Follow by Email

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Leader With No Soul

What happens if a man without a soul becomes leader of the nation?

I recently wrote a book I am calling "Soul Growing." It is a reflection on spiritual exercise for the postmodern world or what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "the world come of age." In it I describe a man without a soul. One of my observations is that ego is in inverse relationship to soul. So I began describing what a person that had extremely high ego (which BTW is usually a product of insecurity) would be like.

As I was writing, I read the interview with Donald Trump's ghostwriter and realized that I had a real live example of a man without a soul. But now, against all odds that I would have given, he is president-elect. The Leader. The Decidifier. So I ask myself what is a person who wants to grow her soul to think, to feel, to do now?

I think of Bonhoeffer's words: "If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can't, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver." And "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

Those of us who aspire to be great souled must remind ourselves that:

  • Any event, even the most adverse event, can be an occasion for growing the soul. Setbacks are for learning. Suffering is the stuff of solidarity.
  • The universe continually presents the possibility of disaster, including death and destruction. To be open to life and existence itself means to accept this possibility. And this is the most important of spiritual exercises for soul growing.

And so what to do:

I intend to keep my faith in humanity, over any belief or ideology, and my hope in the possibility of transcendence even in those who follow a man with no soul.

I intend to maintain my own inner peace and to connect with other souls who will resist the negativity of violence even if that means accepting violence on myself.

I intend to help build pockets of resistance against the building of walls, forced deportations, racial profiling, and registering persons by religion.

Our life is very short. We use the little time, space, and connections we have to advance the human spirit and remove the obstacles to progress.

You can tell I have once again taken up Bonhoeffer and especially his Letters from Prison. He returned to Germany from the safety of teaching in New York to accompany his fellow citizens and resisters in their suffering. He preached against and resisted Nazism, was arrested and sent to prison for being connected to the officers' group that tried to kill Hitler. Just a few weeks before the Allies took Berlin, Bonhoeffer was marched out naked to the courtyard of the concentration camp and hanged. So reminding us of another martyr who resisted empire 2000 years before.

He is the model for us of the great souled leader confronting the man without a soul.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

My Dear Adeline

My big concern after realizing that Donald Trump won the election was how do I explain this to Adeline. My 15-year-old granddaughter is getting involved in community politics. She accompanied us to the Democracy Awakening rally and march in DC. She canvassed with me in Pennsylvania. She volunteered at polling places.

In a Pittsburgh suburb, she was disturbed by a couple of Trump supporters who were sullen and mean and by a black man who brusquely said he wouldn’t vote. I realized how brave it was for her to leave her multi-racial, liberal Montgomery MD neighborhood. She had spent time on her own visiting relatives in France and Montreal. But Trumpland was a totally foreign country for her.

How do I tell her, a citizen of the world, a young woman who believes that good people will prosper and prosperous people will do good for those who are not, by paying their taxes to support their country so others can be as fortunate as she? How do I tell her to keep on working, actively fighting for women’s and civil rights? That a man who disrespects women, who demeans immigrants, who mocks persons with disabilities, who dismisses persons of color, who refused to say whether he would accept the results of the election, who promised to jail his opponent if he won, who gloats that he does not pay taxes, who refused to disown the Klan and neo-Nazi's, who offers to increase the warming of the earth and deny health care for all is our representative to the world.

I am so sorry, Adeline. I realize that I may not see a woman as president in my lifetime. But I trust you will. You advocated for a woman guided by the vision of Eleanor Roosevelt for more open boundaries, world government, free peoples, and equity for all in poor Appalachia, in black urban ghettoes, and in the world—the Star Trek image of an interconnected earth.

But not yet.
Not while we value individual wealth over commonwealth.
Not while role models proclaim people of different cultures as aliens.
Not while we act out of fear of losing and blame others.
Not while there are people who consider themselves white.

But please, Adeline, consider the story of the universe and the very brief chapter in which we appear. No, we haven’t reached even near our potential. I have faith that we can transcend the artificial walls, the silly beliefs, and especially the destructive fears that hold us back. And I know you can and will.

Do not blame Trump, do not blame his misled fearful followers. Let’s agree that this is an occasion for taking responsibility, to go high, to show the great Soul that is in us, our communities, our nation, our world, and our universe. Let’s agree to keep reaching. And let’s be joyful and grateful that we can.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Great Realignment and a Framework for Coalition and Compromise

I'm trying to understand this election and its lessons for our political order.
Here are two papers I wrote that I would love to have feedback on.

