An Observation

An actual Queen. Most woman aren’t

Usually when I see something on the Internet that shocks me, I grumble then move on. There is far too much out there that’s bothersome in one way or another to worry over anything in particular. Except when I run across something that just makes my jaw drop. Like a meme I saw earlier this week that said the following;

Guys need to be spoiled and told how handsome they are on a daily basis. How do you expect to be treated like a Queen if you treat him like a servant?

Where do I begin? Quite apart from the obvious passive-aggressive language, I keep wondering who wants to be treated like an (actual) queen. Or king for that matter. Are these things actual people expect out of relationships? I mean, I know I’m old. I haven’t dated since the early 1990’s, when I married a woman I couldn’t imagine wanting to be treated like a queen. Nor have I ever thought, “Geez, why isn’t she treating me like a king? Bring me my slippers!”

I do know, however, there are people, men and women both, who really do think this way. That women should be considered a “queen”. I’m never quite sure what this means, because traditionally queens are doted upon yet always at a remove from others. Does a man really want a woman who accepts being put on a pedestal, accepting whatever material offerings are made, but rarely connects with him?

And why would any man want to be treated like a king? Traditionally, kings are spoiled not by their wives, but their concubines and mistresses. I’m pretty sure that’s not what the meme refers to. So I guess I’m at a loss. Unless such a man really wants a subservient woman, I’m not sure how that works out.

The game, however, is given away in the whiny, passive-aggressive tone of the whole thing. “Why do women want to be treated well if they’re not willing to do what I want?” This meme isn’t about love or relationships. Not really. This isn’t about finding a real partner. This is about capitalist exchange. “You give me what I want, I’ll give you what you want.” There need be no emotional content here. It’s all about negotiating an exchange. With an implied threat that if the man’s needs aren’t met in a manner he expects, he will either withhold affection or, perhaps, worse.

The thing is, most people, most of the time, are quite happy being treated like a human being. Not someone’s idea of who he or she is or might be. Certainly not royalty! In relationships, we should shield ourselves from market forces that looks for any kind of exchange of goods and services. Intimacy is about openness, which means being oneself with another in a way that risks emotional pain, but also rewards with a shared togetherness tat is beyond the grotesquery of the market. Being a real person with another real person is far more difficult, challenging, and ultimately satisfying than being a “king” and “queen”.

Before anyone suggests that the meme exaggerates to make a point, I want to know what point that might be. Are men in relationships with women who care nothing for them? Then they’re not in a relationship, and should probably find the nearest exit. That women won’t return physical or emotional affection in a way men want? Then try talking about things. Don’t throw a tantrum because you’re not being treated the way you believe you deserve. Particularly if you’ve never made those expectations clear. And don’t go into a relationship believing you “deserve” anything from the other person beyond what they’re willing to offer. If you’re in it for the long haul, these things change over time, and deepening intimacy and emotional openness creates opportunities for all sorts of wonders.

What I’m saying is: Men, you don’t deserve anything from another person. Give without a thought to what you might get. This is how relationships work in the long haul. You’re not entitled to anything. And insisting that you treat her like a “queen” in order to be treated like a “king” might bring about an unpleasant surprise. Settle for being a person figuring things out together with another person and things might well work out in far more surprising ways than you could have imagined.

Finding by Maria Popova

Maria Popova, author of Figuring and curator of brainpickings.org

Along with my oft-mentioned experience reading about Voyager 1’s encounter with Saturn as reported in National Geographic, my desire to learn more about more things was excited by reading Carl Sagan’s Broca’s Brain. Subtitled, “Reflections On The Romance of Science”, the book is a series of essays that explore everything from the biographies of some of Sagan’s heroes, the weird attractions of pseudo-science, the promise and hope of space exploration, and the limits of science fiction. Written for any average reader, it is an invitation not only to wonder, but to discovery about the interconnectedness of awe, beauty, and understanding, and to contemplate a different perspective of our life here on Earth.

