality; not only the reality of Iraq and the economy, but specifically the reality of what their opponents said or did. Whether enough voters see through these lies and resist their comforts will determine the election, which will determine the course and speed of the evolution of ignorance.

We have new voices out there, using knowledge to focus issues and choose solutions. Voices like Dale Mahharidge, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of Homeland, who gets his views on the social consequences of today's economics from talking in depth with real people where they live, beyond the platitudes and badly informed generalizations. Yet his research has focused and inspired broader ideas. For instance, he advocates what others have called the next industrial revolution, in renewable energy technology, specifically embodied in the new Apollo Project.

Voices like Robert Kennedy, Jr., who in his book, Crimes Against Nature, brings together environmental science, politics, corporate power and law as they combine to affect the lives and health of people---including the health of his own children. Long an environmental advocate in the courts and in his community, he seems to have concluded that it is time for him to become more involved in national politics because corporations keep nullifying his court victories against pollution by having the law changed. In a Kerry cabinet, he would be a dynamic Environmental Secretary who could very well make a dramatic difference.

People like Maharidge (a university professor as well as author) and Robert Kennedy Jr. make their case by honestly gathering and applying knowledge, and clearly articulating its relevance. Perhaps restoring faith in the honesty of knowledge, and its relevance, can help to restore it to cultural value. While we continue to create new ways to communicate knowledge in ways that develop a sense of wonder and an abiding fascination, not just in specific findings but in the activity, the pursuit. Ignorance may lose some of its cache, as well as its distracting and destructive power. Maybe Alexandria is due for a comeback.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

When Elsewhere is Nowhere

Somewhere on the East Coast a woman I've never met is getting phone calls today prompted by something I wrote. At least this is what I imagine and expect, based on past experience. A substantial positive review in the Sunday review section of the San Francisco Chronicle, the big cheese in a book-buying town, can be a fairly big deal for an author, especially of serious nonfiction, even one as already celebrated as Kay Redfield Jamison.

Friends probably called her, and if her agent or editor hasn't, they will likely mention it in their next conversation. (I did hear of another best-selling author who happened to be in San Francisco when my review came out, and he called his editor and read the complete short review to him over the phone.) I got an email from Leonard Nimoy on my New York Times Star Trek piece which he said was "a fun read for me" and "I've had a lot excited calls from folks who enjoyed it." Needless to say, I got no excited calls myself.

A quote might be taken from today's review for an ad or a blurb on the paperback edition, but more likely than not, it will be attributed only to "San Francisco Chronicle." That's happened before, and it's how this game is played---I've done it myself: if the reviewer isn't a national name, the name of the paper is more impressive on a blurb. An article or review might get reproduced on web sites and be a cause for a blog comment here and there, but unless I write something else on exactly that subject covered by the site, it won't happen again.

These are ways in which some of what I write becomes consequential in the world. It happens elsewhere. Hereabouts, just silence. I got no calls today, and never do; even though I got some nice emails from people I interviewed or were otherwise involved in the Star Trek story, I got no calls from anyone else about it.

Nor are there usually any other consequences to my life, apart from getting paid, and that's seldom very much. The jury is still out on the further adventures the Star Trek piece might lead me on, but most everything else has had no direct or discernable effect here. Today's review didn't, and won't.

Even though I should be used to this, and probably would be undone if I did get calls, I still find this a bit alienating. You know, feeling alien to this place. A familiar feeling.

Musing on this is prompted by something else. In reading my own review I noticed something I didn't like. Though on balance it's solid and has some music to it, I detect some slackness here and there in the writing. Especially things I should have caught, and probably would have if I had gone through it once more, a day or so after I finished it. And I realize that my state of mind at the time I wrote it had some effect. For one thing, I've concluded I have no immediate future and probably no future at all with the Chronicle, beyond writing for minimal payment. I've contacted other papers who pay better for reviews, but haven't gotten a response. What I have now taken note of is that my feelings regarding this have affected my work, although so far only in small matters of style that few others are likely to detect.

So the motivation of building something isn't there to compensate for the lack of motivation from my immediate environment, or let's say my life. There's not much motivation anywhere for the quality of the writing. Even where this review or that article might be consequential, it's not because of the sentences. It's whether it is a positive or negative review, and whether it has a selling line in it or not. For an article it's whether it is good press or bad press for the subject. (In fact it seems that the reviewers who themselves get attention get it for writing biting negative reviews.)

