Of late, I’ve really loathed my writing on this blog. Despite this, I hit that Publish button each time, a twitchy trigger finger serving my need to be read and to be heard. This need has thrown me off, as has the public discourse. I’ve been less thoughtful and about as reflective as Narcissus. I’ve been lacking in scope and imagination.
Currently, I’m reading The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen about a double agent following the fall of Saigon. The author describes the final, brutal scenes of people fleeing, trying to catch the last flights out. Everything relies on chance, of getting the paperwork, of knowing the right people, of having enough money to bribe and cajole.
I read a post by Tim Miller yesterday that has me thinking about luck. It defines so much of who we are and is, for the most part out of our control. Whether our souls are born into white or brown bodies, in countries ravaged by war or in the grips of poverty. Who our parents are, what they know and what they have to give. The vicissitudes of life. For every success story, there are hundreds of tales of struggle and suffering and attaining a mediocrity that could only be enviable by virtue of deprivation.
I love John Lennon’s “Imagine”, because it speaks to ideas beyond the framework of warped politics and dominionist theory. It calls for the very thing we, as a society, seem to lack at the moment. Imagination. Imagination is what fuels empathy and problem solving and optimism. The people in Washington seem so small and petty – lacking in both ethics and creativity. They speak the language of limitation and blame. They use mangled metaphors and hyperbolic rhetoric that says nothing, means nothing. Cowardspeak.
No matter what way I’ve been running at the news, limiting it and curating my sources, I still end up feeling depressed and powerless. It’s because I’m allowing other people to define the framework of my thinking, an involuntary conscription into the culture of hate, blame, and winning at all costs. No imagination required.
We need people with big ideas and courage. We need people who don’t see a zero sum game in everything. We need philosophers and mathematicians and scientists and artists and poets. We need people who spend less time looking down their own pants to see whose is bigger and more time staring off into the sky thinking “what if?”
I’ve not written much about politics after my steady stream of posts following the election. I do not like our president. I think he is a mean, petty, oddly incurious person who lacks personal integrity. I think he has surrounded himself with similarly intellectually stunted, corrupt individuals. No one is for country. Every man and very few women for themselves. There is nothing to inspire imagination, only dismay. There is no voice from Washington that lifts us up, makes us believe, lets us know that there remains life in the already maggot-riddled corpse of this administration.
It is about money and power and I believe that it has corrupted absolutely. While I’ve learned not to rise to every click bait news story, I have only to read the president’s own words to know that there is something wrong. It takes on Shakespearean proportions – the madness, the twisted family relations, the jesters, and insidious narcissistic defensiveness and lying. Richard III is now occupying the Oval Office.
Tolerance. This is a word that gets thrown back and forth so much that it no longer means what it means. I keep being told that I need to respect other people’s beliefs. But I don’t. I respect their right to have them, as long as they are not impinging, legislating, or proselytizing to me. Ann Coulter, Richard Spencer, and Company can speak wherever they can afford to speak. I don’t have to respect or tolerate them. I simply won’t show up or listen, nor do I need to indulge the fools who do.
Frameworks. How we’re taught to think and speak about things. We should be vigorously questioning these right now. All forms of media and sundry self-identifying humans are trying to limit us, limit our imaginations, tell us how to see the world, how to frame the news, and our experiences. We have to be deliberate in widening the scope of what we see, of our awareness and of our empathy. Petty humans are being extraordinarily loud right now – at a frequency designed to disorient and overwhelm.
This is where it ends for me. I’ve felt so small and tense for months now. For every news story, I feel the heat rise up into my face. I splutter. I feel contempt. I call my representatives. I make vows to join the fight. But I’m tired. I’m tired of being a pawn in a petty, destructive game. I’m tired of being emotionally manipulated by entities that could not care less for my existence.
I’m going for the big ideas. The belief that we are here to alleviate the suffering of others. That we are here to practice kindness and empathy. That we are here to learn from our mistakes. That we need not be parrots for demagogues of any ilk. That we are not letter designations and labels. That we are not markers in a political and morally bankrupt casino, where the house always wins.
Our freedom depends on us not following orders, not buying in, not nodding our heads numbly in agreement. Our freedom depends on us not allowing ourselves to be corralled and manipulated and categorized and polled. We are not stakeholders, consumers, demographics, or voting blocs. We are not collateral damage.
We are, above all other things, human beings with potential. It is easy to forget that, easy to forget the marvelous things we are capable of and the boundless compassion we can nurture. The games of public one-upmanship do not render our lives irrelevant. I almost forgot. I almost forgot that my imagination does not end at recycled political solutions and pithy sound bites and orchestrated divisions and borders.
Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and, therefore, the foundation of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
These are my current news sources, an update to the too-long list I created shortly after the election. While I tend to favor print editions over digital, even with these, my average cost is $17 per month combined on hard and digital copies. :
NPR (audio and digital, daily) – They don’t run with the latest outrage, which means when news stories hit their air waves, they’re less reactive and more balanced.
Foreign Affairs (paid print edition, 6 issues/year) – Big picture thinking needs the big picture. Great source for American foreign policy issues from people who actually think in-depth about them.
The Economist (paid print edition, weekly) – A lot of bang for the buck. Need reading glasses for the small print, but jam packed with information about technology, business, and money issues. It’s a weak area of knowledge for me, so this magazine is good for familiarizing myself with the terminology and current thinking.
The Atlantic (paid print edition, 10 issues/year) – Long form writing from outstanding writers. Covers everything from the political to the cultural.
The New York Times (paid digital, daily) – Fairly clean online edition. Actually still looks sort of like a newspaper and not a multimedia pile of vomit. While taunted as being a liberal paper, I find its reporting to be more evenhanded and in-depth than some of its cohorts. Comments tend to be well-informed and better expressed, regardless of partisanship.
The Washington Post – (Cancelled paid Digital) Click bait titles – more reactive and less thoughtful, comments often allowed on news articles, and distracting, ad-laden pages.
CNN – (Digital) Messy front page, reactionary, poor editing, and incomprehensible mix of infotainment and advertising. Mixed media mess. A case of getting what you pay for.