Friday, December 25, 2020
Sunday, December 20, 2020
|Rising sun cutting through smoke from Bow Power Plant|
CC Jean Stimmell: 12/15/15
I wish to expand the conversation about writing, started by Nancy Steenson in her Concord Monitor column (12/16/20), warning us about how today’s students can’t express themselves in writing because they haven’t been taught how.
It doesn’t surprise me. I’d go further and hazard a guess that all of us, no matter what our age, have seen our writing skills deteriorate with the advent of computers., smartphones, and the whole digital age.
Ms. Steenson advocates returning to the old days when students learned what good writing was and practiced doing it. Indeed, back in the 1950s and 1960s, when I went to school, we wrote a lot and were drilled in grammar and punctuation, but it was an arduous task. While the practice that came from composing term papers and book reports helped organize my swirling thoughts, putting down words on the page was always an ordeal, like going to my childhood dentist who didn’t use novocaine.
That changed after I got back from Vietnam. It turned out that many of us returning veterans had problems with anger and acting out. More of us were dying from suicide than had from combat. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was not yet a diagnosis, opening the door for a crescendo of news reports, labeling us as “crazy Vietnam vets.”
I stewed for days about this media feeding frenzy until finally, after a hard day of building stonewalls, I sat down at the kitchen table and started to write and write; I wrote all night. The result ended up becoming the cover story in the old New Hampshire Times.
That was my real introduction to writing. The subject matter commanded me to write because it was so personal and close to my heart. Writing has never been easy for me. I still need to be inspired by an idea and then, after much procrastination, force myself to sit down and write disjointed crap. Finally, if I’m blessed, I find a rhythm that overcomes my internal censor, allowing me to spit out what –although I wasn’t aware of it beforehand – I wanted to say.
Of course, in a real sense, it is not true that we no longer know how to write: We have all become experts with texts and Twitter.
The rub comes when we have to address complex issues. Essays can be an excellent tool but fell out of favor, as a consequence of what sociologists call modernity (or the modern age), which crested in the middle of last century: Modernity downplayed our subjective feelings and our ethical concerns, in favor of glorifying impersonal, objective reality.
During that time, science was next to godliness; we wholeheartedly supporting its quest to unravel the mystery of life while making life a breeze for all of us. A senate committee in the 1960s projected that as a result of improved technology, the American workweek would be reduced to 14 hours by 2000. And scientists predicted we would soon have unlimited atomic power “too cheap to meter.”
Democracy was so ascendant by the time the Berlin Wall fell that Francis Fukuyama, a prominent theorist, confidently predicted we had reached the end of history: “the end-point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy.”1
Under these circumstances, the influence of personal essays withered, blinded by the allure of a single, dispassionate, all-knowing truth. Essayists were replaced by experts who pontificated about ultimate reality in grand treatises and scientific equations.
However, as we now know, the experts were wrong.
Rather than the whole world sailing off into the sunset in a single, blissful ark of shared reality, the opposite happened: a splintering of reality into multiple truths, depending on who you are and where you stand in society.
As a result, essays are regaining their clout. Rather than claiming objective truth – which is an illusion, according to many – they present individual perspectives, based on available evidence, specific to time and place.
They erase walls between subject and object, making no attempt to separate our inner feelings from the outside world. As Robert Musil observed: “Man and the world are together like the snail to its shell: the world is part of man.”2
As such, an essay is not a formal proclamation but reflections based on personal experience. Fundamental to the essay, Alan Wall tells us, is “the notion of uncertainty, the endless seesawing possibilities of proof and disproof. An essay is a testing”3
The “my turn” columns in this newspaper are an excellent example of such works in progress. Each column is a valuable thread, in and of itself. But when woven together over time, they transform into a rich tapestry, illuminating the soul of our community.
Writing a column for the Monitor is a way to get back in the fray. It can help us discover our voices. It’s hard work, like going to the gym. But if we persevere, we can find clarity and catharsis.
And, shucks, all together we may change the world.
