See Something? Don’t Say Anything.

Interesting exercise in thought control: in an essay on citizen solidarity against the state, the “authorities” (blog administrators) choose to silence my participation in dialog because I drew attention to the shallowness inherent in the framing of the debate.

Oh, well, time to stop following this “100 Best Philosophy Blogs” site.

In the context of the essay, the critical point is that the “state” is not a faceless entity – it is composed of leaders that perceive their authority as tantamount to the legitimacy of the state. Oppression takes root when citizens question the authority of leaders – in fact, to stimulate those questions is the worst form of treason against the state. This is why Vladimir Putin goes to such extremes to ensure that those that rally resistance against his authority are annihilated – either violently in public spaces, or through horrific poisoning in exile. Both methods of execution strike at the trust so essential to the peace of mind that underpins civil society.

Comparing Putin’s antics to the toothless controls of the blog administrator may seem overblown, but it illustrates just how tempting it is to silence dissent – even among those that claim to safeguard intellectual and ethical integrity.

The Electric Agora

by Daniel Tippens

The children, on the other hand, were systematically turned against their parents and taught to spy on them and report their deviations. The family had become in effect an extension of the Thought Police. It was a device by means of which everyone could be surrounded night and day by informers who knew him intimately.

–George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell’s 1984 is, in large part, a discussion about the importance of solidarity between citizens. This becomes clear once one notices that much of what the ruling Party does is designed to engender distrust between its citizens. Ingsoc has placed televisions equipped with cameras in people’s homes, and cameras are hidden in the streets. It has passed laws requiring people to report on their neighbors, whether they are attempting to lead an uprising or simply having a thought that isn’t in line with the party’s ideology. If anyone…

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I spent the afternoon out at Pine Trails Park here in Parkland. After checking in at the Resiliency Center, I wandered around the grounds, finally making my way out past the recreation center to discover the memorial for the fallen students and teachers.

I spent the next three hours holding space and giving back to the service animals that have been doing heavy duty over the last two weeks. On the whole, it was quiet. A few students showed, apparently to make sure the displays were holding up, but for the most part it was people from out of town, and at most twenty at a time.

So I had time to notice the unusual diversity of the butterflies. I saw individuals from four species.

I kept moving around, attempting to stay in the shade and out of the way, and noticed a mother and son – he about three or four – putting up a butterfly kite. Twenty minutes later, I saw him running up to the edge of the amphitheater, looking alarmed. Glancing up, I discovered that the kite was hovering over the stage. Thinking that the string must have unraveled too fast, I walked over to offer assistance, but his mother grabbed his hand and hurried him off.

Taking a closer look, I realized why. Magically, the string and handle had become wrapped around one of the stays on the shade screen.

I eventually chased down a park attendant, who told me that the mother had come by to apologize for the accident. He rolled up to the stage ten minutes later, and asked whether I thought people would find it offensive. I laughed in surprise, and tried to convey to him that I found it delightful. My word choice – serendipitous – was probably unfortunate.

I tried to submit an item to the Sun Sentinel with a photo, but I don’t think it got through. That was the low point in my day. That child should be told what a wonderful gift he left for his fallen brothers and sisters.

Pouring Love into an Ocean of Sorrow

I’m flying out to Parkland, Florida on Thursday. The courageous and articulate witnesses of the atrocity deserve an extravagant demonstration of support.

And it is time for me to demonstrate my strength to those that seek to trivialize them. I know how hard it is to maintain composure in the face of indifference to sorrow, and I am going to try to cast a net of compassion over them.

Ultimately, I believe that we have a right that completely supersedes the Second Amendment: to live in a world of peace, in which any celebration of the instruments and methods of death is recognized as a perverse cult. There is no reason why those of us desiring to live harmoniously should suffer as doormats for those that don’t.

