Thursday, October 21, 2021

Tending

Hull of the sunflower seed riding atop its green shoot

Looking back now, I see I’ve been a bit adrift since retiring from my psychotherapy practice. At first, I took up the slack by writing columns to the Concord Monitor readership, whom I view as friends and neighbors. Recently, I’ve taken a break from writing due to a perfect storm of events: an ongoing spell of ill health combined with a deadening malaise from the existential perils that confront us from climate change, Covid resistance, and escalating threats to our democratic way of life. I’ve taken refuge in solitude, meditation, and tending my garden: doing a little each day in my mind and in my yard composting crops gone by, tilling the earth and planting cover crops to protect and nourish the soil.


I ran across a blog by a wise woman, Maia Duerr⁠1, who helped me make sense of what was flailing around in my head: "Lately one of my favorite words is a verb: tending. I find myself saying it a lot. In nearly every instance I’m trying to remind myself the importance of taking care of something, whether that’s my heart, my body a relationship, or the land I live on.” Her words awakened me into accepting how much of my life had revolved around tending to my patients. And how, since my retirement, I have been casting around looking for a suitable substitute.


Maia defines “tending” in terms of tending a fire:  "giving a fire the elements it needs to thrive, making sure there is enough wood but also enough space and oxygen. Keeping an eye on it, moving things around as it begins to die down so that it can spark back into life.” That’s what I attempted to do for my patients, and it was always a miraculous sensation, watching a patient sparking back into life. It’s the same sense of wonder mixed with reverence I feel watching a green shoot spring out of the ground from a withered, dry, seed.


Maia tells us the root of the word “tending” is related to intention "to in-tend something is to hold that thing in our heart/mind with an energy that calls it into reality.”  That simple statement, for me, was like turning on a floodlight, illuminating my problem and offering a solution. 


Where to put my intention? That is the question. Like a ship lost at sea, I must chart a course to where I want to sail to. In Maia’s words: “What are you stretching yourself toward, what are you intending for the precious days of your life, however many you have left?” At this point, I don’t have solid answers to these questions but will follow Maia’s advice to be kind to myself by creating the space to allow these questions to unfold.


It also occurs to me that her question is universal for all of us to ponder during these difficult times, no matter our circumstances. Facing the truly monumental threats of climate change, Covid, and the unraveling of our country, it would be easy to become so depressed, we give up, pulling the covers up over our heads. But we can’t do that, any more than we can stop feeding our family or watering our garden! We have to keep tending those that we love, not only our family and friends but extend ourselves outward to tend to our country and the natural world beyond. The question isn’t if we will tend to things but which ones will they be – and with what motivation. 


Intentions, positive and well as negative, forge energy that create their own reality. The best we can do, I think, is make intentions based on tending to others. Such intentions empower us, manifesting our higher selves, giving us the gift of knowing we are doing all we can to create a more wholesome and relational world.

xxx


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1 October Full Moon: Tending to Your Life: www.maiaduerr.com

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

The humbled poppies connect to life and death, war and peace.

"Remembrance Day" by belkin59 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0



When I think of poppies, I think of wearing  the red crepe paper poppies distributed by the American Legion Auxiliary on Memorial Day to honor the sacrifice of our fellow Americans who served and died for our country. That is until I read a mind-blowing essay by Katrina Vandenberg in the current edition of Orion Magazine.  It made me think more deeply about our unconscious connections to the rhythms of nature – including war – and other mysteries beyond my feeble understanding.


Opium poppies  have been cultivated by humans, going back to our earliest civilizations in Neolithic times. The plant has been long-revered for relieving suffering at the most fraught passages in a person’s life: birth and death. But it’s not a one-sided story. The poppy is the door to many realms, good and bad, as the author notes: The door “swings open-closed, life-death, pleasure-pain, freedom-slavery, remember-forget, suffer-release and when not swinging, it lives on is threshold, ready.”


