Wednesday, August 3, 2011

ANIMOSITY

In the daily metta practice with which I start my meditation, I reiterate the wish to be free from animosity. It's easy enough when it comes to those I like, and with whom I generally agree; the hard part is with the people I dislike, and those with whom I disagree. They include, most recently, the politicians who have in my own view seemed bent on destroying this country. The dharma teaches me, wisely and I think correctly, that the animosity that arises serves only to introduce toxin into my own veins. It certainly does nothing to change those against whom it is directed.

These thoughts were stirred in part by the comment to my entry in The Buddha Diaries yesterday. I was writing about gratitude, concluding with a note about the surprise and plucky appearance of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords to cast her vote on the debt ceiling bill in the House of Representatives, and my gratitude to her for reminding me of the importance of the vote. Not a word about Obama. But my entry somehow triggered the response you'll find if you check in the comments section, filled with anger directed at "Obama the Eunuch."

I was aware of my own distress as I read and re-read the comment. Some of it came from that part of me that is uncomfortably close to agreement with the content of the writer's argument. It's clear that Obama has been weakened by the unmitigated hostility and adamant rejection with which every part of the agenda on which he was elected has been opposed. It has been relentless and unappeasable, from his first day in office. In my view--perhaps incorrectly--there are many of his supporters who have allowed themselves to be swept up in that hostility, too readily co-opted by the powerful tide of rejectionist action and propaganda. With the erosion of support on his own side, he becomes still more exposed and vulnerable. As I've written before, we on the left, who have learned to distrust authority whatever its source, are prone to the heady delights of king-killing.

That's my view. I find that I hold on to it even more tightly when I myself feel the beginnings of mistrust in it; or, particularly, when I feel it under attack. I pull back in, defensive. Intended or not as such, my correspondent's initial sarcasm and subsequent anger felt like personal animosity, and I withdrew into my shell to mull over its implications. This morning, as I suggested, I paid more than usual attention to my own animosities. I did my best to observe them and then let them go, along with the anger that accompanies them.

I was wondering aloud, at the Buddhist Geeks conference just a few days ago, whether anger ever serves a useful purpose. I believe it can, when it is directed with clear intention and used skillfully; to do so, I must understand what part of the anger is about me, and what part is genuinely about the injustice or malpractice that aroused it. Warrior energy is a necessary part of political action--see Sun Tzu's "The Art of War"--but used indiscriminately and tainted by personal animosity, it can be counter-productive.

The image of a solitary Obama signing a bill which clearly fell far short of his objectives--and equally short of my own sense of what is needed in our current economic crisis--filled me with sadness for both the man and the country that he seeks to serve. He is the target of so many millions of deeply divisive projections that he can scarcely hope to live up to more than a handful of them. There are those, of course, many, who wish him nothing but ill. And there are those, many, who feel that he has let them down; that he is not the man they took him for. I'm only surprised that he manages to tolerate with a semblance of grace the generous heapings of scorn that are dumped on him from both left and right.

I personally think that this would be a good time for us all to take a thoughtful look at our projections: if we think of Obama as the mirror, what is it that we see about ourselves when we look at him? The projection of blame is too easy an answer for our troubles. We have our own share of responsibility for the dreadful mess in which the country finds itself. As another correspondent wrote to me in an email today, "I'm highly disgusted with what's going on in Congress right now, [but] I have to keep reminding myself that we DO live in a democracy, don't we?"

We do. Well, I sometimes think rather that we live in an oligarchy that survives by successfully disguising itself as a democracy (I first typed "demoncracy"!) But, yes, we do. So we do not further our cause by trying to wish away or ignore the existence of the deep and powerful strain of conservatism that has been changing the balance of the American political system, not just in Obama's time but, with increasing power, these past several decades. Like it or not (I don't!), it's impossible to move in any direction without taking it into account. All very well to stand by and jeer at Obama's perceived lack of leadership from the sidelines. He's trying to quarterback a team that plays by the rules of human decency and fairness against bunch of steroid-powered thugs who don't care what tactics they use--or how many injuries are incurred--so long as they dominate the game. (Is this animosity? Or simple realism?)