Having recently felt lost, wondering if it were possible to recapture some of that wonder I felt as a teenager when I considered the possibilities Sagan offered up, I decided to pick up my battered, yellowed copy and read it again for the first time in decades. I discovered, to my sadness, that I knew each word so well, each image Sagan’s writing brought to mind, that even after – what? 30 years? More? – this book was so ingrained inside me that I realized there was nothing left to discover. Rather than offer an fresh opportunity at wonder, it was like returning to my hometown and discovering how sad I was it was no longer the little village I knew.

Then my wife gifted me Finding for Christmas.

I subscribe to brainpickings.org, enjoying the wonderful essays its curator, Maria Popova, offers up as fresh takes on matters scientific and cultural. I had seen the book announcement she made, which is how I ended up with a copy last Wednesday. What I knew about the books content was the ad copy she offered up. That and she would cover a wide variety of topics through looking at the people whose lives embodied them.

After an introductory chapter entitled “0”, she begins with a sketch of Johannes Kepler’s struggles during the last years of his life both to complete and publish the first science fiction book (written to present the Copernican system to a non-scientific audience) and clear his mother of charges of witchcraft. That he succeeded in the latter but not the former is a tragedy of the times.

Now, Kepler received chapter-length attention in another of Carl Sagan’s works – Cosmos – and I found myself thinking, I know this story.

But, surprise!surprise!, I didn’t know this story. Not at all. For Sagan, Kepler’s story is one of the victory of patient observation overcoming the ideological blinders of a kind of Platonic Idealism that was still regnant among so much of early-modern science. Popova, however, saw in Kepler’s story – his work with Tycho Brahe, the development of the laws of planetary motion, his struggles against a legal apparatus that still considered “witchcraft” a thing to be punished – a whole. Particularly his efforts to offer the world an accessible view of the still-controversial Copernican system (Galileo’s conviction by the Church caused Kepler much angst), brought together many of the themes Popova would explore throughout the rest of her work: how chance and choice, the surrounding mores and and social rules, biography, and the inexorable pull of new ideas create individuals whose findings have changed our world for the better.

Much the rest of the book offers up a series, mostly, of women whose work may or may not have been heralded, whose lives may or may not have been forgotten, whose legacies might or might not have been distorted by those too afraid of the possibilities these women offered the world. Most of them lived in the 19th century, when the social etiquette of the “woman’s sphere” (hearth, home, raising children) was often violently enforced against many women. Many of the women lived outside the simplistic binaries of conventional gender and sexual ideologies. To live as such, to work as such, to create beauty whether in science or art or culture, in the midst of so much that would prevent them from doing so testifies to the courage these women live out in their work-lives.

Of course, not just women appear in these pages. Emerson, because of the central part he played in the life of some of these women as well as our developing sense of “American” culture, is woven throughout the chapters. Whitman, too, one of our marvelous mythologists, shows up more than occasionally. His own life and work offers further testimony to the power of following one’s muse, even if that muse is often a person of the same gender. There’s even a beautiful excurses on Carl Sagan, his partner and love Anne Druyan, and the creation of the “Golden Records” attached to the Voyager spacecraft, labors far outside simple-minded science, but rather a testament of love for humanity at a time when such was scarce.

I rest much easier now, knowing that such a work as Finding exists. There are ample opportunities for another young person to become excited about the possibilities life can offer should we make our way through the vagaries of chance and choice with a modicum of wisdom, courage, and most of all – Love. For Popova, love as portrayed through this book is not an emotion. It is, rather, an approach to life, with ourselves, with others, with the world in which we live, that bundles it all together and creates the possibility for finding . . . all that one can in the meager moments of human existence. It is love for understanding, for discovering, for offering to the world these understandings and discoveries, for those we hold most dear that drives people as different as Maria (pronounced like my daughter’s name, Moriah) Mitchell, Emily Dickinson (some of whose mysterious life is revealed in Popova’s beautiful portrait), Rachel Carson, and Lise Meitner to be the people who accomplished the things they did.

