Saturday, November 23, 2013

Different Is Not Another Word For Wrong

This is Thanksgiving week and I’m very grateful for the following insight as a result of reading Barbara Kingsolver’s novel The Lacuna.
Recently, I’ve discussed the spiritual concept of Oneness. It is not a uniformity of social behavior – groups or congregations that all seem to agree on a few common beliefs. I believe this is a kind of egoic version of oneness, which is merely a feeling of belonging to a common group that – in bigger numbers – alleviates my fear somehow. It helps me believe I’m right. It is similar to mob mentality and sometimes can morph into just that with the right trigger. That is not the oneness I’m speaking of.
The story Kingsolver tells is one of an American lad that is raised in Mexico and returns to the US as a young adult. It is set in the pre- and post-World War II era. This was an era of wonderful community commonality brought on by the Depression and WWII, followed by the Cold War and our fear of Communism (stoked and promoted for political gain until the fear became pervasive and irrational).
From The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver, HarperCollins, 2009, pp. 5, 185:
The boy, Harrison Shepherd, had discovered snorkeling and was mesmerized by the schools of fishes around a Mexican reef. “The rule of fishes is the same as the rule of people: if a shark comes, they will all escape, and leave you to be eaten. They share a single jumpy heart that drives them to move all together, running away from [perceived] danger just before it arrives. Somehow they know.
“Underneath the ocean is a world without people. The sea-roof rocks overhead as you drift among the purple trees of the coral forest, surrounded by a heavenly body of light made of shining fishes. The sun comes down through the water like flaming arrows, touching the scaly bodies and setting every fin to flame. A thousand fishes make the school, but they always move together: one great, bright, brittle altogetherness…. [p. 5]
“… A wife. Van had a wife named Gabrielle. He has a son. This is what it means to be alone: everyone is connected to everyone else, their bodies are a bright liquid life flowing around you, sharing a single heart that drives them to move all together. If the shark comes they will all escape, and leave you to be eaten.” [p. 185]
This thought, of schools of fish acting as one, keeps coming up over and over in different forms. It is the metaphor Kingsolver uses to describe what happened to America during the late 1940s and early 1950s during the Joe McCarthy era of rabid, fear-mongering anti-communism. In the atmosphere of terror by innuendo, trial by press release and guilt-by-association, the forwardness of American politics just stopped. Since one couldn’t criticize public policy without being condemned as a probable “Red,” the country stagnated as having suddenly “arrived.” No more progress needed. We are perfect. Let’s just stop. Others who think otherwise are unpatriotic and dangerous. Let’s leave them for the shark.
Personally, I encountered this same attitude in the 1970s during the tumultuous activity of Civil Rights, the social safety net and the Vietnam conflict. The prevailing atmosphere was perfectly summed up in the popular bumper sticker: “America – Love It Or Leave It.” Once again – the attitude was we’re pretty perfect just as we are. If you criticize us, we’ll label you as being “suspect.” Soon that will morph into “dangerous,” then ”un-American.” Finally, that fear will lead to being denounced as “evil and unchristian.”
Kingsolver goes on to explain how this attitude of America’s special “rightness” came about. It is just five or six years after WWII. She uses a character called Artie: “Do you want to know my theory? … I think it’s the bomb…. I believe that is the heart of the matter. When that bomb went off over Japan, when we saw that an entire city could be turned to fire and gas, it changed the psychology of this country. And when I say ‘psychology,’ I mean that very literally. It’s the radio, you see. The radio makes everyone feel the same thing at the same time. Instead of millions of various thoughts, one big psychological fixation. The radio commands our gut response…. That bomb scared the holy Moses out of us. We became horrified in our hearts that we had used it. Okay, it ended the war, it saved American life and so on and so forth. But everyone feels guilty, deep inside. Little Japanese children turned into flaming gas, we know this…. [So] we convince ourselves we are a very special people, to get to use this weapon. Ideal scenario, we would like to think it came to us from God, meant for our own use and no one else’s…. Suddenly we are God’s chosen, we have this bomb, and we better be pretty damn certain no one else is going to get this bomb. We must clean our house thoroughly. Can you imagine what would happen if England also had the bomb – or France, Germany, Japan, and the Soviet Union all had this bomb? How could a person go to sleep at night?” [pp. 369-70]
I believe one of the primary facets of guilt is the unspoken assumption that “they” will do to us, if given the opportunity, what we have done to “them.”  So, to quell the fear driving the guilt, we must do all we can to prevent that (perceived as probable) attack from happening. Published in 2009 The Lacuna  is a wonderfully written, but scary, portrait of the rise of the same hatefulness, fear and distrust that has pervaded our country in the last five years. Fox News commentators, who artfully blend factual reporting with opinion-as-fact, are now providing this singular voice of fear and hysteria about anything that sounds progressive in nature. The Democrats counter with fund-raising appeals that broaden the base of Fox’s fear-filled messages. McCarthyism almost brought our government to a standstill in the early 1950s. Today, the Republican-Tea-Party-Social-Conservatives, whose stated goal is (for a variety of competing, very different, reasons) to do nothing but bring down the Obama presidency, is accomplishing much the same level of non-governance as McCarthyism did.
Our situation today can be viewed as frightening, but the book’s history has helped me keep today’s events in perspective. We survived Joe McCarthy and went on to move our country forward with Civil Rights and social safety-net legislation. We’ll survive today’s movement trying to return us to values of the 1950s: state’s rights, abortion bans, a clamp-down on all sexuality, maintaining all sorts of groups of second-class citizenry, including women.
To be aware of my True Self, which allows for the possibility of seeing another’s True Self, begins, for me, to be aware of my thoughts and the importance I seem to give them. If I harbor them, they lead to words, actions, behaviors, habits, and values. All of which can lead me away from my spiritual path.
Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, 2009. Read it. Ponder – with willingness.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#4 November, 2013

Copyright, 2013

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