(September 6, 2004)
John Steppling's Review of Swans' August 16 Edition
To the Editor:
August in Europe, and everyone is on vacation...except me. Then again, my wife and I may sneak off to Romania for a week before the great long winter starts. In any event, the Olympics are upon us, with the usual blather about drugs (guys and gals, they ALL take drugs; trust me on this one) and the usual round up of junkies and homeless in the host city, and the usual hysteria about security. This sense of fear is one of the topics, again, for this issue of SWANS, and the hows and whys of its marketing...as well as the implications for the growing state apparatus of control, and our loss of civil liberty.
These issues are soundly raised and dissected throughout the issue...but, as perennial critic here -- who takes exception with whatever I can, let's look at a couple things I have some confusion about, and perhaps issue with.
I truly enjoy and respect Milo Clark. I've read all or most of his 130 and some essays and articles! So Milo is going to the mat to get rid of Bush & Co.-- as though the neocons are only in the right wing of American politics. I know I hammer away at this rather a lot...but Kerry is the uber-hawk, and given the obscene increases in military spending both Kerry and Bush want, it's hard not to feel a re-examination of certain Enlightenment born "liberal" values is in order (Adorno said "liberalism is the handmaiden of facism"..though maybe not quite in this context). In other words, is there even a moderate left-leaning Left left in America? Listen, Kerry isn't even liberal when one comes right down to it. Clark says, "Nixon and Reagan led us into darkness"...and points to the end of America as a Beacon starting with Goldwater. Perhaps I am confused -- that happens a lot -- but did anyone ever really think of the U.S. as a beacon? Maybe they did... The editor seems to have believed in the myth once upon a time (seems too that his latest brush with the "law" -- which I want to hear more about -- and his recurring depictions of the American Moloch have put a dent on his imagination, or mind...), but, if they did, and I am allowed a guess here, it was only in the most abstract and reductive sense, and mostly in Hollywood movies... I wonder whether Native Americans thought of the U.S. as Beacon? I wonder whether the descendants of slaves think that way? I wonder whether the Japanese Americans interned during WWII thought of the U.S. as Beacon too? Milo also seems ready to focus on Republicans, despite the obvious -- that they are hardly different from those Democrats. Did Clinton and Carter and LBJ and the rest of the Dems do something emancipatory that I missed? Clinton capped welfare spending at something like 14 billion dollars a year...while military spending continued to rise. He gave us that wonderful crime bill (signed by Kerry and Edwards), precursor of the Patriot Act that was sitting on the shelves (also signed by Kerry and Edwards), and then bombed Belgrade, and Somalia, and Iraq, and Afghanistan. This isn't leading us into darkness? I am less and less inclined to accept any apologies, tacit or otherwise, for the corruption of the Democrats. Losing Bush has become such a mantra of reformist-minded liberals that all sense of perspective is lost. Bush just isn't the problem; the problem resides in capitalism itself (neo-liberalism, globalization, name it as you will), in profit, and the ever more economically polarized population. The light got shut down, says Milo, after the Soviet collapse (which he believes was the result of the seduction of trying to control middle Asia) -- uh, well, wait a second here. Am I to understand the collapse of the Soviet Union represented a breakthrough of light? Or perhaps what is meant, is that the light was there before the Soviet collapse? I don't know, but the collapse didn't help anyone; except maybe global capital? Sweat shop employers? Here in Poland, a nation who once experienced the most dysfunctional of all the communist governments, there is a renewed longing for some of that dysfunction (as in former East Germany) -- especially among the very poor and rural who now have no work, no health care, and no future. Such broad stroke generalizations, in which I think Milo Clark engages, can be dangerous. As for the fierce fires of Islam, which he describes once more, I find it sounds -- excuse me -- just a touch paternal. Islam is hardly reducible to the fringe fanatics of the Muslim Brotherhood or its descendents (not to mention the jury is still out on exactly WHO flew those planes into the WTC). The Islamicist movement was born, largely, as an anti-colonialist movement. Without the Great Game (which Clark mentions, rightly) there would likely have been no Qutab and no Taliban and no Osama. The current racism against Arabs must be carefully monitored...and while I am not suggesting that Milo is a racist -- I am NOT -- I wish the editor would do a more assiduous editing job. Maybe I am just not getting a coded irony here, at least I hope that's the explanation.