Finding is a book so desperately needed right now. It offers hope, and humanity, and most of all wonder at what may yet be possible should there still be people willing not only to find, but to passionately love finding all the ways there are to wrest meaning from the meaningless of our small blip of life.

What Christmas Means To Me

Consider the Almighty God looking like this.

For me, the Christian faith is the single most radical, humanistic, and revolutionary claim ever. While the events of the passion and resurrection are the central meaningful events of the Christian faith, when we remember the birth of Jesus, we make a startling claim: We’re saying that all of God came to live among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

This is not only a claim that a specific tribal god has acted in a specific way for the benefit of that particular group of people – it is most assuredly this, and the starting point for the declaration of Christmas – but the proclamation that this very specific, very real, very human event involves the God who makes and sustains us. At Christmas, we’re not just sharing the blessings of family and gifts, of sentiment and comfort. At Christmas we’re proclaiming that the God who has made everything cares enough about this one little group of persons suffering under foreign domination and oppression to come down to earth to effectuate their freedom; in so doing, this same God sees fit to free all humanity – indeed, all creation – from the one enemy nothing escapes: death.

We human beings are schizo about religion. We like it to be comforting. Why else do so many turn to it when the going gets rough? We do so, at least titular or former Christians at any rate, because the proclamation of the Incarnation is indeed one of radical comfort and care, rooted in an understanding of the human condition that has become divine, holy, and eternal. God comforts because God has grieved. God consoles because God has suffered. God provides solidarity because God has experienced oppression. All the sorrows and sufferings of human existence have been taken up into the Divine Life. They are made holy, provide the source of human confidence in the faithfulness of God in the midst of all our trials.

At the same time, we don’t like it when people turn religion into a weapon to wield against others. We tend to be put off by the exclusionary ideas inherent in the proclamation of the Incarnation. The truth is, though, God takes sides. If the Incarnation teaches us anything, it’s that God’s fullness dwelt among a specific people at a specific time and place, reaching out to specific groups of people, working with outcasts of all kinds to create something that, while transcending the politics of the moment nevertheless speaks to that moment in the most radical way possible: Divine favor rests with those the world casts out. The Divine Presence is with those we call blasphemers and sinners. Divine power is evident not in the biggest battalions or billions of dollars but in the beloved community of the excluded who experience human life in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. No, there are no particular partisan political conclusions one can draw from these events. There are, however, very certain and sure ways of living that impact how we are to live toward one another that are given real life and meaning in and through the Incarnation.

Divine grace, that overwhelming, overflowing love that takes this sad and broken reality, says “Yes” to it even as it says “No” to it, is summed up in the events of Holy Week. These moments give meaning, not a meaning we find but rather a meaning that finds us, as we realize God has been here with us all along, in this broken corpse now missing from the tomb. We live in a Universe unimaginable in its breadth and potential both for beauty and violence. That Universe is the product of completely free Divine love and care. A love so free that God chose to become flesh and dwell among us folks, right here on this one damp rock circling a forgettable star on the fringes of a galaxy that probably has bigger concerns.

Merry Christmas

My Mom

Virginia Johnston, probably her Senior Picture in HS

Today is my Mom’s birthday. Of course, she passed away three years ago at the age of 91, but as long as I can, I’ll lift up her birthday. Growing up, I often saw my friends and acquaintances looking at her and just seeing who she was at that time, a middle-aged housewife, mother of five, whose quiet public demeanor (mostly) was in stark contrast to her husband’s very outgoing friendliness. As I became older, learned more of her life, talked to her siblings, saw photos, and remembered things she did, it occurred to me that it was nearly impossible to judge who she was; ridiculous to try and sum up who she was with one or two simple labels. Oh, I’m sure she would have been happy being known as a mother and wife, because she told me that’s all she ever really wanted to be (more about that later). But during her very long life, she did and was many things, very few of them boring.

Being the older daughter in a very large family, she helped raising her youngest siblings, particularly since her mother was quite ill after having the two youngest. Her youngest brother, Ned, when he was in high school, would introduce her to his friends, “This is my sister Virginia. We call her Virgin for short, but not for long.” Which should give you an idea of what kind of family she lived in!