The threshold state for poppies is unique because unlike most plants, they don’t grow every year: They can lay dormant for up to 100 years, waiting for the ground to be disturbed. Thus, when the fields of Flanders were ripped open and shredded by artillery and trench digging during World War One, poppies sprang to life, transforming the barren land into fields of blood-red blossoms, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers. That’s the back story of how the poppy came to symbolize the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of soldiers  mowed down during that brutal war.


Poppies are remarkable in other ways: Out of the tens of thousands of plants on the earth, only one, the opium poppy, can produce morphine in measurable quantities. Morphine, distilled from the poppy’s opium, is also unique: it is the only molecule in nature that has “evolved to fit key-in-lock into the receptors we have in our brains and spines” to provide pain relief and, in other circumstances, pleasure.


Following Michael Pollan's thesis in "The Botany of Desire," Vandenberg asserts our relationship with the poppy is reciprocal: "that plants domesticate us at the same time we domesticate them, and that they evolve to respond to basic human yearnings." The mystery of the poppy, to her, is that this plant, unique from all others, has learned "what we most desire to feel.” 


This essay is not meant to be an ode to morphine which can be a hopelessly addicting and life-destroying drug, even more so now that science has invented synthetic morphine compounds, like oxycodone and fentanyl, which are hundreds of times more addicting. No, this essay is an ode to the reality that life is often a mystery beyond human understanding.


Poppies are a good example. The author's claim, backed by Michael Pollan, boggles the brain: that opium poppies have co-evolved with us, learning what we most desire to feel.  Also unnerving is the poppy's ability to awaken from hibernation when disturbed by war to bloom in profusion as red as a fallen soldier's blood.


Other mysteries: Can it be only happenstance that we have just lost a 20-year war to a small, third-world country festooned with opium poppies – which just happens to be our national symbol honoring our fallen heroes? And how can it be that after we spent $9 billion during this war to stamp out opium production,  poppy cultivation has not declined but skyrocketed?


The final mystery is the nature of war itself. We think of it as an abomination, an external enemy. But what if war is not outside of us but a part of who we are. That’s the viewpoint of James Hillman, the late, legendary Jungian psychologist.. He looks at war not through the lens of science or theology but from an understanding of mythology and archetypal psychology. What he asserts seems undeniable: “where else in human experience, except in the throes of ardor – that strange coupling of love with war – do we find ourselves transported’ to such a mythical place.⁠1


To resist our instinctual urge to rush to war, the first step is not denial but admitting we have a problem, that war is part of our DNA. Society already understands how to control unbridled sexual passion and lust by establishing norms, customs, and rituals, to restrain and redirect these urges in socially acceptable directions. We could do the same with war, but we don’t. 


Worse, we have done the opposite: loosening prohibitions, even becoming cheerleaders for war. Already, with our troops still taking their boots off from Afghanistan, pundits and politicians are talking up our next war.


That’s the terrible truth of war: the biggest mystery of all,


xxx




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1 2 A Terrible Love of War by James Hillman, page 9

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Thoughts on 9/11 and what our wars since WW II have cost us

 

Courtesy of Vietnam Veterans Against the War: 1987


Rather than treating 9/11 like the criminal conspiracy it was, we got bogged down in another land war in Asia – as disastrous as Vietnam. The whole world would have helped us locate Bin Laden, capture him, and  put him on trial as Israelis did with Adolf Eichmann.  Then, after we invaded Afghanistan and pushed Bin Laden out, The Taliban – which didn’t exist until we started meddling in Afghanistan – petitioned to surrender. But we spurned their offer, wanting a complete victory in the manner of a patriarchal father who thinks he knows what’s best for his children. Finally, compounding our folly, we invaded Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11. 


History is clear: As Jeremi Suri recently wrote in the NYT,  “We have thrown away our wealth and reputation fighting bad wars  – costly, protracted conflicts with self-defeating consequences – in Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places.⁠1 “ He goes on to say that military force is not a substitute for the hard work of building representative and effective governments in these countries we have invaded. 