I am exaggerating a bit---I know that when people say they enjoy a piece that they are in part feeling the effect of the writing. Just as I'm exaggerating about lack of response: I've had subjects of reviews and articles contact me and express gratitude for the attention, the quality of it, and for being "understood." I sometimes even get phone calls and emails from readers,usually no more than one per piece, often from a stranger with a strange story to tell; I am usually discomfited by these calls though I hold them in awe as well. A complete stranger going to all that trouble means some chord was struck, something important to that person. I value all those responses very much.

But most of the motivation for writing as well as I can, comes from an inner compulsion, an inner dialogue (I write things I hope to enjoy reading), and principle. Maybe even some writerly fear and/or superstition, that if you abuse the gift you lose it.

I also wonder if my new-found equanimity about editing that detracts from my work (subject of an earlier entry on 9/09) is the other side of this. I had a piece recently that was essentially strip-mined for a newsier and stylistically blunt and forgettable collection of information. It didn't bother me, at least not as it would have in the past.

Standing on principle seldom gets approval from others when it means offending somebody with power, or cutting off a source of income. I see pretty clearly that caring so much about the integrity of the final product has done me and my "career" far more harm than good. And I take note that the work I feel closest to, that I consider my best, is not generally so approved. So the worth of what I defend is questionable, especially to others. So what do I do?

As the editor of a Japanese art magazine once said to me when I asked him when I would be paid, "good question!" Certainly attending more rigorously to the writing that I am commissioned to do, at whatever price, is an obvious lesson and not that hard to heed. Being able to publish my work myself on the Internet helps enormously. I get more feedback from doing that, especially from the people on my email lists, than from anything else. But for the larger questions, it's hard to say.

There is a sense in which I've always felt it is out of my hands. We are servants of the gifts we're given, and whatever value they have (or are supposed to have) is probably more to the whole than to us. Whatever the "whole" might be. I suspect it includes other times and other places.

Just as the ants probably don't suffer from angst about searching out sugar and not finding much, we just do what we are compelled to do, regardless.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

The Ecology of Ignorance

"If this is the Information Age, "a woman asks the befuddled man in a suit at the usual cocktail party in the 1980s New Yorker cartoon, "why doesn't anybody know anything?"

That's one aspect of the paradox. It isn't just information overload. It's surrender.

Ignorance is fashionable. One of these days somebody at Vanity Fair will start calling it the New Ignorance. It seems to go right along with the New Normal.

We're in the midst of a political campaign where one candidate is pilloried for being too nuanced. He believes complex problems are complex, and the other guy---the guy who appears to be winning the hearts and mindlessness of America---believes complex problems can be made simple if you only pour enough blood and money on them, and hire people who get their kicks from lying viciously and outrageously, and getting away with it. Intelligence is unfashionable, dude.

Historian Richard Hofstader published a book called Anti-Intellectualism in American Life that linked the tradition to what we'd now call fundamentalist religion. Intellectuals are individualistic, and individualism is an invitation to sin. The church and the community keep everyone on the path of truth and virtue. It was an idea suited to the 1960s, in revolt against the conformist, outer-directed fifties.

I found that book in my hometown public library, on the shelf for new books in 1963, when I was in high school. In those days, you signed your name on the library card, and when you took the book back, that card went back in the pocket of the book. So in those innocent, pre-Patriot Act days, you knew who was reading what.

Some 20 years later, when my hometown library had moved to bigger quarters but hadn't updated its system, I chanced on this very same book while visiting the stacks. I looked at the card in the back. My name was there, and there was no name after it.

But small town anti-intellectualism, at least as old as Sinclair Lewis (who in fact seemed mighty contemporary when I read him, also in high school) isn't the whole story. Here we've got the Internet, inter-library systems, an amazing variety of periodicals and books available almost everywhere, and hundreds of channels of what was once sold to the public as the greatest educational device ever (television, which came after the similarly sold radio and before the ditto computer). And we're as dumb as posts and getting dumber. Ignorance this profound takes some effort. This is learned ignorance.

In the nineteenth and early 20th century, aspiration to wealth implied aspiration to knowledge, sophistication and taste. The immigrant Scottish boy Andrew Carnegie writes rapturously of his first raise, his first investment, but also his first reading (and first library), his first taste of Shakespeare and Wagner, and how his outlook changed after seeing the best new paintings in Europe. That’s how we got Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Museum and all those libraries.

Slaves in America worshipped literacy and risked their lives to learn to read; Wynton Marsalis talks about how the cultured, well-spoken and erudite man was the epitome of style in the black culture of New Orleans.