She attended the University of Dayton during the Second World War. She decided to take chemical engineering as a major because, as she told me once, it sounded fun. She was the only woman in a small group of men, several of whom were Cuban, having been educated at Society of St. Mary schools in their home country then coming to UD. She graduated top of her class in her major (which should surprise no one), but she never pursued anything to do with her degree because, well, she studied it, did well in it, but she wasn’t, you know, married to it. It wasn’t her life’s vocation.

During her summers in college, she did war work. She worked for what was then National Cash Register Company, Huffman Bicycle Company building those folding bikes soldiers carried during the invasion of Italy (I think she was always proudest of that). One summer, she worked for The Manhattan Project. She insisted all she did was pass a Geiger counter over clothes workers wore, although I don’t believe her. At a family get-together once when I was in high school, I asked her oldest brother about that. He just smiled and said, “She received a commendation from Pres. Roosevelt for her work. Do you really think she got that checking clothes for radiation?” After she died, going through her lifetime’s accumulated things I never found such a commendation. I know she had one, because she told me about it after I asked her if it was true. I don’t think she kept it. Because, well, why would she?

Also while in college, she and her best friend Mark Kotterman showed up at marching band practice together and told the director, “We’re your majorettes!” He looked at them, not quite sure what to say. Mary and Mom made their own uniforms, flags, came up with their own routines, and marched at halftime with the band through one season. She did it, she told me, because she wanted to see UD beat the University of Cincinnati and this was the only way she’d be able to go to the game. For years, a little pennant saying, “Beat Cincy!” hung on the attic wall. It, too, disappeared at some point.

She also thought it would be fun to join the archery team. Of course, she’d never handled a bow and arrow before, but why should she let that stop her? That year, she ended up going to Nationals. The next year, she claimed, “I couldn’t even hit the target!” I don’t believe that. I think she went out for the archery team, did really well, and then was quite done with it all. Like her not pursuing work in her chosen field, doing any majorette stuff after that one autumn, and so many other things, she did something she though would be fun. She did it really well, proving to herself she could. Then, she was done with it.

The only thing my mother really wanted to do was, well, to be a mother. She told me once that she had always wanted five children. She even, so she claims, had the five men picked out who would help her reach her goal! Then she met my Dad in New York in the late 1940’s. While each of them lived their lives and were with other people, they stayed connected and in the early 1950’s when my father found himself pursued not at all subtly by the students at all-women’s Stephen’s College in Columbia, MO, she agreed to marry him. I have no doubt they loved each other very much, even through some rough times here and there.

While she spent most of the next thirty or so years raising her large brood, she also took time out to volunteer for the Red Cross after Hurricane Agnes flooded our area in 1972. She volunteered for the regional Adult Literacy program, helping teach people to read. She wore quite a few hats at First UMC, Sayre, PA. She welcomed her childrens’ friends into her home with no questions, providing a safe, fun place for all manner of boys and girls over the years. I think sometimes of the gaggle of kids that would sometimes gather in our yard and house to play and remember her being insouciant about it all. Of course they were welcome! This last is something Lisa and I have done, too, making sure our house was a welcome place for pretty much anyone.

Mostly, though, she was my Mom. She put band-aids on my cuts. She used to be able to hold my legs just below my knees, and as long as I locked my knees, lift me up to touch the ceiling. She was there when I cried, she barely tolerated my adolescent moodiness and angst. She welcomed her childrens’ spouses into her home just as she always welcomed people into her home. She loved her grandchildren, even welcoming her first two great-grandchildren late in her life.

Mom was not at all the person one saw at a glance in the supermarket, or mingling during intermissions at band concerts and school plays. I think this is important to remember when we see people casually; we should remember their lives might well be far more full and interesting than it might appear. I celebrate my mother today because I know she’d be embarrassed and upset I would do so, because she wasn’t one to think she’d ever done anything interesting. She was, after all, just a housewife and mother.

Ignorance Is Not A Virtue

This picture started it all for me.

