Hold It All

Category: Activists

With Gratitude for Reinaldo Arenas

And then, at last, they saw the country and the countercountry – because every country, like all things in this world, has its contrary, and that contrary-to-a-country is its countercountry, the forces of darkness that work to ensure that only superficiality and horror endure, that all things noble, beautiful, brave, and life-enhancing – the true country – disappear. The countercountry (the poem somehow revealed this) is monolithic, rigid vulgarity; the country is all that is diverse, luminous, mysterious – and festive. And this revelation, more than the images of all the beautiful things that they had seen, invested the listeners with an identity and a faith. And they realized that they were not alone, because beyond all the horror – including the horror that they themselves exuded – there existed the sheltering presence of a tradition formed of beauty and rebelliousness: a true country.

–Reinaldo Arenas, The Color of Summer, trans. Andrew Hurley

 

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With Gratitude for Ralph Nader

I’ve recently read several books by Ralph Nader, and I’ve been reminded of his immense contributions to the lives of the U.S. American people.

Here’s his latest post on what’s going on…

 

 

 

 

Facing the Future: Resources for Resistance and a Rebirth of Wonder

Dipa Ma’s greatest gift to me was showing what was possible—and living it. She was impeccable about effort. People with this ability to make effort are not disheartened by how long it takes, how difficult it is. It takes months, it takes years, it doesn’t matter, because the courage of the heart is there. She gave the sense that with right effort, anything is possible.
—Jospeh Goldstein

Listening to birdsong and the wind sift through the t0ps of forests never failed to provide respite from bearing witness to ecocide.
—Dahr Jamail

The only worth globalizing is dissent.
—Arundhati Roy

and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever
a renaissance of wonder
—Lawrence Ferlinghetti

_________________

Recently, a friend, acknowledging the pressing issues of the climate, told me matter-of-factly, “Relationships are the most important thing in life.” In this fall class, we will engage in minute particulars of care for our natural world, practice choosing skillful means in daily life, pursue political and cultural investigations, call things by the their true names, savor and circulate poems, and cultivate neighborliness and the dear love of comrades.

Among our teachers will be two women from India, the Buddhist meditation adept Dipa Ma and the activist and writer Arundhati Roy, as well as the intrepid U.S. American journalist and mountaineer Dahr Jamail.

We meet on five Tuesdays in October, and three Tuesdays in November, beginning October 1. We are hosted by Dianne Lee and Bill Quick at their home in Richmond Heights. We gather at 6:45 and g0 till 8:15. Each session with have time for silence, paired sharing, writing exercises, book discussions, announcements, poetry recitations, and deep looking. A class blog will enable us to share our various writings and sources of inspiration. Read the rest of this entry »

Morality 101

See, I focus my efforts against the terror and violence of my own state for really two main reasons. First of all, in my case the actions of my state happen to make up the main component of international violence in the world. But much more importantly than that, it’s because American actions are the things that I can do something about. So even if the United States were causing only a tiny fraction of the repression and violence in the world–which obviously is very far from the truth–that tiny fraction would still be what I’m responsible for, and what I should focus my efforts against. And that’s based on a very simple ethical principle –namely, that the ethical value of one’s actions depends on their anticipated consequences for human beings: I think that’s kind of like a fundamental moral truism.

So, for example, it was a very easy thing in the 1980s for people in the United States to denounce the atrocities of the Soviet Union in its occupation of Afghanistan–but those denunciations had no effects which could have helped people. In terms of their ethical value, they were about the same as denouncing Napoleon’s atrocities, or things that happened in the Middle Ages. Useful and significant actions are ones which have consequences for human beings, and usually those will concern things that you can influence and control–which means for people in the United States, American actions primarily, not those of some other state.

