Saturday, August 31, 2019


The American "West," which is really the prairie since the coast is actually west and what we call the West is east of the Rockies, is almost as defined by sentiment as it is by actual geography.  The same goes for the state of Montana, which once defined a kind of writing or at least it's quality.  Now that "emotional" felt thought is given the attention it deserves in relation to the logical, reasonable, results-based thought, I want to look at the "felt" in relation to the American West trope.

I thought of doing this with fiction, using my experience in Browning in the Sixties as a source.  But why not go directly to the events and thoughts which are fifty years old now and safe from motives of vengeance (very Western)?

Not that we've escaped the mystique of the indigenous people of the prairie, the ones on horseback with feathers, the ones who have transmuted into dance pow-wows with whirls of frenzied moves, so many florescent flying ribbons and dyed plumes that it's hard to see the person at the center.  The same forces have made the tough, dusty work of early livestock-based ranches into bull-riding spectaculars that introduce the contestants with explosions and search-lights.  Buffalo Bill may have started both, but he would faint if he saw these.

Back to the Sixties when the sentimental love of art about horseback culture, both indigenous and introduced, against a vast background of distant horizon and baroque skies, dominated whole galleries.  The individual who pushed this was Charlie Russell (or maybe actually his wife).  Remington was a back east representative, a man so fat that horses groaned, a painter of Indians so fond of handsome young military men . . . This art was around in many forms, some of them more focused on landscape or animals.  

Sentiment also dominated the movies but not so much the TV shows of the Fifties when Westerns were a theme of many series.  I've called them "stand down" movies for the men who fought WWII.  The plots often opposed the passionate gut reactions of Rowdy Yates (Clint Eastwood) to the reasoned strategy of Mr. Favor (Eric Fleming).  This was the "magic" of the show which was cancelled when Fleming died in 1965. The basic drive died.  We know what happened to the emotional Eastwood by now -- he's far to the right, treats women badly.

Teaching on the Blackfeet Rez was wildly romantic.  I was the only person in town who was charmed by finding a group of horses grazing in my yard.  I didn't see manure, only "Green Grass of Wyoming."  Like many Western stories, this book came from the real life romance of a woman linked to a narcissistic man.  Exceptionally capable, charismatic, achieving men in the West have often depended on women or a series of women falling under their spell.  Bob Scriver was no exception and his mother was one of the women.

Wessie MacFie Scriver, the cosseted daughter of a prosperous farmer near Quebec, had no doubts about her entitlements and the proper qualities of a sentimental home.  By the time I knew her, she was old and had at least the illusion of what she had originally expected, but if it hadn't been for the fancied adventure of life with Thaddeus Emory Scriver in Indian Country, she might not have come.  In fact, once she had produced an heir and a spare, she thought to go home to Quebec.  That idea faded in the supposed reality of safety and comfort, the romance of being the mother of sons -- much intensified when they served in WWII.  None of this was rational and much of it was powered by the Edwardian culture in Britain/Canada carried to the American West.

When I had pneumonia just as entering puberty, the neighborhood doctor saved me from what had previously been near-certain death with a shot of penicillin in my little butt.  I was mortified by my exposure but soon began to recover.  Next to my bed was one of the floor-to-ceiling bookcases my father built against every wall.  I found "Riders of the Purple Sage" (1912), as potent a mixture of romantic love and the romantic West as ever written and at exactly the formative time of my identity.  It wasn't until I read "Marjorie Morningstar" (1955) in high school that "art" and "theatre", both intensely romantic in the Manhattan way, became an element in my ardent drive to be exceptional.  (Jewish never quite came into it, one way or another.)  Of course, Jo in "Little Women" had already made it acceptable to fall in love with an older man like Professor Bhaer.

A hard-headed therapist looking at this little plotlet would have had a lot to say about father-hunger (my father was subtly disabled by a concussion), oldest-child syndrome, and sneaky Christianity.  The elementary school librarian said casually as she handed me a copy of "Pilgrim's Progress" (1672), "I think you are mature enough to read this."  I was very earnest about religion, to the point of disabling any belief in the church's fantasies so that I was offended to the point of beginning a long search, as much rational as sentimental.  But I did love things like "Mother's Day" in our little Presbyterian church when we carried the tables out to the yard, spread beautiful tablecloths, and each wore a rose -- red for a living mother and white for a dead mother.  Wartime makes a romance of death and mothers.  ("Little Women")

This is plenty of stuff for fiction, but in terms of fact, romance is a matter of attachment, often on the basis of familiarity.  The taste, temperature, and tactile become literally part of our system.  It is a force for valuing and preservation that is biologically based, kept in cell chemistry.  Now that Westerns like "Yellowstone" justify corruption, power, and violence and try to make us sentimental about status and bonds between men, the terms of the Western are confused.  Check this out:  Commodifying the PowWow.  Got quite a backlash from those who guard the fence around a certain kind of "Indian."