Friday, December 11, 2020
Thursday, December 10, 2020
|Indigenous rock art along the Columbia River|
CC Jean Stimmell 2013
We are the first de-indigenized culture on earth – and the last
We take pride in our modern civilization for being advanced and forward-thinking while judging indigenous people as primitive and backward. According to Anthropologist Wade Davis, what we have accomplished is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom1.”
For the first time is history, we have created “a new and original culture” that celebrates personal freedom over community and consumption as a way of life over sustainability. Our stunning innovation is an illusion compatible to looking at the world through the wrong end of a telescope.
As the world’s first de-indigenized culture, we have broken with all human history, according to this 2013 article in Yes Magazine. But it has come at an exceptional cost. Utilizing the external muscle of fossil fuels while extolling selfish individualism, we are the first society on earth not to be “enmeshed within networks of communities and relations with the land.”
Unfortunately, the consequences of our ground-breaking experiment are now coming due. Radical individualism has now reached the point where it has paralyzed our government and endangered our citizens; we can see this in our deadlocked Congress that is unable to agree upon a desperately needed Covid rescue package while, at the same time, in the name of freedom, hoards of demonstrators are protesting government mandates to wear masks, one of the few proven methods to slow down the corona carnage until a vaccine arrives.
Our roads and bridges and public transportation have decayed until they resemble that of a third world country. Of course, the 800-pound gorilla in the room is catastrophic climate change, which our president, a fitting one for a de-indigenized nation, calls fake news.
Human greed and selfishness has corrupted our democracy and plundered our planet of its precious living resources. We are becoming a huge blazing meteorite, lighting up the sky in technicolor, still puffed up with how great we are, until, in one last colossal blast of fireworks, we will plummet through the atmosphere to our death and that of our beloved spaceship Earth.
What can be done? In my grief, I turn to Joan Halifax, born in Hanover, NH in 1942. She is a wise women who has earned her spurs in celebrated careers as an anthropologist specializing in indigenous cultures, hospice caregiver, ecologist, and Zen Buddhist teacher.2
She offers an antidote to our de-indigenous culture, which has stolen our soul, replacing it with a computer algorithm on a chip, programming us with a single task: shopping until we drop. Our only hope, she says, is to regain our indigenous wisdom.
Indigenous people, along with Buddhists, reject the notion that we are separate, isolated atoms. Instead, they assert we are all connected souls, immersed in a great, flowing river going back to the beginning of time: “Just as our mother and father live inside us, so do generations upon generations of mothers and fathers before them. “
The root of the problem we face today is that we have lost touch with the souls of our ancestors and, in the process, lost our own. Our survival and our sanity depend on learning to honor where we came from, not only venerating our human ancestors but all life forms. As Halifax poetically describes it:
“We are connected to the dead in ways not commonly remembered. The bones of the ancestors lie in the body of Earth and are transformed into the bodies of plants and creatures, including ourselves.”
“The great trees of tropical and temperate forests, by feeding on the decaying remains of countless plant and animal species, literally translate the past into our atmosphere…[supplying us] the very air we breathe.”
Indigenous people venerate their ancestors because they understand all beings are integral parts of our existence – past, present, and future – interconnecting and interpenetrating in the great river of life.
Halifax says that until we get out of our heads and give birth to our ancestors, Earth cannot be redeemed from its suffering. “To exclude, consciously or unconsciously, any species from the continuum of existence is to deny a part of ourselves.” And spell our doom.
Benjamin Franklin expressed this wisdom with a different metaphor during our American revolution: “We must, indeed, hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
| A strange, Van Gogh "Starry Night" Moon rising over our home 11/30/20|
CC Jean Stimmell
Once upon a time, on Sunday afternoons, families would take picnics down by the peacefully-flowing river in their town, both for respite and renewal. But for some time now, the water has been rising until now it has exploded over its banks., plummeting us into a raging torrent, clogged with massive information overlord and deadly whirlpools of competing narratives about what is true. We find ourselves fighting with all our might to hold our head above the maelstrom, just to keep from drowning.
How do we escape this information tsunami? As the title of his latest book suggests, Alan Jacobs has a thoroughly unique answer: “Breaking Bread with the Dead.” He contends that expending all our energy confronting this deluge of information has caused us to lose perspective, throwing us into a shifting moment by moment, fragmentary existence.