Civil War III

America’s first Civil War was formally declared and fought using traditional means. It was the deadliest war in our history, a fact that resonates with the fierceness of the passions it aroused. It’s deadliness had a more prosaic cause, however: the invention of smokeless gunpowder allowed defenders to mow down the massed assault formations that were effective in prior wars. Confronted with that deadliness, the North (principally under Sherman) recognized that to win it had to destroy the productive capacity of the South. So the first Civil War was our first exercise in industrialized warfare.

But the victors struggled for a cause that we could recognize as noble: preservation of democracy against the forces of division, and liberation of an enslaved population.

The second Civil War was not formally declared, but it ran through the first half of the twentieth century. Though the issues in the conflict were the cause of many revolutions throughout history, in the American case the war was fought principally in political circles. The conflict centered around the rights of inherited wealth, which tempts its holders to impoverish the public so that it can acquire tangible property.

The first stages of this war were violent: coal mine and port operators responded to strikes by sending in security forces to gun down striking workers. It was this violence that pushed the early labor unions into the arms of organized crime. Public revulsion led to legalization of trade unionism with declared rights for workers and procedures for management of workplace grievances.

That effort was only a pre-amble, however. The real action came during the Great Depression. The owner class sat on its hands in the aftermath of the financial collapse, refusing to invest in production because there were no buyers. Those that did have money were able to buy at cut-rate prices. The deflationary pressure caused the real value of their dollar deposits to increase with every factory closure. They had no interest in priming the pump to restart the economy.

There were two courses forward for the public: the first was international communism, the second was to set up the federal government as the employer and purchaser of last resort. It was fear of violent Communist rebellion that stimulated Roosevelt to accept Keynes’ theory of deficit spending and establish a federal bureaucracy that could secure the well-being of the middle class against the rapacious profit-seekers that had destroyed the financial system.

The third America Civil War has been running since 1980. It has united the racism of the defeated South to the greed of the financial class. It has been funded and organized by large multi-national businesses that are no longer checked by federal power.

The primary methods of the assault on middle-class security have been these:

Deregulation of industries that protect the middle-class

This began under Reagan with deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry, an action continued under Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve, who refused to step in to control predatory real estate lenders in the first decade of this century. The first disaster cost America $500 billion dollars. While the second disaster is normally described as having a similar cost, in fact it is far larger: to cover for its incompetence the Federal Reserve has accumulated $3,000 billion dollars in assets, a position that was acquired by issuing debt to itself.

(In effect, through the Federal Resrve the federal government is no longer the employer of last resort. It is the purchaser of last resort, thereby guaranteeing asset prices for the rich at the expense of the rest of the public.)

But it didn’t stop with the financial system. Environmental Protection, Food and Drug Administration, Occupational Safety and Health, and the Internal Revenue Service have all been systematically assaulted by conservative politicians that are beholden to the rich.

Federal Indebtedness

These attacks have been rationalized by the huge federal debt, a debt generated by Republican resistance to revenue increases. The latest tax bill is a perfect case in point: after accounting for price increases in essential services such as health care, the bill will benefit only the most wealthy of all Americans. It is a con, pure and simple.

Federal indebtedness is now going to be used to justify elimination of Social Security and Medicare, two programs financed by the middle class through wage garnishing and taxation. According to policy declared by Paul Ryan, those programs are going to be handed over to private investment firms, where (if the precedent established with the Savings and Loan industry holds) they will be gutted.

Anti-Government Blame-Shifting

When he came into office, Barack Obama reached out to American business leaders for ideas on how to get the economy rolling again. What he found was that the prescriptions offered were not linked to concrete industrial commitments. Rather, the prescriptions reflected a culture of blame-avoidance whereby which industrialists shifted responsibility for their ineffectuality to the federal government.

These attitudes reflect the decoupling of executive compensation from value generation. Direct compensation for executives is already in the tens of millions of dollars a year, but it is supplemented by stock bonuses that can run into hundreds of millions of dollars. Bonuses are direct transfers of wealth from shareholders to executives. There is no way to justify these kinds of compensation levels, because what makes a company successful are the motivation and creative capacity of its workers. Executive compensation practices outrages and demoralizes those workers.