In fact, my favorite contemporary Western is Australian, "Mystery Road" (2013)  This link is to the trailer for the second story, but it doesn't have Judy Davis in it which is a serious shortcoming.

Friday, August 30, 2019


The usual words attached to sentimentality are "maudlin, cloying, contrived, sickly" and I've gone along with that, but was brought up short by the information that our classic American authors consciously considered "sentiment" to be a legitimate philosophical idea.  In modern terms it translates to attachment, visceral comfort, and justification.  Is not our concern for children sentimental?  Why otherwise would a small not-yet-formed human be more important than a potent fully developed man with a role in the world?  Why else would we give a care to the people living on the sidewalk in rag tents?  Sentiment is often portrayed as an indulgence of prosperous people -- not the ultra rich, but the comfortable. 

This is from the unknown writer in Wikipedia:  "In the mid-18th century, a querulous lady had complained to Richardson: "What, in your opinion, is the meaning of the word sentimental, so much in vogue among the polite...Everything clever and agreeable is comprehended in that word...such a one is a sentimental man; we were a sentimental party". What she was observing was the way the term was becoming a European obsession—part of the Enlightenment drive to foster the individual's capacity to recognise virtue at a visceral level. Everywhere in the sentimental novel or the sentimental comedy, "lively and effusive emotion is celebrated as evidence of a good heart". Moral philosophers saw sentimentality as a cure for social isolation; and Adam Smith indeed considered that "the poets and romance writers, who best paint...domestic affections, Racine and Voltaire; Richardson, Maurivaux and Riccoboni; are, in such cases, much better instructors than Zeno" and the Stoics."

I'm more or less signed up with the Stoics because of my stiff-necked attitude of right and wrong.  But also because this was my mother's unexpressed but lived philosophy of sucking it up when times are tough. She covered it up with sentiment, but her sentiment broke over grief when things didn't turned out as they should.  My stoicism is more like resistance to authority, including hers.  I was one of those things that didn't turn out.

When the last "new" version of "Little Women" came out in the movies, I invited my mother to go see it, but she refused as she did for all the old familiar beloved films, because she remembered them with such affection and a kind of virtual reality of fiction.  So recently I watched the "Masterpiece Theatre" version but was braced to protect my generation's version with Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, and June Allyson as Jo.  Who the heck played Meg?  This fancy PBS version was rich with period detail, particularly the kind of "white" clothes made possible by needlework before the sewing machine -- all frills, ruffles, detail, embroidery.  It was unquestionably sentimental in the way that "Uncle Tom's Cabin," "Black Beauty", and "Mrs. Wiggs in the Cabbage Patch" were, powerful enough to be engines of progressivism.   In fact, the novels of my grandmothers which I read at the age of formation -- by Gene Stratton-Porter in particular -- were novels of sentimental feeling.  Even our contemporary porny romance films subscribe to sentimental philosophy, depending on your gut reaction to them being a guide.

Much of Montana and other parts of the West were "settled" (invaded) by resource-exploiting New England men with sentimental wives, which was interpreted as being genteel and cultured.  This meant the relationship to the indigenous and pre-existing people was conflicted.  At least it provoked the novels of Wallace Stegner and A. B. Guthrie, Jr.  I cross this divide when I came to Browning because of my alliance with Bob Scriver, who was born there in 1914 and whose family was uneasily disturbed by it.

I often think about writing fiction that would exploit the phenomenon of the West-depicting artist in the Sixties and challenge the sentimentality.  I just read an essay by John Williams written the year I graduated from undergrad college (1961).  I don't know why it is being reread now and I never read any of his novels.  He suggests that the Western is a reaction to two New England forces:  the Calvinist strictness of the founding English church and the Emersonian rethinking of it to make allowance for sentiment, particularly something like German nature worship.  That is, his viscera respond to the land.  Williams never makes a comparison to the powerful callous money-making father versus the tender, comforting love of the home-making mother.  So I'll claim it.

In the same online session I came across Siobhan Leddy's essay about Ursula LeGuin's historical thread contrasting the woman's "carrier bag, sling, shell or gourd."  (She doesn't bring into it the womb.) She contrasts this to the male spear's "phallic murderous logic."  So it would be easy to use what I know about Bob Scriver's prior-to-art business of taxidermy -- not distorted, arsenic-poisoned, amateur taxidermy which has taken a drubbing from recent tales -- but a serious attempt to reverse death.