Jacobs warns us that we can’t understand our time and place by such immersion; instead, the opposite is true. To gain perspective, we have to step out and away from the present moment and do it on a consistent basis. After that, you step back into the fray “and say: Ah. That’s how it is.”1
Using another metaphor, Jacobs says our bandwidth has been reduced to zero from constant swimming in the here-and-now. He quotes Simone Weil, who doubted our ability to think into the future because of our “deficient imagination.” Therefore, our only recourse to gain bandwidth is to look to the past. And the way to do that, Jacob says, is by reading old books: “to sit at the table with our ancestors and learning to know them in their difference from, as well as their likeness to, us.”2
He quotes Horace, the ancient Roman poet, who exhorts himself, and us to “interrogate the writings of the wise.” Because they are wise, they can “draw us out of our daily, our endlessly cyclical, obsessions with money and with “trivial things”—the kinds of obsessions that “harass” us, that “torment” us, that make us jump from thought to thought, or rather emotion to emotion, in “anxious alternation.”3
I was an easy convert to Jacob’s argument that old books are a gift that can change your life because it happened to me: I got a scholarship out of Pittsfield High to attend Columbia University in the Big Apple, immersing me in old books.
Half the course content in my freshman year consisted of two courses taught in intimate, oak-lined seminar rooms: one on contemporary civilization, starting with Plato; and the other, an overview of the humanities, starting by reading both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The pace was grueling, reading hundreds of pages, along with submitting a two-page paper, in each course every week.
I had to work hard to catch up with many of my classmates who had attended private school. But I preserved, inspired by these brilliant intellects and big ideas from the past.
My other courses were less inspiring. I had gone to college, excited to major in psychology, following my interest in Freud and Jung. But Columbia’s required, year-long introductory course was a laboratory class based on the methods of B.F Skinner, a radical behaviorist. We had to perform experiments around stimulus and response, using long-suffering white rats, some of whom went crazy and had to be put down, the result of giving them electric shocks to ‘teach them avoidance.’
It was both traumatic and bad karma: a taste of what was to come. I dropped out of Columbia my third semester, disappointed with psychology, in addition to feeling lost in the big city. 18 months later, I found myself doing my sabbatical in Vietnam.
Yes, in the confusion of youth, I ignored the wisdom of those great minds like Robert Musil, who counseled his readers to “live in the history of ideas instead of the history of the world”which is circular and repeats its same mistakes).4 But, in the end, Columbia passed on to me that great gift: introducing me to the pleasure and profit that comes from connecting to the works of great minds and their impactful ideas.
I still read old books today. They expand my wavelength, giving me the space to build a sturdy lifeboat to safely navigate the current tsunami of flotsam and jetsam surging all around us.
1 Jacobs, Alan. Breaking Bread with the Dead (p. 23). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
2 Ibid. (p. 27).
3 Ibid. (p. 5).
4 Robert Musil, “The Man Without Qualities”
Wednesday, November 25, 2020
|"White Rabbit" |
by Nicolas Munoz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0\
Trump has an uncanny ability to orchestrate pseudo events.
Any doubts I might have had were erased after talking to an acquaintance, a smart, honest, and successful trades-person. I had always found him confident and upbeat, but today he felt besieged: he explained he’d been on edge since the election but now was on high alert after receiving a text warning that a BLM (Black Lives Matter) gang was headed to NH, including his town, to loot and plunder. He said he was ready: “my whole family is “locked and loaded.”
Unfortunately, fantasy has been winning the battle against reality, long before Trump. I first became aware of this dangerous trend after reading The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America, published in 1962, by the political historian Daniel Boorstin. Praising the book 54 years later, Atlantic Magazine said it had predicted the future “so neatly that it reads, in 2016, not just as prescience, but as prophesy.1”
Boorstin defined a pseudo-event as an ambiguous truth that appeals to people's desire to be informed. He argued that being in the media spotlight was a strong incentive for public figures to stage artificial events, which became real and important once they had been validated by media coverage. Boorstin further warned that if the voting public continued to be inundated with pseudo-events, these media stars would soon dominate the political landscape2.