How true! Our emphasis on the military has had the same destabilizing effect inside our country, fraying our democracy and paralyzing Congress. Working and middle-class folks feel vulnerable and insecure, financially worse off than their parents. They believe government isn’t working for them. And they are right!


Since the 1970s, the gap between the poorest and wealthiest Americans has gotten exponentially worse, the middle class has shrunk, and our roads and bridges have fallen apart. Compared to other developed countries, we have the lowest life expectancy, the  highest poverty rate, and the worst safety net. 


Just as General Westmoreland always saw light at the end  of the tunnel during the Vietnam War, we think we are winning because the stock market continues to climb –  pretending the have-nots do not exist, climate change is a hoax and that systematic racism is a liberal plot.


The more we become disillusioned, the more we turn on each other. As I wrote in my last column, our institutions can’t function unless we have a consensual agreement about who we are as a people. Without that, we become a dysfunctional family where individual members all seek control, like selfish children.


I fear our dysfunction has reached a tipping point: major civil unrest looms on the horizon, perhaps the opening salvo to civil war. If you think it can’t happen, look no further than what happened in Rwanda between two similar ethnic groups, who had lived together and intermarried for generations. But inflamed by ethnic tension and fake news, the Hutus attacked the Tutsis with clubs and machetes, killing 800,000 in the space of 100 days.


How do we hold enough common ground to move forward, avoiding the temptation to descend into backbiting and recrimination? The magnitude of the task ahead came into clearer focus for me after reading John Buttrick’s My Turn piece in the Sunday Concord Monitor. He wrote about his daughters’ “serious distrust” of Joe Biden because “he frequently openly touched women without their consent.” 


As a 75-year-old man, who grew up when patriarchy ruled supreme, my whole life has been a re-education project – still ongoing. From the perspective of a recovering white male, I understand why these young women distrust Biden. As a progressive, I, too, have long distrusted Biden for many of his shifting centralist views. 


But my outlook has changed since the Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6th,  along with his ongoing attempt to challenge the results of the last election and suppress voting in the next. If we imagined ourselves as a dysfunctional family under Trump, we now have another chance. We’ve elected a new president who wants to make government work again for the average citizen.


Joe Biden, warts and all, has had the political courage to get us out of Afghanistan, along with proposing the most sweeping legislation since the New Deal to lift up average Americans while, at the same time, protecting voter rights and women’s bodies. If democrats and forward-thinking republicans can pass this legislation, it will signal to disgruntled citizens that perhaps the government can work for them. But, to succeed, we will need all hands on deck!


Despite the significant distrust, harbored by so many of us on various issues, I believe it is time to suck it in and work together to hold the center to save our democracy. If we don't step forward now, the consequences will be dire,  expressed so well by Willian Butler Yates:



“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold...

the best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”⁠2

xxx


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1 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/30/opinion/american-military-afghanistan.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20210831&instance_id=39209&nl=todaysheadlines®i_id=30753738&segment_id=67669&user_id=273ae8c1ede4fde7d59a2b0627accb92

2 The Second Coming, William Butler Yates

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Without government we climb a ladder to nowhere.

Composite Photoshop of Pueblo Dwelling
in NM and Sumac on the coast of ME
CC Jean Stimmell

 


25 years of psychological research has proven how easy it is, by the process of suggestion, to get individuals to believe in things that never happened: In these experiments, “we see that people can come to believe that they were lost or that they took a hot air balloon ride or spilled punch on the parents of a bride at a wedding.⁠1 Remarkably, even after being told that the memory is false, participants tend to keep on believing it.


