The Idea of America

52 State Flag (proposed); if add Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

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The Idea of America

America is an idea struggling to free itself from slavery and the many degradations that slavery entails: conquest, genocide, racism, classism, sexism, exploitation imposed by fear of starvation, and regimentation into legions of thuggish enforcers and cannon fodder used as pawns for self aggrandizement by the kings, queens, bishops, executioners, and judges of the social order.

There is rebellion trembling in the souls of the people, looking up to the fabled blue sky of their dreams from the dank dark depths of their wells of desperation; and looking out with bleary eyes to the hazy lost horizons for unrealized promises, from the burnt lands and baking deserts of their isolated naked vulnerability.

What do you do when you fall far from help? You sit waiting until you can get up, and then you go on. On!

Those that survive to do this embody the earth tremors of the idea of America struggling to erupt into freedom ruled by justice, fortified by intelligence, ennobled by compassion; an eruption that will inevitably require a crisis that may unleash tragic cruelties because the unyielding resistance against the pressure for social change — by the slaveowners, the speculators, the profiteers — could only be broken by a terrible and searing explosive force.

The idea of America will find its lasting peaceful freedom in solidarity by the resurrection of America in the aftermath of its last death in its last civil war. Who can know if they will live to see this? All that we can know is that the idea is undying.

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Gold, Swords, and Tumulus Grave Goods Forever?

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Gold, Swords, and Tumulus Grave Goods Forever?

From our Neolithic Past to our Radioactive Present — and future? — gold, swords, and tumulus grave goods of hoards of icons of materialistic wealth have been our chosen markers of human achievement; in all a genuflection to the triumph of materialism over intellect and spirit.

Socialism is the economic ideology of abundant prosperity, democracy is its political ideology, and peace is its mythology.

Prosperity is the warmth of good living generated by the consumption of natural resources into the entropy of waste products. The expansion of prosperity is fueled by the diminishment of Nature and the increase of enslavement by the expansion of imperialism vacuuming in new resources to the homeland from ever farther afield. The military, like a wildfire, is an expanding ring of consumption whose center is a widening desert of entropy: resource scarcity and waste with a smattering of capstones of wealth atop pyramids of power. War is the collision of expanding rings of militarism; conquest is the collapse of one against the pressure of another.

A diminishing access to prosperity leads to a narrowing and heightening of political power, and a popular sharpening of competition for resources with a consequent hardening of attitudes of overt racism, and an increasing fragmentation of society into a steepening hierarchy of classes based on submission to and patronage by superiors, until society ultimately degenerates into a dictatorial kingship over a realm of desperation. Fascism is the populist submission in industrialized societies to rising kingships over realms of expanding scarcity.

Sustainability within the Natural World is the conception of frugality as freedom and not poverty. Sustainability is the submergence of human identity into Nature, and seen as a release and not a collapse, instead of being an ever heightening emergence above it. Sustainability is the conceptualization of civilization as organic within the Natural World, instead of a construction caging it. Sustainability is seeing human empowerment as coming from submission to Life, instead of from defiance of it, and of seeing Life as anarchic instead of hierarchical.

God reigns if all are dead. God is dead if all are alive, if all are each infinitesimal glints from the underlying sea of godliness that is Life.

I looked up into the day, shielding my eyes against the brilliance of the sun infusing warmth into my skin, to see low wispy white clouds streaming across the top of my wooded canyon while slowly roiling within themselves, as invisible cascades of crystalline air surged with turbulent reverberations over the hilltops and down into the canyon, splashing into near-chill breezes soughing through the forest green ringing with birdsong scintillating the leaves and rippling their dappled network of reflected sunlight, to brush against me as I stood immersed in wonder once again under the soaring of a black hawk, amazed to be experiencing this immensity of Life, this great outside beyond human limitations. I am a brief instance of all this, and that realization is my share of the eternal.

[Image by Caitlyn Grabenstein]

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When Ozymandias Is Forgotten

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When Ozymandias Is Forgotten

Zionism is racism, which is why so many Americans support it. American political consciousness has as its consensus a rainbow coalition of varieties of racism; and racism is a religious faith whose sacrament is money, whose mythology is real estate, and whose original sin is genocide.

Global warming climate change is the coming Great Flood for which we will ever be absent a Noah, because there is no True God to inspire a True Noah. God is dead because we are our own gods, who are dying in the rising tide of entropy seeping out as the lifeblood from the body of the True God we have murdered.

So many of those whose lives will be cut short, and whose dreams will be cut off, are innocent of the crime; but it is ever the privilege of wealth in its pyramid death cult to sacrifice abundances of young life on the altars of its mausoleums: glorious memories imagined that will only blow in the wind as dust in the not so distant unknown.

For some: ideas liberate the mind, and time offers promise.
For others: ideology cages mind, and time is a sentence.
Gratitude is the experience of Everlasting Life, and
No soul immersed in gratitude is ever alone.

The warmth of sunlight on skin, the brush of cool breeze against the cheek, the ringing of birdsong through the trees, the blushing of day into night before the eyes, the slow cascade of wispy cloud down the mountain, the sparkle of moonlight in the brook, the density of quiet in the dark, are all the eternal caress and lullaby by the Mother, always sustaining a refuge of love, always welcoming home her lost children.

I stretched my legs and curled them under the blankets while the cat pressed his weight down into them, walking and coiling above. I ringed them into a bowl, a plush crater, and he settled his body pressing against them. And thus we slept through the late night dark into the bright of morning: connected in the eternal.

