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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.