ALCHEMY OF WORDS
ALCHEMY OF WORDS
How do we see our way out?
The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky not-so-famously said, "Perhaps it is beauty that will save us in the end." I couldn't agree more. And I wrote a piece for Rebelle Society in 2013 on why our most important job is to find beauty. It was true then and it is true now.
I've written before how the world is broken, in many, many ways. And how it is also beautiful. And that we should focus more on the beauty. And I have been criticized for saying that kind of thing, because people mistook it for some kind of spiritual bypass, or they said it was born of white privilege. But despite this criticism, I have never been one to shy away from the full picture. So let's talk about the broken parts for a minute. Let's not shy away or paint glossy pictures of unicorns with rainbows coming out of their nether regions. Let's talk about the state of our modern world.
When this piece was originally written, people were still reeling from a mass shooting in Vegas. The one where one shooter with an arsenal of 23 guns, including semi-automatics and hundreds and hundreds of rounds of ammo, caused unimaginable pain, injury, death, and chaos. By the time you read this, the talk of reasonable gun control may have quieted, and the great majority of the nation may have gone back to sleep. But I hope not. I hope that we are all still talking about how we can fix the many things that are broken in our country. Because the way I see it, they are all connected.
I'll start with a list of what I see is broken, those things I believe have contributed to the state of our world. The poverty, the crime, the mass anxiety and hopelessness, and the every-other day mass shootings, as well as other catastrophes, including the 2008 financial crisis from which we are still recovering:
1. Unfathomable disparity in income distribution. We do not live in a free market. The US grants something like $125 billion or more a year in corporate welfare. And that does not include tax loopholes and offshore accounts. Meanwhile more than 43 million Americans live in poverty. There are 6 heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune who have amassed more wealth than over 100 million Americans. This is not because they are smarter or work harder or are just luckier. It is a rigged system. Add to this the fact that because those 6 people do not pay their full time employees a living wage, our tax dollars must pay for those employees' food stamps. To the tune of $6.2 billion. In another not-so-far-off time, where we weren't all distracted by our smart phones and social media approval, we'd be marching with torches to tear down their walls. And there would be guillotines waiting.
2. A Congress filled with people who do not give a shit about you. Sure, there have been outliers: Franken, Sanders, Warren. But mostly Congress cares about getting re-elected and amassing secret wealth on the side that they do not need to disclose while they refuse to pass legislation preventing them from capitalizing on insider knowledge. The NRA, big banks, big insurance, big oil, and their ilk have each of them by the balls. If you don't believe me, just look at the numerous recent efforts to give billionaires tax cuts while throwing millions of Americans off health care.
It is hard for my mind to wrap around how absurd this is. Mostly because of the fundamental truth that billionaires do not need tax cuts. They wouldn't even notice them. Which leads me to the real problem, which is not greed and corruption, but figuring out why we haven't risen up against this nonsense. Why is it that vast numbers of Americans, who will not benefit from these policies, will likely still re-elect most of these politicians next term. We must correct this problem before any other progress can be made.
3. #45. Look, I sort of get his selling point for some people. We are sick of business as usual in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere in politics. (See numbers 1 and 2, above.) We want big change. We want to break the system into tiny pieces and rebuild it. But this guy was never going be the solution. This guy is the problem. He is the poster boy for The Sociopathic Capitalists Society (except for the ironic fact that he has apparently been propped up by a communist mafia since the 90s). But more troubling than that, he seems to be a bona fide moron on just about every topic there is. Even more troubling than the fact that he doesn't know things, as George Will noted, is the fact that he does not seem to know what it is to know something. That so many millions of people voted for him, and that so many numbers continue to support him, despite his daily incompetence, is disheartening to say the least, and frankly beyond comprehension;
4. The archaic, dysfunctional, and misguided judicial system. We have a Supreme Court who has perpetuated many of our current problems. Including decisions that: (1) grossly misinterpret the second amendment as to allow the NRA to continue its bullying and to allow Americans to stockpile lots of guns that are designed only to kill many, many people very, very quickly. Say from the 32nd floor of a hotel; or (2) the one that equates money with speech and has allowed big money to take over our elections; or (3) the one that gave away the Presidency to a guy who lost the election. And then there is the obvious problem of privately-owned prison systems. And if you can't see the problem with that, just consider how these people would make money if the prisons weren't full. And what a conflict of interest that is for the so-called departments of justice. And consider that the majority of people in federal prison are there for non-violent drug offenses. Many of which are for drugs that are now legal in several states;
5. Our belief in otherness. Despite the infuriating reality of the first four enumerated paragraphs, this is probably the most troubling. From religions, to skin colors, to languages, it seems it is human nature to fear what we do not understand, what is different from us, and how we do things. And maybe there is some anthropological good cause for this. But we have greatly exaggerated its usefulness in the modern era. It is time to build bridges to each other, not walls. Our prejudices far outweigh our curiosity, and we need to flip that.
Maybe you knew someone affected by the Mandalay Bay shooting in Vegas. Or any of the countless mass shootings that happen every year. Maybe just the pure senselessness of any of them have shaken you. Whatever the case, how many wake up calls do we need? How many times, after the immediate shock of another mass shooting, another financial collapse, another election of a dangerous and willfully ignorant sociopath, another avoidable environmental disaster, another murder of an unarmed black man, another attempted racially-motivated travel ban, will we roll over and hit the snooze button? We must demand more from ourselves and our leaders.
And though it may seem counter-intuitive, one of the things we must demand of ourselves is that we spend more time finding beauty in the world. And also more time creating it. Because finding and creating beauty will, without a doubt, change you and the world.
As I have written before:
We have stacked so much rubbish on top of ourselves, that our true beauty, and the beauty of everyone and everything are buried under our prejudices, our beliefs, our pages and pages of worn out stories. Dig yourself out. Brush yourself off. Throw away the never-ending manuscript of why you can’t.
The world is neither this thing nor that thing. It is not our ideas of how it is or of how it should be. The world is the world. Like love, the world contains all possibilities. All darks and lights, all ups and downs, all rainbows of doubt and joy, hardship and pleasure. But I want you to forget all that.
Your job is to find beauty.