The struggle for life is real, but we misuse it.
Wisdom is life lived in the calm of grateful awareness.

If I am moderate in my speech, it is ignored in favor of existing biases. If I am immoderate in my speech, it sparks thought which is met with denial and a hostile defense of ignorance, which is always threatened by any truth however moderated its appearance. So to be truthful to myself I must offend the delicate sensibilities of your falsity.

Socrates was insufferable, and was insufferably responded to. Plato was elegantly snobbish in playing Socrates without hazard. Shelley was Dionysian, but with his lordly airs could never be Euripidean; his Ionian reflection was Keats, that flowering of the sublime into the radiance above Wordsworthian mulch. Bukowski, that guttural Boudu, played at Diogenes without his wit or insight. Ginsberg, as frenzied Whitman, played Kerouac in the feminine; Kerouac played Ryokan as cool jazz Nietzsche; Ryokan was pure moonlight on the river; and Camus was the river of conscience into Melville’s sea of morality. Our taste in poets, for those that are true poets, reflects on our flaws not theirs. True poets are diamonds of imperfection forged out of the coal of humanity.

When Ozymandias is forgotten we will have let go and been enfolded.

5 June 2021

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Eleven Capsule Disquisitions

SPACE: is filled with emptiness,
everything else is a garnish.

TOTALITY:
The unknown reality is of infinite depth;
but consciousness has limits,
which are unknown.

CONSCIOUSNESS:
The most captivating image to human consciousness
is the female form.

TIME:
No matter how much you think you have,
it is never enough.
No matter how much you actually have,
it will always be too little.

BOOKS:
A good book captivates you,
a great book changes you.

CAPITALISM:
Capitalism is the ideology of parasites.

GLOBAL WARMING:
Global Warming is the Universe’s way of telling us
that making money is contrary to Nature.

WAR:
War is a societally catastrophic theft by a group of criminals who compel two sets of victims to destroy each other. For decades I studied looking for the root causes of nuclear war, and then for war in all its forms: conventional, economic, genocidal, imperialistic, and now climate-destroying; and I have come to this: Lack of moral character expressed individually as selfishness through bigotry and greed, and organized socially as capitalism and exclusionary bureaucratic hierarchies for the defense of mediocrity.

PATRIARCHY:
The religious strictures enforced as sacred traditions by men against sex and women are them fleeing from the recognition of their own simplistic bestial lusts and fearful insecurity in their manhood, before the nurturing face of love seen by all as female: the mother.

GOVERNMENT:
It is always the rulers against the people,
and so in defense it has to be the people against the rulers.
What rulers everywhere fear most is the people united.

The first victory of political rebellion
is to free yourself from the self censorship
imposed by your fear of loss of approval by “authority.”

There will always be a new emergency to distract people
from the institutionalized theft of life they are paying for.

The fact that charities exist shows that governments are failures,
and moral character far too lacking all around.

Never underestimate the power of the Status Quo
to protect itself from reform
by tossing out members who have become liabilities.

I’m all for Socialism,
I’d just hate having to do it with Americans.

Being a Republican in these United States today
is to have an emotional attachment
to sexist White Supremacy ignorance.

THEM:
I only care about the effect of a person’s actions
on other individuals and on society;
I do not care how they choose to imagine
their relationship to eternity.

People can’t be changed,
they either evolve on their own,
or they persist as they are to the death.
The best you can do, for the rare few,
is tell them the truth if they ask.
I cannot change the world,
I can only affect the people I interact with:
rarely.

Going out among the people is the best way
to lose any concern about human extinction.

The effort to lead a moral life in an immoral society
causes much personal suffering,
only partially relieved by gaining
a righteous sense of self-respect.

The most pernicious idea in human history is:
profits.
The most important idea in human history is:
gratitude.

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First of May in World’s Autumn

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First of May in World’s Autumn

Bright sunlight falls through clear air with fresh coolness in the shadows touching skin with warmth as imperceptible eddies sway green leaves gently beneath a blue sky under which an unmeshing fragmenting spray of white wispiness skims over the hillcrests framing my canyon ringing with the songs of thrushes, the darting sparkling forays of twizzling hummingbirds, and the chirping calls of White-Throated swifts swooping all about to and fro from their attic-hidden nests through corridors of tree fronds with scattered emerging hints of drought yellowing, while Brown Creepers flutter by in their nervously butterfly-like dropping flight hops; and all is under the confident and commanding eyes of Red-Tailed Hawks, a pair, wheeling majestically so close overhead, their shadows whisking across the panorama arrayed to view, their tails glowing gold with translucent sun, their arcing wingtip feathers scribing crisp the moment flashed to eye onto the crystal of memory.

O Nietzsche! Reading your words is like gargling with gravel to sift out gold! I am sinking in my deepening dotage awash in memories of youthful debaucheries! Is this deserved punishment for my unintended cruelties and ignorant harshness, or rewarded grace for my clumsy kindnesses and stumbling harmlessness?

I marinate in memories of your presence, my fulsome love, flesh-instilled beyond the force of thought, punished by the absence of presence irredeemable by time, rewarded by the presence of absence of fading spirit, the scent and hunger and skin-feel of that lost eternity of your warm smiling gaze enfolding all. My candle flames melting the cold hardened wax of the past lofting its vaporous luminosity into the pitch blackness of all futures’s oblivion, a flare along the passage from the unknown to the forgotten. Stars are the luminous hot bubbles of light in the roiling cold boil of existence into nonexistence, time into timelessness, space into self-absorption, substance into void.

