It’s Not Just Republican Propaganda Nonsense

An open letter to my moderate liberal challengers

DSC_0228To conflate progressive criticism with right wing attacks is divisive at best, and disables critical dialogue at its worse. It is an authoritarian and patriarchal tool used to silence the much needed examination of neoliberal policies whose hollow rhetoric of caring is corrupted by a close relationship to multinational corporations and their shareholders. It’s a form of political gas lighting, a tactic to avoid deep scrutiny. The irony, of course, is that such analysis is essential to safeguard a democracy against fascism, whereas the conflation merely fosters fear and an “either-or” mentality.

It might be easier for more moderate liberals to see this tactic used within a conservative light. When the rhetoric of war calls upon nationality in accusations such as: “If you don’t support the war, you are throwing the veterans under the bus,” it leaves humane citizens on the defensive trying to demonstrate their care for returning veterans. The ultimate result in response to this sort of shaming is to silence the critique of war’s rationale. In the end, while we are all waving mini flags at parades, people are maimed and killed. The only ones being honored are the military industrial complex shareholders. They continue to accumulate record high profits during the corporately biased reign of either republican or democrat leaderships. These profits are extracted from the blood of war abroad and the destruction of families through economic terrorism at home. The avoidance of criticism condones the destruction of lives. Naomi Klein refers to it as disaster capitalism (Klein, 2007) Levy sees it more as a systemic form of global corporate cannibalism (2013).

Most moderate liberals I know think they are fighting the good fight, and that this justifies the means to an end. In many respects the LBGTQ moral cause on the left and the anti-abortion moral cause on the right (Yes, I personally know good people who believe they are indeed saving babies lives) have promoted lesser evil politicians because these causes have taken on a host of additional riders like fleas. In the end, the ethical morality of the great cause on either side is sucked dry by this infestation designed only for corporate profit, which requires people to vote against their better interests. The corporate bait and switch tricks impassioned people into supporting their causes without scrutiny. The marriage of LBGTQ (and now immigrant) liberation to corporate privatization, in many respects, is the worst kind of conflation. The liberation does not wash the sins of the moderate neoliberal outcomes. It just muddies the water (Harvey, 2016).

These silencing tactics undermine critical thinking. This type of shaming is a most insidious form of bullying because it is often subconscious. I suspect these moderate liberals would be horrified by their role in what Hannah Arendt called the banality of evil. They are posting all sorts of memes on Facebook denouncing anyone who is questioning whether or not they should vote for Hillary as selfish brats who don’t care about the horrendous possibilities of a Trump presidency. Shame on you! If he gets in, it will be ALL YOUR FAULT and I will cut my wrists! (Yes, I really did see a meme threatening self-destruction.) Really?

According to the work of Dr. Brené Brown, shaming has become epidemic (2012). Because of its visceral and emotionally accusatory nature, shaming is rarely confronted or discussed, except perhaps among oppressed communities who understand what it means to spend their lives navigating around the shaming of the dominant culture. This leaves moderately privileged ones (i.e. mostly white middle and upper class men) ignorant because they lack the experiences necessary to anchor their understanding.

That is where the bridge needs to be built. We need more narratives of dissent; not DSC_0036less, for social change can only occur in a culture that hears the full scope of stories. In a moving Rolling Stone Magazine interview with Jane Sanders she speaks of the people’s stories she heard as she traveled the country. Her astonishment speaks volumes. “How did we not know this? Where is the leadership?” (Stuart, 2016). In order to get an accurate snapshot of reality we must listen to a full range of feedback. Not just the ra-ra rhetoric from the stage of the DNC, but the voices of people who walked out before Hillary spoke. But, of course, in order to hear it, we must first understand that we are living in a bubble with a narrow band of experience and seek a broader perspective from sources outside of the dominant narrative.  Lee Ann Bell’s work in Story Telling for Social Justice is a great example of why this is important. We need to hear not only the dominant narrative; we need to hear the concealed stories, the resistance stories and most importantly, the transformative stories of possibility (2010). Bernie Sander’s campaign drew upon every category. In many respects, the magic of the Sander’s campaign is it gives voice to the suppressed needs of a hurting country. We all felt the burn in our everyday life, so feeling the Bern was as natural as drinking a glass of water when thirsty.

