Darkest Before the Dawn

In the midst of the grip of the dog days of summer, it seems odd to write about darkness, but the news of the day provides little, if any, rays of light.  Even in the West, what sun there is has become shrouded by a season of smoke from raging wildfires—a climate-change reality that has become an unsolicited summer norm.

Mid-August 2020 may be remembered as the moment we began our descent into a seemingly bottomless inkwell of darkness.  Between a botched Covid-19 response, rampant civil and economic injustice, violence, suicide, and murder escalating across the country at astounding rates, a climate that threatens to consume us, and national leadership drowning in its selfishness and incompetence, it feels like layer upon layer of tribulation may suffocate any light of hope to rescue us from overwhelming uncertainty and peril.  Heading into a hidey-hole like a stunned groundhog in February sounds nearly inviting.  Or, as Michelle Obama suggested, when they go low, just stay high, America!  (I may not have gotten that exactly right.)

And yet, as the English theologian, Thomas Fuller, suggested in 1650, “it is always darkest just before the day dawneth.”  The proverbial sun will rise again.  I promise.

We must also remember that America has been here before.  Not exactly here of course, but in similar dire straits.  That edge of fire that breaks the horizon that expands to overtake darkness will, eventually, lead us out of our current crisis.

After the improvident period of idealism that granted easement to the charlatans and grifters of the middle 19th century, we endured a Civil War that nearly ended the American experiment of a democratic republic.  Yes, it could have ended America, but it didn’t.  We went on to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and create the land of opportunity that doubled our population due to a mass influx of immigrants that quite literally filled America with life and hope.

Following the avarice of the next period of idealism—the Roaring Twenties—that ended with a stock market crash that launched the Great Depression and allowed fascism and evil to sweep Europe and much of Asia during World War II, America once again found the light of hope to ascend on the world stage, this time as a superpower.

The current crisis—the Age of Deceit—marked by the War on Terror, the Great Recession, a 100-year pandemic and a president who is, himself, the existential threat to the republic, was born from the third period of idealism (1980 – 2003) where, once again, affluence twisted our collective character into a braided whip of narcissism, entitlement, and hubris.  A whip we have turned against ourselves with remarkable vehemence.  As with all crises in our history, this one is self-inflicted.  Which also means—through humility and will power—we can transcend it.

We are nearing the end of the current crisis.  How do I know? Because it is time.  American crises (and this is our fourth) last 15 to 20 years.  We are in year 17 of the Age of Deceit.  I expect 2021 will be a race toward renewal; that is, if we are successful in, among other things, affecting a wholesale cleanout of our national leadership.  We need a Washington, Grant, or Eisenhower to deliver us from crisis.  What follows next, if American history rhymes, is a period of objectivism to succeed crisis, which are historically marked by realism, rationalism, and humanism. And, for Baby Boomers, maybe even one last shot at tranquility before we leave America for good.

Last week, David Brooks of The New York Times provided an (unwitting) endorsement of the coming shift toward objectivism when he wrote,

Radicals are good at opening our eyes to social problems and expanding the realm of what’s sayable.  But if you look at who actually leads change over the course of American history, it’s not the radicals. At a certain point, radicals give way to the more prudent and moderate wings of their coalitions.

He closed by invoking one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the modern era, Isaiah Berlin, who laid claim to the light that exists in that seam of possibility that occupies the “extreme right-wing edge of the left-wing movement.”  Where the surety of objectivism lives.

The next few months will be rough.  At times, it will seem as if the light will never come to erase the darkness of despair and loss.  But, come it will.  Many will fight mightily to herald a new dawn.  To them, we will owe a deep debt of gratitude in much the same way we owe those who delivered us from the tyranny of King George III, defeated the treasonous Confederate army in the Civil War, and vanquished fascism in the 1940s.

For the rest of us, we have (at least) one solemn duty: vote, damn it, VOTE!