Smoke from extinct rainbows burnt in offerings by dead souls to imaginary gods lifts memories of lost oceans into night’s blackness to fall slowly rolling down from canyon rim hillcrests the cool mist diffusing space disappearing before penetrating earth’s thirsting embrace, submerging this island of forest in an ocean of quiet whose silence can be heard far past distant unseen horizons beyond which the sun is being reborn in the womb of eternity, as hummingbirds sit hunched on their perches snoring. The singing light of day again will wake me soon, for all I know.

1 May 2021

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A Visit From Phillip

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A Visit From Phillip

“I have come to reassure you.”

I looked up from my reverie, looking out into the sun-drenched forest behind my house after three days of rain, sparkling with a net-of-gems of droplets meshed through the green foliage, and steam still rising slowly from hot blotches of light on bark, timbers and brown earth.

He was tall, elegantly poised and dressed in a long, smooth grey coat, more like a gown with suggestions of an English raincoat and buttoned at the neck, and smooth brown boots or shoes, of which I could only see the lower parts below his black pant legs. He had a longish face, smooth-shaven, and straight dark hair, well-trimmed and laying back without sharp delineation.

Oddly, I was not startled by his sudden appearance, even though I had not heard his footfalls coming down the long stairs to my house, and then across the deck-work to my chair. I was much struck by this later.

“I have come to reassure you,” he said again, “my name is Phillip, and I have come to speak with you. May I sit here?” he asked motioning with with his hand to the chair next to mine.

“Yes, of course,” I said, “I’m Manuel.”

As he settled himself into the chair my mind began to fill wordlessly with questions. And then our conversation began.

Phillip: “I know that you have had many questions about the course of life in your times, and of how the future for it will unfold. This springs naturally from the concerns a father will have over the well-being of his family. It is through our concerns for our families that we are then tied to concerns for our kind, is it not? Like this forest, all the lives in it are woven together so finely that when you and I look into it we do not see its individual threads but only the smooth and deep totality of what we call ‘forest.’ And for those who let themselves wander far into such thoughts, like you, they find their concerns for the lives they know well and beyond them those they can know about and see, has expanded to a concerned sensing of all life. You have been troubled by such concern for all life, so I have come to reassure you.”

Manuel: “What you say is true, but how did you know about me? And why come see me about this? There must be millions, billions of people who feel this way. What about them? I’m confused, and beyond all that, what do you mean by reassurance? And first of all, who are you?! Where do you come from?!”

Phillip: “Yes, I understand, let me explain.”

Phillip took a moment looking out into the day to gather his thoughts, or perhaps really to construct the sequence of his subsequent words to me because on reflection I am sure his thoughts on all this had long been very well organized. Despite the surprise and oddness of this encounter, I felt a timeless tranquility as if the sun’s warmth had infused me with an expansive calmness, like the looking out onto the summer sea or a receding panorama of green hills bathed in light.

Phillip: “First, you must know that life infuses our universe. It is a potentiality everywhere, and it expresses itself where the conditions for such expression are welcoming. Over time and across space those conditions may change, and so the expressions of life can vary, change or ‘evolve’ as the great Charles Darwin put it, and such change can even mean that some of those scattered expressions of life flicker out. But life itself remains, because it also flickers on in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, in unexpected places. And that is the great reassurance.”

Manuel: “Expected by whom?”

Phillip: “That is the second thing you should know. Part of that life is a spectrum of consciousness. The most primitive particles of what might be called proto-life are viruses. They have what we might call proto-thought, which are instructions coded chemically in chained molecules of genetic fragments, for the replication of their kind by their infection of more complex organisms. They are parasites, seeking to attach themselves to more complex expressions of life, to continue their kind in their haphazard mechanical fashion. The spectrum of consciousness extends from the psychic absolute zero of viral proto-thought, through the very low frequency yet very long range meshed interconnectivity of plant life, and on through the ever more involved consciousness of animal life forms, which include us. That spectrum of consciousness is like a living ocean, or this forest, a very deep and very wide and very entwined reality of psychic dimension. We think because we are. And we are connected both physically and psychically because we are. All of us, individually, express the entire universe, and because of that we are as irrevocably bonded as are the water molecules that mesh into the oceans, and even into the rivers that flow through our bodies as sap or blood.”

Manuel: “Yes, I believe that. But, still, by whom?”

Phillip: (After a momentary smile) “Through the diffuse psychic ocean that permeates all space and time, life in its totality senses itself. It senses across the physical voids between its many expressions.”

Manuel: “You mean like psychics, seances, the afterlife?”

Phillip: “No, nothing so crude and simplistic. Because life is a potentiality of the universe, life senses itself from below through that primordial root. Think of it like quantum entanglement, where that entanglement was established with the birth — if we can use that word — of space, time and energy itself. That entanglement is the diffused unity of everything. It is through that primordial root that I have come to know your thoughts. So I have come to reassure you about that unity. It will continue.”

Manuel: “I suppose I can see all this, as allegory. But the logic of it escapes me. I mean, here you are, where do you come from? How do you know me? Do you read my mind? What are the concrete facts?”

Phillip: “That is the third thing you should know. I realize that from a concrete, logical point of view, what we have here today between us seems like science fiction, a fantasy movie like the kind so popular around the world today, and which has swept you into itself — like an abduction by aliens into a Flying Saucer!”

Phillip added this last with a laugh.

Manuel: “I mean, are you a figment of my imagination? Am I losing my mind? Are you some kind of imaginary hologram kicked out like static by some electro-chemical imbalance in my brain?”

