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Archive for November, 2020

What parent, with even a modicum of nurturing skill, hasn’t placed limits on their young children, imposing guardrails designed to protect them from themselves. We tell them repeatedly to “ be careful” and “watch out”. It’s not safe to put one’s fingers in an active electric socket, touch a hot stove, play with matches, put small objects in their mouths, walk barefoot on the street, or cross the road without being accompanied and instructed to look both ways.

Unfortunately, the chief executive of our Nation is prone to toddler-like tantrums and brazen acts lacking in even the appearance of genuine leadership thought or consultation. He is seemingly untethered by even modest checks on his impulsiveness. What is especially unnerving is that he is in command of the so called “ nuclear football”. Without astute advisors prepared to challenge and offer experienced counterpoint to his emotionally colored whims, the transition to a new administration becomes exponentially more perilous.

There is talk that Trump may yet try pardoning himself while giving pardons out like candy to “ reward” his most loyal co-conspirators. The behavior we witness is frankly reminiscent of unparented, feral toddlers running wildly about brandishing sharp objects. It has been a “ Lord of the Flies” scenario on display in the Whitehouse for the last four years. Asking “ where are the adults and protectors of our National well-being?” is one many have asked since 2016.

In a clearly vengeful and hysterical frenzy predictably brought on after being soundly defeated in the election, Mr Trump rushes to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, sell arctic oil leases, rush completion of his vanity border wall that was frankly not Congressionally funded, and contemplate an attack on Iran to impede their nuclear program. [On the latter item, he of course was the one who tore up the nuclear accord with Iran in 2018. ]

These are only the beginning of what’s in store for us all over the two months remaining before he is thankfully out of office. Arguably, any one of these actions could well be strategically sound in a more thoughtful and well reasoned context, but not when enacted impulsively.

At the very least, we need to coordinate with Allies on a number of these decisions. It is an axiom of good leadership that all action must be considered against the backdrop of potential unintended consequences. In other words, governing and acting, especially on the global stage, requires thought, deliberation, consultation, real dialogue designed to test assumptions and strategy. None of these have been qualities of the current administration since the outset.

So, here continues “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride” as perpetrated by an immature, inexperienced and unhinged Chief executive. But, “ leader” McConnell and other senior Republican “leaders” ought to know better. Shamefully, all they can come up with is tepid cautionary comments tantamount to telling a toddler about to fall from a great height “ you might want to reconsider what you’re doing,” if that. No! You say STOP!

In the bizarro world of Trumpism, running in the hallways of democracy with sharp scissors is simply normative. Republican leaders look the other way as troops are unilaterally brought home. The validity of compelling results of a fair election are assaulted with so many nonsensical and even clownish lawsuits, and conspiracy narratives are wildly stoked and reinforced. All of this amounts to an abject failure of elected leadership to protect a smooth and secure transition of power central to the well-being of our Republic.

We are unquestionably living through the age of the unhinged toddler, the “enfant terrible, ” and the reign of empaneled sociopaths. It is a clarion call to all of us for a collective spiritual reassessment of what it means to serve one another for the betterment of the world.

These events present the moral challenge to reassert the primacy of love, reaffirm civil norms and demand authentic leadership that is about the good of the Union as a whole. The spiritual mandate for our times is restoration of the architecture of lawful, collaborative and strategic dialogue. Yes, we each are our “ brother’s keeper.”

At this point, I for one just want to see a return to governing by adults, for adults, with genuine regard for building up the culture in which our children can once again come to admire real leadership and courage.

We need the examples of dedicated and accountable service that inspire us all to become the very best versions of ourselves.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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As I gaze at the state of our country in this time of tortured transition to a new Administration, I am again astonished ( though I shouldn’t be at this point) by the lockstep manner in which Trump supporters persistently praise their man. They slip without hesitation it would appear into the narrative of victimization. Spiritual maturity is marked not by subservience but by informed choices into the service of the greater good.