Paradoxically, when a company is in trouble, executive compensation negotiations become more and more unbalanced. A new executive with a fat compensation package rolls in, promising great change, and confronts a workforce hostile to their presence.

What is true is that when the company fails, the executives are left with huge pots of money that they can use to paper over their failure, and that money has been invested in think-tanks and politicians that blame governmental regulation for the failures of American business.

In fact, the forces that hobble American business are overwhelming global economic trends. Executives need to be honest and humble regarding their failures and worth.

Disenfranchisement of the Politically Sophisticated

To cement their privileges, the monied classes have financed the political polarization of the American Heartland. The federal legislature and electoral college are both tilted to small states, where each voter has three times as much weight as voters in large states. Small states have urban centers with politically sophisticated populations, but even there gerrymandering of districts has given weight to rural populations that survive principally through exploitation of natural resources.

The rhetoric of this polarization is astonishing. ObamaCare was “health care for black people.” The National Rifle Association protects the public by ensuring that we have the firepower to fight back against a tyrannical government. Illegal immigrants are not an exploited industrial sub-class, but stealers of blue-collar jobs.

The purveyors of these positions do not feel the need to provide factual substantiation. They simply lie. They are catering to a sub-population that has been conditioned by fear to seek powerful protectors, and so are susceptible to promises offered by the wealthy.

The end-game is visible in Kansas and Oklahoma and other states that followed the “less is more” rhetoric of government. Essential public services are collapsing. Opioid addiction is driving down life expectancy nationally. It is the Hunger Games brought to life.

Transfer of Executive Power to the Speaker of the House

When Franklin Roosevelt, architecture of the federal system that protects middle-class rights, died during his fourth term, the Constitution was amended to limit presidents to two terms in office.

While this is sound public policy, it has not addressed the dangers of life-time office holders in Congress. This has allowed Paul Ryan, occupant of a safe seat in Minnesota, to build a political empire that has given him control of the federal government. That control is effectuated behind the scenes, out of the public limelight. With control of the judiciary, taxation and budgeting, Caucus leaders such as Ryan and McConnell now have the ability to act unilaterally and arbitrarily to remake the federal government.

It is clear that their prescription is to return as much of the country’s wealth to the upper class as they can. That class includes the class of lifetime holders of political office such as themselves.

Next: Prognosis for the Future…

Reflections of Love

Between the fires and being sick, I missed a whole month of Dance Tribe up in Santa Barbara. Something was developing there – one of the women had taken to saying that we needed to “take the energy shared here and bring it into the world that needs it so much.”

At the end of dance, I am pretty extended. Specific messages tend to bounce away. I took it as something just nice to say, but when I last heard it, I realized that she might have been speaking to me. Pausing therefore to reflect, I recognized this paradox: if I bring energy into that room, it’s because I am reaching out into the world while we dance. Powers ancient and new, distant and near, reflect upon and affirm our engagement.

If we raise a special energy, it’s because the world is in the room with us.

But that’s nothing new – that’s been going on for me in many venues for many years.

What is new is this: stepping out of the darkened corridor into the sunshine, and feeling this joyful glow descend upon me. It’s like a friend offering a warm embrace. I reach up and brush the sky with its welcoming.

There is a panicked impatience in that engagement. We haven’t had any rain to speak of in Southern California. The ecosystem is drying out, burning up and blowing away.

As I walked down to the beach this morning, those perceptions crystalized around the Fall. Love always hopes, and to protect Adam and Eve, God hid his knowledge of what was to come. So I read his words in Eden not as those of a taciturn school master, but of a parent seeking children lost in the jungle.

Adam? Eve? Where are you?

Followed by the admonition:

You will die.

Death is the veil that separates us from love, so I do not read the second as a punishment. It is a simple statement of fact. Without understanding, when Adam and Eve covered themselves – when they made the choice to hide from God, who is love perfected – they were choosing to take refuge in death.