Think Trump and his mass rallies.
P.T. Barnum proved not only that people could be fooled, but that they wanted to be, according to Boorstin. We have made illusions so vivid they have become our lives: “Yet we dare not become disillusioned, because our illusions are the very house in which we live; they are our news, our heroes, our adventure, our forms of art, our very experience.”3
Boorstin’s book first came out when I was a junior in high school, but I didn’t discover it until attending college, after a long tour in Vietnam. As a suspicious Vietnam vet, this book flung me down a twisting rabbit-hole without end, stranger than any drug trip. Wrapping my head around our crazy descent into pseudo-reality was like listening to Gracie Slick sing her anthem at Woodstock about the White Rabbit and Alice ten-feet tall. History since then continues to be this wild ride through an increasingly socially constructed fantasy.
Flashing closer to today, Chris Hedges wrote Empire of Illusions in 2009, at a time when the gap between the affluent, well-educated folks and the rest of the country was rapidly widening. As NPR said, after reviewing the book: “One side is based in reality and able to separate illusion from truth; the other side is rooted in fantasy.”4
We are all, by now, familiar with how Trump was able to hone his P.T. Barnum skills during the years he was the star of The Appendice, a virtuosity he now practices daily, having expanded his reality show to include the whole nation.
Chris Hedges takes us further back in Trump’s career to when he was a professional westling promoter, revealing how he first learned how to tap into and validate the rage and hopelessness of alienated white workers. He was really good at it, even getting induced into the celebrity division of the wrestler’s hall of fame.
Professional wrestling, according to Hedges, is a venue expressing the “raw unvarnished expressions of the white working class…appealing to nationalism and a dislike and distrust of all who were racially, ethnically, or religiously different 5 Using his old wrestling promoter skills, Trump is able create super pseudo-events at his rallies: ratcheting up the audience’s raw, angry passion to a fever pitch, and then channelling all that negative energy toward the designated fall guy (or a woman named Hillary).
Though Trump will soon be gone, there are no easy answers on how to restore reality after our long slide into fantasy. Two things could do it but are probably as likely as seeing a white rabbit ten-feet tall: A stimulus program to lift up all boats, ensuring that every American is able to live a secure and dignified life. And a quality and affordable public education system, available to everyone, from cradle to grave.
2 From wikipedia
3 Hedges, Chris. Empire of Illusion (p. 15). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition.
5 Hedges, Chris. Empire of Illusion (p. 6). PublicAffairs. Kindle Edition
Saturday, November 14, 2020
Richard Rorty, a prominent 20th-century philosopher and public intellectual, wrote an obscure book in 1998, “Achieving Our Country,” looking back on America from a vantage point 100 years in the future. Defying belief, he correctly predicted the election of a strongman in our country in 2014, missing by only two years the rise of Trump.
Rorty based his prophecy on a trend that he saw already developing because democrats were abandoning working-class interests. Check out, in his own words, how dead-on his predictions were:
It’s dawning on working folks that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers — themselves desperately afraid of being downsized — are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else.1
At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for — someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. …
Rorty correctly foresaw that this betrayal by the Democrats would have momentous consequences, resulting in an explosive release of bottled-up rage by “poorly educated Americans having their manners dictated to them by college graduates .”
At the time his book was published, he was roundly criticized from both the left and right, including a NYT critic who called his warnings about our vulnerability to the charms of an autocrat “a form of intellectual bullying.”2
Rorty was renowned for having controversial ideas and for thinking outside the box. Although some issues have changed since his death in 2007, we can still profit from what he wrote about ways to strengthen our democracy.
Perhaps the most crucial fix, he would say, is to rescue the working class from the increasing income inequality they face. He would agree with Bernie Sanders that the working class is now in the worst shape since the Great Depression, and that’s why we need to pass a progressive agenda that creates jobs, raises wages, provides universal healthcare, affordable education, among other things.
