Now that Newt Gingrich has formally tossed his hat into the 2012 ring, the GOP will have to determine for itself how willing it is to forgive a candidate with serious flaws. It remains to be seen whether the former House Speaker’s role as resident bomb thrower and agitator will endear him to more than a specific audience. If he is to be taken seriously, Gingrich will need to radically reinvent himself. One cannot easily make a silk purse out of this sow’s ear. Any effort to cozy up to Evangelical voters is bound to register only as cynical posturing, à la John McCain in 2008. Gingrich is neither a contrite, nor humble person by nature, a quality true to far too many who seek expanded powers. It could be argued that any Presidential campaign is a vain endeavor, but Gingrich has never been the sort of person to disguise his ambitions or the ways in which he has consolidated influence.
May 12 2011
Mar 24 2010
The stress of the past few weeks has reminded me of both the benefits and the drawbacks of being an adult. Perhaps you yourself can relate. Throughout the course of my daily existence, I expend a huge amount of energy attempting to navigate the world of interpersonal communication. Often I have to take account for the frailties, neuroses, personality defects, and defense mechanisms of those with whom I regularly encounter. It can at times be overwhelming and frustrating trying to not step on toes or to minimize conflict by means of damage control mode when I inadvertently do so. And as cobble together an apology and take stock of the situation, I find myself resenting the cruelty and sadism of humanity, which gives many people ample reason to build walls around themselves by means of protection. These attitudes only complicate crucial communication and trust and keep us separate from each other.
The anger of the Tea Party devotees upsets me, but what upsets me more is the degree of hostility and bitterness that has come to typify this entire process. I recognize that expecting otherwise is probably foolish, but I mourn when our nation’s fabric is rent asunder for any reason. Though this sentiment has long sense passed into platitude, we are all Americans, and moreover we are all human beings who share the same land. I do not enjoy, nor particularly thrive in an atmosphere where a ceaseless war of words rages. To be sure, I do not shirk away from these situations when they arise, but after a time the constant back and forth proves to be toxic and noxious, not just to me, but to everyone.
I didn’t have an especially happy childhood. Even when I was a child, I wished to be an adult. Adulthood to me represented a time where I would be taken seriously and where everyone else around me would be more or less on the same page. Now I find that this is true only up to a point. Among some I am taken seriously and among other I never will be. And as for my being on the same page with all, well, that’s a matter for debate. What I have discovered that with age often comes a rapidly growing history of psychological damage, increasingly guarded personal conduct, and all of these manifestations a form of the many lingering effects of internalized pain. Anger is really only a form of hurt, after all.
Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
I understand why many people enjoy working with children. They are unguarded, honest, vulnerable, and often endearingly sweet. Their basic nature stands in great contrast to the games we play as adults. When I still lived in Birmingham I would periodically take my turn to watch the children while the adults worshiped. When I did, I often found solace in the company of little ones who were largely nonjudgmental and lived only in the present moment. This isn’t to say that children can’t be just as cruel and vicious to each other as adults can, but that in conversing with them, one has less minefields to gingerly walk through and less need to plan for exit strategies.
Forgive me this question, but, friends, why must it be this complicated? What if we didn’t have to read the latest New York Times bestseller just to understand how to properly interact with each other? What if it didn’t take hours of therapy and thousands of dollars just to be able to be honest with our own pain and ourselves, to say nothing of the pain of others? What if we could bear to leave the armor down long enough to separate friend from foe? While some find it fascinating to observe and note the ways in which we are twisted and wizened, noting the unique nature of our scars, I find the combined impact deeply unfortunate and tragic. People to me are not a scientific experiment gone awry, they are individuals seeking love. And by love I don’t necessarily mean romantic love, but agape—charitable, selfless, altruistic, and unconditional love for ourselves and for others. If we are ever going to begin the slow, but necessary process of healing, we must commit ourselves to it, all the time recognizing that the best offense isn’t necessarily a good defense.
Let us resolve to be honest with that which is broken in all of us. Throw open the doors wide. Don’t automatically reach for cynicism and skepticism in all situations, nor expect the worst for fear of not attaining the best. Don’t recoil and draw back at someone else’s immaturity or hurt directed in inappropriate ways towards inappropriate targets. Consider being like little children in all the best ways. Perhaps peace of mind isn’t so elusive after all. What do we have to lose?