The silencing of Bernie Sanders supporters is the exact opposite of what we need right now. We need to hear the concealed stories, the resistance stories, and emerging alternative stories if we ever hope to challenge the dominant narrative. It is our responsibility as citizens to be critical of the forces of neoliberalism. We must interrupt the movement that is driving us off the edge. Our very survival depends upon it, and Bernie Sanders supporters are among the many who have the feedback and wherewithal that democracy craves. Listen to us. What will Hillary Clinton do to combat the forces of neoliberalism? If she can fully respond to that, and demonstrate commitment to undoing neoliberal globalization then we will find solidarity like none other. And, if you are reading this article wondering what the hell is neoliberalism, and then see David Harvey’s essay on what neoliberalism actually is and why it is a significant obstacle to creating the unity we so desperately need. He says it far better than I ever could. And while you’re at it check out Brené Brown’s work. Wagging your fingers is just not doing to any of us any good.

 

Karen Walasek, MFA, M.Ed., is a doctoral student of Sustainability and Education and a Graduate Assistant at the Writing Center for Prescott College. Her focus has been on the role that narrative and rhetoric play in fostering a more sustainable world.

Bibliography

Bell, L. A. (2010). Storytelling for social justice: Connecting narrative and the arts in antiracist teaching. New York: Routledge.

Brown, B. (2012). The power of vulnerability: Teachings on authenticity, connection, and courage. Sounds True.

Harvey, D. (2016). Neoliberalism is a political project: David Harvey on what neoliberalism actually is — and why the concept matters. Jacobin Magazine, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2016/07/david-harvey-neoliberalism-capitalism-labor-crisis-resistance/.

Klein, N. (2007). Shock doctrine: The rise of disaster capitalism. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Levy, P. (2013). Dispelling Wetiko: Breaking the curse of evil. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Stuart, T. (2016, July 28). Jane Sanders: Why Bernie voters shouldn’t get over it. Retrieved July 29, 2016, from Rolling Stone : http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/features/jane-sanders-why-bernie-voters-shouldnt-get-over-it-w431428

 

 

Lessons from the Road

DSC_0228It’s been a year since our summer road trip. We’ve covered thousands of miles since then, punctuated by two frigid cross-country, storm-eluding, highway-closing for Wyoming wind, driving the snow-covered-dirt-road-detour for miles, turn-the-car-on-in-the-middle-of-the-night to warm our metal tent parked at countless rest areas, fast-red-road-country[1]  crisscrossing moves to the farm; all the while remembering, whom this land once nourished.

It’s almost as if it’s taken half the year to catch our breath! Soaking in our rural sanctuary for recovery; and perhaps, to also forget, for a short while, how long and large this beautiful country really is. But even with the hardships of the road, there has been a depth of value to traveling that has settled into our lives, a bit like muscle memory becoming stronger, turning micro trauma into awakened conviction.

We’re living in a socially constructed world of never-stopping and never-ending production. This supreme disconnection from our bodies is rooted in the belief that we are machines to be hammered by the ever-more-powerful extraction of our time, squeezing more-than-a- body-can-give into a predigested work week box. “I think; therefore I am, and I shall overcome this limitation of needs” becomes the mantra of the disposable; as if, Maslow’s wisdom can be erased; as if, even he didn’t go far enough when he appropriated much of his theory from First Peoples.[2] As if, in our pursuit of conquering nature, we have been turned against our own life needs, turned against the needs of all present and future life, ignoring in a great-profit-seeking-denial that we need to eat, sleep, love one another, and rest. And, we need to do all of this in a world overflowing with clean air, land, water and life.