Research shows how even family members growing up together can have different memories of the same event, sometimes radically different. In well-functioning families, dissimilar individual memories become blended into a master narrative that changes over time as circumstances change. Psychologist Coman at Princeton University tells us such memory convergence boosts group cohesion, by empowering self-worth and sense of belonging to a greater whole.⁠2


Governments require the same group cohesion to function well. When I was growing up in the 1950s, our country had this bond: we were united,  proud to be Americans. By saying that, I’m not suggesting that America in the 1950s was necessarily fair or equal, just that a large majority was on the same page. 


Those of us growing up at that time were deeply idealistic. We, of course, became known as the sixties generation, and contrary to an unfair stereotype, loved our country. I remember how affected we were by JFK’s speech, challenging each of us to contribute in some way to the public good: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,”  The turmoil we caused in the 1960s was an expression of that idealism: We protested, not to tear things down but to demand that our government live up to its founding ideals.


Obviously, our nation has lost that optimistic idealism. One big reason is the nature of the news. Back in the day, the media was, for most, a single reality: most families got their news in the evening on one of 3 networks, all basically saying the same thing. Now social media has proliferated like the profusion of dandelions seeds from a single plant floating off into the air, dispersing a vast assortment of progeny, far and wide.


As psychologists have proven, it is so easy, by the power of suggestion, to convince folks that something happened that didn’t. Social media has blossomed to be a major accelerator of this process. If we add to the mix, Trump’s fake news, we have a perfect storm. 


While all politicians sometimes fib, Trump takes the cake, lying at least 30,000 times during his presidency. Before that, when running for president, he bombarded the democrats and Hillary Clinton with fake claims. Reputable sources like Kathleen Jamieson, a professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania, concludes that the barrage of Trump lies amplified by Russian meddling “very likely” swung the election to him.⁠3


But Trump’s most dangerous lie isn’t his alone but a long-time republican talking point, that is scornful of JFK’s positive view of government.  The turning point came with Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address in 1981 when he laid down the gauntlet to democrats, declaring that "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." 


The republicans were on a roll. Glover Norquist followed up this offensive against government with this infamous bombshell: “I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”


Considering all the factors I have listed, no wonder we are in disarray, unable to achieve a consensual narrative as to who we are as a nation. Divided into factions, we have become a dysfunctional family, consisting of individual factions like narcissistic children, all vying for control. It can’t last.  Without a functioning government, we climb a ladder to nowhere.


One thing is clear. While we may have many different agendas, we all must support our democratic form of government and work to make it better and stronger – not drown it in a bathtub.

xxx



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1 https://www.npr.org/transcripts/788422090

2 https://www.nature.com/articles/543168a.pdf

3 https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/01/how-russia-helped-to-swing-the-election-for-trump

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Terrible Truth of War

 

Statue of nurse and soldier, next to the Vietnam War Memorial
 by OZinOH under CC BY-NC 2.0 license.



Another war, another debacle, egged on by the usual suspects: the military-industrial complex who got rich from it;  the news media who gained readership from it;  Republicans who flaunted their manhood with it, and Democrats who feared being called ‘wussies’ if they opposed it.


What sheep! Three days after the U.S was attacked on 9/11, Congress adopted a knee-jerk, open-ended authorization to attack terrorists that is still in effect. Barbara Lee was the only lawmaker who dared to vote no, which subjected her to almost universal verbal venom, even physical threats. “People were calling me a traitor, she said, “But I knew then that it was going to set the stage for perpetual war.” And that’s exactly what happened.⁠1 We will go to our graves calling them ‘forever wars.’


Despite spending more on the military than the next 11 countries combined, what good has it done us? We’ve ended up like a carpenter with only a hammer, mistaking every problem as a nail to smash. A day of reckoning is coming. Just look at the last two countries that attempted to maintain an empire through military might. England and The Soviet Union exhausted themselves financially, and worse, their one-pointed obsession with military power depleted their creativity vitality as a nation.


Already pundits are debating “how can we pivot from our fight in Afghanistan to our next war?” 


