Baboon Patriarchy

In 1975, Ursula K. Le Guin named the pitiful norms and dominance of othering, blind cultural superiority of men writing science fiction books in an essay called American SF and The Other (pages 93-96 in The Language of the Night).

It’s amazing how pervasive and entrenched this white male complex is:

In general, American SF has asssunmee a permanent hierarchy of superiors and inferiors, with rich, ambitious, aggressive males at the top, then a great gap, and then at the bottom the poor, the uneducated, the faceless masses, and all the women.

Such notions of self and character development enable rape, belittling, disgust, and false senses of supremacy.

If you deny any affinity with another person or kind of person, if you declare it to be wholly different from yourself—as men have done to women, and class has done to class, and nation has done to nation—you may hate or deity it; but in either case you have denied it’s spiritual equality and its human reality. You have made it into a thing, to which the only possible relationship is a power relationship. And this you have fatally impoverished your own reality. You have, in fact, alienated yourself.

These last two sentences are intriguing because they distill what happens when men orient by wanting or having power over. It is a position to prohibits us from getting reciprocity or being able to benefit from learning, and prohibits us from being able to benefit from the experience, wisdom or wealth of others since the experiences and knowledge and resources of others are not seen or seen as only serving some pre-conceived idea of how others will be KF service.

Animals by Stephen

Wisdom’s door we pay attention to placing oneself in the position of others. (xix)

When leaping, incorporate rather than exceed (be better than and separate from). (4)

Kindness evolves to (becomes) mercy. (4)

