Evil Sits Alone and Dies in the Darkness of Delusion

The provenance of wisdom is a gathered life. Yes, education and experience are elements of wisdom, but time must pass for them to be properly gathered in a manner that conveys truth and understanding which manifest power. The poet, David Whyte, reckons that “a summation of previous intuitions” might be the binding agent of wisdom—of a gathered life. Out of these connections between seemingly disconnected experiences and observations come patterns that provide the structure of visions about the world that inevitably rhyme with another time.

One of wisdom’s ironies, of course, is that the more wisdom we have the less we share it. Perhaps because those of us with enough gathered life, which is to say, old, know that youth must, as we certainly did, live their own life that will then be gathered. Perhaps it is also true that the old and wise keep to themselves once they have received the inevitable eye-roll dismissal from those most in need of wisdom. In many cultures, wisdom from gathered lives is highly regarded—even sought with reverence. Unfortunately, ours is not one of those cultures. Also, as we age—as our gathered life comes into fruition—we become less fearful even while we are less strong (at least physically). Something in our past says, “Fear not, we have seen this movie before.”

Putin is not the first, nor will he be the last, agent of evil. Once we have lived long enough, we know, even as we watch evil take the lives of so many innocents today, that it will be overcome by truth, love, and justice. Evil is simply unsustainable. As I watch Putin sit alone at the end of his long hideous table, dispensing his many admonitions and instructions to those he subjugates with fear, I wonder if anyone there yearn for truth that might set them free. Embracing deceit as a modality is uncomfortable for a reason: it is incompatible with inner peace. Truth is the backbone of solace. If you need a more immediate example, look at Trump. His life is so completely denominated in deceit that he has likely never even experienced a sense of inner peace. Rather, he is consumed by inner rage. The only time he smiles are photo-ops when he is liberating a donor of the cash in their pocket.

At his essence, Putin is a very scared little man. It appears that no one can stop him, but my wisdom—my gathered life —knows he will be stopped by the beauty and durability of truth, which will cascade down upon him regardless of where he hides, or what other despot(s) might come forward to support him. It is no coincidence that Hitler, Mussolini, and eventually Stalin, were also very much alone as justice found them. In the name of power, he kills. But, also in the name of power—mitigated by love—he shall face justice. This was the American theologian, Paul Tillich’s, greatest contribution to the contemplation of power: that love is what turns power into justice. We must, therefore, have faith in our own collective moral moorings. In the midst of horror, we must do what we can to accelerate the arrival of justice. And yet, regardless of these efforts, I am quite certain that power, mitigated by love, will be visited upon Mr. Putin in time, manifested as justice. To put it more simply, truth has no expiration date and love for the innocents lost will prevail over the evil of Mr. Putin. It is just a matter of time.

In the meantime, we must recommit ourselves, as Americans, to the prospect of a society built on truth where we can, in spite of the many deceits cast our way, commit to the shared realities that are critical to advance the causes to which we aspire. Putin has provided an abject lesson on why this is so important. Russia is what happens when fear and deceit conspire to form delusions, which are the sustenance of evil. In America, we have been flirting with turning our backs on truth for some time now; it was arguably the foundation of the last administration. W. B. Yeats’ “rough beast” did indeed arrive in Moscow; Washington D.C. let one visit, which must never happen again. Clear eyes and full hearts are required to correct our course. It may be too late for Russia, but it is not for us.

As I wrote in “Of Culture, Civilization, and Chaos” (February 27, 2022), the promise of a peaceful world enabled by global economic interdependencies was a bet that is now “collapsing before our eyes.” We are, once again, where we were thirty years ago, devolving into two worlds on one planet. To cite another David Whyte observation, one world is conversational while the other is not. One world speaks its mind while the other is gagged by coercive fear. The difference this time is that we know how it ends. In my youth, we thought we should win, but weren’t sure until the competing model—the Soviet Union—collapsed. The conversational world, marked by liberal democracies will, no doubt, (as another rhyme from another time) prevail again.

Putin’s wager is to bend the reality of history to his grand delusion of a new Russian empire. The problem for him, as it is for any fascist who is intoxicated by the idea of a retrotopia, like “Make America Great Again,” is that it is impossible to reverse the rotation of the earth, let alone turn back the hands of time. Progress marches forward in fits and starts—two steps forward and one back—but forward always wins. George Kennan’s strategy of containment that was used to isolate the ambitions of the Soviets after World War II is, once again, being deployed by the West. The difference this time is that Russians have tasted (however diluted) open markets and free speech. Educated Russians of means are fleeing to join the West as Putin’s bombs crush hospitals in Ukraine. Russia’s brain-drain is underway. The other substantial difference is that the Russian economy, unlike the late 1940s, is completely entangled with the West. Today, they do not have the means to run an isolated economy, and their only hope—China—will exploit that reality at every ask Putin sends Xi’s way. Putin’s weapons—conventional, cyber, chemical, and nuclear—will become the bars of his imprisonment and, eventually, assure his dark lonely death.