A second related issue is globalization. He would have agreed with Bernie (and Trump) that, thanks to globalization, economic instability and inequality are increasing. Rorty bluntly predicted that“This world economy will soon be owned by a cosmopolitan upper class which has no more sense of community with any workers anywhere than the great American capitalists of the year 1900.”3
Third, he doesn’t mince words in criticizing the democratic left, calling it unpatriotic for its behavior in the wake of our Vietnam war debacle: In the name of ‘the politics of difference’, it refuses to rejoice in the country it inhabits. It repudiates the idea of a national identity, and the emotion of national pride.4 He writes that this repudiation is the difference between traditional American pluralism, a community of communities, and multiculturalism which “is turning into the attempt to keep these communities at odds with one another.”
Rorty doesn’t deny that identity politics has been beneficial for minorities, but points out how, at the same time, it has been a stick-in-the-eye to working folks, who feel ignored as they slip from the middle class into poverty. Sadly, it took almost 20 years for a democratic leader to respond, as Bernie Sander did, bursting on the scene in 2016 to “channel the mounting rage of the newly dispossessed.”5
Part of the problem, Rorty says, is our obsession with rights, a free-for-all where every identity group demands complete freedom to exercise their rights, even if it hurts other groups – or society as a whole. A family would disintegrate if each member insisted on their own agenda, based on the supremacy of individual rights, and refused to compromise with others. As it is for families, so it is for our country. What we need, Rorty says, is a shift from our total emphasis on defending individual rights to more talk about fraternity:
For Rorty, Fraternity is an inclination of the heart, one that produces a sense of shame at having much when others have little. It is not the sort of thing that anybody can have a theory about or that people can be argued into having.6 That’s because, as I see it, the ability to open our hearts goes beyond politics, requiring a spiritual awakening.
Rorty, iconoclast that he was, gives us much to think about in these tumultuous times.
Note: Photo taken at a Climate Change Extinction Protest, 9/20/19, at the State House in Concord, NH
3 Richard Rorty, Achieving Our Country : Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America
4 Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and Social Hope (p. 252). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
6 Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and Social Hope (p. 248). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition
Friday, November 6, 2020
Outdoor Mural in Portsmouth NH
CC Jean Stimmell 10/14/18
Are Trump voters delusional?
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a delusional disorder, previously called paranoid disorder, is a serious mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. The main feature of this disorder is the presence of delusions, which are unshakable beliefs in something untrue.1
Delusional disorders can be the result of genetic or biological factors but can also be caused by environmental or psychological stress. Karl Jaspers, a ground-breaking psychiatrist, showed how stress, resulting from “shattering, mortifying” experiences2 can profoundly affect a person’s sense of reality.
It can’t be denied that the Trump voter has been buffeted by a series of shattering and mortifying experiences. I am well aware that it is patronizing and patently unfair to generalize about any group of folks. But for this tongue-in-check piece, I am going to do exactly that!
I am going to call my generic Trump voter, Ken, based on some Trump supporters I am familiar with. His good-paying job is gone, transferred overseas. He now feels humiliated by his loss of status, forced to compete with immigrants for menial, low-paying jobs to support his family.
Because Ken is still held captive to his old-fashioned, straight male world, his mind is blown by the very idea of feminism and GLBTQ. On top of that, he feels picked on by the “liberal elite,” who, he believes, look down at him for driving a big gas-guzzling truck and dismiss him as a knuckle-dragging troglodyte because he likes guns and hunting.
Rather than being at least tolerated as one more spoke in the big wheel of diversity that liberals celebrate, he feel scorned as an untouchable.
Meanwhile, black and brown minorities, soon to be the majority of the U.S., threaten what he considers to be his principal identity, that of a white man. Good-paying jobs in oil and coal are disappearing as the world shifts to renewables to combat the calamitous effects of unrestrained climate change. Regrettably, Ken has been duped by Republican and fossil fuel industry propaganda to believe human-caused climate change is fake news propagated by the liberal media – in the same way he believes Covid-19 is a hoax.
Ken was feeling dizzy and unsure of himself, cheated out of the American dream in the midst of unprecedented social change he didn’t understand. It was too much to handle, but just when things seemed most bleak, the ground shifted under his feet: His mind exploded like fireworks on 4th of July, as a new vision lit up the sky – choreographed by Trump and his allies –with the promise of an alternative reality: A version of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, where everyone is white, straight, prosperous, and above-average.