By |2020-09-01T15:22:52+00:00August 18th, 2020|General, Recent|0 Comments

The Dark Side of Religion

When things don’t make sense—and as ‘rational’ humans we need them too—we make them make sense.  Our mental health depends on it.  When reason doesn’t provide answers we invite faith to fill the void. This is, at a cognitive level, one of the principal functions of religion.  We accept what our theistic traditions offer to reconcile knowns and unknowns and justify our response to a complex world that too often defies reason.

In David Brooks’ column in the New York Times (10 November 2009) titled “The Rush to Therapy” he points out “The stories we select help us … to interpret the world. They guide us to pay attention to certain things and ignore others. The most important power we have is to select the lens through which we see reality.” Mr. Brooks gets that part right, then he chooses the wrong lens—of Judeo-Christian American exceptionalism—through which he interprets the case of Army Major Nidal Hasan, the shooter at Fort Hood, Texas.

Army Major Nidal Hasan, is an American Muslim and, undoubtedly, a murderer.  He suffered demons we may never fully understand.  Islamic extremists who wage violence throughout the world may have radicalized him.  While we have much more to learn about his story, those with their own agenda or point of view have preemptively written it.  Hasan and his victims have become fodder for our relentless pursuit of a truth that fits our preferred narrative, which serves our innocence while reconciling dissonance to keep us sane. In his column, Brooks writes his version while criticizing those who wait to know more.

Mr. Brooks proceeds by outlining the danger of “malevolent narrative” that has “…emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world … that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other.”  He then offers criticism of those of us who chose restraint over judgment in the case of Major Hasan, producing a “shroud of political correctness [that] settled the conversation” and characterizes it as “patronizing” and a “willful flight from reality.” He claims evidence that proves Hasan “chose the extremist War on Islam narrative that so often leads to murderous results.”  In so doing, Brooks reveals his lens of Judeo-Christian American exceptionalism.

Mr. Brooks’ narrative about Islam waging war on Christianity and Judaism could easily be exchanged word-for-word by a columnist at al-Jazeera to criticize moderate Muslims who exercise restraint—crafting an inverse narrative of Christianity and Judaism’s war on Islam.  But Brooks, who is blinded by his lens of exceptionalism, totally, and uncharacteristically, misses this.  He could have led us forward to a higher level of understanding—pointing to the dangers inherent in all religions that allow us to not only make sense of the world, but which also justify violence, oppression, and murder.

All religions claim they are religions of peace.  Few meet the standard.  Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are not among the few.  As long as we believe our particular religious traditions are exceptional—that rise above all others—we will forever remain in the same trap as Brooks, feeling better in the moment and forever in danger.

 

By |2017-05-27T16:19:33+00:00November 10th, 2009|General|0 Comments

Mr. Brooks ‘n Me

My wife has often suggested, after reading David Brooks’ column in the New York Times, that there is a synaptic circuit—a telemetric loop that runs between Brooks’ mind and mine.  In his column today, “Let’s Get Fundamental” (www.nytimes.com/2009/09/04/opinion/04brooks.html) he argues, citing David Goldhill’s piece in The Atlantic (see “Let the Numbers Speak” post) and a research report from the Brookings Institute, that it is time, as I suggested (see ‘RIP-Teddy’ post), to go for it—all out reform—to swing for the fences.

Brooks is more eloquent than I and has just a few million more readers.  I hope he gets his message across before it’s too late.  I hope he gets his hour with Obama to offer guidance before next week’s address to Congress.  (I’m relatively certain I won’t.)  I hope we actually do accomplish reform rather than, as Brooks warns, just “essentially cement the present system in place.”  But, maybe I hope too much.  And, maybe Obama is all hoped-out.

As Brooks, I, and the Brookings Institute study agree: the problem is fixable.  The resources are there.  The financial imperative couldn’t be more obvious.  The outstanding question: do we have the will?

By |2017-05-27T16:58:09+00:00September 4th, 2009|General|0 Comments
Go to Top