This great weight settled on me then – the weight of sorrow that so much of humanity rejects God, and so rejects love. The paradox is that we cannot dispel God’s love. Even if we seek it in other relationships, we are just asking God’s love to come through the door of our choosing. No, the only way to reject love is to reject ourselves. It is to surrender ourselves to death.

And this is what tears at me now: to walk around the world and see all these people dead to themselves.

Man does not live by bread alone. We cannot reject love without rejecting ourselves, for to be a self is to be loved unconditionally. It is to be seen by God.

And I realize now that this is what confuses the hell out of women. I walk around and offer “Here. You’ve lost this part of your self.” It’s always the part that they surrendered when they lost faith in love, and in finding it returned they resolve that I must be the love for them.

No. I’m just relaying the message that God never stopped loving you.

This has been playing itself out in a little triangle, and I realize that I don’t know any longer how to receive love in the fashion of the world. The compromises and barriers confuse the hell out of me.

The crescendo came tonight while watching Amelie. The denoument is incredibly tender. Love ambushes the poor girl, and she has sufficient faith to submit.

Does that remain in me?

I laid on the floor and wept.

The Process


A while back The Smithsonian had a Christmas issue that highlighted thirty people that matter. As part of my scatter-shot method for letting people know that I was in the world, I decided to send out Christmas cards to them every year for a few years. This was the message in one of them, and is my best attempt to explain what it will be like to live through the process that we are navigating.

The Eve

Standing in the twilight at the end of day,
Fears and wants surround us, searching our lost way.
Circle we the borders, shutting reality out,
Or open now our hearts, bringing rest to doubt?

EMBRACE the tortured land, the dark, abandoned waters,
Fauna’s angry sons, Flora’s timid daughters.
Conceiving in our minds patterns just and true,
Guide the subtle elements into balances anew.

This has been our calling, since consciousness begot.
The gates…

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Woman, What Art Thou?

Not having had a woman in my bed in the seventeen years since my separation, I was tempted by the Sacred Cuddle event at Soul Play on Saturday night. “Cuddle” sounded safe enough – like a pile of puppies. It seemed possible that the participants would be counseled to avoid sexually explicit behavior, and I was beckoned by memories of the sweet pressure of a woman’s torso resting against my chest.

I realize now that I was reaching further back for motherly or platonic sensuality predating sexual fascination. Probably not the goal of the average adult.

The event started out tamely with regulated exercises, but after “free play” started, I stood up from my second chaste encounter and glanced around the room to discover that the energy was tipping inexorably into the sexual. Slipping discretely through the corner panel of the enclosure, I danced playfully through the last hour of the DJ set in the Ecstatic Ballroom, and held on until after 1AM to appreciate the romantic lyrics and tender acoustic guitar of the live closing act that I know only as “Colin.”

Despite the solace of Colin’s artistry, my expectation on Sunday morning was that I would leave Soul Play with only the gift that Parmatma Cris had delivered to me.

I could not have been more wrong.

My knees were aching from three nights of dancing, so on Sunday I decided to focus on workshops. The first was the Group Energy Mandala offered by Matt Sturm and Leslie Grace. I arrived early, but didn’t poke my head in the door because I found a free power cord lying at the corner of the building. Waiting for my cell phone to charge, I absorbed the warmth of the early sun and eavesdropped as the two worried whether anyone was going to show up at 8 AM.

Not wanting them to get too panicked, I retrieved my phone and introduced myself. After settling, we wondered about attendance until I asked them to explain their method. People began trickling in, until with the fifth participant they announced that they had enough to start.

In Tibetan Buddhism, a mandala is a visualization of sacred relationships. Some are purely abstract; others visualize deities. For the tantric practitioner, the body itself is a mandala. Tantric sex is an intimate paired mandala in which each lover surrenders to the inspection of their partner. Matt and Leslie hoped to guide is into a larger sharing.

The session evolved much as it did in Movement Alchemy. First grounding, then activation of the third chakra to chop away impediments. That was the actual physical metaphor: we did belly crunches while chopping the air with clasped hands. Just as when Parmatma described Kali tiger claws, in going through the motions I called forth the presence of my supervisor at work.