Richard McIntosh rightly points out (with great clarity) that Kerry had free speech cages outside the Democratic convention in Boston. Now, please, think about that. Free Speech zones....cages.....for dissent. This wasn't those awful Republicans; this was those wonderful (well, less evil) Democrats -- so much for free speech. I don't get it. Barbara Boxer is quoted as saying John Negroponte is a dedicated civil servant. Boxer is often described as the MOST liberal of all Democrats. You decide what that means... Check out Tariq Ali's piece on Counterpunch on the Chavez referendum, and then examine Bush and Kerry on Chavez. The ruling class feels the same about the "dictator" in Caracas (referred to by the opposition as that "little black monkey"); and it's all because of oil....never mind the poor are getting an education now, and the landless some land. Macintosh's prose is awash in the angst he feels -- that a lot of us feel. A deep frustration with a populace unable to see what is in front of them...which brings me to:
Michael Doliner's excellent article on the question of education, and how it is people vote for abstract "values" rather than self-interest -- let alone planetary interests. George Bush is loved by many because he is ignorant...and proud of his ignorance. Kerry must try to appear less intelligent than the average Yale graduate (not hard I would argue) and all candidates must now seem "populist"....a new short hand for contemptuous of learning. The appeal of Bush to many working class Americans (who all see themselves as "middle class") could be seen as part of the unreality Edward Said spoke of before his death. It is based on an attitude that finally allows the racist and generally intolerant festering that is inside so many living beneath the jack boot of neo-liberalism to come out into the open. Neo Cons are saying out loud what many have said in private for decades. Bill Kristol and Richard Perle are only bringing into the open a kind of arrogance and hubris that has existed in the shadows all along -- an arrogance born of a deep self hatred and psychic vertigo that comes from having no community, or sense of place in one's own culture or society (public education is beyond help in the United States. Most American students couldn't find Iraq on a map...in fact half of them were unable to find the Pacific Ocean in a recent survey. Asked to name the ten greatest Americans, Jesus Christ came in ninth or tenth, I think). Xenophobia is the result of ignorance and the resentment it generates. The neo-con cabal is made up of empty suits; men with little life experience and less emotional connection. They are the cyber-insane, a strange pallid group of fanatics driven by delusions of their own importance, and oblivious to history. Their greatest accomplishment, however, is to have pushed the buttons attached to feelings of emotional emptiness, coupled to jingoistic self congratulation. The result is a segment of the disenfranchised who are now told to believe they are special, and believe Bush is moral and pious, and that "we" are always right and should just go ahead and admit we are racist and Imperialist. They are also all rabid Zionist supporters, and Philip Greenspan's comments on Sharon, Zionism, and population -- and the plight of Palestinians -- is a solid chunk of sober observation.
Gilles d'Aymery has a fine look at a book of interviews with Arundhati Roy. Ms. Roy has emerged as one of the best commentators on the waste economy and its need for endless violence. This book is worth buying.
Phil Rockstroh's usual astute observations are again on target. His mention of the infantile quality of our culture, or at least its growing childishness, is telling right now. America has the Super Bowl halftime show (next time without breasts), but we also have, if we can dig away a bit, voices like Phil's.