Of course, that denial can easily be re-enacted on the road, like the time we drove from DSC_0014 Prescott, Arizona, to a campground on the coastal beach in one day to save money; the inhumane push through a 112 degree Mohave fraying my body and mind until right about the time we crossed the coastal range in the blackness of night with invisible ravines on her curvy roads. Thrown into an all-consuming panic, I forced Ron to slow to a snail’s pace. In my exhaustion, I could not keep from imagining falling into the abyss. Descartes might say he was right; my thoughts ruled over my imagination so powerfully that had I been the one driving they might have found us the next day at the bottom of a gorge but I would argue, of course, he was wrong.

He was dead wrong. The abyss was a metaphor for how wrong he has been for centuries, and how dangerously far we’ve fallen by following his lead. No one and no thought can control the sanctity of life, because contrary to the industrialized model, contrary to the miraculous advances in medical add-ons and interventions, contrary to the push to homogenize all-things-living into a one-size-fits-all-profit-seeking-DSC_0011commodity; life is not a machine. No matter how much we deny, no matter how many constructs we create; no matter how many wars are lost by someone, nor how many urban paradises spring up out of the desert, no matter how much cool technology Steve Jobs has created, nor how often bible pushers will tell us our bodies are evil; we are not machines.

[1] Fast Red Road is an amazing novel by indigenous writer Stephen Graham Jones. http://www.demontheory.net/

[2]  https://lincolnmichel.wordpress.com/2014/04/19/maslows-hierarchy-connected-to-blackfoot-beliefs/

Taking my trauma to the mountain

I went to the mountains with the overwhelming burden of my failing financial life embedded in my chest. Foreclosure, eviction, overdrawn checking account —I owned the whole ball—and it wormed its way to my deeper places like an alien parasite that grew and waited to burst through my chest taking my last bit of life force with it. It didn’t matter if everything else was going well in my life, that I was in my first year of a Ph.D. program that was expanding my horizons in ways I had never dreamed, that my chronic health issues were fading away due to interventions that no one expected to work so well, that my beautiful family was helping one another in all the nonmonetary ways beyond a mother’s wildest reveries, filled with a love, and compassion that surpassed anything I ever felt growing up. These whole-hearted accomplishments didn’t matter in a world that measured everything by late fees and economic bottom lines, that cared little for my family, or my life… or the precious grandchildren who might become homeless if I didn’t handle things right.

It didn’t matter if I was a casualty of a still looming financial crisis created by others, or if my husband Ron accidentally pushed the wrong button when opening his Fidelity Retirement account that sucked the five thousand dollars that would’ve circumvented all the above personal problems. No, it didn’t matter to our modern world if this single momentary error had created a cascading effect from which there was no normal safety net.

Terms and conditions, do not pass go, it does not matter if you didn’t mean to hit that key, no amount of begging or endless Interactive Voice Response button-pushing would return those funds, nor fix the gap between the financial industry’s refusal to accept any responsibility for service to the living world and the hardship they cause real people, like me.

None of this mattered; at least that is what the heaviness in my heart kept saying to me as I took to the mountain. Like Cheryl Strayed in Wild, I literally took it to the mountain and even walked for a bit on the Pacific Crest Trail, where I discovered a healing, though mine might not be as glamourous as the one Reese Witherspoon depicted in the film. I’m just an average person struggling, but I’m not alone in facing troubling times.

More importantly I am not alone in the quiet shame that isolates and paralyses all middle class people who have taken the escalator down, those who have individually internalized the blame for their downward spiral regardless if it was caused by the out of control recklessness which preceded the crash of 2008. I am not alone facing the financial trauma that has seeped over the land and fallen into the deep crevasses of our lives, dictating death wherever it turns.

We live in a time of blaming the victim, it’s our entire fault because downward mobility was a life choice we all made somewhere along the line. It’s our entire fault because we have some individual cancer gene, never mind the tons of toxic chemicals that are sprayed on our food supply or the chemicals leaching from fracked water into our deepest aquifers to fuel the profits of people who have more money than they can spend in a lifetime. We have internalized all the blame as they have extracted all the profits.

Shaming and blaming according to Brené Brown is epidemic in our culture. Our bodies treat it like trauma. It is a limbic response that no amount of thinking can solve. Check out Brown’s two Ted talks.

Vulnerable Talk

Shame Talk.