Three Americas:!AsdGgNbEJTDDgg0kNkJ4NcG7JOth

The Deplorables:;postID=8971235884041140634;onPublishedMenu=editor;onClosedMenu=editor;postNum=1;src=link

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Deplorables

Deplorable is a deplorable word to say about someone. Hillary apologized for using it and well she should apologize. Yes, Trump and people who are like Trump are deplorable in many ways. But the people who like Trump are not.

They feel deplorable. They feel like losers and want to hitch on to someone they think is a winner. They do not understand where the world is going. They do not understand the new economy, the new technology, the new morality. But do any of us, really? And this guy comes along with the answers and the promise that he will make them great again.

They see very wealthy people with high university degrees having lots of opportunities while they have none. They see women, people of color, and foreigners pass them by in education and position. (Whether statistical facts or not, they are felt facts especially when you see a black man with a muslim name become master of the White House.) They see little hope for their children and grandchildren certainly not the hope of those bygone days when there were secure jobs in mines,  farms, and factories--union jobs with decent pay and benefits. They feel themselves shoved around by forces they do not understand. But along comes a guy who knows why and how. He will fix it. Only he can. He says. And she says that she has a plan.

I have met many of these red-state folks. And now much is being written to explain them. Books trace the "white underclass" from the beginning of American history and before. Some by journalists or intellectuals who got out when they could. They demonstrate how they have been caught in an economic system that favors wealthy real estate and wall street moguls and their heirs, but leaves poor whites out.

John L Lewis and his UMW, Roosevelt in his New Deal, Kennedy on his focus on Appalachia, Johnson in many of his War on Poverty programs recognized the issues of the white poor in rural, mining, and mountainous areas. But the shift since the 70s has been to the urban poor, mainly black and brown. And our neighbors in these outer areas feel hurt. And the new economy, the new technology, and the new morality of urban dwellers rub it in.

White nationalist politicos use these hurts to exploit them, as victims of blacks and browns, of university elite, and urban media. Populist demagogues say poor whites need a savior who can fix their problems. And liberals hold them as victims of conservatives. Liberals blame their backwardness and lack of education which prevent them from adapting to the new economy and technology. Most of the books about their plight, even when sympathetic, describe them as angry, pessimistic, and victims. And TV sitcoms and late night comedians ridicule their religious faith, their traditional morality, their cultural ways.

Pollsters describe their out-of-sync values and attitudes. Intellectuals prescribe policies and programs to help--tax cuts, job programs, free education. But few work in a sustained way with them to design their own programs and form their own communities.

We who have been organizers (usually in an urban setting and with black folk) see a people that are ripe for organizing. From within or from without. Outside-in as the politicians are doing when they troll for votes. Or inside-out as social justice organizers should be doing. But are not--with some remarkable exceptions that need to be supported and expanded.

If I were younger today I hope I would go live in the Appalachian, Plains, and rural white communities, the way we did in black and farmworker communities, and urge and teach the ways to organize themselves. I, with a team of trained organizers selected from leaders from their own communities, would spend time listening to them--their woes, their prejudices, their hopes. We would not tell them what they must do or who should lead them. We would give them no answers to their questions. But we would provoke them to keep asking those questions and discover the answers. We would ask them what they want for their kids and themselves. And we would ask them what is keeping them from getting it.

I would not try to write their stories or solve their problems. I would urge them to tell their own stories and analyze their problems. I would challenge them to take responsibility and action for getting in rather than blaming those who are keeping them out. Because when you blame others, foreigners, strangers, enemy agents, you give away power instead to taking it for yourself from within yourself.

We would not write another book about them, but assist them in writing their own book, using their own research and analyses, using their own photography and poetry, in their strive towards dignity. We would not judge their culture, their values, or their religious beliefs unless these restrained them from action, made them wait passively for some outside power, whether supernatural, governmental, or charitable, to save them.

We would not try to get public or private resources for their communities until they created the independent power base to harness their own resources and demand the ones they deserved. In fact we would urge private foundations and government agencies to invest in education, jobs, and other social and economic development projects only when the people organized themselves and determined the projects they want and take responsibility for. We would urge them to choose allies of whatever religion or color, and thus to grow their power to get what they wanted to strengthen their communities, their families, and themselves.