Phillip: “No, Manuel, I am very real. As real as you are. What you have to understand is that the reality of your being, like the reality of my being, is beyond what a conscious logical mind can encompass. It is beyond understanding in that way, but it is the essence of understanding in its full unknowable dimension. It can be very stressful to try to encompass it logically, though with the right attitude it can be delightful to make the effort to do so. Such efforts can lead to deep emotional satisfaction for having fashioned a physical cosmological theory, or exquisite poetry.”

Manuel: “It sounds like self-realization.”

Phillip: “Yes, that is a reasonable term. But, really, no word is sufficient.”

Manuel: “So, the third thing I should know?”

Phillip: “The thoughts you have had, and very often and carefully considered, have deep, deep roots. Those roots connect to me and others like me, and others like you. I am better able than you are right now at tracing those roots back to other minds. Why? Because they are the more sensitive and alert pinpoints of all-mind, what we are all immersed in and express. I am just less constrained by the organic boundaries that most others are confined by.”

Manuel: “Confined by who?”

Phillip: “Themselves.”

Manuel: “Well, I can see that you’re real. That you breathe, you have mass, you sink into the chair cushion. But still, I mean, you could just be a very amiable, and I must say elegant and pleasant and obviously well-educated mental patient who is on the loose and just wandered down my stairs. If I were a simple-minded religious person I might say you are an enigmatic angel. Now that I think of it, I hope you’re not some sly demon.”

Phillip: “Ha! Hahahahaha!”

Phillip pealed with delighted and congenial laughter. I sensed he was laughing with me and not at all at me.

Phillip: “Oh, Manuel! I am enjoying speaking with you. I am glad I came. Angel, devil, hologram, phantasm, brain fever, or amusing insane person! You and I are all of these for any number of people who even notice us. Just know that I am as real as this hummingbird.”

As Phillip said this last he gestured with his hand up toward the hummingbird feeder hanging overhead just to the side close by us, and at that moment a hummingbird, flashing iridescent purplish-red and green as it wheeled through the sunbeams bathing the scene swooped out of the unseen into our presence and onto the perch attached to the feeder, to draw his fill from one of its small portals.

Manuel: “Phillip: lover of horses. So, did you name yourself?”

Phillip: “Well…, why not? Horses are such graceful expressions of life. And I love life. Tell me, what did you do last night?”

Manuel: “I had been busy all day, doing this and that, the kind of everyday things that absorb all your time and wipe your mind clean as you churn along keeping the affairs of the household moving. And then I sat here to relax watching the evening light, listening to music, a soprano voice undulating through a slow, haunting flamenco song, which seemed to fit the mood of calmness I sought as evening was fading. The hummingbirds, too, seemed to relish the time, for they came to lap nectar from the feeder, overhead, before they flitted off to sleep. Then as darkness was overcoming light, and the night sky was opening up, that voice flowed into the comforting melody and rhythm of a soulful Mexican ballad. It takes me back to my childhood. After a while, I wanted to listen to more music for under the stars, so I put on one of my favorite symphonies for such times, the Brahms second. And my thoughts went out, as you’ve described.”

Phillip: “And that is when I decided to come see you.”

Manuel: “You heard?”

Phillip: “The totality of all is completely amoral, of that you can be sure. We live in perilous times because all times are perilous, and those perils are always so randomly, and thus unfairly, distributed. You and I are fortunate at this time in our lives, we have secure retreats from which we can ponder the elusiveness of meaning within the grittiness of existence, and feel grateful for not being overwhelmed by tragedy.”

Manuel: “So, can you see into the future, and know when you can be happy and when you will be sad?”

Phillip: “Of course not. All you can do is feel grateful when you are living through a time of relative peacefulness, as we are here now; and exert yourself onto the fullest perhaps even onto death when you have to channel the hot pulse of life and its piercing frigid daggers of fear when you are confronting an onrushing, implacable and heartless threat. We can never know what fate has in store for us. The best we can do is live decently and with awareness in unwitting preparation for the future. We each have to navigate ourselves through this bewildering existence, bedeviled as it is by the many artificial evils and calamities that we confused social creatures have added to it. For navigating through all that we rely on the instincts that evolution has brought to us in our many species, and the upbringing we have been variously gifted with. Call it luck. Our engagement with the future is not random, but neither is it determined nor mechanical in any way. In that sense it is rogue, a mystery, even though we have so many ways in which we can shape it while never ever being able to control it.”

Manuel: “So you came to visit me to reassure me that life will continue, despite whatever happens, because you sensed my thoughts about it.”

Phillip: “Yes, that is the simplest explanation. I am who am, neither higher nor lower; just like you, though a little more aware of it. And so I gravitated to you through the primordial to reassure you that the primordial is everything eternity can mean for us, and it has life within it. Not conscious structured personality, but life, the all-life of which you and I, this forest and all the creatures and forms we see as ‘living,’ emanate out of.”

Manuel: “I can see reassurance in that, but people want more than reassurance, they want hope.”

Phillip: “Hope is desire, and desire is fear and selfishness. And selfishness is being lost from all-life while being inescapably embedded in it. We are all connected, and it is only through willful ignorance that many blind themselves from seeing that. You may experience the joy of seeing some of the life-forms you cherish continue happily during your human lifetime, and you may also experience grief and sadness at seeing some of them suffer and die before your consciousness blinks off, and you may or may not be able to influence the courses of those fates either way by your own actions. That is life, the great self-tangling mystery and revelation and energy. The peace and certainty in the core of the heart that we all want is to be had by understanding this, viscerally, despite all experiences of happiness or sadness however deep and prolonged. That is life. That is the great reassurance. It is beyond purpose. So you are free to be fully conscious of being alive. That is life, that is freedom, that is reality, and that is you when you awaken to it.”

