Laming the Swamp

At the CPAC conference, Stephen Bannon announced a bold new strategy for taming the federal bureaucracy. Given that:

  1.  “swamp monster” appears to be a qualification necessary to obtain a security clearance; and
  2. the federal bureaucracy is hypocritically feeding public prosecutors evidence of criminal wrong-doing by administration officials,

the President’s “Chief Tragedist” is calling upon Academia to “deconstruct” the administrative state. In layman’s terms: the mission of the press-ganged philosophers will be to discover the contradictions inherent in the laws and regulations that legitimate the operation of the executive branch.

The prior exemplar of this approach to governmental process was Justice Antonin Scalia, whose approach to constitutional law was “strict deconstructionist.” Under this policy, it was possible to argue both that gun rights are absolute and that corporations have the rights of citizens. Such positions are reconciled in deconstruction by allowing that every law reflects the attempt by society to solve problems that it cannot articulate due to the biases of its language. In application, deconstruction has allowed analysts to justify every policy and action.

This blogger offers an aphorism: “The Ends Justify the Meanings.” There was a book by Nabokov on this subject: something about a poet’s elegy for his daughter, dead of a suicide, and an attempt by a political hack to interpret it as a call to restore a Scandinavian monarchy. Bannon’s substitution of “deconstruction” for “destruction” is a masterful application of the principle.

Reproductive Rights (Again)

In response to this post at The Federalist.

The commentator writes as though no other jurisprudence exists on this matter. If you want to sway the debate, you need to admit and address the arguments made by those that have sought to preserve reproductive rights for women. Many of them are not spiritually unsophisticated: their desire is to create lives that embody love.

And the details of the partial birth abortion are a canard. This is not typical of abortions, which are now most often chemical procedures (the “morning after” pill). Partial birth abortions are incredibly tragic, and politicizing a situation in which either the mother and/or child will die is immoral. A choice has to be made, and it should be made by the parents and their medical practitioners without bringing the police into the situation.

And I would be cautious about the “life at conception” position. Most conceptions end in natural abortions. If there have been 10 billion people alive on earth, God is responsible for aborting at least 10 billion babies. Obviously there is something more subtle going on in the process, some purpose that God has in filtering those that arrive alive in the world.

My perspective is that, being on the path of the knowledge of good and evil, part of our challenge is learning to not be animals in the way that we create progeny. We need to apply reasoned judgment to the problem. That is the gift that God gave humanity above all other creatures, and decrying the use of judgment by others is not morally tenable.

Spirits, Undampened

I spent two hours on Saturday standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the rain with the crowd gathered in downtown Portland for the Women’s March protesting the policies of the new Administration. For a long time, we believed that we were stranded with no place to go. When my sweater began soaking under the Gore-Tex jacket, I made my way back to the Morrison Street bridge, arriving there just as the crowd began to break free. I’m not Oregon-tough: many of the marchers were bare-headed in the drizzle.

I could try to explain the work I facilitated in that setting, and again this morning during services at Portland’s First Unitarian Universalist Church. But I keep on coming back to two moments: the little girl poking the puddles with her protest sign, prompting me to say:

No matter who is president, there’s still going to be rain puddles! And aren’t they just the best!

The other is that last reading at Sister Gloria’s contemplative prayer gathering. It was the wedding at Cana, which ends with the observation:

…and his disciples began to believe in him.

[John 2:11]

In elaborating my choice of this phrase, I explained the paradox that Jesus’s entire ministry was devoted to one purpose: that people would come to believe in themselves.

Today’s sermon assumed that we were in for a long, dark struggle – a struggle that will force us to think in immediate terms and conserve our strength. The Reverend minister revealed that he found himself praying much more in this season. I was also surprised that the musical selections explicitly evoked God, something that I thought was disappearing from Unitarian Universalist worship. And so I had the compulsion to offer him this wisdom in the hall outside the sanctuary:

The divine purpose for humanity is that we bind love to the world. This era is the last hurrah of selfishness. They are divorcing themselves from reality, and in this time, truth spoken in love will have enormous power. They are the most potent tools for dispelling fear.

Thank-you for being here for your community.

This is not a time for thinking small or harboring resources. This is the moment to stretch to our limits and grasp victory. It is time to believe that you were designed through loving to channel great power to each other.

Namaste.

On Politics and Altruism

The Huffington Post has picked up on the clarion call sounded by Judith Herman and others regarding their psychological profile of Donald Trump. Cynics respond that all politicians are power-seeking, and therefore possess significant personality defects. While that may be so, brains do evolve as we mature.

The brain is plastic, and evolves structures as we age that are responsible for socialization. The most evolved structure, which doesn’t appear until most are in their twenties, is responsible for the expression of altruism. Sociopathy (which I see manifested clearly in Trump’s behavior) is the tendency to treat other people as objects. It is indicative of a lack of even the most basic structures of socialization that are entrained with nursing, which delivers the most basic of rewards for collaboration. Forget psychoanalysis: scans of brain activity reveal whether people have even the basic machinery necessary for responsible leadership of others. My guess is that Trump is seriously deficient in that regard.

Louis Cozolino, who teaches at Pepperdine University, also has a practice in psychotherapy that guides adults through experiences that help them to evolve the neurological mechanisms of socialization (see The Neuroscience of Human Relationships). In other words, there are methods for treatment of these disorders, and we should try to educate the electorate to prefer politicians that engage in such counseling. Altruism is the ability to act for the good of others, and is something that everyone should prefer in political leaders.

Of course, the fullest flowering of altruism appears in our great spiritual leaders – those whose service is pursued without any external evidence of seeking for power. It is granted to them by the world they serve. One of my favorite quotes is from Tagore, the educator and poet who was Gandhi’s cultural collaborator:

Power said to the World, “You are mine.”
The World kept it prisoner on her throne.

Love said to the World “I am yours.”
The World gave it the freedom of her house.

In my post Man and Woman, I flirted with the assertion that the capacity to express altruism (characterized as “unconditional love” in that context) is what made Adam and Eve fully human. Conversely, from a psychological perspective, sociopaths are little more than lizards.

A House Crucified

Following the public outcry over its decision to gut the independent House ethics panel, Republicans backed down. When asked to explain why the public was so angry regarding their action, one member complained that the panel’s consideration of anonymous claims was unjust. In fact, he went so far as to say:

Even Jesus had the opportunity to face his accusers.

So let’s think about this: here’s a politician, a member of the most powerful legislative body in the history of the world, claiming parity with a man who decried hypocrisy among the political and religious authorities of his day. Here’s a candidate for public office, comfortable in his position in the world due to systematic efforts to suppress the votes of those that most need the support of society, claiming parity with a spiritual leader who picked his inner circle from among the most common of men – those despised and down-trodden. Here’s a Republican, one among those whose abuse of investigative authority smeared the public perception of a devoted public servant, leading to the transfer of our highest elected office into the hands of a man whose primary consideration in political affairs appears to be personal economic advantage, claiming parity with a martyr who was rail-roaded on trumped-up charges, lashed and crucified before his friends and family.

Oh, hypocrite! Oh, Satan! Get behind me!