Spiritual practices are the flying spirit propelling itself or stimuli. (5)

~~~

These are a few of the insights in the first fifteen or so pages of Stephen Levine’s Animal Sutras: Animal Spirit Stories (2019, Monkfish Book Publishing Co.).

Separating seeing and speaking

Paulo Coelho writes on page 93 of The Spy that:

“For millions of years, [humans] spoke only to what [they] could see. Suddenly, in one decade, ‘seeing’ and ‘speaking’ have been separated. We think we’re used to it, yet we don’t realize the immense impact it’s had on our reflexes. Our bodies are simply not used to it.

“Frankly, the result is that, when we talk on the phone, we enter a state that is similar to certain magical trances; we can discover other things about ourselves.”

This in a story set in Paris in the 1914 — after the Exposition Universelle (nee World’s Fair) of 1889 and before World War One.

A few, notable passages from previous pages include:

“A nice cup of coffee will salvage the rest of your day.”

And

“Maybe you’re looking for things you haven’t yet found…. And suddenly life turns into utter boredom.”

We all are precarious and fragile every day

A dear friend was in the emergency room twice and made a call to 911 yesterday. Enabled by corporate health insurance as we wade and drown through a medical peonage system that tars and feathers and sullies us all when we seek to live. Or in the proximity of the ER, seek and hope and pray to stay alive. Or at least, those who love us and we are in touch with to know of an episodic venture to and fro a hospital and brinks of death.

I learned of these medical immersions a day after we exchanged words about the joys and bizarre inane of fatherhood with two children. Becoming a parent is more than double the fun. More than double the work. Double the pee, doubled the poops to supervise and scrutinize when not cleaning derrières and scraping diapers.

Fitting that poop thoughts leads me to how we live so precariously, always a few steps or select circumstances, largely unseen, from death. We are fragile like an eggshell and salad greens and fragile like the bud that becomes the flower that morphs into the unripened fruit that becomes the fruit that will perish by spoiling in short order. Fruit may be furthest from death when it is hard and unripened, which makes me wonder if we are furthest from death when our bones are more pliable and bodies are limber in some span of the early years of childhood. We are such fragile beings walking and waking and eating and defecating upon the Earth’s crust.

I don’t take for granted that I will see friends and family members when I travel away from them or they travel away from here. Rather, I cannot hold the probabilities of all who will live and who will die in the window of some unknown amount of time — be it months or years — before I see them again.

From more than 3,000 miles and three hours separated by the international time zones, I offered some ceremony later today once I am home. I don’t know what combination this ceremony will be. One certainty will be to name some blessings and gratitudes before dinner. One option will be to pull out one of our favorite books at home, Byrd Baylor’s I’m in Charge of Celebrations (ISBN: 0689806205), illustrated by Peter Parnall and published in 1995 by Aladdin Books. For all the baking and recipe swapping that I’ve done with this friend, I ought to bake, if not tonight, then something sweet and delicious in the next four days. And to find some laughter and be in charge of such laughter so I know that I’m doing so ceremoniously.

It is not just the proximity of his death, but the tender, vulnerability of all of these living things that constitute this plane and this world and this word as I know it through my current belief systems that i am reminded to celebrate and offer love and truth to today.

To sit with and revisit

But suddenly the racial interest … felt like a kind of corruption to me.

Never has the perversity of racialized thinking been so clear as when it is being applied to a newborn baby.

Says Danzy Senna in page 165 of her memoirs, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? (Published in 2009 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.)

Something for me to ponder. To sit with. And to revisit.

The corruption of being aware of race and being fixated with race in ways that were preordained many generations ago. There is some naïveté to not knowing or pretending to not know one’s history of the histories of a place, of people, and of things. But, that compulsion to pursue and understand becomes a cycle of attempting to know and analyze the world through some lens crafted by ancestors, both ours and our oppressors, that illuminates and also distorts like mirrors in a funhouse. What may be shameful one decade can be empowering in a different mirror. What looked too broad at one moment may become just right in other circumstances.

MOWM: compelling, clear, strategic

By looking back to What The Negro Wants, published 75 years ago by Rayford Logan, Paul Prescod writes in Jacobin about A. Philip Randolph and the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters (BSCP) that created the March on Washington Movement (MOWM). As persons writes:

[The MOWM] caught on because the issue was compelling, the demands were clear, and the moment was politically strategic.

Today, the fight for $15 is clear and compelling and I’d argue strategic by doubling the wages of many people earning minimum wage. Yet, plenty of politicians, especially Black politicians and other politicians or color, do not attend picket lines, speak up and out about $15/hour.

Further, Medicare for All is clear, compelling, and strategic. And the Green New Deal becomes more clear and compelling with each wildfire, hurricane, human cesspool of plastic or radioactive compound, poisoning of waterways and unprecedented hurricane-tornado-or-blizzard storm.

Prescod proceeds to illustrate how Black Power, coming out of the Civil Rights Movement, moves away from a working class solidarity with other races to a racial solidarity with middle class and owning class Blacks.

Solnit stories, in metaphors. 

Starting a new book by Rebecca Solnit, Whose Story is This? Old Conflicts, New Chapters (Haymarket Books, 2019) it opens with some beautiful writing summarizing current events and social movements and political moments of the past decade. In pages 1-9, I am struck by the following metaphors: 

  1. Building a structure;
  2. Collective projects;
  3. most important are the most subtle.
  4. A million tiny steps;
  5. Delegitimization of the past and 
  6. Hope for a better future.