Manuel: “And then what?”

Phillip: “And then you live like a primordial being. Like the hummingbirds that fearlessly zip their sparkling selves through the air and into our presences; like the cats that are always attuned to the shifts of their environments to sustain themselves and to grace themselves elegantly with the satisfactions of being alive; like the native peoples, which the myopic industrialized world has labeled ‘primitive,’ but who rightly should be termed ‘primordial’ because their kind live as interwoven threads within the meshes of life known as ‘the outback’, ‘the desert’, ‘the islands’, ‘the jungles and forests’, ‘the tundras and polar seas’, and who give as much to the environments that sustain them as they receive in recompense. Species of primordial beings come as close as any life-forms can to having everlasting life. But nothing is truly eternal except the forces of change.”

Manuel: “So the possession of true equanimity must be independent of both lively existence and oblivion, happiness and sadness?”

Phillip: “Precisely.”

Manuel: “And understanding how it all comes about, how it is all structured…”

Phillip: “…Is endlessly fascinating, so mentally stimulating, and completely empty. Marvelous, isn’t it?”

Manuel: “Listening to you I feel I have understood much, but have learned nothing. It all seems so clear, and yet there is no logic that I can grab on to. I mean, is it all just to feel as good as one can despite being fundamentally helpless to control, or influence, or prevent the capriciousness of the future? Is it all meaningless but we can console ourselves by thinking we individually are meaningful, and that understanding the totality means to stop punishing ourselves by releasing the illusion that we can understand it?”

Phillip: “The fourth thing that you should know is that I have come out of you, and that all such human and life-to-life connection is how we can each experience the fullest joy of being alive. Do that and all understanding comes to you beyond any mental filtration. It is like having a sun within you that shines a warmth onto you. That is life, that is the universe, it is so entangled, it is you. To know that is to then really be alive. Beyond that it is all just simple chores; washing dishes after you eat. Nothing complicated.”

Night had descended, and we both sat looking out into it for a while; then Phillip spoke again.

Phillip: “The fifth thing that you should know is that the great freedom we have is in being able to transmit this to others.”

Manuel: “Reassurance?”

Phillip: “Yes, reassurance.”

Manuel: “It sounds like love.”

Phillip: “One could use that word…without sentimentality. One could also say ‘solidarity,’ but with a bit more affection. We just call it reassurance. Agh! all our words are such flat monochrome shadows cast by a reality with so much depth and color and dimension! All our desires and focus on forms are such blinders. Forms come and go, but the upwelling from the primordial is enduring.”

Again, we passed some time in silence before Phillip continued.

Phillip: “I was once like you, but was changed by receiving a transmission.”

Manuel: “By a visit?”

Phillip: “Yes, yes, they can take many forms. And like me, you too will transmit the great reassurance to others, in you own way.”

Manuel: “Me, how?

Phillip: “There are so many ways for a person to infuse their talents and hone their skills through the most sublime expressions of interconnected life, by immersing themselves completely in the works and experiences that give them their greatest sense of fulfillment. And it is through such all-enveloping fulfillment that most such transmissions of reassurance are made. Einstein did it with his mind-expanding equations, Harriet Tubman with her ferocious struggle to enlarge human freedom, Mozart with his timelessly captivating music, Rachel Carson with her deep compassionate scientific intellect, Dostoevsky with his prose, Santa Teresa with her poetry, Miriam with her motherhood, and on and on and on. You’ll come upon your way, appropriate to whom you are addressing, and the circumstances. Who can say? This is life.”

We each looked off into the night.

After some time wandering through the many thoughts that Phillip had stirred in my mind, I began to feel a slight chill in the air as the moon crested the hill on the opposite side of my wooded canyon, and I looked over to Phillip’s chair. He was gone, only the depression in the seat cushion remained, illuminated by the moonlight. I got up and walked around the corner of the house to look for Phillip, but only saw the stairs leading away from the house and into the night beyond.

Was Phillip real?, was he a phantom of my mind, a hallucination?, a mental projection of the many intense times I have spent pondering existential questions that are so clearly beyond my powers of analysis or articulate expression? I realize I will never know, and that ultimately it doesn’t matter. Phillip is real in that his words are lodged indelibly and gemlike in my consciousness, and that is real to me. All that is left for me now is to continue, finding fulfillment as I am able, being a link in the transmission of reassurance — at the very least potentially.

And so I came inside and fell asleep, I think for the first time that day.

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Salvation

Painting of the Roiling Ocean, by Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky

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It is sad indeed to see an oppressed people destroying itself through factionalism and civil war, while a far more powerful enemy squeezes them out of their land and lives. I have read of such in Thucydides, but it is too painful to watch in my own time. And, such a sad spectacle turns foreign eyes away, withdrawing their compassion and respect, and leaving “the lost” to their fate of ultimate disappearance. You and I, Nadia Issam Harhash, know that a universal solidarity among humans is the only salvation for all of us, but you and I also know the unfortunate truth that too many of those humans will resist contributing to that salvation to the bitter end: a death cult. What is left to people like you and I is to speak out against the death cult (and hope we are not silenced), and then also retreat into care of our families and immersion in being creative artists, so as to keep our sanity while we live. As an engineer, I always look for solutions to problems, but here as in so many other times and places the “solution” is purely one of choice: unrestrained compassion, respect and solidarity for and with the other members of the homo sapiens species. To me, all politics and all religions are madness, and should disappear. Heraclitus (~500BC) said “Bigotry is the disease of the religious,” and politics is so obviously the mechanisms of organized greed. Salvation will NOT come down from some Sky God in Heaven, nor from Hell out of the barrels of guns; salvation can only come from human hearts and souls who have come to realize that they each are merely momentary wave crests in a sea of humanity flowing within an ocean of Life. Peace.