We think of certain immigrant groups as devoted to education, and not always only as a way to get ahead, and other immigrant groups as indifferent. Probably the differences have as much to do with whether the immigrants came from poor and rural areas, or middle class and urban. But ignorance was not a positive value for any immigrant group in the past, at least not completely.

There is the phenomenon of the working class hero to consider---at the same time as working class kids may be encouraged to get an education to get ahead, they are also cautioned not to get too fancy or go too far. It's the separation from the values of the group, the family, the community, and the church again. Who do you think you are? You think you're better than us?

The break point might have been my parents generation, when a solid middle class life became possible without much education, and the culture began to minimize the value of non-ignorance, except as credential or job training. The first baby boomers had clearer access to college than any generation before or since, and we took advantage of it. But what did it really mean? So the paradox begins, as non-ignorance becomes a freakish aspiration.

Lots of books have characterized the phenomenon, from William Whyte's Organization Man to R. S. Scorer's 1977 The Clever Moron to Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death. Even more books have seen it as part of society's apocalypse, like John Ralston Saul's The Unconscious Civilization, Morris Berman's The Twilight of American Culture, and Jacques Barzun's elegy for western civilization, From Dawn to Decadence.

Is it decadence? The decay of the wealthy classes is hard to measure, since it's hard to recall when the wealthy weren't decadent. Today a lot of people like to act wealthy and think of themselves as such. But there's nothing inherent in a richer society that says it has to value ignorance. The 1960s began with a different vision of wealth, and a different vision of where our society and democracy were going. John F. Kennedy had money, but also intelligence, knowledge, wit, charm and style. He laced his speeches with quotations, often from distinguished writers he had actually read. Contrary to today's propaganda, the New Frontier wasn't about muscling the Russians. It was about solving problems reasonably, and applying knowledge to problem-solving.

My generation had those models for awhile. Robert Kennedy could recite long passages and poetry from memory. He cherished the company of poets, writers and thinkers. Eugene McCarthy was something of an intellectual. There were others in public life; there were in the 60s even public intellectuals, and we used to actually see them on television, on nationally broadcast talk shows---and not just on Sunday morning. Even Barry Goldwater was pretty well read, and no fan of ignorance.

Fast-forward to the twenty-first century America of George W. Bush, and it's pretty frightening. This is the future?

Probably nobody will believe this now, but at that first televised presidential debate in 1960, voters were interested in which of the candidates was smarter. Who knew more. Who had intelligent solutions.

Today of course the Republicans win universal praise from the political experts for a campaign that has exactly one message endlessly repeated. Does it matter that they avoid issues that will decide the future? Does it matter that their message is a lie, and they know it is, and so do the experts? Of course not. The experts deride other campaign for not doing the same thing.

According to the conventional wisdom, ignorance is the new normal. Or the new morality.

Our society could have valued knowledge and intelligence. Our best are getting better; there are amazingly intelligent books out there written for non-specialists, by people who sincerely want to apply intelligence to an understanding of life, as well as to solve problems. But we never made that commitment to intelligence, at least not for very long.

You could call what's happened to our standards for public dialogue a kind of decadence, though it's not the product so much of lassitude as rapacity. Some say there was an American Establishment that kept the public dialogue civilized, but that it fell apart when it was unable to restrain Nixon and what came after. Maybe. But there's no sense of responsibility replacing artificial standards and enforcers, especially since dog eat dog became enshrined as the American Dream in the 1980s. That's the only kind of individualism left.

Ignorance is useful when you're trying to fool people, and with a consumer economy so dependent on advertising, fooling people is a basis for this apparent prosperity. Ignorance is even more useful to gain political power when your policies are actually harming the electorate. You have to fool them then. It's apparently pretty easy. How can an administration that squandered a huge surplus and put the country in ascending debt for generations, while making things economically worse for most voters, partly by engaging in a war it said it had to fight, but every reason it gave has been repeatedly and authoratatively discredited, and that in less than four years made America hated in most of the world and terrorism more of a threat to American security and safety ---how can these folks not be laughed or booed off the stage? Are we living in some dissociated sort of continuous panic? Don't we believe any of this really matters, so we can elect our favorite clown? Whatever happened to won't get fooled again?

G.W. and his crowd speak in the simplistic and inflammatory language that generations and generations have argued and demonstrated is destructive and self-destructive, not to mention inaccurate. Those generations built a level of knowledge we should be standing on, to get to the next level. People bled and died, slaughtered and were slaughtered, suffered outrageous fortune, made horrendous errors and learned from them, and left us knowledge, and works of art and thought so complex and yet so grounded that we can learn from them at every stage of our lives and of our society.