Truly surreal is the seeming high regard for a man who is unquestionably a malignant narcissist. This is demonstrated even when these fans of the “ Donald” are confined to what could well be their death beds from Covid 19. How tragic to see one woman recently interviewed on the evening news, who may well be destined for a ventilator, still denying that Covid-19 is real while expressing her heartfelt and misplaced thanks to Trump for great care that she is receiving. Genuine spiritual practice yields ever heightened discernment of the spirits: a capacity to see separate the charlatans and false prophets from the real thing.

These are bizarre times but they are also times that resemble many other times throughout recorded history. Of late, I have been fascinated by the power of ideology, propaganda, and conspiracy theories to pull the veil over people’s eyes. It is helpful to look to the science that seeks to explain the psychology of these phenomena.

First, I return to the master, Plato, who so wisely opined about these things. The Allegory of the Cave did so succinctly. Recalling it:

We imagine prisoners shackled in place without freedom to move their bodies or heads so that their gaze is fixed on a cave wall. Behind them is a fire and a raised walkway with people holding puppets with screens obscuring their own shadows. The prisoners, therefore, can only see the movement of the puppet shadows. They hear voices which they understandably attribute to the shadow figures on the wall. From the prisoners perspective, the movement and sounds of shadows is the only reality.

Plato continues, imagine one prisoner is released and brought out of the cave. The blinding light and vistas would be terrifying. He rejects them and seeks the comfort of the “ truth” he knows – the wall of shadows. As Plato advances his allegory, said prisoner is forced out of the cave, eventually adjusts to the bright light and sees the Sun. In time, he realizes the superior truth of what it is that projects the images he once regarded as sacrosanct. He feels pity for his brothers and sisters, but realizes too that they would want to kill him for forcing them away from the simpler “truth” to which they are accustomed.

I think of this allegory often. Those who see farther and more clearly, and who inquire more deeply, cultivate a love of learning. They cultivate a devotion less for any one act of understanding but, instead, the process of learning, unlearning and relearning. All is hypothesis awaiting the next better test. They come to value the principle of falsifiability ( looking for proof that they are wrong!). This is the essence of intellectual humility. It is also the diametric opposite of our natural tendency to seek confirmation of the truth of our own way of seeing and thinking.

Everything is a simulation of the greater real for the awakened heart. The more the spiritual adepts learn, the more they realize that they don’t understand. Every answer opens more questions. The questions themselves in fact become more significant than the answers. This is a far cry from dressing oneself up in a wardrobe of simple ideas and narratives to cast the real in our own image and thereby think we’ve “ tamed it” and render it more manageable.

Staring at the Sun means accepting the truth of randomness and the difference between ideas and the real. Perpetual students embrace uncertainty and accept their persistent ignorance as an invitation to dig deeper and ask ever better questions. I call this prayerful scholarship.

What is the basis then for the allure of conspiracy theories?

According to Psychologist Jade Wu, there are three components to the attraction of propaganda and conspiracy theories : (1) the need to reduce complexity and uncertainty; (2) the need to feel safe and in control: and (3) the need for a good self image ( e.g., better to think that a conspiracy was afoot in losing one’s job than to face the growing irrelevancy of the skills we have perhaps amassed over a lifetime).

Donald Trump, like other would-be and accomplished despots and autocrats, are manipulators of these needs for simplification. Plato’s allegory is, at its core, about the importance of education. Trump appoints Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education to dismantle the educational infrastructure. In fact, Trump has systematically replaces competence with incompetence across the board ( an agenda that continues even in these last days of his agenda of chaos). He is a destroyer of norms and structures ( maligned as the “ deep state”) and appointing those who become the fawning apparatchik ( unthinking bureaucrats acting as a loyal arm of his power plays).

It is instructive to see what the Trump voters have in common overall. According to Pew Research statistics:

“ Voters who identify with the Democratic Party or lean toward it are much more likely than their Republican counterparts to have a college degree (41% vs. 30%). In 1996, the reverse was true: 27% of GOP voters had a college degree, compared with 22% of Democratic voters.”

Rural America went resoundingly for Trump by comparison to urban and suburban areas of the country. There is a strong anti-intellectual bent in our Nation and this is not news. It has been with us from the outset.