Actually, the principle that I think we ought to follow is the principle we rightly expected Soviet dissidents to follow. So what principle did we expect Sakharov [a Soviet scientist punished for his criticism of the U.S.S.R.] to follow? Why did people here decide that Sakharov was a moral person? I think he was. Sakharov did not treat every atrocity as identical–he had nothing to say about American atrocities. When he was asked about them, he said, “I don’t know anything about them, I don’t care about them, what I talk about are Soviet atrocities.” And that was right-because those were the ones that he was responsible for, and that he might have been able to influence. Again, it’s a very simple ethical point: you are responsible for the predictable consequences of your actions, you’re not responsible for the predictable consequences of somebody else’s actions. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Old Days before Trump (Peas in a Pod)

 

In November 2010 Ralph Nader wrote an imaginary letter penned by former president George W. Bush to his successor President Barack Obama. Here’s an excerpt…

The Leftists are always trying to have your policies show me up negatively. Hah—they’re having one hell of a tough time, aren’t they?

Me state secrets, you state secrets. Me executive privilege, you executive privilege. Me stop the release of torture videos, you backed me up. Me indefinite detention, you indefinite detention. Me extraordinary rendition; you extraordinary rendition. Me sending drones, you sending tons more, flying 24/7. Me just had to look the other way on collateral damage, you doing the same and protecting our boys doing it. Me approving night time assassination raids, you’re upping the ante especially since General Petraeus took over. Me beefing up Defense, you not skipping a beat. Me letting the CIA loose, you told them operate at large. Me demanding no pictures of our fallen troops, you doing the same, but allowing the families to go to Dover which I should have done.

Highly recommended:

Oath of Disloyalty by Irwin Keller

Today I received the following in an email from Rabbi Lerner.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to a political party.
Nor will I be loyal to dictators and mad kings.
I am not loyal to walls or cages.
I am not loyal to taunts or tweets.
I am not loyal to hatred, to Jew-baiting, to the gloating connivings of white supremacy.

I am a disloyal Jew.
I am not loyal to any foreign power.
Nor to abuse of power at home.
I am not loyal to a legacy of conquest, erasure and exploitation.
I am not loyal to stories that tell me who I should hate.

I am a loyal Jew.
I am loyal to the inconveniences of kindness.
I am loyal to the dream of justice.
I am loyal to this suffering Earth
And to all life.
I am not loyal to any founding fathers.
But I am loyal to the children who will come
And to the quality of world we leave them.
I am not loyal to what America has become.
But I am loyal to what America could be.
I am loyal to Emma Lazarus. To huddled masses.
To freedom and welcome,
Holiness, hope and love.

Irwin Keller — teacher, writer, reb, hope-monger

Thinking for Oneself (and Then There’s the “More Sophisticated”)

The audience I try to reach, and to some limited extent do reach, is a different one: partly, activists of a less doctrinaire sort than the mainstream liberal intelligentsia and sectarian Marxists, partly the kind of general interested audience that one finds everywhere: around universities (primarily students), church groups, and so on.

I’m not trying to convert, but to inform. I don’t want people to believe me, any more than they should believe the party line I’m criticizing—academic authority, the media, the overt state propagandists, or whatever. In talks and in print, I try to stress what I think is true: that with a little willingness to explore and use one’s mind, it is possible to discover a good deal about the social and political world that is generally hidden. I feel that I’ve achieved something if people are encouraged to take up this challenge and learn for themselves.

There are a vast number of people who are uninformed and heavily propagandized, but fundamentally decent. The propaganda that inundates them is effective when unchallenged, but much of it goes only skin deep. If they can be brought to raise questions and apply their decent instincts and basic intelligence, many people quickly escape the confines of the doctrinal system and are willing to do something to help others who are really suffering and oppressed.

This is naturally less true of better-educated and “more sophisticated” (that is, more effectively indoctrinated) groups who are both the agents and often the most deluded victims of the propaganda system.

—Noam Chomsky,”The Manufacture of Consent,” 1983, Language and Politics, 389

Ale Vázquez

“Surely, Thich Nhat Hanh Doesn’t Think that the Diamond Sutra Applies to Trump, ICE, and the Republicans!”

The Buddha said to Subhuti, “In a place where there is something that can be distinguished by signs, in that place there is deception. If  you can see the signless nature of signs, then you can see the Tathagatha.”

Diamond Sutra, section 5

Look deeply at the one you love (or at someone you do not like at all!) and you will see that she is not herself alone. “She” includes her education, society, culture, heredity, parents, and all the things that contribute to her being.  When we see that, we truly understand her.  If she makes us unhappy, we can see that did not intend to but that unfavorable conditions made her do it. To protect and cultivate the good qualities in her, we need to know how to protect and cultivate the elements outside of her, including ourselves that make her fresh and lovely.  If we are peaceful and pleasant, she too will be peaceful and pleasant.