Old ranchers, often tribal people, were aware of difficulties that arose between Bob and I.  One said to me, "I always thought Scriver worked his women too hard."  (I was the third of four.)  Others advised him that because I was of child-bearing age that I ought to have a baby.  The welcome substitute we shared was wildlife babies: bobcats, foxes, badgers, gophers, an eagle, and so on.  Some of them grew up sleeping between us.  

The dark side of the solution was that these pets were biologically programmed to separate and leave.  They did.  Sometimes they died.  So nurturing often ended in grief, until the marriage also ended. Then I gave birth to myself, but I never wanted a human baby, because of the possible grief.  "Marmee" sobs, "I can't control my girls if they DIE."

Links to the essays mentioned.

Thursday, August 29, 2019


Otherwise educated magazines are forever making big "alas" statements about the disappearance of religion.  What they really mean is that THEIR religion has weakened.  This quoted and linked article is an English comment on America which takes as diagnostic two aspects of the phenomenon of denominations: the formal creed and the practice of "signing up," maybe in an actual book.  I can't quote anymore of the article because of their pay wall.  This intro is supposed to make you want to sign up.  As though they were a religion.

"For anyone who studies Americans and their beliefs, the most startling phenomenon of recent times has been the rise of the religious “nones”. About a quarter of the total population, and about a third of those who became adults in the new millennium, identify with no creed. Some new figures suggest the flight from organised religion is even quicker than previously thought.

''The share of Americans who acknowledge being members of a religious group is falling much faster than the proportion who, perhaps loosely, hew to one faith tradition or another. Comparing 2016-2018 with the last three years of the 20th century, declared participants in organised religion have plunged by nearly 20 points to 52%. And among millennials, signing up to a church is a minority (42%) pursuit, according to Gallup, a venerable pollster."

Something happened twenty years ago.  Whether it was plotted or just was a response to conditions, it suggested a deep change to the point of subtly shifting everything.  Let's consider the possibility that it was a religious change or maybe an interval between "religious" aspects of life that were unsupported and a new one that is forming but quite different. This is very difficult to think about because what we call "religion" is so complex and often so unconscious.

It forms like a pearl, some sharp intrusion is so painful that it is coated with explanations, insights, aesthetics, group support, and safeguards.  Eventually it becomes a sphere with no entry point but much beauty, easy for those who wish a point of attachment.  Some say religion is an idea-ball that is whole and must not be broken because that will destroy its value.  Others reject the pearl idea altogether and see religion as seeking bravely and possibly individually. 

Here's a list of possible aspects, a list of pearls:

1.  God is dead so we can do what we want to, because He was the source of all commandments.  This is why people are doing so much bad stuff now.   We need God.

2.  Mental health is subjective and conditional.  It is possible for a Mafia Don to go to a good shrink and not leave his life, just be a happy and well-balanced criminal.  You could watch a show about it.  Why do you suppose this series is popular?

3.  Religion is about congregations and if one attends on Sunday, takes Communion with the "little cracker", as Trump calls it, that's enough.  It's little ceremonies done with a group of believers.  If you do the ceremonies well, they will be efficacious.  This is the millennia-old belief of the Mass, even without a congregation.  

4.  Religion is access to another realm beyond human knowledge or comprehension that can be reached by faith, believing in it.  It is magic, but vulnerable to tricks so fakers are dealt with harshly.

5.  Religion is a moral platform for doing the right thing, which is lined out for members either as rules or principles or as an expression of compassion.  Maybe sermons are needed to supply examples.

6.  Religion is a natural response to the world that is felt even by animals.  Moments of awe and wonder must be organic, real, not thought out.

7.  Religion is a source and justification for the order of the world and we must not let the differences among religions get entangled in government.  Keep them separate in order to preserve the precious, but still do work that might be dirty and dangerous.

8.  Religion is an organization with a name, a CEO, an income like taxes, a hierarchy, a building, a program of education, and a history.  There are a lot of religions in a democracy but that must not break the unity of the governing body.  The governing body must tolerate the plurality of private belief.

9.  Since all good religions come to the same principles (Golden Rule, etc.) it is legitimate and even desirable to use "themes" to organize worship that is a smorgasbord of prayer, hymn, liturgy, and ceremonies -- all from religions in other times and places.

10.  Religion is something we act upon in our daily lives whether it is consciously formed into a covenant or not.  Part of the work of meditation and prayer is trying to realize what drives or shelters us.