Feb 06 2010
It is a truism that leaders are few and followers are numerous. This is itself an inequality that we don’t often contemplate, nor feel any compulsion to amend by direct action. No flurry of blog postings or activist group with a message statement to convey has ever proposed that we ought to consider revising this important discrepancy. This may be because the gap itself is likely a construct of biology, for whatever reason. One wishes perhaps the numbers would be a bit more balanced, certainly not flip-flopped, since if most of us were leaders, we’d never get anything accomplished. In that regard, herding cats might be putting it lightly. Still, as it stands, for whatever reason, those who lead hold minority status and as such they often easily manage to attract followers to their causes and private bandwagon. It is another paradox of human behavior that while most minorities find reduced numbers much to their detriment, those who lead find the fact that they are relatively few in number much to their benefit.
We always seem to return to the example of the Great Man or Great Woman, the almost superhuman being who through his or her personal skill fixes all outstanding problems and provides mass unity. We should really know better than to expect that one single person could save us from ourselves, but to some extent, it isn’t surprising why can so easily opt for this belief. Two thousand plus years of a Christ-centered framework leads us to expect that a Messiah will rescue us, whether we acknowledge it consciously or not. This is true whether we’re Christian, Jewish, or not a person of faith at all. I myself recognize that I’m still waiting for Jesus to return, and would gladly fall at his feet to offer my assistance if I knew for certain he had returned. If the Second Coming arrived, some would doubt to the very end, some would desire proof, and some would resist altogether purely for their own reasons. Many, however, would breathe a sigh of relief, and quickly fall in line behind him.
Recent developments with political leaders have showed what happens when power corrupts, temptation leads to bad decisions, or disappointment sets in when high hopes are not realized. There is certainly enough fault to spread around if we seek to assign blame. However, that is not exactly my intent with this post. Nor am I seeking to absolve those who let their own shortcomings destroy the good will and good stead they formerly held. With power, charisma, and charm comes temptation of all kinds–monetary gain and sexual gratification only but two of them. I seek to bring light, in part, to the fact that those in leadership roles who court the adoration of the crowds, instantly reap all the benefits and all of the drawbacks in the process. If I, for example, stand up before an attentive audience and impress them with the cogency of my arguments, the eloquence of my rhetoric, or otherwise strike a nerve, I can expect to receive compliments, flirtatious glances or conversation, and an instant kind of immediate attention and personal favor with those who until a moment before were complete strangers. Everyone wants to be my friend, at least for that moment.
A close associate is fond of advancing a particular theory concerning this phenomenon. His example concerns the immediacy of live music, but it works well in this context, too. As he puts it, the reason we find it so easy to be attracted to to musicians, in particular, is that we see our own best qualities reflected in whomever is singing or playing. A powerful emotional intimacy is present in that moment that perhaps speaks more to us and our condition than to those on stage. This concept may wash over political leaders as well, particularly when on the stump, particularly when their personal charisma renders them something close to celebrity. They inspire so much in us: adoration, trust, envy, hope, desire, and so on. That we would entrust them so willingly with all of these in the blink of an eye makes me wonder how anyone who stands out in front can survive for long, with or without the benefit of handlers. It takes a tremendously strong person to not succumb to distraction, properly handle the stress, stay on message, and not get waylaid by a thousand wild goose chases. It is precisely our demands upon which they must conform and though they never are allowed to forget, this doesn’t mean that they’re always in the easiest position to respond. We expect much in return for our trust and our affections and the conditions of the transaction are both numerous and exacting.
So long as we expect perfection from our leaders, we can never see them for their gloriously flawed humanity and never forgive them for their frailties. We sometimes treat these figures as though they were our lover, one which always must say the right thing at the right time and halfway read our minds. Assuming they were the keeper of our heart, we would then need to concede that we would need to love them not just for their best qualities, but also for their worst. We can easily be dismayed, demoralized, and distressed at the behavior and conduct of those we idolize, certainly, but forgiveness is a concept ultimately foreign to us far too often. If it arrives, it arrives late, if ever at all, and it is yielded grudgingly. How often have I “forgiven” someone by mentioning, “Well, I’ll forgive you this once, but you better not do it again, or I’ll never speak to you again”.
This ought not excuse mediocrity, philandering, or a distressing turn towards hypocrisy, but it might better explain a bit better some of the hypocrisies buried within our minds. We often say we’d never want to be a celebrity, a politician, or anyone with the same degree of constant media exposure and with it a fishbowl work environment, but many of us would also jump at the chance if it were available to us someday. I’m not so much advancing a notion that we ought to Leave People in the Public Eye Alone™ but that we need to look within ourselves and examine why we thrust so much of our entire selves, dreams, and aspirations towards whomever might have ability, courage, or God-given talents of oratory and authenticity. They certainly use our faith in them for their own benefit, as is part of the beast, and hopefully never forget the potency of the dreams of thousands upon thousands. If this truly were a relationship rather than a social contract, there would be disturbingly equal proportions of sadism and masochism present.