Manuel Garcia follows on an earlier article with another one that attempts to outline "revolutionary change." Err, try again... The problem with fusing the spiritual (mystical) and political is that it tends to be simplistic. Take this line; "There is a way of disciplined thought and ethical action that allows us to realize a personally meaningful life." I'm not sure what any of these adjectives really mean here. "Meaningful"? This smacks of new age reductionism and sounds like some self help bromide. Additionally, a good deal of "Eastern" practice and jargon somehow ends up closer to voodoo, and eventually veers into something so vacuous that it allows for any subjectivist interpretation. Why this occurs is an interesting topic, and as someone who much admires a lot of Buddhist thinking I am still pondering the question. I only know again and again how the politics of those western purchasers of eastern discipline are revealed as reactionary. Beyond that however, citing the Georgian led "revolution" of -- Soros-banked, for chrissake! -- Saakashvili as the result of ethical non-violent cooperation is just bizarre. I mean, when the US State Department supports Saakashvili, and when he is a western educated proponent of neo-liberal economic policies (having already embraced the WTO), one might want to think twice about what just has been achieved in the former Soviet republic. This was another buy out by the western corporate interests --- Saakashvili is a Columbia law school grad and the favorite of the US State Department. Also, involvement of the U.S. (meaning various NGOs and the CIA) is obvious (check Mark McKinnon in the Toronto Globe and Mail and Mark Ames in the on-line Moscow based journal The Exile; both of whom find striking similarities between Shevernardze's departure and that of Milosevic...right down to US Ambassador Richard Miles involvement, and read Jacob Levich's excellent articles at Counterpunch). The Wall Street Journal credited the coup to a "raft of NGOs...supported by American and other western foundations". Here is a clue Manuel: The 2.7 billion dollar Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan project (pipeline) runs through Georgia. You connect the dots, ok?! Late in Shevernadze's reign, George Tenet, John Sununu, Lloyd Bentsen, and Dick Cheney all visited Georgia; I wonder why? Again, follow the bouncing ball --- it lands on petro dollars. Beyond that of course, Georgia is a pivotal strategic area and with a neo-liberal western business stooge in power the U.S. will be much happier (Shevernadze tried to get along, but that residual Soviet style and hardball attitude made guys like Cheney uneasy...and probably with good reason). The uprising against Shevernadze was real enough probably, but it was given a huge push by western money and Saakashvili was groomed for the gig by the oil oligarchs of the west. Come on, Manuel -- and please editor, excuse me -- go back to the drawing board!
Alright, time for the synchronized diving finals, I think. Glad those unsightly dope fiends are off the streets.
Krakow, Poland - August 21, 2004
(Steppling is a LA playwright (Rockefeller fellow, NEA recipient, and PEN-West winner) and screenwriter (most recent was Animal Factory directed by Steve Buscemi). He is currently living in Poland where he teaches at the National Film School in Lodz.)
Unframing the Karl Rovians: Manuel García's The Imprisoned American MindTo the Editor,
FINALLY, I am gaining understanding of how and why so many of our citizens vociferously support Bush and company. This article helped tremendously.
However, I am poised, like many others who share my concerns, to do whatever it takes to pierce this mass psychosis and empower my fellow Americans to think for themselves and not for the Karl Rovians. I want to know what it will take to be as skilled as Lakoff in addressing "framing" and other means of controlling our thinking, so that I can effectively open the mental doors that have been slammed shut by Bush and company.
Please help me get this information.
Pearland, Texas, USA - August 23, 2004
From Brittany to Mendoland
Hey Monsieur d'Aymery,
What's your obsession with my name? It's my name. What do you want me to do? Change it? Like you-know-who asked you once? Beat it...and future idiots will call your generation the greatest...for having singlehandedly created mayhem.
Anyways, so you think you are an editor....what's this García's marshmallow, '60s spiritually, dope clouded, aaaarhg wishy-washy revolution of his? Perhaps, you should add a repentant, cross-carrying, knee-jerking, Buddha-loving, on the front page...or should it be a repellent? García must be living on some hill -- goes down to his favorite Starbuck on his knees -- praying -- and his wife's (he has a wife, doesn't he?) waiting in the tin box, preferably sporty, for the drive back up? Tell you what: if I still were a pucelle, God forbid, García ne me compterait pas fleurettes. He could not even appreciate my legs and lineage.
At the least, and for your salvation, Phil Rockstroh and Philip Greenspan keep you straight. How they bear you is beyond my imagination. Philip, of course is right; and right you are: he'll be assailed as a self-hater. They have it honed, haven't they? You are Semite too, are you not, Mr. d'Aymery?
Who's Wanda Tinasky?
Forget the visit. Spare Jan. It's too late anyway. I went to Morlaix, Finistère, instead. They speak breton there and have pain plié, crèpes galore and le meilleur cidre du monde. I'm staying at the Hotel du Port, quai de Léon. But then, what would you know about la Bretagne, you half languedocien exiled in the midst of dumb-asses who could not even find their own country on a map, but carry their proud and smelly asses on their noses like a trophy of sort, enjoying the destruction of the world as a televised NFL reality show?
