Fear or Hatred?

Aphorisms, Truth Vs. Fact

I must confess I have a weakness for aphorisms. There’s something about the taut simplicity and economy of words that feels like enlightenment. And of course, that’s the point. A well-worded aphorism should feel that way. For refresher’s sake, an aphorism is:

    “a concise statement of a truth, principle or sentiment.” (Merriam-Webster’s dictionary)

In the interests of short-circuiting philosophical debates about what is epistemically knowable, I’m going to focus on the principle or sentiment aspect, rather than “truth.” Truth drags way too much intellectual baggage around with it, especially today. Personally, I tend to look at aphorisms like a Zen Koan. Aphorisms are not neither wisdom nor truth. They are signposts along the way. Work with me, here.

Fear or Hatred?

The last couple years there’s been a lot of angst richocheting around our country over our “direction,” the polarized divisiveness, intolerance, etc. It’s been argued that #MAGA and the “success” 45 is rooted in all that angst. And it has been hypothesized that the angst in which that success is grounded had its origins in the financial collapse of 2008 or the Obama presidency. As if racism, divisiveness or political hyperbole is new. But this is the United States, after all and historical perspective often gets lost in our quest for simple solutions implemented today and effective tomorrow.

What do you think? Fear or Hatred?

You will likely recall Mohandus Gandhi as the renowned, non-violent activist and the father of India’s independence from Britain, in the late 1940s. Gandhi based his opposition to British hegemony on non-violence and religious pluralism. Given India’s religious and cultural diversity, it isn’t difficult to understand why. The aphorism above is attributed to him.

It would be hard to miss its apparent relevance today. But if you’re also a student of history, you’re painfully aware of how it turned out for Gandhi personally, and for what subsequently happened in India…not to mention how radically times have changed since.

All that aside, it still feels true, at some level. Does not intolerance, suspicion and uncertainty have some grounding in our fears? If so, does it follow then, that fear is the enemy or is there something else going on? At the risk of disagreeing with someone  whose teachings, life and moral courage I admire, I think it’s a little more complicated.

Are we what we fear?

For the record, I am not contemptuous of fear, or people who feel it. As a retired Marine officer, big wave surfer and snow skier, I’ve learned a little about it and understand how debilitating it can be. Fear is often rational and justified. But while  fear may be rational, it does not follow that our response to it will be. 

My experiences with my own fear factors have taught me that fear,  Mr. Gandhi’s thoughts notwithstanding is not the enemy. Misdirected fear, or harnessed to the wrong purpose,  is. In both cases, fear replaces reason, often to our sorrow. 

Okay, so what and why now, particularly? Fair question. These are fearful times. Uncertainty can do that to us, if we let it. And we seem to be letting it do that a lot, of late. It tracks along behind us in our personal finances, unless you happen to be one of the exceptionally fortunate. It shrieks at us in the howling winds of hurricanes and typhoons and leers at us in the flames consuming hundreds of thousands of acres in a matter of days. It’s even visible in the eyes of our children whose short memories have no frame of reference for our times.

Through the shadowed forest.

Courage and Hope.

But as fearful as the times may seem and as trite as hope sounds as a remedy, in the jaded 2nd decade of the 21st Century, we must nevertheless hope. Individually and collectively we are larger than what we fear and greater than our challenges. All that stands in the way of our success is are clear eyes, open minds and the conviction that we can craft a future in which the fulfillment of all is not merely possible, but in all of our individual best interests. 

Courageous men and women do not give in to their fears and they certainly don’t allow the fears to morph into hatred or tribalism. Both inevitably consume. Individually and collectively, courageous women and men connect and find inspiring beauty and wisdom in diversity and difference.  We are one by choice. Not by color or by philosophy but by conscious choice and a devotion to the best in all of us. Today, look a brother or sister you don’t know in the eye…and see yourself.

Individuality Vs. Society

Art and the Slippery Slope...

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the latest reading sponsored by “Lit-Up, A Conversation Between Local Authors and Readers.” Sponsored by Pure Fiction League & thoughtfully hosted by Maddie Margarita, it’s one of the true highlights of my month. I never willingly miss it.

One of the readings, Hard Bite, chosen by Book People/Mystery People as one of the five best debut novels of 2013. this month was given by Elaine Ash, under one of her Noms de Plume, Anonymous-9. 

In Hard Bite, a crippled man nearly killed by a reckless driver takes it upon himself to become an avenging angel for people he deems worthy of an awful death, using a Capuchin Monkey as his weapon of choice.

Lit-Up Orange

For this reading, the avenging angel has selected a target whose crime is to have sideswiped a mother of four, killing her and orphaning four children in the process. The law has been unable to locate him, but our avenging angel has connections and secures “justice” the law has been unable to provide.

A quick word on Elaine’s writing before I cut to my point. Her command of language, artful manipulation of readers’ empathy couples in  this novel with a delightful sense of humor to render an otherwise outrageous and (in places) macabre story both thoughtful and  entertaining. The reading, however, did spark a discussion and I’m going to share it with you.

Elaine’s skillful manipulation of readers’ emotions was noted, which in turn led one of the folks in the audience speculated that author’s sympathetic treatment of the vigilante murderer could be construed by some to be tacit approval and his observation raised (obliquely), the question of an author’s ethical responsibility. Some, he opined, might conclude as a result of her treatment of the murderer that it was somehow okay to take the law into our own hands when the law itself failed. 

Setting aside for the moment that Hard Bite is a work of fiction designed to entertain, does the question raised remain valid? What if any lessons do readers take away from the works they read in books or see in films? Scientific inquiry into the correlation between viewing violent content and a propensity toward violence in any form is mixed. An APA study spanning a fifteen year period showed a positive correlation between violent content viewed during the formative years 6-10. But as Psychology Today notes in one of their posts to their online magazine, correlation between ideation and action remains an open question and stories of lawbreakers with altruistic intent are literally cultural bedrock.

Leverage-an updated Robin Hood

Whether it’s the story of Robin Hood or the long-running series starring Timothy Hutton and Co. in “Leverage,” there’s a persistent theme in western liberal democracies that organizations (business in particular) cannot be trusted. The time-honored traditions  of organizational mistrust are often well-earned.

 And it is that same organizational mistrust that attaches naturally to our ubiquitous federal government. It’s not hard to understand why, if you’ve been paying attention. A pretty strong argument can be made suggesting we have the president we do precisely because of that same organizational mistrust.

The Donald speaks...

Depending on how you view “the Donald,” that’s either a good or a bad thing. As a  retired Marine officer, by whatever metric I use, he comes up short. Admittedly that’s just my opinion, albeit an informed one, I think. Quite apart from unproven allegations of conspiracy to influence the 2016 election, Mr. Trump’s choices for his cabinet, his abandonment of our allies and his sophomoric rants on Twitter the fiscally disastrous tax cut leave me in little doubt as to his legacy in the arc of history. 

Which brings us full circle to my scare-head, “Art and  the Slippery Slope.” As an author and (hopefully) artist, I am fundamentally opposed to formalized (or worse) institutionalized censorship. I oppose it for the same reason I oppose censorship of the press, even in the face of the (sometimes) grotesque abuse of truth. If you’re guilty, you know who you are. But as with anything that attaches to the public good, we all have an obligation to safeguard it. 

Artists believe we are entitled, even “obligated” to show our readers or viewers truth as we perceive it…even when it is uncomfortable or offensive. I hear you, agree and support you. To that support let me add a couple cautionary thoughts. If your truth has power, are you quite certain of their target? The more powerful the truth the more potentially destructive. And what, pray, will you replace what you are potentially eroding? Just a thought…