The process continued with exercises designed to build intimacy among the participants, culminating with a compassion mandala in which each of us took turns at the center while those outside grounded our immediate experience of love to source and the earth.

As this reached its conclusion, a final participant joined us, sitting to my left. She had Persian features, serenely youthful, her hair tied in a bandana from which a long helix escaped to fall along her right cheek.

Matt and Leslie organized the four men first, two sitting back-to-back and two resting against their shoulders. The women were posted outside, face-to-face with the men. I found myself paired with the young beauty. We introduced ourselves, and I was confronted with a tender femininity almost confounding in its receptivity. Incongruously, a female voice whispered in my ear, “This is our gift to you.”

The organizers asked the women to scoot in until our knees touched, and the meditation began. It was a simple journey through the chakras, and as stages of our experience were triggered by the description of chakras, it seems easiest to describe it in that framework:

The root chakra: grounding in the self. I as a man and she as a woman, but with a gentle intimacy where her knees rested on the inside of my calves. The tender tickle traveled upwards, so we rerouted it into the bones, establishing between us that whatever occurred would be managed consciously and consensually.

The second chakra: seat of passion. Awakening that energy, both of us were aware of the potency of sexuality, but I redirected my response into admiration for the freshness of her flowering. Gently she offered her passion to mine, and the energy built slowly, resonating back and forth until arousal became inevitable, and then we redirected again: she the flower, I the sun shining down to reveal her glory. Gazing into that light, she saw herself also in the trees and the sponges and corals of the ocean shallows. In each species the male emitted the seed, the female receiving and bringing forth new life.

The third chakra: seat of will. We fell back through time to an era of barren earth. The sun beat down, willing life forward. Lichen and moss spread, to be burned and digested by bacteria, becoming nutrients for new forms of life. Rain fell, capturing nutrients that enriched the fresh waters. Breathing deeply, the muscles of my abdomen forced my will out with my exhale: glaciers ground the stone into powder, merging with the dead residue to create soil. Again forcing myself into her, she saw herself with child, blocked only by the fear of birth. Inhaling I promised her relief, and exhaling she dilated effortlessly. The vision was broken by the sudden thrusting through the soil of the giant conifers amidst which we sat. Life presented itself to us: full, replete, joyful and proud.

The fourth chakra: seat of compassion. Our hearts opened to each other. A simple awe seized us: the rightness of our complementarity. We saw that reflected in the world and its contradictory dualities, and concern for its suffering filled us. Not compassion, in the sense that we felt also other’s pain, but as a unending resource for the wise to draw upon in attaining well-being.

The fifth chakra: seat of universal awareness. Seeing life as a system for healing, we sprung upwards and outwards, that purpose being revealed to us in the Earth as a whole: in the relationships between ocean, ground and atmosphere. Not ending there, it embraced the moon and tides; the sun and the space surrounding it.

The sixth chakra: seat of understanding. We regarded ourselves again, not as man and woman, but as masculine and feminine. Light emanated from jewels in the center of our foreheads, not merging but reflecting as sprays that formed two half-planes in reality. The two domains gathered themselves in preparation.

The seventh chakra: seat of enlightenment. From the planes threads arose into the heavens, guided by points of light. The lights sought each other, and as they danced the threads wove into helixes, the helixes merging into fibers, the fibers into stalks that merged into a great trunk. Braced by the trunk, the lights diverged to explore infinite possibilities. Pathways of inspiration drew others to become branches that branched again until individual expression was restored.

The Tree of Life.

I had opened my eyes several times on this journey, wondering whether she was with me, only to be confounded by her serene feminine receptivity. With the meditation at a conclusion, I gazed gently at her face, awaiting her return. She finally relented, smiling softly out of the side of her mouth.

We gazed into each other’s eyes, ignoring the suggestion that we describe our experience. I finally offered: “That was beautiful. Thank-you for the journey.”

She stirred and smiled more broadly. “Thank you.”