This short list is only some of the ways we explain religion.  It used to be waved around to make people do what society wanted, like not have sex before marriage.  Now we are faced with a question like "would it preserve life on this planet if all the humans were removed?" when human survival is the most primal drive.  The proof is that so many of us are still here.

One of the basic principles of many religions is the protection of the family and some of our destruction comes from our neglect of families and children.  In fact, at this moment in the US it's easy to prove that we are willing to destroy families and kill children, mostly those we call "brown" people, though they are actually just culturally different, thus vulnerable.  Mafia is a competing organizing government based on survival of their own families.  They stay secret because of using criminal methods. Why do the rest of us accept that?  Because stigma, not least that of using drugs, has taught us to be secret within our own small groups.  One drive of religion is safety.  Pointing out that the President is Mafia is dangerous.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


Every job I've applied for -- yes, even "dog-catcher" -- has required a test.  So did college: both undergrad admissions, and seminary.  Teaching, ministry, civil service -- all asked for paper and pencil tests plus interviews.  For the dog catcher job I was interviewed by a panel of six people.  One was a young black man who fell in love with my tales of rez life -- I'm pretty sure he's who got me the job.  He was willing to risk the first female, even if I were white.

If I applied to be a legislator, let alone the President of the United States, I wouldn't have to take a test.  Even if I did, the pressure and sudden challenges of the office itself might change me.  I read an essay once analyzing how Supreme Court Justices become more resourceful and humane after a few years of experience with difficult realities.  In the case of Trump, being in office for only a short time has been pouring accelerant on a house fire.  Some experts say by Christmas only a shell will be left.

At some point I took an MMPI, the Minnesota Multiple Personality Inventory.  There are new versions now.  I remember being interested but unmoved while others were quite angry, so it was probably when declaring interest in the UU ministry, which can attract some doozies.  Like Jim Jones, for instance.  The trouble with this sort of test is that it is framed up from inside the culture, so it reflects one point of view about what is extreme or normal.  

Bill Haw, the high school counselor, once had a test he used on teachers, which showed whether your culture were rattlesnake or cobra.  Covertly, it indicated whether your attitude to life was more as a Black or a White.  It was a good instrument for jogging the smug.

Once I had a conversation with David Pohl, who was the head of UUA ministerial placement at the time.  He said that both the congregations and the candidates were so various that it was hard to get a good match.  The colorful ones might get stuck in a safe gray church with painful results, or the other way around.

The most useless element for me was the psychological interview.  She gave me a Rorschach inkblot test that just looked blotto to me, and said she was Jewish and really had no idea what constituted a Xian minister.  She could not grasp the idea of a non-creedal mainstream denomination that included atheists.  So she asked me to describe myself, and I did, which was a mistake because I tend to be hard on myself and later people took the results seriously.

David Pohl said the single best indicator the UUA had for ministers was the first year of Clinical Pastoral Education which consisted of ten weeks in a hospital, prison, or high pressure industry.  The idea was to confront extreme emotion in high risk settings and then spend a few daily hours processing one's reactions and strategies.  My little group did well, but our supervisor flunked.  He was a UU minister.

For a while Myers-Briggs was a big fav, but now it's sort of degenerated into a bar pickup line on singles night.  The roots in Jungian theory are a bit neglected.

A newer test is the Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO PI-R), a personality inventory that examines a person's Big Five personality traits (openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism).  NEO-PI stands for Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness.  All the tests tend to concentrate on defects rather than virtues.

The Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) measures two pervasive, independent dimensions of personality, Extraversion-Introversion and Neuroticism-Stability, which account for most of the variance in the personality domain.

It's easy to imagine a person who is entirely charming and easily passes such tests, but also lies, steals, and rapes.  In fact, much literature comes from this possibility.  It is the source of much trouble.  We all thought Trump had lots of money and that his little jokes about women weren't serious.

In fact, we tend to react to political elections as though we were evaluating the character in murder mysteries.  The good-looking and familiar attract us.  Part of the trouble for people with color is that villains have been cast so much as dark people that the conceit has crept into our subconsciousnesses.  But old Nazi movies have backfired -- somehow they signal power and mix it with cruelty.  Less educated people tend to still use the moral principle of sentimentality that was strong in the 19th century.   One of the good things about Downton Abbey was that the Earl of Grantham, who held to those patriarchal principles, was constantly challenged without being hated or punished.