We would urge them to tell all political parties to go to hell until the parties supported their agenda. Nevertheless we would urge them to develop a strong voting block so that all political parties give them what they want, not just what the parties think they should want. No quick fix like electing a master or overseer to take care of them. We should help them see that they are being used by self appointed leaders in political parties or in ideological hate groups who have their own agendas.

We would help them see that the white underclass in rural areas, in the mountains and the plains, and in cities are powerless until they are organized on their own terms. And acting on their agendas which transcend liberal and conservative labels and, most of all, which are based on a positive vision, not fear of novelty and hate of others.

That will take time, much longer than an election cycle or a PhD dissertation. But it will happen once the sparks are ignited.

And once this goddamned election is out of the way.

(PS I write this after reading White Trash and many Atlantic, WP, and WSJ articles most of which identify cultural differences without treating the political-economic dimension, and offer solutions that provide benefits without building power in the people being benefited.)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Soul Growing and Community Building

I did not add a meditation on community building and spiritual exercise in my collection Soul Growing because I make the connection in almost all of them. However, by way of an afterword, let me make that connection more explicit.

Soul-growing is important, essential to community building. Community building is essential to soul growing. Or in other words, we are not growing our souls if we are not building community. And to build community we must practice, teach, and foster soul growing.

I've read on, been taught about, and practiced organizing--neighborhood, metropolitan, labor, election, party, voluntary association organizing. I know the techniques including personal interviews ("one-on ones"), house and other small group meetings, power analyses, action research, leadership training, translating private interests to actionable public issues, tactic and strategy, public actions, negotiation, coalition building, press and public relations, evaluation, etc. But I'm not sure I often taught spiritual exercise as a technique and, more, a condition for community organization.

There are certain attitudes and values that are distinctive of good organizers and leaders. They like people; they believe all person have worth; they get angry at injustice to anyone; they know how to focus anger into winning strategies; they treat people as subjects not objects of action; they don't do for others what they can do for themselves; they value power as the ability to act together for all people; they are oriented to those left behind or out. I want to add another attitude and value: they have soul.

Community building is more than organization. Good teachers build community in their classrooms; good parents build community in their families; good neighbors build community in their neighborhood; good bosses build community in their offices; good coaches build good community in their teams; good citizens build good community in their cities and countries.

Community building is not merely converging on shared interests. It is more than having a common culture, language, value. And it is more than desiring to take care of one's own family, friends, and affiliates. The essence of community building is growing and sharing soul. Solidarity.

Solidarity is the foundation of community. Richard Rorty notes that solidarity is shared suffering. Suffering can mean both painful and joyful experience. Our ability to share suffering consists in our evolved capacity to enter into and mirror the very activity of others in and to their world. Human being in and presence to the world occurs through media (words, pictures, models, ideas). And in that same moment there is unmediated subjective presence. The act of being present to the outside world becomes transparent to itself. We call that immediate subjective presence consciousness; and when we enter others' actions in their world, we perceive, indeed share, their consciousness, their suffering, their soul, and their world. We become soul mates.

Good novelists like Dickens, Morrison, and McCarthy, good teachers, leaders, caregivers can conjure up that consciousness so that we feel deeply what the other feels. But even for this to occur, we have to interact with others, body to body, face to face, speech to speech. Interaction grows our own soul and the soul of others. Interaction creates solidarity in suffering and thus builds community.

We organizers often wonder why so many organizations with which we worked so diligently die out. Could it be that we didn't go deep enough as we were building these communities? Did we have the concern and take the time to put on the other persons mind, look out from his eyes, feel her hopes and desires, identify with their sense of inadequacy and powerlessness? Did we set up the process where all persons could experience the worth and potential of each other? Did we discern with them, not only an emerging vision for themselves and their community, but also a common character, consciousness, conscience--the soul off our community?

Spiritual gurus often counsel private meditation, prayer in church, walking the labyrinth, personal experience when taking communion, and feeling the Christ or the Buddha within. And that's fine. But it is not soul growing if we do not mess with the murky conditions of matter, if we do not probe the pathetic practices of power, if we do not grope with the grunge and gridlock of governing. Being pure by avoiding power and its complexities is the antithesis of spiritual growth.

Power is not force. It is not domination. It is the gathering of souls to confront force and domination. It is based, not on fear or hate, but on solidarity where all are respected as shapers of their lives and organizers of their communities.