As it stands now, this compact is a curious kind of two-step, whereby we give all of ourselves to whomever represents us formally, with the requisite number of strings attached that we put in place in an effort that ensure that our personal wish list is followed without in order and without flaw. As for those who would lead or stand out from the pack, raising the bar high, be it in music, entertainment, or politics sets a huge precedent in place and some can rise to the challenge by hitting another home run out of the park, though many fall short. It would seem, then, that the responsibility to keep things in proper proportion is everyone’s. We may not be able to close the gap regarding the number of those who lead versus those who follow, but we can make strides toward adopting a much more feasible strategy, one that would lead to fewer headaches and fewer feelings of betrayal. To me, forgiveness could be a solution. And by this I don’t mean forgiveness for selfish reasons like the ability to successfully cross off another item on a voluminous to-do list, but forgiveness out of a realization that doing so would encourage true healing. True healing leads to group health. If Jesus does return someday, he would expect nothing less.
Dec 16 2009
Julia Angwin’s column entitled How Facebook is Making Friending Obsolete provides a revealing look into the ways that supposedly free services like Facebook and Twitter are mining the data of unsuspecting users for profit. The tactic is unethical at best, but it highlights just how desperate some companies are to turn a profit. The idea of monthly or yearly subscriptions, which were the bread and butter of old media cannot be relied on in this medium because online users refuse to pay them and then gravitate to the latest platform that can be used for free™. As for my own personal leanings, any technology that subverts the established system and forces it out of its comfort zone is worthy of praise in my book, but I suppose this degree of perfidy and with it monetary gain ought to be expected under the circumstances. The basic idea of capitalism is built on the idea of change and the next big thing, but this, of course, threatens the establishment that doesn’t like having to think outside of its cozy comfort zone.
Angwin sets up her column by saying,
Friending wasn’t used as a verb until about five years ago, when social networks such as Friendster, MySpace and Facebook burst onto the scene.
Suddenly, our friends were something even better – an audience. If blogging felt like shouting into the void, posting updates on a social network felt more like an intimate conversation among friends at a pub.
That degree of false intimacy, however, proved to have consequences. It lulled many into an imagined sense of security that could be broached by ten mouse clicks or less. Potentially embarrassing personal details could be accessed easily by complete strangers, and when these users complained and very publicly cried foul, the media picked up on it by running stories and op-eds that adopted the tone of a finger-waggling parent. Apparently it deemed that the best way to keep from oversharing personal details online was a good hearty dose of stern lecturing and abject moralizing. To be sure, irresponsible behavior led to the establishment of a thousand or so online-based drama queens and flame wars. That which had been an interesting concept in drawing people together began to show some serious flaws.
Or, as Benjamin Franklin put it,
Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead.
I never recognized how repressive a culture of which we are all a part until I incorporated the internet into my daily routine. The guise of anonymity that cyberspace provides gives people the opportunity for people to come clean with a million different, but highly related fears, phobias, neuroses, and insecurities as though we were all members of a giant support group. Unlike some, I don’t get much pleasure out of observing the scars of other people, no matter how selfishly rendered they may be. I pity those who feel that the only way they can truly be honest with themselves and in so doing brave vulnerability and sincerity is when among those who they cannot see, hear, or speak to face to face. And yet, each of us is like that to some degree.
Regarding keeping ourselves in check a bit, I don’t mean it in a kind of Puritanical repressive sense, but rather that the immediate gratification and instant attention the internet provides us caters to a sense of narcissism and me-centered discourse. If intimacy with friends is what we were seeking, the Wild West freedom provided by the technology makes a true circle of trust and discretion nearly impossible. One can only work within the limitations of the medium itself. Whatever ends up being broadcast online usually can be discovered with enough searching.
When I was younger, I volunteered information in cyberspace that hindsight allows me to recognize that I probably should have been a bit more discerning. But again, I was a teenager then, and every adolescent is half child, half adult, and all insecure. I am fortunate I had the internet at that formative time in my life because I met other people my own age going through the same things I was and I had a shared sense of solace there. Had I been born even five years earlier, I would not have had that outlet and would have suffered mightily in its absence.