This general statement about psych testing is from:

"Psychological assessment is a process of testing that uses a combination of techniques to help arrive at some hypotheses about a person and their behavior, personality and capabilities. Psychological assessment is also referred to as psychological testing, or performing a psychological battery on a person. Psychological testing is nearly always performed by a licensed psychologist, or a psychology trainee (such as an intern). Psychologists are the only profession that is expertly trained to perform and interpret psychological tests.

"Psychological assessment should never be performed in a vacuum. A part of a thorough assessment of an individual is that they also undergo a full medical examination, to rule out the possibilities of a medical, disease or organic cause for the individual’s symptoms. It’s often helpful to have this done first, before psychological testing (as it may make psychological testing moot)."

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Nuking the hurricane is almost the same as the Biblical sowing the whirlwind.  A shift came about two decades ago, most commentators think, but they can't quite identify what caused the shift.  Was it economics?  Diminishing resources for too many people?  The end of the half-century ago arrangements we made after WWII, the world too changed to use the same measures?  Was it the internet?  Was it the realization that climate change had already affected the planet?

Why did we lose our taste for an elegant careful thinker like Obama and instead go to a ridiculous mafia tin duck like Trump that even warrior Putin didn't recognize was half-mad and all-criminal?  Someone noted that the Millennials have been adults for twenty years.  The Boomers  are entering senility.  Is it that they were raised so differently? Did one enable the other?

A big black metaphorical dog has been lurking around my doorstep.  He joins a wolf, but I'm not afraid of this wolf.  In the early 1970's I was hard-pressed by the emotional depression dog, so I recognize him now that we're about to enter the 2000's, but I've spent a lot of time thinking about him and now I have a few defences.  I'm not so pressed to be rational, to be a great success, to make room for narcissists.  In fact, even my inability to handle fancy technical stuff is a protection.  I don't "get" it.

This is Trump country.  Pandora's box is only partly open for a lot of people -- they haven't gotten to the Hope on the bottom.  Most people depend upon their families to save them and most of the time it works.  But it's a tough economy and the standards set by advertising are high: a bathroom for every bedroom, a computer for every person, fitted kitchens and two-sink bathrooms.  But no need for a lot of bookshelves.

People define religion via slogans for institutions which they recognize as forces in history but only the 19th century kind of institutions.  They have been told about the people leaving the pews but not about the people leaving the pulpits.  My own "affiliation" simply erases clergy who leave, never discovering why they went or where.  I've thought about trying to form a newsletter or discussion group, but how can it be done if no one has a list of who and where they are? I don't think this sort of person is on Twitter; it's the congregations who are all on Facebook being surveilled.

It would be easy to withdraw into knitting or novels or costume dramas, but how can I?  At our borders children are being emotionally mutilated, habituated to lockstep life, poorly fed, barely educated, away from parents and a familiar place.  A percentage of kids already here and part of families are also being damaged, deserted, neglected.  Violence and suicide rates are rising.  But I don't get active in organizations that offer direct individual help.  Why is that?  

My temperament and education call me to stay apart and look deeper than counselling or food boxes.  If I can't write a best-seller, maybe I can still form an insight.  If I can't publish, at least I can blog.  


NOTES FROM AN ESSAY ON HOW TO SURVIVE contagious-17d6c36f4012


Humans are hardwired for connection. The brain relies on input from others — this includes unspoken input, like a gentle touch or a warm smile — to shape emotional and physical experiences. Whether people know it or not, they’re constantly borrowing from other people’s nervous systems and lending out their own.

Neuroception, an automatic process by which the nervous system detects cues of safety and danger, and triggers biological changes accordingly.

One possibility is the renowned neuroscientist Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory. The concept hones in on the function of the vagus nerve, which wanders through the body starting from the brain stem (the part of the brain focused on survival, safety, and danger). According to the theory, the vagus, which influences the heart, lungs, and digestive tract, overlaps with a neural network that controls body language like eye contact and facial expression. So when someone smiles or sneers at us, we first experience it physically, then the vagus nerve sends a message to our brains, which tells us to feel either calm or safe.

Severe early childhood trauma creates a child with equally intense coping mechanisms— these children are often see as “mature for their age” & “old souls”. While maybe true, it often negates the fact that their innocence was taken away at an early age & they are in survival mode.

Survival mode becomes ingrained into their very psyche. They are most sensitive to the energy around them bc they are (subconsciously) assessing everything, always, because their life experiences have taught them that a threat can arise at any moment.


So how will they vote?  Will they be able to form systems and organizations that can deal with threats? Can they be sentimental or will they be too sentimental?  I had not known until recently that "moral sentimentality" was discussable as a discipline, a school of thought.  The idea is that what is good will be beautiful and loved, as a reliable guide. 