I know that I'm in a growing minority in a cacophony of voices noisier and I'm sure far more effective than my own. I suspect, though, in a less demonstrable way, that I may be a part of a new "silent majority" that continues to support the President despite the ferocity of the attack. I will not yet surrender the "I Back Barack" bumper sticker on my car. Nor will I cease sending daily wishes of good will to both him and his opponents. And the same to my "anonymous" correspondent, whom I thank for challenging me to think again, again. I send out metta in full consciousness of the adverse circumstance, if only to preserve my own health, and sanity, and self-respect! May all beings be free from animosity...

11 comments:

mandt said...

Anger is a powerful force, particularly when focused in critical reasoning and application to understanding the paradigm of current politics. The personal Obama or his 'makeup' is not the issue, but the facts of his decisions and their effect on what most of us hold as traditional democratic institutions. Obama is not a eunuch, weak, or otherwise an inept executive. Obama is a 'Third Way' conservative corporatist and not even remotely liberal or progressive. Did we ever expect a Democrat to put Social Security, Medicare, and desperately need social programs on the chopping block. It's important for progressives to see through the illusion of Obama's posturing to understand the damage he will cause ongoing generations if he succeeds. Obama, hardly weak, is Clinton triangulation on steroids.

RJ Eskow said...

Peter, it was great to meet you, and thank you for your thoughts on this. My work involves my spending a lot of time in Washington.

My view of the President is very different from yours, based on that experience. But I don't believe that he, or those who continue to support him, are evil or hateful. Nor do I believe he's a "eunuch." Your reaction to this word is fully understandable.

I believe that he is far to the right of his supporters on most economic and civil liberties issues. I believe he's not the person he presented himself to be, and that this is a tragic fact. I don't believe he's consistently failing to get what he wants - I believe he's failing to get some of what he wants, and that he wants some of the policies the rest of us criticize.

But I never use name-calling against the Tea Party, whose fears and anger I understand (and even predicted, before it came into existence). How sad, then, that people attack one another over a relatively narrow spectrum of differences.

But I think it's also important to understand the anger behind the people who use words like "eunuch" or "betrayer." They perceive a President who made promises that he chose not to keep, or attempt to keep, and they are not entirely incorrect.

My sense is that you, like many others, perceive a President who is doing everything he can. That's not what I see, but actually reality isn't binary. There are elements of truth in both positions, and the differences we have are ones of degree and not essence.

So where do we go from here? We talk, and we keep talking. We return to the problems we face and the differences we must resolve, not the emotions that divide us. We accept the anger of others and (as you've said) channel our own constructively.

And, as they say in 12-step programs, we take "the next indicated action." Or so it seems to me. That's the only way I can stay sane (or something like it) and deal with politics all day.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks, MandT, for the further elaboration of your take on this. I agree all the way to the point where you tag Obama as not being "remotely liberal or progressive." My own take is that liberal or progressive action is a non-starter in the world we have unfortunately evolved into. Obviously, we disagree on this, but I'm grateful that we're talking. (See above and below)

Thanks so much for joining me on The Buddha Diaries, Richard. I very much enjoyed our exchange this past weekend, and the chance to get to know you a little. You are much closer to these things than I, and certainly much better informed, so I take seriously what you have to say; and do listen seriously to others who disagree with me, including my anonymous correspondent yesterday. I also make a point of seriously questioning my own views. And am glad to have this opportunity, in The Buddha Diaries, to do my own talking--often to myself!

I'll look forward to following you on HuffPo, where I also have a site. Though not often on the front page! Best of everything...

mandt said...