Returning to the larger point, the true lesson here is that major sectors of our capitalist wilderness are desperately trying to find ways to make money and are doing so by methods that openly violate our trust and our sense of security. I suppose I could jump up and down, screaming about constitutional statutes and right to privacy being broached, shortly after contacting the ACLU, but I doubt it would do much in the way of good. The recession merely exacerbated trends that had been slowly, steadily progressing of their own accord. That certain companies would have the testicular fortitude to so sneakily use our own information and thoughts for their gain is damning enough, but provided we remain complicit and enabling in it, more companies will attempt similar tactics.
Any system based on profit will be adaptive and find a way to use our humanity against us. In an age where we are lonely, desirous of companionship, isolated by distance, and hoping to find a means to be a part of something larger than ourselves, Facebook arrived to fill the void. It captured the Zeitgeist, for better or for worse, and now it is merely the latest manipulator for profit. I am decidedly not a purist in this regard and though I will certainly take care to make sure I don’t resort to blarf on the page, neither will I take stock that someday social networking will replace what face-to-face personal contact ought to provide.
It is a testament to the fact that judge not, lest ye be judged is probably the moral teaching we disregard the most in this day. That we judge ourselves more harshly than any troll or disapproving person ever could gets down to the root cause of the matter. These are “guilty before proven innocent” times. These are Nancy Grace days. If we wish to change them, learning to forgive ourselves for being imperfect might be a good place to begin. Embracing this unfair, didactic standard forces us to feel as though jumping through hoops and adhering to an obstacle course of needlessly complex, self-appointed guidelines is the key to living a satisfying life. Micromanaging every aspect of who we are is the quickest road to misery I’ve ever seen. We have unfortunately adopted a belief in the letter of the law, not the spirit of the law.
Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language. Following the letter of the law but not the spirit is also a tactic used by oppressive governments.
This is something, quite predictably, with which we have been struggling for a very long time.
While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” When Jesus heard that, he said to them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor; those who are sick do. I’ve come to call sinners, not people who think they have God’s approval.”
But neither do we need to appear self-righteous in talking about self-righteous, egocentric behavior. That is deepest irony and part of this same judge-addicted culture.
Twitter’s updates were also easily searchable on the Web, forcing users to be somewhat thoughtful about their posts. The intimate conversation became a talent show, a challenge to prove your intellectual prowess in 140 characters or less.
People are competitive in nature. I take it Angwin finds this sort of conduct distasteful. I myself have used my Twitter posts to underscore the larger points I was mulling over at the time, often while in the process of constructing my posts, but the point was never to be adored or to win a fan base. Often I felt a compulsion to put down something substantive to counterbalance the vast amount of trite banter that makes its way onto status updates. Along these same lines, I notice that many people seem to make it a challenge to see how many friends they can achieve on Facebook, no matter whether they actually have ever met in person or not. Life may be a talent show, but no one forces one to sign up for a space, either.
Angwin concludes her column, vowing,
…I will also remove the vestiges of my private life from Facebook and make sure I never post anything that I wouldn’t want my parents, employer, next-door neighbor or future employer to see. You’d be smart to do the same.
We’ll need to treat this increasingly public version of Facebook with the same hard-headedness that we treat Twitter: as a place to broadcast, but not a place for vulnerability. A place to carefully calibrate, sanitize and bowdlerize our words for every possible audience, now and forever. Not a place for intimacy with friends.
While I agree with the author’s conclusion, I also add that being careful about that what we post in a public forum might not be a bad habit to get into, after all. Her frustration with Facebook is quite palpable, but I’m not sure cutting off our nose to spite our face is a good solution. Nor am I completely certain that there was ever some golden age where vulnerability on any online platform could be safely protected and manipulation of intimacy did not exist. Secrets have a way of spilling out, even among friends, and even in real life.
Nothing can be covered up forever and the paradoxical reality about success and increased exposure is that the larger a profile a person has, the more public is his or her life. When I was growing up, my mother frequently invoked the old saying that just because you have dirty laundry doesn’t mean you ought to put it out on the front porch for all to see. I’ve always disagreed with the statement and what it implies, because I think being vulnerable need not be purely irresponsible. It’s a matter of degree and it’s a matter of balance.
The internet has catered to a fickle side of who we are. MySpace was once the end-all, be-all of social networking sites, and now it has given way to Facebook. Twitter, not to be forgotten, has muscled its way into the public consciousness. Anyone designing a social media network should keep in mind that success is ephemeral in the internet age and that one needs only look back roughly a decade to see all of the companies, platforms, programs and their ilk that have fallen out of public favor. We are no longer beholden to brand loyalty, which is probably what separates Baby Boomers from their children regarding the strongest sense of disconnect.