One of my aunts, now gone, was a fine poet, published in magazines, admired for the sentiments which also guided her life.  We didn't know then that her mother had been seized as an orphan in the streets of London and sent to America for service.  This meant that the daughter, my poet aunt, had been taught that "good" was love and attachment and she lived with that as her guide.  It was effective, except that dislocation threw her into depression until there was time to form new attachments.  This must be alive in our whole society or we wouldn't be so passionate about PBS costume dramas.  Authorities who offer safety, protection, and security appeal to this population.  Is that what's going on?

Is that what gives us this terrible fascination with the old values of Empire, even in England where the Empire is lost except for the sentimentality, even in Russia where the USSR is lost except for sentimentality about the Tsar?  Is that why we cocoon in our houses even though the wind has taken us far from Kansas?  Seeds come from charming flower arrangements.

Monday, August 26, 2019


Maybe later if they stop aching.  I'll monitor now and then.

Sunday, August 25, 2019


Chris Hayes  Special "All In" is at:

Who ever guessed that a news show would have more guts and eloquence than the entire Republican party?  Chris Hayes
"A-block" essay at the beginning of this show combines the history and explanation in a way customary to his friend Maddow's show.  It hits me particularly hard because in Canada, just over the border to the north of me, the same investigations are going on in Alberta where the same organizations that formed at the end of the American Civil War found a refuge.  Many Texans up there. 

Our history has hit them, too, even without slavery or Vietnam.  Lethbridge was one of my shopping towns (only 130 miles north) until a passport was required.  (Mine has expired.)  "The Medicine Line" has been a game element in many contexts: Prohibition whiskey smuggling preceded drugs.  If my diabetes gets worse to the point that I need insulin, I can probably justify paying to renew my passport in order to get my drugs there. Disgusted as they get with Trudeau, he is not a madman.  Things are still relatively stable.

This is from Twitter:
"Duty To Warn
All of us know narcissists. But Malignant Narcissism is different - narcissistic disorder with sociopathy, paranoia, and sadism. The malignant narcissist nestles between sanity and insanity. It's a cause of the most vicious inhumanity in history. They rarely go down alone."

One of the most effective ploys for old folks slipping into dementia but denying it is to project their own situation on everyone around them.  One of the most dangerous and easily weaponized dimensions of this is insanity.  As Hayes pointed out, this is one condition that justifies incarceration, as it was used by Stalin, involuntarily.  The political is identified as a mental matter -- unless you are the president.  But even George III was forced off his throne.

We are at a point of ambiguity in the relationship of the individual to the society as a whole.  If a powerful person can convince society that dissension is really mental illness, then one joins a long list of martyrs.  Being insane occupies a place between the medical and the military, between confrontation and heresy.  In some times we have burned such individuals at the stake.  Today we put them in endless solitary confinement and prevent their incarceration from ever ending.  We justify forcing them to take medications of unproven efficacy and possible inappropriateness.  We have had demented presidents before.  None of them have been like this.

There are two forces in play at the moment.  One is the gradual realization of how crazy Trump really is, the possibility that he may die in front of our eyes -- maybe not physically right away, but mentally already.  He is a zombie.  But we are so afraid of calling him crazy that we let him shred our claims of law and order.

The other force is that of criminalizing dissension expressed in violent force.  The far right empowering mass shootings and prompting a constant stream of violence reminiscent of the Old South -- as well as the state-encouraged violence at our borders -- means that we are well into using criminalization to authorize political vengeance.  Family destruction, formal court trials for toddlers, solitary confinement are CAUSING mental trauma, precursors to madness.  Very clever gamesmanship when the idea later will be to stigmatize them as crazy.  Lock 'em up.

That the insanity and criminality of the president is directly connected to the domestic terrorism of incels and redneck law enforcement should not surprise us as much as it does.  The only explanation is denial.  The two meanings of the word "mad" are confusing each other.  Trump hides his insanity behind tirades of rage. Some compare Reagan who was also demented, but always calm and pleasant. It's terrifying that a mind can slip away.

I'm generally at the thin end of the Bell curve when it comes to crazy.  One illustration was in a UU congregation when I was a member in the '70's attending a workshop about the importance of "letting all out," expressing one's emotions.  The very nice civilized couple who were running the event offered a paper instrument, multiple choice, meant to reveal whether you were repressed.  At the end of the meeting, they pulled me aside to say they were worried because I scored as having so much fury.  They were afraid that I might burst out with some --ulp -- antisocial act.