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

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Guy de Maupassant, and America Today

Having now read 98 of the 290 short stories written by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), from 4 English translation anthologies with many repeats between them, I am convinced that he was the best short story writer ever. The quality of his stories range from “good” to “masterpieces,” there are no mediocre nor bad ones.

Any writer aspiring to be a literary artist must read and learn from de Maupassant. He was a master of economy of style, brisk pacing, even-tempered wit, deep insights into human psychology that remain entirely relevant to this day, and of devising imaginative plots with deliciously apt denouements (endings).

He was superb at describing food, dining and cuisine, and also of sensory impressions like smells, with vividness. Also, he was a lyrical artist with his many passages describing natural settings: the sky at various times of the day and during various seasons, river environments, the woods, open hilly grasslands and plains, and weather day or night. The best equivalent I can recall in American literature is Mark Twain’s lyrical passage in “Huckleberry Finn,” on the early morning mists on the Mississippi River.

It is easy to find critics, from de Maupassant’s day to ours, who dislike him. This is because he was so truthful, and so matter-of-fact about it; never an appealing trait for people protecting cherished illusions and prejudices. Indeed, Guy de Maupassant does not show any prejudices, except perhaps for a marked dislike of cruelty, and a marked enjoyment of life, from which springs his enormous compassion for the very very flawed creatures that we human beings are.

Reading Guy de Maupassant as a social critic of the French Second Empire (1852-1870) and Third Republic (1870-1940), it is easy to see why that Third Republic fell in 1940. Jean Renoir’s 1939 film, “The Rules of the Game,” is a gem in this regard. The health of a nation is based on the attitudes of its people, and the attitudinal corruption riddling the Third Republic, despite its wonderful cultural elegance peaking during its Belle Époque (1880-1914), undermined its political strength against the subsequent assaults by fascism.

The attitudinal weakness and sociopathology of Americans today, as say compared with the awesome fortitude of the Russians of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during the 2 year 4.5 month siege of that city during 1941-1944, or of the Cuban population for over half a century since 1961, is similar to the classism and dissolution of the French bourgeoisie during the Third Republic. But, today’s Americans are practicing their dissolution and societal enervation without the culture, grace or elegance of the 19th and early 20th century French.

That 70 million Americans could vote for Donald Trump in 2020 is the saddest commentary one can imagine on the abysmal state of the American Public Mind. While I have now read many thoughtful and statistically supported analyses, from November 2020, of the erosion of Trump’s political support and the electoral collapse of his regime, I remain convinced that his appeal was always based on one factor: bigotry by white people (and minority individuals who hankered to join the capitalist übermensch club) whose xenophobia is expressed as fear of being economically swamped by demographic dilution.

I acknowledge that Marxist analyses of the November 2020 election, based on their economic focus using their class analysis dissection of American society, are excellent; and that perhaps a few of the pop-psychology and ‘cultural’ commentaries on that election’s aftermath also offer some insights; but I think it all boils down to identity politics (voting for the projected ‘me’ reflected by a candidate), electorally, and gut “race-consciousness” emotionalism, which is stronger the less educated the individual. That very highly educated very rich people would also vote consistently for Trump and the Republican Party is entirely a function of their parasitism, but even with them gut-level racism is a factor in their sociopathological outlook on human society.

What is wonderful in Guy de Maupassant’s stories is that they are filled with a wide variety of characters, and many of these reflect the attitudes I just described with respect to American voters in 2020. So, one gets sharply drawn personified images of the many shades of those attitudes. Another aspect of his sharp insights into human nature is that we are not strictly governed by our rational minds (which rationalist-materialist stricture I see as the biggest gap in the Marxist analysis of human society), because humans in fact are much compelled by genetically programmed behaviors and tendencies erupting out of our ancestral evolutionarily honed instincts: our monkey genes. It is so easy to see Trump’s rabidly naïve functionally psychotic evangelically bigoted zombie horde as a purely reactive monkey troop defending its imaginary territory from “them!”

As regards American society in November 2020, the best that I can see is the growth of refreshing and enlightened attitudes in so much of the young population (under 45 years old), which was crucial to the electoral defeat of Donald Trump; and the best I can hope for is that a revival of real education occurs so that an increasing fraction of our younger citizens can learn how to better enjoy life by developing their minds beyond the limbic tendencies embedded in our monkey genes. It is such people who will propel any economic and political improvements that may occur in American society in the coming years, and which are absolutely essential for making credible organized responses to the challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the destruction of world environments and the loss of biodiversity, and the overarching threat from global warming climate change.

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Last Words

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Last Words

They hate us because we remind them of what they fear most — dying — and so they torture us, withholding morphine to punish us for our dying, to deny us some final joy, and they call that morality, righteousness against the sin of addiction. But, I know what it really is, deep down, it is the pleasure of cruelty inflicted on the helpless by terrified weaklings. Our only vengeance is knowing that in time they too in all likelihood will suffer this if they are unfortunate enough to fall under the power of those now young whom they abuse by training, which they call religion, to carry on with the same dreary deadness of soul and emptiness of mind and spirit. So open the valve, then turn out the light and go home, and you will have fulfilled your humanity by letting me fulfill mine.