Such knowledge and the desire for it were always minority concerns, for people who could afford such things, the elites. The promise of American democracy and its economic implications, especially in the abundance of our era and with its instant communications, was that everybody could have access to that knowledge. Everybody could be the elite. There are plenty of problems with our democracy and current economy that imperil this promise, but there also seems to be a lack of demand. For the opposites of ignorance.

We're going to need even more sophisticated knowledge and a synthesis of new concepts and old wisdom if the civilization built at such a high price in costly knowledge is to get out of this century intact. H.G. Wells said our civilization was in a race between education and catastrophe. Catastrophe is winning. But never mind: where's my cheese?

Here's a little theory: when a society is building and ascending, it aspires to knowledge. But when it is on the way down, ignorance is bliss.

Our society is racing to the bottom. Economically, that became clear when Wal-Mart became the largest and most powerful corporation in the world. In the 50s and 60s, the talk about factory jobs was that they were dehumanizing, alienating. The assembly line was a living metaphor for tedious semi-slavery and brain-death. Today those factory jobs are held up as a lost paradise, because they disappeared, leaving behind jobs that pay much less and are even more dehumanizing. Instead of being a human robot on the auto assembly line, you get to be a talking robot serving the assembly line of other mindless human robots lined up for tasty mass produced patties of fried fat and rainforest-destroying cow meat. And that's just one of your three jobs, maybe the best one.

In his book, What's the Matter With Kansas?, Thomas Frank tried to discover why middle America votes against its own interests, particularly its economic interests. Why do the so-called social issues trump? A species of anti-intellectualism, the Nation reviewer suggested.

Maybe. Dale Maharidge, author of Homeland, makes a telling observation. He writes a lot about race, and he realized that almost everyone he interviewed who was violently racist, had some enormous problem---huge medical bills they couldn't pay for, long-standing unemployment, and so on. They directed their anger at others who they believed---who they were told---were getting a free ride while they suffered. (A white man with $200,000 in hospital bills believed that immigrants automatically get free health care.) But Maharidge's point was this: What if they all had good jobs and health care? "Would they be so enraged? I don't think so."

So people in power keep their power by enforcing the ignorance that lets them lie and hammer away with simpleminded statements and slogans, and people buy it. And the very suffering they cause helps them, which they probably know. So things are never going to get better for the people near the bottom, and they're on their way to the very bottom.

That helps to explain why television and popular culture has become so vile, vulgar, and stupid. It's ignorance that's got production values, plastic surgery, bright empty smiles and brittle irony. If television advertising can successfully weaken the higher brain functions, it can go straight to the glands. And it is apparently important that people be kept down, mired in anxiety and in pain, so they will look for scapegoats and believe the ignorant lies of radio talk shows. Ignorance sells. But eventually no one will be able to afford to buy.

Part of this may be time. The population of the U.S. in 1960 was 180 million. It's about a hundred and ten million more now. After World War II, the lower middle class grew so fast into the middle class that its tastes became the dominant ones in the culture. Funny isn't it, that even the filthy rich are living a tawdry lower middle class cultural life. Thank you, Andy Warhola.

Little girls are growing up, wanting to be just like Paris Hilton.

On the other hand, when I was growing up, English muffins were foreign food.

Problem is, time is one of the many things we're running out of. We do, however, seem to have an endless supply of ignorance. All those cell phones. And not a damn thing worth saying.

So this is our cultural epitaph: we actually were halfway to a better world. We began to understand what we were wrong about, and what we needed to do. We had even reached something of a cultural consensus on some of what is right: things like racial equality, the environment and so on. That's why our leaders have to call their rapacious policies to cut down trees by the name of "Healthy Forests." They can't any longer come out and say what they're doing. They are counting on our ignorance, and our weakness (we'll feel good about the title, and we'll be glad we don't have to change or sacrifice anything, like colorful cardboard boxes around everything we buy.)

But we couldn't quite commit to knowledge and discernment. We couldn't quite take on the discipline of separating our unconscious from our conscious decisions. Jung warned us in the 1950s that our civilization hangs by a slender thread. It's fraying to the breaking point.

Sure, there's elitism, political correctness, class snobbery and a lot of intellectuals and experts so out of touch with themselves that they don't even know how irrational they are. There are schematic thinkers who use big words, charts and graphs to tell well paid lies, and right wing think tanks who can spin out pithy theories and heartless systems in abstract language with the best of them. But those aren't reasons to worship at the catheral of ignorance.

Is there a way out of the ecology of ignorance? You gotta see it to believe it.

And you could go vote against it.