To break this cycle, we first must recognize what war really is. For a fresh perspective , let’s consult the late, legendary, Jungian psychologist, James Hillman. He said, in essence, war is an aphrodisiac: “where else in human experience, except in the throes of ardor – that strange coupling of love with war – do we find ourselves transported’ to such a mythical place.⁠2


The first step in resisting the rush to war is to understand the irrational nature of this ‘terrible truth:” Because war erupts from a primal state of passion, we must use our cognitive facilities of reason to counteract it. It has worked in the past. Hillman was ‘encouraged by the courage of culture, even in the dark ages, to withstand war…to work to understand it better, delay it longer…”⁠3


How do we build such cultural courage? In other areas, we’ve established a long track record of controlling our passions. All societies, for instance, have learned to establish norms, customs, rituals, and laws to restrain unbridled sexual passion. In our own country, in the last 50 years alone, we have made major strides by passing laws and raising public awareness to reduce sexual victimization by broadening the definition of what constitutes rape, abuse, and sexual harassment.


Yet when it comes to war, our politicians and mass media have done the opposite: loosening prohibitions, even becoming cheerleaders for war. As Hillman observed, ‘War’ is becoming more normalized every day. 


The Afghanistan War is a good example: Things could have been much different if calmer heads had prevailed. Within weeks of starting our intensive bombing campaign in November of 2001, the Taliban’s bravado faded: they became “a spent force” as they fled from Kabul into the mountains. At that point, “[t]he Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.⁠4


Mission accomplished, right? Al Qaeda had been driven out and the Taliban defeated. 


Not quite. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, still in the heat of war lust – rather than negotiating a surrender –went in for the kill, vowing to exterminate the Taliban. Toward that end, over the last 20 years, it has cost us over 2 trillion dollars, killed 2400 of our young American servicemen and women, and wounded another 20,000.  To say nothing of countless civilian casualties.


Now we are witnessing, The Taliban – far from being destroyed – marching triumphantly back into Kabul, without a shot being fired. I think there is a lesson in this somehow.

xxx


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1 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/22/us/as-afghanistan-collapses-a-lament-for-repeating-the-same-mistakes.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20210823&instance_id=38584&nl=todaysheadlines&regi_id=30753738&segment_id=66983&user_id=273ae8c1ede4fde7d59a2b0627accb92

2 A Terrible Love of War by James Hillman, page 9

3 Ibid, page 22

4 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/23/world/middleeast/afghanistan-taliban-deal-united-states.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20210823&instance_id=38584&nl=todaysheadlines&regi_id=30753738&segment_id=66983&user_id=273ae8c1ede4fde7d59a2b0627accb92

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Helpless But Not Hopeless

 

Me solarized in Photoshop

Helpless But Not Hopeless


It’s taken me 75 years to get to this place: Bobbing around in my kayak in the rosy,  luminescent water of Jenness Pond at dusk, my rational mind took flight, merging me with the beating heart of  the Earth. 


During my lifetime, the Earth has taken a terrible beating.  When I was born, the oceans were practically as pure as when the Vikings roamed the seas. Now, plastics pollute the oceans and clog the gullets of the fish and birds the reside there. Each year another 8 million tons of plastic waste escapes into the ocean. “That’s the equivalent of setting five garbage bags full of trash on every foot of coastline around the world.”⁠1


Experts agree that this “Great Acceleration” started around 1950: that’s when a sudden and dramatic jump in consumption began, followed by a huge rise in global population, and an explosion in the use of plastics. Facing up to what we have done is mortifying. Yet, that is the first step in forging a deeper, more intimate, and sustainable relationship with our home.


Growing up, like most Americans, I thought the Earth was the most solid, unchanging, and boring entity imaginable, immune to human harm: An inexhaustible treasure house, a self-service supermarket for humankind.


