Thursday, February 22, 2018


Al Pacino in "Dog Day Afternoon"

As our public troubles get scarier and more incoherent, I’ve taken a “gopher” approach to them.  That means “going deeper.”  In fact, as deep as I can go, given the new knowledge provided by science and humanities.  This post is where I am now, still new and “wet.”  It sounded good at 3AM.  

Groups can be formed by geopolitical forces, which are generally based on areas defined by the land and the culture it shapes.  This is the principle in “Game of Thrones” which is based on the history of Europe when cultures were at war.  The time was at the brink of inventing nations by finally agreeing on boundaries.  Everyone inside this boundary was obligated to the primary leaders by taxes, conscription, and economic control.  The boundary might be drawn by surveying or by natural features such as rivers or mountains and it was recorded on paper maps.  Each country will have its own metaphors (consult Lakoff), whether horses, glaciers, tall ships, or dragons.  Or eagles or bears.

Within the boundary of France, a citizen was French and spoke French -- the French king was in charge.  This was sometimes on paper and through marriage to provide the continuity of inheritance.  At first a way of reaching peace by definition and enforcing the edges, it became a kind of “reality” that taught people to believe in categories, boxes, definitions, and authority that came from a King/God, as recorded in books and treaties.  Everything was hierarchical, so that above nations' royals, was the Pope. If you lived in Europe, you were Christian Roman Catholic or you were nothing, outside the bounds legally even if physically within.

When the Protestant movement appeared, it created “magnetic” political groups formed by central concepts that attracted people on the basis of allocation of primary power to something valued for itself, rather than value assigned by history, authority, nationality, or any other boundaries.  The physical “parish” in which every person was the business of the priest was challenged by the new mental/emotional “gathered” congregations of thought positions: freedom, self-regulation (sovereignty), commonality of ideals, the bonds of friendship and kinship.  Some even refused the authority of clergy freely chosen, insisting on persuasion instead.

I’m coming to this from several directions.  One is through religious groups who separated on the basis of dogma.  (Objecting to the idea of the Trinity, or the idea of infant baptism)  Congregations are always socio-economic, either in their commonality of life-ways to begin with, or as a developed mutual interest in security and progress.  People of about the same wealth and education tend to stay together.  Gender politics are also interesting to think about in this way, the same individual choice versus the survival of the whole.

When the European pattern reached the Americas, it smashed into the quite different social systems of that continent.  This other kind of group was the pre-existing oral cultures of tribes that had existed for millennia, clustered and shaped within ecologies:  buffalo hunters, fish catchers, corn-growers, and so on.  Boundaries among them were fluid, based on circumstances.  Internally they were composite, originating from extended families that grew, spun off sub-groups, or withered.  This is organic growth and shaping, like species evolving via mutations or global shifts in resources.  

The group (nation or religion) that is based on writing, treaties, and war is focused on keeping things the same, because otherwise they’d have to renegotiate borders and laws, to say nothing of deposing the authorities.  The great gift of humans is to be able to adjust, to redefine, and to track ideas so that it takes the giant forces of volcanoes and floods to overwhelm our ability to stay where we are.  But that’s painful.

The organic group that simply responds and suggests governance through stories, particularly oral tales of survival, keeps both its strength and weakness in its identity, which gives rise to values and rhetoric.  (We are the people.)  And war.  The two kinds of groups can crash into each other in ways that are irreconcilable because they are unconscious.  Each kind cannot understand the other and anyway isn’t motivated to try.  Emotional convictions of identity are the plate tectonics of cultures.  Giving up one’s identity feels like death.

Someone sent me a video of testimony from women of color who are shipwrecked on the shoals and reefs of denominational rules and practices.
They are “Oprahs”, invested in love and justice which they demand must protect them and give them access to the mainstream.  Internet videos have amplified these women’s power until it is capable of dethroning old white men who are dependent on entitlement guarantees based on written rules and constitutions.  Reservation people know this kind of woman very well and we do not make enemies of them.  In the earliest days they did not make war but rather ran trading posts where they learned multiple languages and understood what was valuable.  They became diplomats.

Now we’re in a time of conflicting worldviews with few people being well-grounded in any of them “purely,” but rather hop-scotching among contexts, jumping back and forth between systems.  Last night I watched “Dog Day Afternoon,” which I hadn’t seen before — I think because I confused it with “Reservoir Dogs” which I haven’t seen either.  Both seem to be about a social phenomenon which arises when there is so much chaos that gangs form according to their own interests.  (Some of them are real estate developers.)  

When these self-interested sub-groups begin to believe they are an effective reality and can control everyone else, they are wiped out.  If necessary, by lethal violence.  If they are lucky, by arrest and incarceration.  Listening to “Sonny” trying to cope with  bank robbery one can hear him switching among moralities — one minute allowing women to use the restroom and the next minute threatening to kill them, one minute with a conventional wife and the next with an unconventional wife who is not even staying the same gender.  Sal has no system: he’s paralyzed.  Everyone’s a narcissist.  “Being on TV” is equated with being a valuable person.  Being patted down for weapons is equated with sexual interaction that sets the crowd to hooting.

The mechanism of much of this is described as “respect,” meaning access to full membership in what is seen as a “better,” more high class, wealthier sort of group.  Like old tribal chief fathers, which is a group dating back to Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his own son, cutting off his own “nose” in order to save face.  He “respected” God, but did God respect him?

Now God is considered dead and the children must save us all from unjustified political demands for respect and obedience.  They rise up from the sacrificial altars and begin to march.  A new culture is forming on this continent, probably more like the pre-European ones.  I hope so.

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