That said, what about those educated legislators and administrators who have so quickly joined Trump in parading one false puppet after another to cast distracting shadows against the cave wall for the prisoners to see?

Their motivations are purely Machiavellian.

The acolytes of Trump jettisoned the long-standing Republican ideals of smaller government and conservatism four years ago merely to secure a seat at the mad hatters table. Power is the active aphrodisiac that motivates them. Once Trump is gone they will toss him like so much unwanted old clothing ( while studiously avoiding saying anything too harsh that might inflame his base). They will recalibrate to weave a palatable propaganda designed to sate the appetites of those shackled in place with fixation on the parade of shadows that they engineer. They are the greater darkness with which this democracy must deal

What’s the antidote?

Well, it’s the same one that has always been most effective: education and modeling the love of learning. We need to play the long game and do all we can to cultivate genuine independent thinking and humility among our children and grandchildren. They will need to serve as the bearers of the light in the decades to come. After all, Georgia went blue this year in no small part because of the number of young people who came out to vote.

In this Season of the Hindu, Jain and Sheik celebration of Diwali, the celebration of light’s defeat over the darkness, my hope rests in those who are dedicated purveyors of the finer questions that cause us all to reassume the upright and freeing posture so that we can reacquire the horizon.

Happy Diwali!

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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This time it’s not a “ Joe” but a “ Kevin” who “ has no shame”.

Despite a decisive Biden-Harris win, Representative Kevin McCarthy has the audacity to say he’s not sure Biden will be President come January 20th. He joins the surreal Republican off-key chorus that insists on stroking Trumps fragile ego, channeling his rage and vengefulness, and supporting the denial of a bonafide Biden win.

They do so, once again in unprecedented fashion, to the point of refusing to insist on a smooth transition of power in support of the central tenet of our Democracy. They have no hesitation to undermine the transition and, along with it, the National Security.

Beyond the absurd folly of it all, we need to be very much on our guard right now, and in the years to come, as the inexorable March of fascism once again raises its ugly head. The strong ethic of anti-fascist sentiment in our Nation needs to push back boldly and with deep conviction and resolve.

It is especially needed now as the “ Great Generation,” keepers of the memory of the horrors of fascism, are dwindling in numbers. We should listen to the voices of our European brothers and sisters who saw such horrors perpetrated on their own soil.

Why am I so deeply concerned?

There is seemingly no end to the daily post-election toxic assault on the dignity of our Democratic values. This is especially so when one radicalized political party joins a would-be autocrat, thankfully defeated, in denying the results of fair and now verifiably secure elections.

Make no mistake, well beyond “the Donald’s” penchant for despotism, adoration of autocrats and his obvious psychopathology, there is a far greater ongoing threat from the puppeteers who back his tactics and histrionic alternative reality. There is no shortage of demoniacs ready to fill his shoes who are far more intelligent, cunning and likely less obvious in their pursuit of power for power’s sake.

Philosopher Jason Stanley, scholar of fascism at Harvard, has defined fascism as “ a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation brought on by supposed communists, Marxists and minorities and immigrants who are supposedly posing a threat to the character and the history of a nation.”

Even a casual study of the last four years and what’s being said now by Republicans about the upcoming runoff Senate seat elections in Georgia is evidence of Stanley’s definition on display. We hear a persistent rhetorical drumbeat about the “socialism” that will surely come to America if the democrats there win those seats. Once again, they raise their voices about Bernie Sanders and his “ socialism” finding a seat in the Biden cabinet if the Senate goes to the Democrats.

Far less concerning frankly than another run for the Presidency in 2024 by DJ Trump (though I confess the thought gives me hives) is the continuing March of a fascist agenda among Republican senators and representatives.

The radicalization of the once dignified party of Lincoln is just about complete. This is why so many thinking and truly patriotic conservative leaders have left the Republican Party in abject disgust. It quite simply bears no resemblance to the party of yesteryear.

So, dear friends, the election is not over. We need to give the new administration a fighting chance to put a countervailing ethic in motion in Washington and do all we can to have the Georgia seats go to the democrats. These two Senate seats must be on the National dashboard for all who are concerned about protection of essential democratic values and freedom.