All sorts of things happened this week, good and bad. There was another school shooting, this time in California. Venice and Sydney were both affected by events exacerbated by global warming, even as governing bodies in these two very different places sought to play down this simple reality. States keep wasting taxpayer money and their own time passing clearly unconstitutional anti-abortion laws. Of course, there were the first public impeachment hearings against Donald Trump, two days that proved how callow and nonsensical the Republican Party has become.

I’d rather speak for a moment about Ohio’s House Bill 164, entitled ” Ohio Student Religious Liberties Act of 2019.” Snopes, ever cautious in looking at click-bait and scare headlines, insists the claims that the bill would allow students to ignore science in, well, science classes if these students insisted it clashed with their religious beliefs are “unproven”. To the extent that the wording of the Bill is significantly vague enough to make a casual reader wonder; and that the Bill has yet even to go to the State Senate, let alone be signed by the governor, this certainly seems an arguable position to take.

Except, of course, such a view ignores the trajectory of religious-based anti-science activity of the past half-century. Obviously, the goal of this bill is to keep students who, say, believe the earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago from being penalized for insisting so during a term studying cosmology, evolution, or geology. The invention of “Intelligent Design” by a kind of newspaper Jumbo Scrambling of creationism was just one step along this way. Couching the language of the bill in terms of religious freedom is certainly no accident; even were one not a believer, it seems, most Americans would be hard-pressed to correct a students religious beliefs with something as arcane as scientific understanding.

The first stirrings of awe and wonder in my own mind and heart – said affects being necessary for the pursuit of understanding according to the ancient Greeks – began with the photo above. Specifically, that photo adorned the cover of a National Geographic magazine from 1981 that captured my attention in a way nothing ever had before. I’ve written of this life-event before, so you can click the link to find out more about the specifics of that moment. Suffice to say, for our purposes here, long before I thought about what I might study, or what kind of person I might become (beyond perpetual student); long before my own heart was strangely warmed by reflection upon the events in my life, an event that sent me off to Seminary; long before I declared Political Science as my undergraduate major; the very moment I started down a road that would twist and turn through all these moments and more, I sat and wondered about the planet Saturn, its moons, the immensity of space, of time, and who we human beings were and might become. It was science, in this case planetary astronomy, that started the little gears and gizmos in my head turning and spinning, trying to figure things out.

Over the years I’ve studied lots of things. Political analysis, statistics, constitutional law (as an undergraduate), American history, medieval history, the theologies of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth, liberation theology and the relationship between science and theology, the philosophy of science reading Newton’s Principia, Wittgenstein, Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, and Thomas Kuhn (among many others). In all that reading, and over decades, I’ve never encountered anything that would suggest science and religious belief – of any kind; not just Christian or so-called Abrahamic faith, but eastern religions as well – would be at odds with one another. Considering each concerns completely different parts of the human experience, has different criteria for method, the pursuit of “truth”, and discuss wholly different phenomena, this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

The phony story of a clash between religion and science begins with that eminently modernist religious movement, Fundamentalism. First flourishing in the early years of the 2oth century, the “Fundamentals” were a rationalist, fideist reaction to what was then called the higher criticism of the Bible, the emergence in both Germany and the United States of what became known as liberal theology (a beast that bears no relationship to the targets of the epithet these days), and the activism of the Social Gospel and Personalist theologies among Baptists and Methodists, respectively. The “Fundamentals”, ignoring 1900 years of Christian teaching on grace and the specific language of Scripture, insisted there were these things it was necessary human beings “believe” – a word now reduced to a simple cognitive act, empty as it had become of the nuance and affective content it had held throughout history – in order to achieve salvation. One of those things was the literal understanding of the Bible in its entirety, as if somehow the ancient Hebrew teachers and and rabbis were as stupid as a bunch of Princeton theology professors. This included the Creation, without ever once acknowledging the reality, long known, that there were two distinct, contradictory, and irreconcilable creation stories in Genesis. One was simply to acquiesce to their literal truth without examining what each might teach us about God, the world in which we find ourselves, or the relationship between Creation and Creator.