When spirituality is separated from social justice, it is a sham. When we hide in the cave of individual spirituality instead of the city of justice to find hope, we lose it. Go to your heaven above and your remote paradise! Leave us to celebrate the paradise we have in each other right now, messy as it is.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Acknowledging Donald Trump

I just completed a draft which I am calling Soul Growing: Spiritual Exercises in Postmodern Times. It is a collection of meditations that build on one another and culminate in a summary describing the stages of spiritual development. What I mean by postmodern times, I clarify in the appendix. 

As I attempt to understand the spiritual dimension of human nature, I am in dialogue with masters of spiritual development, ancient and contemporary, to whom I am most indebted, as well as philosophers, neuroscientists, and psychologists. I had in mind many of my heroes who are "great-souled." Some of these are famous: The Socrates portrayed by Plato and Xenophon, Jesus as described by the evangelists, Buddha Gautama, Francis Assisi, Gandhi, Havel, King, Mandela, Romero, Merton. Others will never be famous, but I knew them: Father Ray Ellis of Detroit and Father Jack Egan of Chicago, my own father, Roshi Tanouye, Rabbi Marx. These all exhibit transcending consciousness. And there are many friends and acquaintances, students and teachers, with whom I still interact as models of spiritual growth for me.

I recognize myself with weak-souled ones who still need lots of work. In fact this little book I just finished will never be finished. It will be my last work because I will hopefully be refining and improving it until I die.

I wrote my reflections on soul growing while the American campaign for presidency was happening. I now realize how that event was influencing my thinking. When it came for me to discuss the great souled ones, I also came to question what a man without a soul might be. I had a living model in the campaign for president. I never knew or even thought about Trump before. (I never watched the Apprentice or read his ghostwritten Art of the Deal).

I disagreed with many candidates and found them petty and misguided. But Trump was a man uniquely distinct.  Not a villain, not an evil man like Iago or Richard III or Atilla, Hitler, Pol Pot. Satan, as Milton describes him, at least has a soul. I also understand how so many weak-souled ones like me have hoped in him as having the key to success that he advertises. But as I listened carefully I realize he has nothing to say.

Adolf Eichmann was described by Arendt as banal. And so I describe Trump. Certainly not a mastermind. Not an archfiend. He is a man without character, without a center, without consciousness. Focused on expanding his Ego while diminishing his soul, he builds towers for himself and walls between neighbors. Therapists see a man very insecure fearing his inferiority. I don't know about that. But I found myself pitying him.

Pity is an ignoble emotion because it demeans the other and keeps him other. Great-souled ones have compassion. Compassion is, with a plethora of mirror neurons, taking on and appreciating the feelings, the worldview, and style of the other. I try to have compassion for him, but compassion is a mingling of souls and I cannot find his soul. Or when I think I find it, there is nothing there. Except Ego. Perhaps I am projecting my own fear of gaining the world and losing soul.

In any case, I thank Donald Trump for helping me see who I do not want to be, how I do not want to define success, and the country I will act to avoid. More positively, he helps me see the community and communion for which I strive. Thank you, Mr. Trump.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Meditating Contemplation

Still I work on my project on spiritual exercises.

Meditation and contemplation are exercises from ancient through modern times in the East and the West. For many they are the most important of the exercises to stretch the soul. For some these are two different exercises. For others one is the culmination of the other. For me they are two aspects or traits of one, unified human existence, i.e. corporeal being in the world through symbolic activity.

1. Meditation and contemplation as different exercises. Meditation is thoughtfulness and contemplation is spirtuality. Socrates describes thinking as that discourse with oneself before and after discourse with others in the public place or city. He describes his verbal battles with opponents in the city; and then he says that he meets his biggest opponent of all when he retires back home alone. Plato on the other hand discusses the transition from the shadows of forms on the wall of the cave to the direct view of the Good which like the sun is the source of all the pure forms. This is the philosopher released from the prison of opinion to the direct perception of the Truth in all its glory.

Thinking occurs through ideas or concepts, i.e. the use of words and other aural, visual, and tactile media that stand for and/or slice up experience of the environment into patterns that shape a world. Thinking is, therefore, symbolic behavior which the human species has mastered over all other known species. When somebody forms concepts and considers their utility in answering questions about the world, especially over a period of time, weighing the concepts in relation to other concepts, we call that meditation. When thinkers speak of meditations (e.g. the way Descartes, Spinoza, or Badiou do), they are talking about exercises in logical thinking on certain topics.