His vision, of course, is a delusion.
Just as psychology is discovering that trauma can be collective as well as individual, so it is with delusions. Due to social media, Trump folks can effortlessly find and join forces with like-minded folks on the internet, strengthening their delusion by a process we call conformational bias until they have constructed their own world that appears realer than real.
Like children huddled around the campfire on a moonless night at Halloween, they tell scary stories to each other about the dreaded Democrat bogeymen, relentlessly creeping closer: immigrant rapists, rights-robbing socialists, black thugs, and blood-soaked abortion doctors. Their fear level ramps up so much, they almost pee their pants.
Strangely, through this process, at least in the short term, the Trump base has been able to set themselves free, blaming everything on the Democrats. They have nothing else to fear: Coronavirus and climate change don’t’ exist, just more democrat fake news. Ken can drive his big, gas-guzzling truck all he wants with no guilt. It’s like breaking your diet: now you can binge because you don’t care anymore.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe Trump’s loss will break through Ken’s delusion; after all, more folks voted for Trump this time around than in the last election, despite his pitiful performance. What will it take: for Ken’s father to die of Covid-19, for his coastal town to disappear into the ocean, for his daughter to marry a black lesbian?
A popular slogan among Trump voters for this election has been: “Make Liberals Cry Again!” Unfortunately, by the time the day of reckoning arrives that does crumble the Trump delusion, we will all be crying.
Monday, October 26, 2020
|My son, Ian, and I riding on Tommy 36 years ago|
The NYT recently reported on the new ‘Right to Repair’ movement, a coalition of both Democrats and Republicans, pushing for laws to make it easier to fix cell phones, cars, and the avalanche of other appliances and gadgets that we mindlessly throw away when they break. Advocates say legislation is necessary because manufacturers are making it increasingly difficult “to repair things by limiting availability of parts or by putting prohibitions on who gets to tinker with them.”1
Massachusetts may soon be the first state to pass such legislation. Bills have even been introduced in N.H. but none yet has passed. I see it as a fight pitting regular folks against corporations. But beyond allowing people to fix their own things, it is part of a larger movement challenging our ‘throw-away’ society.
Planned obsolescence wastes money, misuses scarce resources, and chokes landfills. Worse yet, it is an increasing trend, accelerating climate change. For instance, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, if Americans could extend the life of their cellphones for one year, it would be the climate-saving equivalent of taking 638,000 cars off the road.2
Nevertheless, Apple is one of the companies prominently mentioned in the NYT article, because they curb consumers and independent contractors from repairing their iPhones. Another company cited is John Deere, who uses license agreements with farmers that forbid them from even looking at the software running their tractor.
That tractor reference triggered a vivid personal memory of how much things have changed. When my dad came home from World War II in 1945, the first thing he did after having me was to purchase a brand-new Farmall Cub tractor, complete with every farm implement. After being on the high seas in the Navy for 4 years, he was striving to lay down roots and gain control of his destiny. With his new purchase, he was able to plow the driveway in the winter, cultivate the gardens in the summer, mow the fields, and bask in the pleasure of improving his property.
Unlike new, high-tech tractors, the Farmall Cub was a simple machine with no software except Dad’s brain. He took pride in his tractor because it was well built and easy to fix. I loved the tractor because he loved it and enjoyed, from the age of a toddler, helping him work on it.
Early on, my parents read me an endearing storybook, ’Tommy Tractor,’ by G. E. McPherson. From that point on, the tractor was reborn as Tommy. After my father passed on, I inherited Tommy, who I continue to care for, while he does his part helping to maintain my 21 acres.
Tommy runs as good today as he did the day my father first bought him, and my son, schooled in the Tommy tradition, loves him as much as I do and will proudly drive him into the future after I am gone.
For me, Tommy tractor is the perfect symbol of what we have lost in the last 70 years. I see ‘Right to repair’ legislation as part of a much larger movement back to the future: Back toward self-sufficiency and acting locally, as manifested in the explosion of small scale farms springing up in every community. And gardens sprouting up in more and more yards.