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Heller, Vonnegut, Melville, Twain, Maugham, and Guy de Maupassant

On 17 October 2020, Eric Andrew Gebert wrote:

“Born on this day, 1915, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005). Now might be the right time to re-read ‘The Crucible’ (1953). I’ve always preferred ‘Death Of A Salesman’ (1949). Although, anything written by Miller is a gem.

‘“Don’t be seduced into thinking that that which does not make a profit is without value.” — Arthur Miller’

Eric’s comments prompted the following exchange:

MG,Jr.:
If you read the first few chapters of “Closing Time” (1994), the not-great sequel to “Catch-22” (1961), by Joseph Heller (1932-1999), you are given a very clear and fulsome view of the neighborhood and cultural environment – Jewish Coney Island – from which Arthur Miller and Joseph Heller came. While “Closing Time” is not great, it is nevertheless a tale imbued with “New Yorkness” particularly of the City, and it beats most of the twaddle published as novels and even “literature” today. It came out in the ’90s; Heller died in 1999. And agreed, Miller was a superb author-playwright.

Eric Andrew Gebert:
I’ve never read Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I’ve read so many articles about the book and author, yet never read the book. It’s on my list for sure.

My own thoughts prompted by the above:

I read “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” in 1968-1969, while I was listed as 1A for the draft (Vietnam War) during my first year in college. I consider both masterpieces of 20th century American literature, and both were written by anti-war WWII veterans who had seen plenty of action – and death – during the mid 1940s (in Italy and Germany, respectively).

It is my opinion that these two books are absolutely essential reading for any American alive then and now, if they really want to gain some insight into fundamental aspects of American culture, and the collective psyche of Americans. If one also wants to get “historical” and can accept immersing themselves in the “literary,” then it is essential they include “Huckleberry Finn” and “Moby-Dick” to that reading list.

There are many comedic elements in both “Catch-22” and “Slaughterhouse Five” (1969), but both books are very clearly deadly serious. With Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s (1922-2007) book (Slaughterhouse Five), the more you think about it, the deeper is your realization of the underlying tragedy; with Heller’s book, comedy carries you to a finale that requires a strong stomach and deep commitment to finish reading, and in this way leads you to the tragic realization equivalent to that which Vonnegut so subtly (well, playfully) presents.

Only AFTER you have read C-22 and SH-5 should you allow yourself to see the movies made of them. The only good movie of C-22 (a recent TV series has also been made, at best a C-) is the excellent 1970 Mike Nichols (1931-2014) film (Catch-22), with a screenplay written by Buck Henry (1930-2020). Parts of that screenplay were so good that Heller said he wished he’d thought of them to put in his novel.

This film is very faithful (but not exact) to Heller’s plot (simplification being necessary since Heller had many, many characters, and a great deal of non-chronological density), and is entirely faithful to Heller’s arc of comedy-to-anguishing reality (with a sparkle at the end of the film to give you hope). Milo Minderbinder, a character in C-22 (and Closing Time), is the absolute quintessential personification of American capitalism, an excruciatingly apt portrayal in both the book and movie.

The only film worth seeing (AFTER you read the novel!) of SH-5 is the 1972 George Roy Hill (1921-2002) movie (Slaughterhouse Five). In that movie the character of Valencia Merble is the quintessential portrayal of the White suburban American mom, not quite a Karen, but a simple self-absorbed but not selfish Americana (a chaste but not fundamentalist version of Guy de Maupassant’s “Boule de Suif”); this perfection of depiction being in both the book and movie.

Believe me, those two books of the 1960s, and the two films made of them in the early 1970s cannot be remade today to equal standards of art and psychological insight: “we” are too hung-up on our “modern” (self-delusional) ‘wokeness.’ Here is art that is a mirror of a ‘national soul’ that we generally don’t wish to see in complete clarity. These works are both of their time, and timeless.

Every work of art has its roots in earlier works by earlier artists, and in conceptions from earlier times. One can, with imagination, follow this trail of sequential inspiration all the way back to the 5th Century (BCE) Greeks; and with even more imagination back to the cave paintings at Lascaux (~17,000 years ago) and Altamira (~36,000 years ago). Even though I do not know the history of Heller’s and Vonnegut’s literary inspirations, to my mind these two authors were the 1960s flowering of roots that grew from Herman Melville (1819-1891), Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835-1910), and Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893).

Melville had a keen and pessimistic insight into the American soul, and a wicked wit, which can be hard for today’s casual readers to untangle from his convoluted and fascinating antique New England prose. I can see Heller’s Milo Minderbinder as a youthfully handsome comic inversion of Captain Ahab (the terrible protagonist of Moby-Dick): both are monomaniacal obsessive-compulsives. Both were avidly mercantile individuals, to devote themselves so fully to their risky commercial ventures. For Milo it was all about money to gain power to make more money (in a vicious circle), while for Ahab it was all about money (his gold Doubloon, and command of his ship’s resources like the breaking out of rum) to gain the mesmerizing power over his men’s hearts and souls to bind them tightly to his obsession for vengeance against the very forces of Nature incarnated as the white whale, Moby-Dick.

Mark Twain, that other supreme giant of American literature (I vacillate between seeing Melville then Twain as the greatest of all American authors, but that is a worthless exercise really: together, they are the sourcepoint of all essentially American literature), was both a comedic genius and a deeply serious writer with a very great compassion for the human condition; and his enlightened outlook on people was far in advance of American norms — to this day!