Today Facebook, tomorrow something else. Whatever comes afterward will probably have to be monitored, too, but my belief in our economic system was that so long as we cling to Adam Smith’s invention, we will have to be our own regulators, but neither does this mean that all of our efforts should be devoted to plugging the dam. I have no doubt that if we adopted socialism wholesale we’d need to be mindful of its shortcomings as well, but neither should we be utterly consumed with finding fault. Life is too short.
Dec 08 2009
I posted this on naranja a year or so ago. I meant to repost it here this November…I got into a lot of sadness and forgot.
But here it is again. A Thanksgiving essay, a little late.
Or maybe not so much, as Molly Ivins might have said.
I found it and pasted it from DK. I thought about editing it, but decided, no.
This what and where I was then, last year around this time. It’s a little rough, I know. It could use trimming.
But I think I got the passion right, and I don’t want to risk trimming the passion.
Nov 23 2009
I thought I’d do something different today for comparison’s sake. With everyone sufficiently indignant at our banking system, our government’s response, and at the abuses within the Bailout, I thought I might provide some needed contrast. The details which follow first are the literal steps one has no choice but to follow to attain food stamps in Washington, DC. I pulled certain phrases off of an advocacy website PDF here but the construction is largely mine.
How to Obtain Food Stamps in the District of Columbia
1. Sit in line at the Food Stamp office nearest you and, while waiting, fill out a 12 page form.
Print the form and fill out all 12 pages.
2. To make sure you do not try to cheat the system, you will first be required to reveal your
a) Household income
b) Cash present on hand
c) Rent and utility costs
3. You will then be asked to provide
a) where you work (if you are, in fact, employed)
b) your employer’s name and telephone number
c) when you started working for them
d) how much your paycheck is before taxes
e) and how often you get paid
4. If you or anyone else in your household makes some degree of income, repeat step 3
5. If you have a bank account, you are required to prove it by providing a bank statement
6. If you own anything else besides your home, you are required to state that you do.
7. If you have stocks and/or bonds, please respond in in the affirmative.
8. Did you sell, trade, or give away anything more than $1,000 in the past three (3) years? If so, please mark “yes” and attach a description to this form.
9. Provide the exact dollar amount of that which you pay in rent. Don’t forget to leave out utilities if not included in rent and whether or not you pay for air-conditioning and heating costs separate from your rent.
10. Mail form. Wait approximately three and a half weeks for a reply, only to be told after four separate phone calls spent futilely trying to speak to an actual person that, due to a severe backlog in unprocessed claims, it may be up to a month and a half before your paperwork is processed.
Drop off form at Food Stamps office. Speak to case worker after waiting for several hours. Turn in form. Wait approximately three and a half weeks for a reply, only to be after four separate phone calls futilely trying to speak to an actual person that, due to a severe backlog in unprocessed claims, it may be up to a month and a half before your paperwork is processed.
12. Keep waiting.
13. Finally receive form in mail informing of date to meet with caseworker to determine whether Food Stamps will be granted. Date is eight business days from when one received notice.
14. Collect necessary documentation to prove identity. This includes:
a) Photo ID/Drivers’ license
b) Recent rent receipt, copy of lease, mortgage payment, or landlord’s name and phone number.
c) Proof of income, last three pay stubs, VA benefits, educational scholarships, grants or loans, unemployment payments, or your employer’s name and phone number.
d) Proof of Housing Expense: Recent rent or mortgage payment receipts. This includes receipts of all recent utility bill(s): phone, gas, electric, and water. All of these documents must have your address printed on them.
e) Bank statements: If one has an account at a bank or credit union, bring a recent bank statement or bankbook. Also if you have any other type of financial account (for example, a CD) be sure to bring that, too.
f) Social Security Card
g) Proof of any Assets: Bring proof of ownership for buildings, land, policies, burial arrangements or plots, and/or other property (not your home that you stay in) you reported in your application.
15. After all hoops have been jumped through and forms brought to the attention and signed off by the appropriate party, wait for judgment about food stamps.
16. Ten days later, judgment is granted. Realize that $100.12 per month means approximately one week’s worth of groceries for one person. Shrug and say to self that every little bit matters.
17. Attend mandatory EBT Card (Food Stamp) card training before receiving. Training lasts approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
18. Proceed directly to grocery store.
How to Obtain Bailout Money in the District of Columbia
1. Be a CEO of a large financial institute.
2. State that you are nearly bankrupt, but too big to fail.
3. Collect emergency funds.