Maybe next year...
But, again, get out of there before they do you in, either physically or mentally. Leave their savagery. Go back to the realm of humanity. Heed my words.
Allez, bon vent. Glad you're back at it.
Morlaix, Finistère, France - August 22, 2004
Is Swans being co-opted, or what? Regarding Richard Macintosh series on Courage, Part I, Part II, and Part III
To the Editor:
Responses to Courage III, II, I by Richard Macintosh
Thank you Mr. Macintosh for having the courage to write three well-written articles (Courage III, II, and I) on courage that exposes different perspectives. Courage remains a hidden virtue because people do not recognize their everyday actions as courageous. Your insights are simple; yet, brilliant. By simple I mean the truth is always uncomplicated. Unfortunately, the ego (out of fear) tries to make everything complex and difficult so the human spirit remains confused to linger in apathy (a courage killer).
All of my responses to your three articles below relate to the use of the word courage from one perspective: my mission is to awaken people to the original definition, meaning "heart and spirit." I extracted a few segments from each article. With eight years of original research on the behaviors of courage, I offer my perspective along with the insights of another valued author.
Courage III (August 16, 2004)
In reference to the Democratic Convention I was intrigued by this literal statement:
Mr. Macintosh: "There are cages for the recalcitrant, or the disfavored ones. Why Americans didn't see it coming was most likely because they didn't look. The cages were always there, in various forms..."
Ms. Walston: Yes, the cages literally have always been there and also in other forms. In the workplace courage is figuratively caged. People at work have become dispirited (the opposite of courage). Their suffering lies in an unfilled heart. How did this happen? Imagine a client coming into your organization. You are giving her/him a tour and at one point you say, Oh look. See that cage in the corner over there? Each day we lock our spirits and our collective organization's spirit in there." I have a feeling the client would relate to this image.
Courage is caged in the workplace when speaking up with candor and grace to face a difficult situation is so stressful you lose sleep for days (out of fear of losing your job). Unfortunately, courage in the workplace comes with a Catch 22 leadership issue: if people are empowered with courage, then how do I stop them or control them? The whistle-blower must face the label of recalcitrant or disgruntled employee.
What's so scary about committing to learn about a courageous work life? The organization and the people know their lives will change when courage is released! The key to experiencing the benefits of this virtue requires that you embrace the original definition, give yourself permission to be courageous and hold yourself 100% accountable for the outcome. Accountability is the most difficult. We have a tendency to be a blame-based culture. We would prefer a "courage pill." Unfortunately, there is no magic pill. There is only complacency and conformity - the opposite of courage.
In a courageous work environment there's a passion to be true to oneself. It starts with declaring your courageous intention and taking action - now! It's so simple yet the human condition makes it convoluted. So ask yourself: "Are you willing to give yourself permission to open the door to your caged courage?"
Mr. Macintosh: "Americans need the courage to confront a leadership who control through fear."
Ms. Walston: Finding compassion to understand why it's so hard to awaken people to the fact that they are being controlled by fear (that instills apathy) is not easy. I discovered how this happens a few years ago when I read Dr. David Hawkins' first book Power vs. Force. Starting his research in 1975, he discovered that seventy-eight percent of people cannot distinguish truth from falsehood; in other words, they blindly accept what anyone tells them (including television, print or peers).
"It seemed that the great tragedy of human life had always been that the psyche is so easily deceived; discord and strife have been the inevitable consequence of mankind's inability to distinguish the false from the true." With that said, to facilitate upward movement in consciousness each person must be disposed to invite "courageous will" into their lives. This supports the desire to hold oneself accountable (mentioned above). By eliminating major learning blocks (usually by committing to some form of self-mastery, such as meditation, Enneagram, therapy, centering prayer, etc.), the inner resistance to living life fully matures. This happens when a person claims their unique courage.
Courage II (August 2, 2004)
Mr. Macintosh: "For this statement, Representative Brown was censured and her words were stricken from the record. She made the Republicans angry and uneasy. The truth, it seems, is hard to face. No, it is worst than that. The truth has been ignored for some time now. It seems there are those who think they can manufacture their own. ... The disgraceful Republican attack on Brown was the action of cowards and bullies -- fearful of the truth -- overreacting to a provocative, but honest, entreaty. But rather than shutting Brown up, their action showed what they are truly made of."