They had no idea.  I was recently divorced after ten extreme years.  They didn't know that I was working at animal control where every day leaving work I passed a pile of dead pets no one wanted and every day during work knocked on doors opened by people knee-deep in debris and filth, people who were barely coping and were held together by love of their dogs or cats.  Until more recently, people were totally unaware of all this because society kept it secret to avoid uproar.  I survived despair by using rage.  I thanked them and denied them.

The other incident was admission to seminary.  Shortly after, we ambitiously formed a women-only group for sharing and support. One of the women who had been on the admissions committee disclosed that I'd been accepted only because my minister was so powerful, and that my response had been so emotional that they worried I was crazy. They hoped they hadn't made a mistake.  It was a time and place where only cool rationality was intelligent. I've never gotten over that.  It was a little seed that grew.  So now I'm withdrawing the denial and letting it out.  Was I crazier then or now?  

Crazy in terms of self-management in the face of stress is one thing.  Senile dementia, the loss of the use of one's brain, is something else.  One can learn to handle a lot of things, but organic derangement is final.  When I was ward clerk in a nursing home with Alzheimer's patients, I learned first hand.  One woman had been the kindest, most understanding of all the nursing aides, but when her mind failed, she sat and cursed so violently and obscenely that she had to be wheeled to a private room.  Then she began to wail and scream with no letup until she was sedated and finally died.  People say about lesser cases, "He's just not the same person."  I'm sure some people feel that way about our president.

Saturday, August 24, 2019


A strong criticism of the new religious view that I describe -- vast and wondrous but hard to grasp -- comes from thinkers that describe "ethics and morality", one being a practical companion to the other.  The thought is particularly challenged by early StarTrek plots, which were explorations of the 19th century discovery that cultural evolutions of people who stayed in one separated place, like an island or a valley, resulted in unique ways of life.  The basic theme was that they could get themselves into inconvenient and even civilization-destroying predicaments, but that the Enterprise crew should not intervene in the usual Empire-powered way.  This did not "catch on" in the larger American mind.

The continuing confirmation of how intertwined is being of any kind has to be understood as coming from sources like Quammen's "horizontal evolution" or the context of ecology where one adaptation responds to the next.  This moral/ethical principle is inevitable and universal relationship.  Not only is it our fault that the arctic is melting and the Amazon/Siberian forests are burning, all due to the most innocent hamburger or Sunday afternoon drive, but also who I am is the result of all of time before me and will determine what happens to future living things everywhere on the planet.  It's a pretty impossible burden to bear, even by keeping it in mind all the time.  One of my early influences was the parable of visiting the past and stepping on a dragonfly that was a crucial element in evolution. 

In seminary ('78 to'82, which seems necessary to say since so much of thought is chronologically anchored by names and events) we were concerned about Jim Jones, partly because one classmate knew someone who died there, and about economic inequality which seemed a matter of advantages rather than any deep mammalian drive to dominate.  All we had to do was jigger society a bit.  But there were classes aimed at equipping us to do battle for the good, the right and the inconvenient.

One of the most valuable basic courses was from Don Browning, who addressed reality first by defining the methods of decision making.  Were we depending upon rules, in particular classic Christian rules; upon principles; on the example of individuals; in terms of resulting good; in the numbers of people spared?  Does the end ever justify the means?  When discussing some concrete puzzle back in Portland with my much-respected minister, he was jaunty but truthful to himself when he said, "always."  Do what may be destructive but justified.  He lost a bit of my respect at that point.  I'm intolerant, which is often a characteristic of morality.

We spent a lot of time on the sort of dilemmas one must act on in hospitals, like whether to excise a wide disfiguring area of flesh in order to make sure a cancer has been eliminated, or would it be better to just take an amount away that had a high percentage of effectiveness?  We did not address any of the questions about fertility that preoccupy the right, the trope of the helpless child or pre-child who is vulnerable to death.  If we did think about babies born without being viable outside the womb, we didn't talk about the emotional, only the rational.

But the practical presentation of ethics at a major university was limited.  Meadville/Lombard was included in a "cluster" of small denominational entities and our student body was required to meet all the standards of a U of Chicago MA at the School of Divinity, a stringent set of classes and tests that some felt were unjustified for nice suburban congregations.  Having to pass a French test was an early hurdle.  We knew that we were technically admitted to the Div School because in their original founding documents they were required to include a certain proportion of actual practicing clergy among their Ph.D. candidates.  We were a fudge to compensate for the change of society from learned clergy to a more therapeutic and enthusiastic sort.

I knew that I was only attending the UofC because of being admitted as an inclusion from M/L (I turned 40 there) and was a bit embarrassed about it.  I never could have been admitted on my own, though my GRE scores were pretty good.  But I was very much in favor of a meritocracy that gave the minds there so much respect.  They were indeed brilliant.  But only in one way.  The poets among us at M/L were hamstrung by the tests.