If we look deeply into A and see that A is not A, we see A in its fullest flowering. At that time love becomes true love, generosity becomes true generosity, practicing the precepts becomes truly practicing the precepts, and support becomes true support.  This is the way the Buddha looks at a rose, and it is why he is not attached to the rose. When we are still caught in signs, we are still attached to the rose. A Chinese Zen master once said, “Before practicing Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers. While practicing Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers. After practicing, mountains are mountains again and rivers are rivers again.” These are dialectics of prajnaparamita.

—Thich Nhat Hanh, The Diamond That Cuts Through All Illusion: Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra

Only Connect (and Hold It All)

Edward W. Said, Power, Politics, and Culture: Interviews
Edited by Gauri Viswanathan
Pantheon Books (2001)

With four friends (from St. Charles, Troy, and Los Angeles), I am reading and discussing  the recently published collection of Edward Said’s essays over the course of forty years.  Among the most powerful  so far are “Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims” and an excerpt from his 1986 work  with photographer Jean Mohr, After the Last Sky.  I’ve also been rereading a volume interviews from the 1970s on, and I have been struck by Said’s strong views on the matter of identity.  Following are some of his reflections over the years…

Musically, I am very interested in contrapuntal writing, and contrapuntal forms. The kind of complexity that is available, aesthetically, to the whole range from consonant to dissonant, the tying together of multiple voices in a kind of disciplined whole, is something that I find tremendously appealing.  99

I think the one thing that I find, I guess, the most—I wouldn’t say repellent, but I would say antagonistic—for me is identity. The whole notion of a single identity. And so multiple identity, the polyphony of many voices playing off against each other, without, as I say, the need to reconcile them, just to hold them together, is what my work is all about. More than one culture, more than one awareness, both in its negative and its positive modes. It’s a basic instinct.  99

There’s  the whole  question of the fractious quality of identity politics.  204 Read the rest of this entry »

Arousing Enthusiasm: Allen the Talker

for Laura Lapinski,
who makes me laugh while lunching at Medina Grill,
walking around the CWE, and hanging out in Left Bank Books

There’s 15 to 20 Allen Ginsberg poems I’ve loved, and shared with friends over the years. Examples: Cosmopolitan Greetings, War Profit Litany, Yiddishe Kopf, Yes and It’s Hopeless. Sure, I acknowledge that Ginsberg’s poetic influence has been world-wide, and I do reread Howl from time to time. But I esteem him even more for being a talker! This is principally because of one book, Spontaneous Mind: Selected Interviews 1958-1996. What follows are some excerpts which have informed, encouraged, challenged, and delighted me.

On Cuba: The Marxist-oriented people said ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be complaining – look at the advances the revolution has made.’ This was true and I said, yes there have been certain advances here, and I’m on your side and that’s why I’m complaining – don’t fuck up your revolution. 535

People are beginning to see, like household, as a tea ceremony. People begin to do kitchen yoga when they’re washing dishes. People begin to sacramentalizing all relationships, because the purpose of art is to sacramentalize life, I think. That’s a reasonable statement that I heard Swami Bhaktivedanta say recently. He said he thought the purpose of art was to bless and make sacred everything, so that people could see it that way. That is, to reveal the feeling in things, so they become more of a ball. 75

An artist by very definition means penetrating into the heart of the universe, i.e., your own heart, going beyond depression or exuberance. 446

[Since the 60s ] [t]here is a permanent change in civilized consciousness so that it includes the notion of one world, fresh planet, the awareness of the fragility of the planet as an ecological unity, the absorption of psychedelic styles in dress and music into the body politic, the sexual liberation movement, the black liberation movement, the women’s liberation movement, all of those slight, affirmative, permanent alterations in all lifestyles. 462

On meditation: you’re aware of your thoughts and you just observe them: acknowledging them, taking a friendly attitude toward them, not participating, just letting them go by. That tends to lead to a kind of equanimity or peacefulness and, at the same time, some sense of observation of the situation around you in a kind of nonjudgmental peacefulness. 482 Read the rest of this entry »