It might add a layer of depth, but it’s not necessary, for now. The main point I am making is that no amount of sleepless nights wracking my Ph.D. level thinking brain was going to help me out of this mess. I did not have a thinking problem, and intellectual prowess was not going to help me find my way out. I had a heart condition that only the mountain could cure.

So in spite of all the above looming over our lives, Ron and I climbed in our car on a crisp autumn day and headed toward Little Crater Lake on the other side of Wy’East on a single tank of gas. On the surface it was an assignment for my ecofeminist class, but any fool could tell you I desperately needed the sunshine to heal my soul. There’s plenty of research indicating that nature can heal us, a quick search on google scholar will no doubt bring forth the evidence, but it is not this evidence that we need. We need to go to the mountain and literally let her heal us. In the living world, that supports all life beyond our computer desks and paved streets; I found hope.

Little Crater Lake is crystal clear; its water springs from a deep aquifer escaping a crack in the Earth. The metaphor isn’t lost on me. I sit wrapped in my blanket on a tree stump, breathing in cool air and exhaling my pain. I had no idea how much hurt had been buried. It leaked in the woods, into the ground, and air. My ears rang with the sound of life. I had learned in my sustainability work about grandmother trees who feed the others whenever they faltered, and I imagined that somehow these woods would adjust to my pain and give me what I needed, too.

Feeding me whatever was required, as if the soup of life adjusted because I was there and I was in need. Trees, woods, earth, mountain, lake, embraced me. My most visceral experience began with a quiet and deep acceptance in my chest. The muscles around my heart released and I let go. We sat there until the sun receded, then we sauntered peacefully back to our car.

I wish I could say I recognized immediately the deep sense of gratitude I felt. It did not bubble up to my brain that fast, it’s hard to recognize when you’re experiencing a new lightness. It wasn’t until later when we came down from the hill that I began tallying everyone and everything I was grateful for. I still had no way of knowing how I was going to make ends meet, but the mountain offered me a bubble of relief, a space where a living world acknowledged my living trauma.

Maybe in the course of thanking people the answer would arise. Maybe you can help; maybe not. Maybe if we all vote for Bernie Sanders we can change course from our dead world economically driven model. Maybe we can rally against trade agreements that seek to further alienate us from a living world model, or maybe someone, somewhere will donate a dollar or two to my checking account. I have no idea.

What I do know is I have hope where it did not exist before. I have hope that I live in a generous world, because nature is generous and alive and I am alive in spite of the fact that I live in a culture of dead things evaluated by bottom lines. Bringing the living world back into our hearts means all of us doing what we can to help one another. It might feel a bit like a swan dive into an empty swimming pool, but then I remember that Little Crater Lake is deep and clear and generosity is what makes us alive. I pause and I wonder, what would happen if I offered my Bank of America account number to the world? # 485012933968 maybe nothing will happen. Maybe the answer lays elsewhere, an email with a job offering, cash for selling a car. I only wonder if generosity could keep us all from living on a cold street, in a dead cruel world. I wonder if people who can’t donate a dime could pay it forward in some other way, donating a warm thought to spread whatever they can to whoever comes within their own little neck of the woods.

I don’t think any of us will make it, if we don’t start somewhere. Life is generous. We have to stop thinking in terms of a closed system scarce economic model. Instead, of seeing an oak tree, for example, as wasteful because it drops so many useless seeds that never sprout, if we remember that her acorns feed, and her leaves rot, every year, to make earth. Only when we understand that she feeds a whole ecosystem do we get a picture of something beyond the scarcity of economic thinking. We see an abundant world that begins with our homes and holds an ever expanding responsibility to life. And then I wondered, what would happen if people returned to the national forests and claimed the rights of the commons, our lands, our forests, our Earth, our economic systems and demanded they work toward life itself?