What is most significant to me, however, is Tommy Tractor’s wizardry, giving me that priceless gift of merging my thinking with doing in a way that that’s almost spiritual: I’m talking about how Tommy gets me out of my head – churning with its computer-dwelling cauldron of racing thoughts – through the physical act of working on him using my hands.
I would like to return to that long-lost world, now inhabited only by children and indigenous people, who understand that even inanimate objects like rocks and tractors have personalities we can relate to and love.
Thursday, October 15, 2020
|Looking inward at Stonehouse Pond|
CC Jean Stimmell
In a few short weeks, the election will be over and, win or lose, we will have to pick up the pieces and move on. How is that possible with all the bad blood and name-calling between the left and the right? In a word, we must have empathy for the other side.
What I am going to say, I’ve felt for a long time, alluded to in my pieces, but now have the courage to say it flat-out, buttressing my case with a recent podcast and a book.
The podcast is an interview with Arlie Hochschild about her recent book, “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right1.” In it, she accuses mainstream Democrats of living in a bubble: “There’s a rigid sort of inward-turning.” I agree: Rather than reaching out to the other side to look for common ground, we often resort to attacking our own side or debating minutia, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.
According to Hochschild, to understand the other side, we must have empathy for their story. She says, the left and the right each have a deep story – very different from each other – for which we hold a strong emotional attachment; the stories are dream-like and told through metaphor. Because they feel right, we build our politics around them.
The deep-story for a Trump supporter “is that you’re waiting in line for the American dream that you feel you very much deserve. You’ve been waiting a long time, but the line has stopped moving. Then you see somebody cutting ahead of you.” Why are they getting special treatment?
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign validated this working-class, deep story by appearing to spend much of her time advocating for minorities while ignoring white working Americans. She sealed her fate when she claimed: “half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a ‘basket of deplorables’”2.
That quote struck a very raw nerve.
Continuing with Hochschild’s metaphor about the Trump supporters’ deep story: they felt betrayed and shamed by “someone highly educated, someone from that so-called elite…really close to the prize, or they have the prize. But they turn around and look at the others who are waiting in line and say, “Oh, you backward, Southern, ill-educated, racist, sexist, homophobic redneck…And then they felt like strangers in their own land.”
My other reference is Toure Reed’s book, “Toward Freedom”3, which extends sympathy to white working-class Americans from a different perspective. Reed is a third-generation African-American humanity professor and a committed progressive in the FDR-Bernie Sanders mold. Along with other black intellectuals like Dr. Cornel West, Reed believes it is a polarizing dead-end to fixate solely on our nation’s history of racism and white supremacy.
While they absolutely accept the terrible reality of America’s racial history, they argue that the problems we face today – wealth inequality, police brutality, and mass incarceration – affect white Americans as well.
As one of today’s best economists, Peter Temin, has written: we are a divided country with 20% at the top, while, on the other side “huddled together in increasing poverty in the low wage sector, burdened with debt, struggling to pay their home mortgage... For the majority, there is no future.”4
For Reed and other black scholars in his camp, it is crystal clear that inequality has at least as much to do with class as it does with race. The way forward is to promote a broad working-class coalition that includes all workers. When such interracial solidarity is achieved, he says, as it was during the New Deal era, blacks make the most progress toward equality.
For that to happen, Reed says, we must institute a new New Deal, modeled after what President Roosevelt proposed during his final State of the Union speech in 1944, “which would establish the right to a job, a living wage, a decent home, and healthcare.5” This sounds like Bernie Sander’s platform, who, by the way, was popular with white, working-class voters, who ended up voting for Trump.
We each have our deep stories, the right and the left. Perhaps, if we can muster empathy and understanding for those on the other side, we can form that interracial working-class solidarity essential to racial equality and, in the process, resurrect the American Dream.
3 Reed, Touré F. . Toward Freedom Verso Books. Kindle Edition.
5 Reed, Touré F. . Toward Freedom (p. 3). Verso Books. Kindle Edition.