Kurt Vonnegut was deeply influenced by Twain, he said as much in his introduction to a television movie (shown on PBS) of Twain’s “Life On The Mississippi,” and it is so easy to see many parallels between Twain’s seemingly naïve witticisms and Vonnegut’s seemingly childlike playfulness in prose. And both had very serious matters about America’s dark soul to present back to its people, under the cover of sweet sunny confections of comic storytelling — up to a point.

Guy de Maupassant was a supreme master of naturalness in the telling of short stories, with an economy of style that made his penetrating insight into the psychology of his characters — the people of his day, and ours — transparent. His words speedily take you to the heart of the matter without obscuring it by any pretentiousness, insights and matters that were: comic, tragic, banal, horrible, lovely, socially withering, and of human avarice, corruption, credulity, deceitfulness, and simple nobility.

Like Heller and Vonnegut, de Maupassant mined his wartime experiences as a French solider during the disastrous for France Franco-Prussian war of 1870. Guy de Maupassant’s story “Two Friends,” about the hazards two Frenchmen buddies find themselves facing when they are captured by the Prussians during a surreptitious fishing excursion along a river behind enemy lines, has all the absurdist qualities Vonnegut put into the narrative thread on his avuncular character Edgar Derby, the mentor of Billy Pilgrim (the protagonist of Slaughterhouse Five) while both were prisoners of the Germans in WWII Dresden.

Even more grim a tale about the utterly absurd waste of human life, human innocence, and the permanent loss of happiness because of war, was de Maupassant’s “Mother Savage,” a story about one old French peasant woman’s iron will to wage her personal war against the Prussians, and by extension against all the social forces and higher classes and their attitudes, which had combined to bring that disastrous 1870 war right into her little cottage far out in the country. Where Edgar Derby was an endearingly blithe overgrown lamb oblivious to the hellscape of firebombed Dresden, Victoire Simon (Mother Savage) was an implacable wolverine propelled by grief capping a long hard meager life of scratching the land.

Two de Maupassant stories of desperate personal actions taken by ordinary French civilians against the Prussians, because they just exploded with rage against being bullied, are “Mademoiselle Fifi,” about the stabbing killing of a Prussian officer by Rachel, a Jewess prostitute who successfully evaded capture by being hidden by the parish priest; and “A Duel,” a similar story about a nebbish little man whose sudden rage fills him with power sufficient to kill a Prussian officer in a duel, his first ever, and for the Prussian his last of many. But I did not see any parallel incidents to these de Maupassant stories in either “Catch-22” or “Slaughterhouse Five,” despite their extensive periods in wartime settings.

Heller’s portrayal of the whorehouse in Rome frequented by Yossarian (the protagonist of Catch-22) and his buddies has many echoes of de Maupassant’s story “Madam Tellier’s Establishment,” of simple souls with simple dreams mixed with desperate longings and simple pleasures. Guy de Maupassant wrote many stories involving carnal affairs, licit and illicit, with a keen eye to human foibles and hypocrisy, and a sophisticated savoir faire combined with a very deep compassion to the human condition, so like Mark Twain’s.

Much of the anguish and histrionics of English and American marital-sexual-relationship dramas is refreshingly absent in de Maupassant’s stories because of his honest clear-sighted presentation of the situational and psychological facts. The hypocritical Victorian prudery of the English and the Americans is absent from de Maupassant and many of his characters, who are after all drawn from real life as de Maupassant saw it. That naturalness, pioneered by Gustave Flaubert (among others), de Maupassant’s mentor and teacher of literary art, is at the heart of Heller’s verve in “Catch-22.”

The direct root from Guy de Maupassant that grew out into English literature was W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965), another great short story writer, as well as playwright, novelist and essayist. The keenest insights about women that I have seen in literature are by Guy de Maupassant and W. Somerset Maugham. Perhaps F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) has some as well (particularly in “Tender Is The Night,” 1934), but he was often much more lyrical and because of that honeyed radiance thus more vague.

Guy de Maupassant by contrast offered gems of clarity (not necessarily desired by society at large) cut with such precision as to bring out the sparkle of insights that pierced through the fog of all illusions. This deemed de Maupassant smutty and immoral to many socially correct readers (especially English and American ones) up to the present day.

My favorite novel of Maugham’s is “The Moon and Sixpence” (1919), a novelization of the life of the French Impressionist painter (and pal of Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890) Paul Gauguin (1848-1903), told as the story of Charles Strickland, a fictional English equivalent to Gauguin. Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence” is an epigrammatic novel worthy of Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) and Maugham’s acknowledged inspiration: Guy de Maupassant.

Guy de Maupassant has written the best and most detailed descriptions of eating, food, cuisine and dining that I have ever read; he has done what Flaubert had taught him: to let you smell the aromas and taste the flavors just from reading the worlds. His touching yet earthy matter-of-fact slice-of-life story, “Idyll,” is echoed by John Steinbeck (1902-1968) as the grand and incandescent metaphor at the end of his “Grapes of Wrath” (1939), for the desperate and self-sacrificing human compassion and solidarity during a time of economic catastrophe that some of its victims could find to bring out of their own destitution and grief, to generously give others the milk of human kindness.

How fortunate I am to be able to read so many wonderful books. The overall lesson they have given me is simply to see with greater appreciation the intrinsic beauty of life despite the many hardships and random tragedies it also entails.

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