Thanks peter. I agree with Richard that the analysis is not binary, but a complicated gestalt. My views have been developing over years beginning in the Clinton administration and admittedly, heavily influenced by 'classic' Marxist capitalist economic critique ( the 1840 papers) and the 'Situationist' observations of Guy Bebord. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/debord/society.htm
Thus, my focus is capitalist politics. What I have observed is the development of neo-con triangulation emerging from the seeds of a 'unitary' presidency in the Nixon years to a full scale version of it in the Bush Presidency. The paradigm shift of corporate governing as a replacement for democratic governing was the gift of the Reagen years. It never occurred to liberals or that which is called the left, that the Democrats were also changing into plutocrats and Clinton is a glaring example, which paved the way for the likes of Obama. The direction is to shift vast wealth away from the shared compact with a democratic populace to the top: Bank and Wall Street bailouts, A failure of the DOJ to investigate high crimes, trade agreements that ship jobs overseas, profits into off-shore accounts, inequitable tax rates, massive cuts in social, health and common infrastructure maintenance programs. The anger over Obama stems from his false campaign as a hope/change populist. To better understand corporate governance and its destruction of basic democratic institutions it is helpful to know the development of classic fascism...particularly in Italy and the justification of state 'socialism' as a measure of populace control. What is frightening about the Clinton/Obama direction is the dismantling of these safe guards and the appearance of what can only be called neo-feudalism. To me there is no true 'left' in America. The likes of Bernie Sanders, a few decades ago, would be seen as a mainstream Democrat. There is a difference between liberals and progressives that points out the Marxist simile: Liberals are what's left of the old mainstream Democrat base: working people, middle class, minorities seeking economic and legal justice, single parents and so on. For the most part 'progressives' are wealthy 'rentiers' with advanced educations and beliefs, but----will ultimately choose the security of defending property and privilege over ideology in the final analysis.

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for the further thoughts, MandT. As I've said before, I don;t see us as being that far apart, at least at our starting point. I was brought up a good socialist in the European tradition. It's in my blood. I agree with you that there's no "true left" in America--and I very much rue that absence because, as you suggest, it leaves the way wide open for capitalist exploitation. My own position is determined by what I perceive to be the pragmatics of the situation: what can possibly be done in such an environment? It seems to me that the only practical path is the incrementalism that you so dislike! Revolution does not seem to be on the horizon. Yet.

mandt said...

Revolution is not possible in its traditional sense and always a waste of life, resource and time. I think incrementation is fine as it so clearly explains what the FDR and post years of social democracy accomplished up to the Reagan years. What we have now is corporatist deconstruction. The incrementalism is backwards and destroying the social safety nets. It won't work. What will advance is capitalist reformation, starting by regulation of banks and Wall Street.

PeterAtLarge said...

Okay. I'm with you on this. But do you know of a feasible way in which that might be achieved? Would it not involve Congressional action? Does Obama have the power to go it alone? I'm genuinely ignorant about possible ways and means...

mandt said...

The best ways and means are actually the classic democratic formations of politics at the local level. I (we) need to primary and vote out blue dog professionals and starting with the dog catcher vote in 'progressive' and liberals, who will honor the founding legal principles of our Republic. WI is a perfect example of the idea that all politics is local.

PeterAtLarge said...

Okay, MandT. The progressive dog-catcher has my vote! Also any other progressive who shows up on the ballot. I wonder, though, what I'll do when it comes to the unelectable--like Ralph Nader, a while ago. I voted for John Kerry. These are truly tough choices.

PeterAtLarge said...

And... thanks for the conversation! Really.

mandt said...

I believe there are choices which defy conventional political wisdom and are innate to moral perception. Two major principles of democracy are 'the vote' and Habeaus Corpus, the right to trial. The latter is now technically conditional and no longer a right. The first is quickly being limited by draconian voter restriction laws. Some towns have been taken over by imminent domain and their legally elected officials fired as 'select commissions run by corporations take over. That is the way of the future. It behooves a Buddhist to penetrate deeply into the meaning of doing no harm when the shadow of fascism spreads throughout the country. I would vote for Ralph Nader in a nano second.