The Div School depended upon discretion.  If a person (not necessarily from M/L) wrote an exam text that didn't meet the PhD standards and style, the answer was taken to a faculty woman, a nun, who personally judged it with total secrecy.  She approved of poetry.  She never handled any of my tests and I did learn a bit of print French, but it was a fudge.  Big universities do that.  Is it ethical?  No one asked until now.

The personal case that stuck with me was the final test of an ethics class which was made in a private oral interview.  I went to it exhausted, insufficiently prepared, not entirely persuaded of the material, and feeling stubborn.  I should have been flunked, even by own standards.  But the professor, making what he considered an ethical choice, gave me a B, which at the U of C is about the same as an F.  I was only going to be a congregational minister.

He considered me a lesser mind destined for a lesser role and therefore deserving of exemption from the higher standard.  Later, back in Montana, I heard an education professor say to another professor that he had lower standards for tribal students because "they'll only go home and teach other Indians anyway."  Many indigenous people have depended on D.Ed. degrees to be a move towards professional life.  I made an offhand remark once to one of these tribal people (very respected and effective) that this was true and he never felt the same about me again.

Gatekeepers who stoop in this way evidently think we'll never figure it out, but we do.  The results of this silly wound stick with us, even after we understand that the gate was only necessary because a fence had been established to exclude us unless we had a favor from a controlling class.  So one ultimate moral concern of this new radical monoexistence (which is full of variation) has to be about the placement, nature and justification of fences of every sort.  Gender, nation, employment, skill, education, ability and capacity must be carefully invented and then torn down when no longer justified.

Friday, August 23, 2019


Transcendent vs. Immanent is a dyad meant to be a contrast binary referring to religion origin.  These two terms are meant to mark a crucial different in the understanding of the worlds by noting that one is about only what can be perceived in the world and the other is about what can only be imagined, perhaps dignified by the claim to be believed.

So I'll try to break up the opposition.  It is all about the boundary between what can be perceived and what cannot.  The trick the world has played on us is that we have extended our perception (both concrete and in terms of proofs that are not sensory) so far that what was only transcendent or simply unimaginable has now extended the immanent world beyond anything that existed in the past when previous religions were framed up.

Merriam Webster:  transcendent
: exceeding usual limits : SURPASSING
: extending or lying beyond the limits of ordinary experience
in Kantian philosophy : being beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge
: being beyond comprehension
: transcending the universe or material existence
: universally applicable or significant

Merriam-Webster: immanent
: being within the limits of possible experience or knowledge

This change means we're going to have to invent a new category:  what was once transcendent and is now perceptible, which is what people have dreaded -- making the world ordinary and removing the core "mysterium et facsinanse" that some of us definitely feel when we are with the holy, the sacred, the deeply moving -- whether or not it is blissful or torture.  So now the immanent somehow rises from the transcendent?  The felt coming up out of the unknown?  The immanent felt as a forming source in the transcendent?  

We've been reaching for ultimate knowledge of reality in some ultimate sense the way God is supposed to be an ultimate human who can know everything there is.  In short, we resent and resist our limits.  But when we manage to exceed them, we can be terrified by eternal, ultimate, infinity.  Maybe there is no limit.  Maybe even God is just a mental figure, religious algebra.

I'm ignoring the immanent in my thought, feeling that if the transcendent can't be known, it's not worth thinking about.  I want to know how to create that crossing the boundary imposed by being human into a particular state that can be better described now that we admit that feeling/emotion is a kind of knowledge held in the whole body.  Once a person has felt the sacred, can we remember how to feel it again?  

I've slowly had to admit that many people are not capable of the sacred nor even stepping outside their daily accustomed lives.  It's a puzzle whether this is a incapacity that was lost or never developed or suppressed by society.   I'm tempted to suspect that this is evolutionary capacity that has mutated and persisted in some people but not others.

But what is it?  Certain parts of the brain, when stimulated, can make a person hear voices or have visions.  Certain tumors can make a person think they have personal conversations with God (or even can BE God) and so on, but that's not what I'm talking about.  

Yesterday I posted two photos, one was a human-made depiction bead-by-bead that participates in the living embodiments of creation on a very tiny scale, in a way that indigenous people always depict the world around them.  The other was a photograph that seized a moment in time when the elegant pattern on the sky suggests the order of the cosmos.  Instead of going on-and-on, I'll just re-post them, even though there are an infinite number all around you.