Republicans would surely denounce my characterization of their actions as fascist. In response, I simply invoke Jason Stanley’s definition, invite an objective examination of the facts of current behavior and rhetoric (compared with like historical banter from Benito Mussolini), and quote the words of their current “ führer” ( translated as tyrannical leader) who spoke of the horrors of the pandemic in five words that seem to fit quite well here: “ It is what it is!”

What does all this have to do with practical spirituality? Everything. As a member of a Franciscan Third Order I am “pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality of any kind.” The common good is under siege and silence is not an option.

Freedom itself is in the sights of determined political sharpshooters who value power over genuine servant leadership, care for our Democracy and authentic commitment to a secure future for our all of our children.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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For 75 plus million of us, breathing is palpably much easier today. With a decisive ( i.e., not at all close) Biden-Harris victory, we can feel a collective sigh of release, an end to a shared Trump-induced social “ COPD”.

Many, young and old, speak as if rescued from a long, bleak night of suffering a malicious suffocating knee pressed viciously on the “neck of their souls”. Spontaneous dancing in the streets of so many cities is prime evidence. It is a wonderful outpouring of enthusiasm.

America’s majority has de facto chosen rededication to normalcy, education, competence and to achieving a brighter future for our children and grandchildren. The election outcome represents a clear set of fresh choices.

I celebrate just a few: the rule of law vs rampant corruption and norm-busting, order and reason over chaos and impulse, real professional experience over cronyism, servant leadership over narcissism, care of the other vs fear of the other, looking for bridges to build rather than walls to divide, seeking to understand and make decisions on facts and science rather than mischievous Machiavellian subterfuge and slight of hand, restoring strong and respectful global alliances over anachronistic and dangerous nationalism, and dialogue over a perpetual and pernicious soul-shrinking tribal combat.

It is time for the spirit of the Nation to recover its core values of civility, decency, and mutual respect. We can and will disagree but can do so with regard for our shared love of country and a will to truly advance the founding vision of “ E Pluribus Unum.” We get another chance to listen to our better angels.

In the meantime, the next 72 days will predictably be a painful reprise of the last five years on steroids, a contrast of colliding worlds: Trumpism’s love of power secured by deception and chaos vs. the duty to care and commitment to make a real difference for the good of everyone. Trump’s pathology can be expected to reach a peak of unbridled vengefulness and unchecked malice. It has of course already begun.

Our experience of the last 5 years will reach a fever-pitch in the next 72 days. Looked at from a Jungian perspective, we are all witness to the consequences of elevating to the highest office a “ puer aeternus,” or eternal boy. This refers to one ( usually chronologically older) who is forever locked in adolescent revolt against all limits of propriety. The puer sees himself as special, like no other, standing above the usual and customary norms of conduct. Their greatest fear is becoming ordinary.

This condition has also been called the “ Peter Pan” syndrome. Often coupled with a dark narcissism, their need to stand apart leaves them few true friends. They retreat under loss of their adoring minions into silent brooding and act in ways that tend to deliver on their worst fear ( being alone without constant reminder of how special and great they are). Their need for ego stroking can never be satisfied. It is as if today’s applause dissolves quickly away and needs continuous replenishment. They are addicted to attention and getting their own way. The more outrageous they behave the more attention they command.

Such a one should of course never lead others as their need for adulation requires the sacrifice of their supporters’ identities and dignity, well being and independent judgment. Across history, they are plentifully numbered among misguiding cult leaders, despots and the megalomaniacal.

The Nation needs leaders now who call us to a higher sense of duty, service and fellowship. The recovery of the spirit of the country, as conceived by our founders, demands exemplars of kindness and compassion, hospitality and listening to the ideas and experiences of others. May that be so in the years ahead.

There will be many difficult challenges to address ahead and surely vociferous debate, but, hopefully, it will be more often informed by a positive vision of a more perfect union. Spiritually, we need to keep guard as the darkness is forever looking to extinguish the light and distract from the dream.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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