In part a reaction to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which was in turn indebted to the science of geology for discovering how long the earth had existed, how slow and steady (we now know occasionally punctuated by periods of rapid, extreme) change is, fundamentalists now had something to challenge Darwin and the growing disenchantment with simplistic religious belief that was clear for everyone to see. They met most famously in Dayton, TN when a HS science teacher named Scopes taught evolution against the express wishes of the school board. The trial is famous for its clash of legal titans, Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryant; less known is that Scopes was found guilty and fined.

It was the public humiliation of Fundamentalism that, for a time, pushed so-called religious objections to scientific study underground. These objections, however, never went away. Re-emerging as part of the fundamentalist revival of the late 20th century, we saw renewed attempts at curbing the teaching of evolution, the Big Bang, an ancient and slowly morphing planet, solar system, galaxy, and Universe. The courts, quite rightly, saw these attempts for what they were, ruling them unconstitutional. So the matter has sat, with variations on the theme played out in the early 21st century with the elimination of “Intelligent Design” as an alternative to creationism.

This history is important to understand. It has been a very specific, blinkered, very modern, and politically motivated (as opposed to the pursuit of the Gospel, which is the actual focus of Christian religious life) religious movement that continues to create conflict and controversy where none actually exists. Most scholars of each recognize this to be the case, even as voices of idiotic publics on both sides (consider Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins) continue to pretend the fate of the human race hinges on whether religious belief or the acceptance of science is taken to be the proper measure of things. Even as the risible spectacle of ignorant religious fanatics and equally ignorant scientistic fanatics yelling at each other continues, both the scientific project and religious life continue. They do so precisely because each fulfills needs that are a part of what it is to be human. We are a species, it seems, that needs both to know as much as we can about all that is around us; we also recognize, in a near-infinite variety of forms, there is specific type of awe that pushes us to consider our moral relationships with the world and with other people. Whether one accept Christian theology as a legitimate pursuit or not, surely it’s difficult to deny the reality of the ubiquity of similar such schools of thought among other groups of people.

A particularly dark trend on social media is an increased deprecation of higher education. Whether couched in terms of equality (people who get a college degree think they’re better than everyone else!), or economic and financial security (you can get a good-paying job without a college degree!), or pithy nonsense (a college education doesn’t teach common sense!), it is becoming more and more common to see such declarations. Combined with the increasing difficulty of attending a college or university without incurring impoverishing debt, more and more we erect barriers to higher education even as such an education becomes necessary for economic survival. Such views not only increase the disdain for the educated among an American public already predisposed to such a view. It does so in ways that misconstrue or ignore the reasons for and benefits of a liberal education. Such an education has never concerned itself with social, financial, economic, or some other betterment. It should also be said that what passes for “common sense” all too often is not at all how the world really works at all, which is why an education is necessary; to see through the comfortable illusions of “common sense” to the way we understand how things really are.

Ohio House Bill 164 is nothing more than part of our latest spurt of anti-intellectualism, itself a response to fast-changing social conditions and mores. It pits the “common sense” that there are only two genders, immutable and ontologically distinct against the scientific fact of multiple genders, not only in humans but in other creatures as well; the “common sense” that minorities in America already enjoy far more rights than the majority population, special rights that others do not enjoy against the reality of ongoing and increasing resistance to minority rights; the “common sense” that our personal experience of the world is the best guide to what is, and is not, actually the case with how the world works, what is in it, and is the final arbiter of reality for all of us against the scientific spirit and liberal notion that it is critical reflection upon our experience that teaches us just how wrong we too often are. We couch this in a language we no longer understand, that of rights, enshrine it legislation, codifying what is a passing moment of social and cultural discomfiture for an eternal truth to be followed by all persons at all times. This is the antithesis of what liberal education provides, the most important virtue being the ability to think critically about the world around us. Rather than thought, such a bill insists on the acceptance of whatever passes for truth in one’s own mind as the sole guide for understanding the world, whether one calls it religion, or race, or what have you.