Ms. Walston: Courage, like all the other virtues is abstract. The word virtue in Latin means "energy." This makes my passion to awaken people to their distinctive courage very difficult. Our culture relates to Newtonian thinking (linear) as compared to abstract. Therefore, to enhance linear understanding I distinguished the facets of courage. There is spiritual courage, emotional courage, leadership courage, ethical courage, physical courage, social courage, political courage and personal courage.
Ms. Brown (and the other noted women) understands the definition of political courage is the unwillingness to sell your soul. The key feature in this aspect is represented by whether you stand as a politician (self-serving exploitation employing persuasion and force) or a statesmen (serving others through inspiration and teaching by example). In other words, is your intention to express or vote your conscience thereby placing future needs ahead of political aspirations? Ms. Brown was willing to go out on a limb to express an unpopular thought that revealed her authenticity. People are shocked when this happens, so it's easier to bully and or delete the truth. Political courage is characterized by humility, not egotism.
David Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. has extracted over twenty years of original research to distinguish the difference between Power vs. Force. With regards to politics, the difference between a statesmen and a politician is clear: "Statesmen invoke the nobility that resides within all men and unifies them through what can best be termed 'the heart.' Although the intellect is easily fooled, the heart recognizes the truth. Where the intellect is limited, the heart is unlimited; where the intellect is intrigued by the temporary, the heart is only concerned with the permanent. Politicians, operating out of expediency, rule by force after gaining their position through the force of persuasion. ... politicians exploit people to serve their own ambitions. ... Force is limited, whereas power is unlimited."
Courage I (July 19, 2004)
Mr. Macintosh: "In America, there is one set of rules for our ruling class and another set for the rest of us. (Do you think your Congressperson or Senator worries about his or her health plan, or the rising cost of pharmaceuticals?)... And while all this is going on, Americans sit in front of their television sets, watch what they think is 'news,' enjoy 'reality TV,' sports, the latest 'sit-coms' and wonder what they can consume next. After all, didn't our President urge us to go out and spend money?"
Ms. Walston: "Historically, all ruling classes have achieved status and wealth by controlling society through some form of puritanical ethic. The harder the underlings work, and the more meager their pleasures, the richer the ruling system will be, whether it be a theocracy, aristocracy, oligarchy, or corporate industrial barony."
The ruling classes of corporate America's biggest giants, such as Enron, Tyco and WorldCom, to name a few, are prime examples of how employees are controlled. These companies (and many others) lost their way when they sold their souls! The downside of courage is corruption. Not just falsifying books, inflating revenues, creating energy-related "ricochet schemes," burying documents that expose an error, or generating bogus sales reports. The infrastructure of corporate corruption is measured by the level of hypocrisies that permeate every work environment. Referred to as "politics," everyone dances around these corporate pretenses.
Case in point: a toxic manager in a Fortune 500 company can't be touched because she is having an affair with the vice president who is friends with the president. Courageous employees do not blindly accept double standards or mixed messages. They step up and display their self-esteem rather than be two-faced. Ultimately, they resign rather than linger half-heartedly.
In our work fabric, the ingredients of corruption are at a high risk and systemic in our culture. There are common trends from steroid-pumping athletes, employees faking degrees, exaggerating print stories, lip-syncing singers, witnesses lying on the stand, legal corruption (companies registered off-shore to block paying taxes in the U.S. or bankruptcy scam expert Donald Trump), and jury perjuring to cheating students.
Bottom Line: Individuals with courage yield value-based corporate reputations.
Thank you for your time and consideration to review my insights. Please keep up your hard work -- it is valued!
Sandra Ford Walston
Englewood, Colorado, USA - August 30, 2004
[ed. Sandra Walston is the owner of Sandra Ford Walston, a Denver-based leadership consulting company. Known as The Courage Expert ™, she is a leadership consultant, national speaker, corporate trainer, Courage Coach ™, poet, and internationally published author. (from Ms. Walston's bio.)]
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