The iron curtain will rise again and will probably include portions of today’s Ukraine. But walls do not foster innovation or progress; they strangle those on the wrong side of history. It is people, not walls, that matter. (America, take note.) And, walls will be scaled by those with the will to find their way out, and eventually fall by the invisible but all-powerful hand of truth.

America’s wake-up call resides in the stone-eyed face of Putin’s glare. Let’s not ignore the wisdom in that.

By |2022-03-29T16:04:50+00:00March 21st, 2022|General|0 Comments

Tomorrow is Almost Here

To summon W.B. Yeats, we deserved the “rough beast, its hour come ‘round at last” that slithered into Washington decimating democratic institutions at home and American credibility throughout the world.  Trump simply poured gasoline on the fire we had already started to destroy traditional American values after the end of the Cold War, then capped the ash heap with a dumpster-load of diabolical cruelty and stupefying incompetence.  He has been a wake-up call we will forever condemn, and yet, tragically deserved.

For those of you wringing your hands over the results we are about to witness, continue wringing them.  But, not for the actual votes cast—Biden will win that battle—rather, for the nefarious acts currently underway by the Trump campaign and our illegitimate Justice Department that are contriving incidents and arguments for our now-illegitimate Supreme Court to assure power remains in Trumplican hands.  Chief Justice Roberts alone may not be able to save the Court.  For this moment in American history, all three branches of our government are controlled by a minority that will do anything—regardless of laws or norms—to keep their boots on the necks of the majority.  Bush v. Gore may prove a quaint predictor of what unfolds next.  The Founders provided us with institutions (like the senate and electoral college) to keep the majority in check, but those structures have been inverted to paradoxically achieve the opposite: empowering and protecting minority rule.

With all three branches of our government compromised, preventing a stolen election largely depends on turnout.  “2BIG2RIG” is the formula for excising the festering tumor of Trumplican deceits that have placed our republic in peril.  As in 2016, the polls will be wrong.  Pollsters have a very difficult time predicting results unless turnout mirrors historical voting patterns.  In 2016, they undervalued non-college educated white rural voters that rendered their predictions agonizingly wrong.  In 2020, the extraordinary levels of voter turnout and, most especially, the surge in young voters and returning voters of color strongly suggest that the historic patterns that guide polling and modeling have been shattered.

My mother, who wore her index finger raw on a rotary phone in the 1960s to 80s to cajole people into voting, would be proud of the 2020 turnout, which is already historic.  This time, I expect it will be the Trumplicans grieving about how wrong the polls were; the results will reflect the power of those that pollsters failed to consider, or properly value.  Those who prefer blue to red.  And, while foreign hacking of the vote tally is also a concern, and is certainly being aided by the Trump administration, again, 2BIG2RIG should substantially dilute these effects as well.

Of course, with a nation awash in guns and hatred, there will be blood.  People in Kansas have already been shooting each other over yard signs.  Hopefully, incidents of ignorance and violence will remain isolated and contained.  Depending on where you live, have a plan to hide until cooler heads prevail.  Innocents are a bully’s first target.  And, a wild-eyed steroidal idiot with an assault rifle may be itching to make his video-game fantasies come true.

When all votes have been counted, and relative calm returns, Obama’s “Hope and Change,” updated by Biden as “Build Back Better,” will return to our doorstep with Joe as its shepherd. Answer the door when you hear the bell.  Take a deep breath.  Take a nap.  Hug yourself.  Then, commit yourself anew; prepare to do the crucial work to save our future.

The new work—saving our future—must be founded in humility and purpose.  Revenge is satisfying, but only for a moment.  Evening the score will compromise unification that is so urgently needed to deal with issues like Covid-19 and climate change.  Vice must be set aside in favor of virtue.   Healing our scarred souls and embracing unity as our highest aim—e pluribus unum—must become, once again, our north star.  Us vs. Them and Win-Lose scenarios have no place in our collective pursuit of redemption.  Hate must be put asunder.  America’s restoration lies in empowering others rather than coercive schemes of dominance.

We must shine the mighty light of the good to disinfect the bad.  We must look into the eyes of our children and grandchildren and assure them, with sincerity equal to their innocence, that we’ve got this; that their lives will be as safe and prosperous as ours have been.  We must hand them a torch worth carrying forth.  Reason and science and humanism must return to the alter of American discourse.  We have saved America from its enemies in the past, now we must save it from ourselves.  We can do this.  After all, we are (still) Americans.


By |2020-11-08T16:21:35+00:00November 2nd, 2020|General|0 Comments
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