Contemplation has a religious connotation, as in the "contemplative life." It implies a more direct  or intuitive method of beholding essences without the use of media, analogies, or figures of speech or symbolic behavior. It goes beyond (or above or outside) words or other human artifacts to the essence of truth itself perhaps through what is called a vision or revelation from within or from outside nature. Contemplation leaves the realm of logic, science, and ordinary behavior. It is the provenance of the seer, the saint, the prophet, the ecstatic, the mystic.

2. Contemplation as the fulfillment of meditation. A life of meditation may lead to contemplation, the spiritual masters say. In mindfulness meditation, the sage permits words to run through consciousness while focusing on creating those words or maybe while reciting a mantra in order to leave the land of words and move to the pure land of illumination. The novice prepares through meditation in the world and then as sage is lifted to the heavens in contemplation. Thus, contemplation is a higher form of spirituality than meditation. It is a gift of the muses or other gods while meditation is the worldly labor of the corporeal mind. In Neoplatonism it is the difference between philosophic discourse and seeing the light coming from within or without. In Christian dogma, it is the difference between theology and beatific vision. It is vision unfiltered by matter. The purity of spirit.

3. Meditation and Contemplation as aspects of the same activity. The postmodern insight arising from both phenomenology and neuroscience overcomes the gap between thinking as mediated knowing and consciousness as direct knowing by giving evidence for an epistemology or theory of knowledge without the matter-spirit or body-soul dualism. This theory of knowledge is based in the understanding of the human organism adapting to its environment by the use of artifacts (thinking) while at the same time being present to itself in the act (consciousness). Its all part of the same package. One cannot be without the other.

And so with meditation and contemplation. Whether we meditate on death or our breathing or our belly buttons, we are in touch with our body so doing. When we discuss and focus on things in the world through discourse or art, we are in the same moment directly in contact with our selves and other selves acting symbolically in and to the world. Meditation that shifts the focus from things in the world to person, social, and world consciousness is contemplation.

Whether or not we are putting words to it, when we experience consciousness passing beyond our thoughts to further thoughts we experience the transcending feature of consciousness. When we do put words to it, we are shifting our focus from figure to ground, from my objective experience of the words being typed on the screen before me to my subjective experience of typing them and of my shoes filled with feet even before I thought about it.

We are intentional animals thrusting out, in, and up in the same moment. When we catch that moment, we feel that consciousness itself is revealing itself to us. We might even capitalize Consciousness or call it Spirit or God. It is sort of the pause in the meditative process that pulls us into and outside and beyond ourselves. It is the pause that refreshes. It occurs sometimes when we do not expect it perhaps while considering the vast panoply of stars, the patterns of an autumn forest, sexual intimacy, a triumph of artistic genius, or a resounding victory in battle or finishing a race. We call that experience ecstatic, mystic, and divine. It is there before we know it (focally).

Only poetry, not science, seems to capture intending, transcending consciousness in its glory. Yet the latest neuroscience is attempting to account for and explain consciousness without resort to multiplying entities unnecessarily (i.e. Occam's razor). The postmodern has no need to appeal ex machina (or in this case ex corpore) for an explanation. Nevertheless the postmodern person, unlike the modern one, realizes that the explanation for intentional, transcending consciousness can never be totally explained objectively. Yes, neuroscience might demonstrate the chemicals, the neutrons, and the synapses involved, that is, the wirings of the brain. The evolutionary psychologist might demonstrate how the brain developed in its cosmic and evolutionary journey to produce consciousness.

But the subjective experience of consciousness will never be explained objectively. (Again this does not mean that the subjective can be divorced from the objective or consciousness from the body, or spirit from matter. In fact just the opposite!) And so poetry, drama, philosophy, even religion, the kind that pulls us into the act of the poet, dramatist, philosopher, and visionary will always have their place in our life, action, and pursuit of greater wisdom.

Meditation and contemplation enhance that pause that refreshes. It is getting over the seriousness of the already formed objective world, by returning into the personal and communal consciousness that is creating the world while, in the same moment, pushing back into that world to re-create it. All the other exercises I have mentioned, breath control, remembering death, cognitive therapy, myth and ritual, reverence, discourse, humor, questing, and action, especially contemplation in action, are tools and manifestations of the soul-growing exercise of becoming more conscious as a person, a community, a nation, and a world.