While it is technically true the more outlandish claims made about Ohio House Bill 164 are “unproven”, such a claim can only be made in ignorance both of the history of fundamentalist ideology and our specifically American romance with anti-intellectualism. Stifling as it would that most important thing human individuals have to spur us toward understanding, a naive awe and wonder at the unknown I experienced nearly 40 years ago, this is not only a threat to education. It is a threat to thought, to individual freedom, and our collective need to continue searching for answers, not only about our world but also about how we are to live together in ways that lift all of us.

Now Is That Time

For years the politics of both Left and Right have been informed by a political consensus that reflects the interests not of the American middle, but of a powerful upper class and their cosmopolitan priorities.

This class lives in the United States, but they identify as “citizens of the world.” They run businesses or oversee universities here, but their primary loyalty is to the global community.

And they subscribe to a set of values held by similar elites in other places: things like the importance of global integration and the danger of national loyalties; the priority of social change over tradition, career over community, and achievement and merit and progress.

MO Sen. Josh Hawley, quoted in “Sen. Josh Hawley Reaches Out To The Neglected American Herrenvolk:, Doktor Zoom, Wonkette, July 19, 2019
Obergruppenfu . . . I mean Republican Senator Josh Hawley, MO

Many remember thinking to ourselves, “If fascism were to come to America, I’d know and I’d speak out!” Wasn’t that part of our education, after all? Being taught to recognize the signs of the civic illness beginning to sprout, and asked, “What would you do?”

Of course, we’re well down that right-turn road now, aren’t we? I personally don’t see Trump as leading any such movement; I actually understand him to be far more a symptom of our decline than any cause.

What, however, do we do with the speech Freshman Senator Josh Hawley gave recently? Do we write it off as just another over-enthusiastic presentation of right-wing talking points? Perhaps we could, were it not for repeated renditions of National Socialist rhetoric recognizable to any high school history student. Words like “cosmopolitan”, which is just another way of saying “Jew” and “Jewish”. Perhaps the following quote might ring a familiar bell:

Since the days of the city-state, the republican tradition has always viewed self-government as a project bound to a particular place, practiced by citizens loyal to that place andloyal to the way of life they share together. [Emphasis added]

As Wonkette’s Dr Zoom writes below this blockquote in the above-linked article, ” You might even say they’re bound by blood and soil, we suppose.”

This young, fresh-faced lawmaker has moved far beyond the simple-minded rhetoric of patriotism and a watered-down Christianity of much of our recent Republican politicians. Hawley has opened himself to the Goebbels Manual of Style, and allowed himself to speak quite openly words that drip with the blood of millions. “You’re being alarmist!” people will no doubt say.

They said much the same of some of the earliest refugees from Hitler’s Germany.

This Trumpjungen has no business in any polite or educated or human society. Let alone the United States Senate. When you start sounding just a bit too much like the unlamented Reichfuhrer, without apology, it is time to be very clear where we stand: Either we call Hawley the American National Socialist he is or we surrender now any claim to resistance down the road.

Ernst Bloch – The Principle Of Hope, Part One: Little Daydreams

The New is greeted as a brother who has travelled from the region where the sun rises. The sensational wish is in malleable, dull souls itself dull and gullible, in strong souls capable of vision it is thorough. It wants to make sure that [humanity] is not lying crooked, that [humanity] is in tune with [our] place and [our] work. That this work does not fob [us] of with alms, but rather that the same old story of doing without finally comes to an end. . . .

. . . The obsession with what is better remains, even when what is better has been prevented for so long. When what is wished for arrives, it surprises us anyway.

Ernst Bloch, The Principle Of Hope, Vol. 1, p. 42
Ernst Bloch, unorthodox yet compelling Marxist philosopher

Ours is an age that has forgotten how to hope. Oh, this isn’t anything recent. It is the direct result of a kind of small-minded ideological triumphalism best expressed by the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. With the military stand-off in Central Europe gone with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact; with the political stand-off with the Soviet Union ended with the collapse of the Soviet state, Thatcher repeatedly insisted, “There is no alternative.” Thus TINA was born, a phrase that said everything yet said nothing at all. “Alternative” suggests a series of choices available. Once the field is declared clear – There Is No Alternative – there exists nothing left for which human beings might desire. “No alternative”? To what, exactly?