My whole life has been a re-education project, prompted by books like Small is Beautiful, Silent Spring, Practice of the Wild, The Spell of the Sensuous – and most recently, Timefulness: How Thinking like a geologist can help save the world by Marcia Bjornerud. She’s opening up my eyes and heart to how sprightly, tempestuous, and turbulent the Earth really is.⁠2


To us in human time, mountains are the embodiment of stability and strength, but, in geologic time, mountains are fluid and fleeting, rising up by volcanic action, eroding away to nothing, and then starting over again, time after time over the eons. Through that and other examples, Bjornerud shows how all of nature is alive, even rocks. That’s why she calls them verbs, not nouns.


This Great Acceleration  has created massive changes to the Earth. Now a single mine in Canada’s tar sands region moves 30 billion tons of sediment annually, double the quantity moved by all the worlds’ rivers combined. The weight of the freshwater we have redistributed has slowed the Earth’s rotation.⁠3 And last week, we learned that the rapid melting of the Greenland icecap is causing the Gulf stream to weaken and the jet stream to wander. 


Scientists tell us that, thanks to our meddling, we can’t predict the future because there are too many imponderables. Uncertainty reigns in the face of enigmatic geologic forces infinitely greater than ourselves. 


Yet we're like narcissistic teenagers living for the moment, insisting on having things our way. Our political ideologies and religions have brainwashed us to believe we are unique, the apex species anointed by our gods to have dominion over the Earth. But now, having tipped the balance too far, we see our vanities and hubris are like an early morning mist about to be blown away by the first breeze.


What can be done? The first step is to admit we have a problem as folks do in AA. The next step is to re-define what it means to be 'helpless', as Kurt Spellmeyer accomplishes with a brilliant juitsu move in the current Tricycle Magazine: He reframes being helpless as a transcendental experience rather than – as our macho society scornfully regards it – 'a moral failure, a cause for shame, or a condition to be over come by heroic acts."


"Not until events escaping their control bring people face-to-face with their helplessness will they discover that they belong to something larger than themselves: an ‘unlimited body,’”⁠4  To my way of thinking, this ‘unlimited body’ is the body of the Earth itself, the entity to whom indigenous people have always bowed down to. 


The turning point won’t happen until we hit rock bottom: when worsening conditions from accelerating climate change render us so  vulnerable and unprotected that we will have no choice but to reach out for assistance and solace  from our neighbors, great and small,  while they, in turn, will be reaching out to us. This collective outpouring of compassion will unleash  a tsunami wave of action powerful enough to save what is left of our home. And, as a side benefit, we will restore meaning and honor back into our lives.


When that happens, Spellmeyer tells us, our feelings of resignation and powerlessness will be transformed by "an embrace" as the world encircles us in its arms and whispers, “relax, you're home." 

xxx 



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1 Ibid.

2 “Timefulness: How thinking like a geologist can help save the world” by Marcia Bjornerud. Princeton University Press. 2018

3 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/10/aeon-deep-time/505922/

4 https://tricycle.org/magazine/hope-in-buddhism/

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

A Rant

What is the "The Common Good?"



I take umbrage with Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for the NYT,  for having the gall to tell me, a staunch liberal, what I believe. He praises paleoconservative Sohrab Ahmari’s new book, “The Unbroken Thread.”  for giving a "moral voice … against the values of elite liberalism, above all its disdain for limits, from moral taboos tor national borders.”⁠1 


In the real world, when the right and the left fight over freedom versus limits, it’s not a clear-cut matter. As Max Boot recently wrote, conservatives are willing to accept substantial infringements on civil liberties to combat criminals and terrorists. Yet, they insist on dropping our guard against a pandemic that has already killed over 600,0000 Americans. In this case, it is liberals – following a long American tradition that started with George Washington – who want to limit freedom to save lives by mandating vaccinations and mask-wearing.⁠2

 

Certainly, liberals often have more elastic boundaries than conservatives: We believe that individuals should have the freedom to determine their gender, whom they can love, and how. We don’t like abortions but want the  mother to have the freedom to decide rather than passing a law; we are in favor of rehabilitating folks who break the law, not punish them for being sinners; we would like teachers to teach our children about our complete history, warts and all, in order to do better in the future. We recognize that some problems  like nuclear proliferation, climate change, and Covid-19 can not be solved within single nations and require international cooperation. 