Along with this thought hope sprouted long ears and a bushy tail, as a wolf visited me in my dreams. Amid my tossing and turning with worry, she came. She watched as I scrambled through garbage cans, her beauty shining rainbows across her guard hairs. I stood up and stared at her. And I knew at once. It was time to stop scrambling for trash at the bottom of the heap and time to live life in all of its vibrant glory. I have accomplished so many whole-hearted things in my life, bottom line be damned. You are not the measure of my worth, nor are you the measure of the worth of anything of living value. There was a gleam of something more, and knowing that I will do everything in my power to reveal the emperor’s new clothes of your phantom significance.

There is something rotten in Denmark: transforming life, scholarship, and writing toward a more sustainable paradigm —or —you’ve got the craft skills, now what are you going to do with it?

DSC_0032Anyone alive who is paying attention knows that we are on a crash course toward climate destruction and that the burning of fossil fuels is the key culprit. Any writer who is paying attention to the adjunct market post 2008 meltdown has noticed that adjuncts are not paid a living wage. There are a great many articles on the extractive crushing of the creative class, the war on education, non-whites, women and the environment. Our food is literally killing us as the militarized mindset of ever increasing pesticide use (let’s kill off the bad guys with bigger and bigger guns) is touted as the only way it can be done, but says who? Writers, of course. We are the ones making the culture, but do we take our role seriously enough? Have you thought about it? In what ways does your writing support or enable the paradigms of destruction that are racing us closer and closer to the tipping points of planetary collapse?

When I left Goddard with my MFA certificate in hand granting me all the rights and privileges associated with that degree, I had the gnawing sense that there was something rotten in Denmark. No offense to my Goddard colleagues, professors or even Shakespeare, but it bothered me that one could craft a beautifully articulated blueprint for a dying planet that could be considered a literary masterpiece that left its readers filled with remorse and hopelessness. It is as if in our esteemed postmodern world we were all subjects of some grand cultural machine that we inevitably had no control over. The only thing that mattered to this machine was how expertly we crafted our sentences while passively describing the rising waters of Anthropocene’s doom and gloom. Oops, stop! You used a cliché. You don’t want to use a cliché, that’s blasphemy! And yet the paradigms that promote a dying planet are not blasphemous? How did we get here and do we know what we are doing? Pardon me for drawing unsubstantiated conclusions, but something tells me there’s a disconnect in the mind of writers that has a heavy sprinkling of denial, and it’s not that we are creative dreamers and have our heads in the sky. It’s something far deeper and darker than that. Who among the numerous MFA programs out are there are talking about the responsibility of the writer in promoting social change?

What about that doom and gloom, no-way-out scenario? Is there something disingenuous and inherently passive in those action scenarios that promote a survival of the fittest paradigm, only to pull a bad sarcastic cosmic joke in the end with a “Guess what! Nobody is fittest, nor a hero, and we all die; hearty har, har.” And we call that believable, realistic, or noteworthy, while anything that falls outside this paradigm is Pollyanna, Mary Sue; or heavens forbid, idealistic or romantic chick lit!

In his book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff makes the point that the words and metaphors we choose shape how we think. My first stop post Goddard was a M.Ed. in education at Portland State University where I dabbled in rhetoric, conflict resolution, sustainability and indigenous nation’s studies. It was here that I also came across the work of LeAnn Bell in a Storytelling for Social Change class. Bell used storytelling as a tool for addressing racism. She categorized stories as dominant, concealed, resistance, and emerging (or transformative). Most of the stories in popular Western culture fall into the dominant story category. They tell us that those wolves on Wall Street control the world and that our planet is dying and we are helpless to do anything about it. They are the ones that say money is the only thing anyone cares about and life is nothing more than a complicated a con game. If we want to follow the plot twists, all we have to do is follow the money. The concealed stories, of course, if I dare get political here in my professional essay, the concealed stories include those like the ones that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are telling. The concealed story is the one that David Graeber tells in his book, Debt the First Five Thousand Years, where he reveals how monetary debt and true obligation are NOT the same thing. The resistance stories include those of Black Lives Matter or the ones about that tribe of brave indigenous people in Brazil who are literally fighting for their lives to stop the Bela Monte dam. (http://amazonwatch.org/work/belo-monte-dam

I think as a writer the most important question I can ask myself is “Whose story am I telling?”

Read More at: The Writer in the World