Why, only the ridiculously bloated, increasingly inefficient, and soon-to-be-senescent late capitalism at once given the name New World Order yet bearing a striking resemblance to the same-old same-old of much of the western world since the 19th century. While much of the world looked on as the events of 1989-1991 unfolded with a rare sense of joy as oppressed peoples danced upon the soon-to-collapse walls that once meant death, the leaders of the west moved quickly, even decisively, to declare the events meant one thing and one thing only. Those moments of surprise and happiness were greeted with the dull monotone of the victorious speeches of the mediocrities in Washington, London, Paris, and Bonn. Millions of us watched in wonder, believing that all sorts of things were possible if the very regimes we were told over and over would never fade collapsed under their own dead weight. Wonder, joy, happiness collided with the immovable object of technocratic capitalism. When dullards face something beautiful, they cannot help but make it as bland as themselves.

That era has now reached its logical conclusion in the growing Nazification of America and western Europe. Old hatreds and bitterness, once thought decisively defeated and exposed for the demonic entities they were, have emerged as TINA has forced upon us less and less room to maneuver even as changes continue around us. The dull minds of technocrats have been replaced by the poisoned minds of fascist fears and, the old restraints no longer in place, racist hatreds and we find ourselves facing dangerous times with a dearth of sense about how to move forward.

Speaking of hope in a moment such as this seems absurd. To speak of it in the tones of an ideological enemy declared defeated seems nonsensical, meaningless. With the loss of any room in which to move, we face the choice either of being crushed by the onrushing nightmare or declaring there are now, and have always been, choices. The emptiness of senescent capitalism offers nothing but its logical conclusion – Gotterdamerung. There is, also, a small glimmer of light. That glimmer is the wish, or dream, or forgotten ideal, that things can be different, even better, more humane.

Bloch’s Marxist social psychology of Hope – for such it is, regardless of other definitions on offer – is a tiny candle in the darkness of our times. In this first part, we read Bloch describing the ways wishes and dreams of all kinds, rooted in class consciousness and socio-economic status, may seem of a piece but in fact seek very different ends. For the ruling class it is a desperate search for an end to boredom brought on by the successes of excess. For the petit bourgeoisie it is the fanned flames of resentment not so much at the rulers who declare an end to alternatives or their own realization of their mediocrity in a world that once rewarded such; instead, their increased bitterness and rage aims at easier targets, those below and outside their own too-small circle of acceptability. Even as global events force a need for real alternatives, we are increasingly left with the nonsense of a fading, aged ruling class or the rage of those no longer able to access corridors of power that once seemed to be their own by right.

And yet there are those who wish and dream for an end of suffering. They desire neither the dullness of “the real” nor the violence of exclusion but rather the friendliness (in the full sense of the word) of people working, struggling together to live a more humane and moral life together for the benefit of all. These dreams of the end to deprivation and suffering are called “utopian” or “foreign” even as they continue to fill the minds of our neighbors who believe it possible to live without fear or boredom. In our Age Of TINA, it seems outlandish, ridiculous, mindless to believe such is possible.

It is with these dreams and wishes, the possibility of alternatives to either the long twilight of our fading capitalist age or the Dark Age of the fascist nightmare, that Bloch begins to lift his candle, giving us the ability to see something that we have been told doesn’t exist. Even in our wishes and dreams, as fanciful as they might be, we see the tiniest light of hope. We are reminded that things can be different. We are not subject only to the gray skies of dullards or the endless night of Nazis.

Hope is there, its small light shining upon things we had forgotten might be possible.

On this third or fourth reading of Bloch’s massive work, I’ll be offering reflections at the end of each Part. Even if no one else encounters them, at least here a light might yet shine in the dimming dusk of a time that seems to offer us nothing but gloom or doom as the ends toward which we move.