In other areas, we are adamant about enforcing stricter limits than conservatives. We are more conservative than conservatives about not rushing into making humans guinea pigs to genetically modified food, nuclear power plants, pharmaceutical products, and toxic waste dumped into the environment. We favor of conserving our natural resources and protecting the diversity of all life forms on earth.  We  favor of guns for hunting and target shooting but would ban assault rifles with large clips, which facilitate the unhinged to commit  mass murder. We favor zoning laws for reasons of health and safety.  


Many decisions are difficult, finding the sweet spot between too much regulation and not enough. The underlying goal is not freedom at all costs  but what promotes the common good.  Achieving the right balance requires a willingness to come together in good conscience to negotiate a solution we can all live with.


In a manifesto that Ahmari wrote in 2019, he asserted that the new right’s greatest priority was  “to resist efforts by liberals…to oppose the desire voters are expressing for a politics of the common good.”⁠3  On this point,  I agree with him: voters are clamoring for a "politics of the common good."  


Poll after poll shows a substantial majority of voters across party lines view clean water, a quality public education, adequate food, and housing as fundamental human rights that the federal government should secure. More than 7-10 voters across party lines support guaranteed sick days, paid family and medical leave, and increased assistance for low-income people.


Further proof comes from polls that consistently show the  “happiest people in the world” live in countries like Finland and Denmark, where citizens are guaranteed these human rights.  President Biden is now working with Congress to extend more of these rights to all Americans. Yet conservatives oppose this common good. 


Another aspect of conservative thinking has a religious component that goes back to the birth of our nation, based on the Calvinist notion that hard work is a sign an individual will achieve eternal salvation; meanwhile, those less industrious go to hell. Some conservatives still use this as a cudgel to deny aid to the poor and needy, claiming they don't deserve it


One offshoot of this doctrine was made popular in the 1800s by Russell Conwell,  a Baptist minister, who equated poverty with sin and claimed that anyone could become rich through hard work alone, without the need of divine intervention. This notion became known as Muscular Christianity.


Speaking of Muscular Christianity, a recent book, "Jesus and Johne Wayne,"now on the bestseller list, explores why evangelicals' were drawn to our former president. The author argues that their support is not a shocking aberration but a "culmination of evangelicals' long-standing embrace of militant masculinity, presenting the man as protector and  warrior.”⁠4


All of the above makes me question Bret Stephens's assertion that it is the liberals who have rejected all limits and moral taboos. Instead, to  my way of thinking, it is this new breed of conservatives who have abandoned long-standing, conservative doctrine around reason, tradition, and moral principles. Perhaps, as Timothy Snyder has written in the NYT: when conservatives give up on truth, they concede power to those with the wealth and charisma to create spectacle in its place.⁠5 “ 


People like our former president.

xxx


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1 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/03/opinion/what-should-conservatives-conserve.html?campaign_id=2&emc=edit_th_20210804&instance_id=37008&nl=todaysheadlines®i_id=30753738&segment_id=65288&user_id=273ae8c1ede4fde7d59a2b0627accb92

2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/08/10/vaccination-mandates-are-american-apple-pie/?utm_campaign=wp_post_most&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_most&carta-url=https%3A%2F%2Fs2.washingtonpost.com%2Fcar-ln-tr%2F3460ff8%2F6113f26f9d2fda2f47ef9f59%2F61015b7e9bbc0f0fbeed5be1%2F47%2F72%2F6113f26f9d2fda2f47ef9f59

3 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/20/books/review/the-unbroken-thread-sohrab-ahmari.html

4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/07/16/jesus-and-john-wayne-evangelicals-surprise-bestseller/

5 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/09/magazine/trump-coup.html