Telling the Truth

January 21, 2017

 

Inauguration day.    

 

More important than what's happening in Washington DC today is my intention, like so many others right now,  to say something that I feel to be deeply true.  Two parts there.  I want to exercise my VOICE; and, I want to speak my TRUTH.  Today is a day to be very intentional, and very proud to be an American who, thanks to so many others long dead and forgotten, can do just this. 

 

Millions of people are marching this weekend to protest this new president and the awful era he has commenced.  Millions of words have been written now as well, including a few thousand of mine.  I've read great stuff this week.  I was amazed to learn about Ken Ward, a quiet but determined ecoterrorist who's risking his freedom to physically stop the destruction of the planet.  I also met, through his Dark Ecology essay in Orion Magazine , Paul Kingsnorth, a British environmentalist who's teaching how to live through a time of stupendous losses and crushing futility.  As for the political catastrophe -- George Lakos and George Saunders have done remarkable thinking and writing to help make sense of an oxymoron: Trump's appeal. 

 

These four, Ward, Kingsnorth, Lakos and Saunders, stand out for me because of how they receive and accept.  Ward and Kingsnorth accept that protests are totally inconsequential to stopping permanent damage to the earth. Lakos accepts that Donald Trump is a master salesman and very, very smart (at selling, at least). Saunders attended Trump rallies last summer, driving across the entire country.  He came to see and accept that American presidential campaigns aren't about ideas; they are about selecting a hero to embody the prevailing national ethos.  For millions of Americans, Donald Trump is heroic.  

 

I wish that none of these things were true but each feels true to me in turn.  

 

And they may not be true at all because I live in in a filter-bubble, just like everyone else.  I've selected my Twitter feed, podcasts and subscriptions and it's through these media that I make sense of the world. Nowadays the algorithms know what you're looking for (or looked for, to be precise) and so further encroach on our freedom to ingest information of our choosing.  But long before the pop-up ads and follower suggestions appear, I've already decided that I'm going to the New Yorker, EconTalk, Team Human, Clusterfuck Nation and Peak Prosperity for my news and commentary.  I am just as prone to confirmation bias as everyone else.  Should we just go ahead and name Confirmation Bias in the DSM-5 as a national mental disorder, given that everyone now has the evidence and allies to prove whatever the hell they believed in the first place?  The country does seem to have gone mad.  Perhaps this is why.   

 

What are we supposed to do in a post-factual world?  The Saunders article in particular reminds how people are so sure of themselves. You don't need facts when you've got beliefs, to paraphrase something that Chris Martenson says often. And it's never more true than when faced with complexity, uncertainty or fear -- qualities that color so much of our lives these days and which elections and candidates play upon.   

 

So yes, it's impossible to know exactly what's going on.  The best we can do, I think, is to go past ourselves and our wish for how we want things to be, to visit the places and ideas of how things actually are.  There are facts to be discovered and understood.  In my own life, I've taken great pleasure in studying the world and accepting my perception of it, insofar as I can.  That we are part and parcel of a real, unbroken, everything-all-at-once experience is how I understand Zen Buddhism, which explains my initial attraction to zen and my longstanding practice of it.   I freely admit to the mystery of our existence, and that of all creation, and so am aware of how incomplete my knowledge will always be.  Said differently: the facts tell a lot, but they fail to tell more.  

 

I'm drawn to a certain kind of truth-telling - the Ward/Kingsnorth/Lakoff/Saunders and Wendell Berry kind. I'm not sure I can describe its DNA.  Part of it is the facing up to the tragic side of life and another part, perhaps related, is the acknowledgement of the human condition as being fantastically limited and fantastically misunderstood.  The irony of course is that life is sweeter, more joyous, more real and therefore more miraculous for those who can see the world in its darkest hues.  Every single writer/teacher I've encountered has experienced this phenomenon.  I've enjoyed it myself.   And I enjoy it most reliably when I read Wendell.  Despite the great divide between our religious traditions, landscapes, heritage and occupations, Mr. Berry feels like a kindred spirit to me, and I'm using "kindred" as a nod to his teaching.  For me, it's a bonus that he's a conscientious Christian and a farmer.  I am neither.  That puts him well outside my bubble. 

 

The essay I'm working through in Our Only World, Our Deserted Country, is a 50-pager that doesn't lend itself to a quick and easy take-down.  I intend to write about it in sections, beginning next time with why I think Mr. Berry must be shaking his head over the Trump thing and especially the economic explanations that are being cited for the election outcome.  

 

This has been a more personal post today and it will be good to get back on the Walk next week.  I find that my companion is able, through his own vast scholarship and observation, to help me see the world more clearly than when I walk alone.  Which raises one final truth that I'm willing to stand on:  we see better and do better when we stay together.  This might be the biggest weakness of this new President and his administration and followers.  They thrill at the rhetoric of unity but have a pathetic grasp of its true power and meaning.  It's a pretty old truth too.  Wendell says to "be alone" is actually a contradiction in terms.   He got that from the Book of Genesis.   

 

 

 

 

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