  7. New clarity about how injustice works … Makes it recgonizable when it recurs, and that recognizability strips away the
  8. Disguises of and
  9. Excuses for the old ways.
  10. Culture matters.
  11. It’s the substructure of beliefs that 
  12. Shape politics, that change begins on the
  13. Margins and in the
  14. Shadows and
  15. Grows toward the center.
  16. It’s the pervasiveness that matters most.
  17. We live inside ideas:
  18. Shelters,
  19. Observatories, 
  20. Windowless prisons.

There are so many fabulous sentences in “Cathedrals and Alarm Clocks”:

The title essay of this anthology is about the struggle of new stories to be born, against the forces that prefer to shut them out or shout us down, against people who work hard at not hearing and not seeing. (7)

This is a time in which the power of words to introduce and justify and explain ideas matters, and that power is tangible in the changes at work. Forgetting is a problem; words matter, partly as a means to help us remember. When the cathedrals you build are invisible, made of perspectives and ideas, you forget you are inside them and that the ideas they consist of were, in fact, made, constructed by people who analyzed and argued and shifted our assumptions.  (4)

Remembering that people made these ideas, as surely as people made the buildings we live in and hte roads we travel on, helps us remember that, first change is possible, and second, it’s our good luck to live in the wake of this change rather than asserting our superiority to those who came before the new structures, and maybe even acknowledge that we have not arrived at a state of perfect enlightens, because there is more change to come, more that we do not year recognize that will be revealed. I have learned so much. I have so much to learn. (5)

Despite the backlashes — or because they are backlashes — I remain hopeful about this project of building new cathedrals for new constituencies (9). 

You can see change itself happening, if you watch carefully and keep track of what was versus what is. (3) 

Amnesia means that people forget hte stunning scope of change in recent decades. That change is itself hopeful, as evidence that people considered marginal or powerless — scholars, activists, people speaking for and from within oppressed groups — have changed the world. (6).

The opposite is falling into the nightmare that is also such a powerful force in this time, the nightmare of white supremacy and patriarchy, and the justification of violence to defend them….. I call it a nightmare because it is delucional in its fears and its fantasies a of grandeur and its intention of making decades of changes evaporate, of showing new ideas back into the oblivion from which they emerged and returning to a past that never existed. (8-9)

We live inside ideas. Some are shelters, some are observatories, some are windowless prisons. We are leaving behind some and entering others. (3)

We are building something immense together that, though invisible and immaterial, is a structure, one we reside within — or, rather, many overlapping structures. (1)

The consequences of these transformations are perhaps most important where they are most subtle. (1)

Olga Tokarczuk: Tender Narrator

Olga tells about the stories of first person narrative and the elusive parable in this speech for the 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature:

https://www.nobelprize.org/uploads/2019/12/tokarczuk-lecture-english-2.pdf

That we have largely lost the parable from view is a testament to our current helplessness.

And on the misfortune of genres:

The general commercialization of the literary market has led to a division into branches—now there are fairs and festivals of this or that type of literature, completely separate, creating a clientele of readers eager to hole up with a crime novel, some fantasy or science fiction. A notable characteristic of this situation is that what was only supposed to help booksellers and librarians organize on their shelves the massive quantity of published books, and readers to orient themselves in the vastness of the offering, became instead abstract categories not only into which existing works are placed, but also according to which writers themselves have started writing. Increasingly, genre work is like a kind of cake mold that produces very similar results, their predictability considered a virtue, their banality an achievement. The reader knows what to expect and gets exactly what he wanted.

The layers of lived experiences:

Life is created by events, but it is only when we are able to interpret them, try to understand them and lend them meaning that they are transformed into experience. Events are facts, but experience is something inexpressibly different. It is experience, and not any event, that makes up the material of our lives. Experience is a fact that has been interpreted and situated in memory. It also refers to a certain foundation we have in our minds, to a deep structure of significations upon which we can unfurl our own lives and examine them fully and carefully. I believe that myth performs the function of that structure. Everyone knows that myths never really happened but are always going on. Now they go on not only through the adventures of ancient heroes, but rather also make their way into the ubiquitous and most popular stories of contemporary film, games and literature.

Story and plot and asking why:

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

Reading is quite a complicated psychological and perceptual process. To put it simply: first the most elusive content is conceptualized and verbalized, transforming into signs and symbols, and then it is “decoded” back from language into experience. That requires a certain intellectual competence. And above all it demands attention and focus, abilities ever rarer in today’s extremely distracting world.

A story always turns circles around meaning. Even if it doesn’t express it directly, even when it deliberately refuses to seek meaning, and focuses on form, on experiment, when it stages a formal rebellion, looking for new means of expression. As we read even the most behavioristically, sparingly written story, we cannot help asking the questions: “Why is this happening?,” “What does it mean?,” “What is the point?,” “Where is this leading?” Quite possibly our minds have evolved toward the story as a process of giving meaning to millions of stimuli that surround us, and that even when we’re asleep keep on relentlessly devising their narratives. So the story is a way of organizing an infinite amount of information within

14

20:

We are all―people, plants, animals, and objects―immersed in a single

space, which is ruled by the laws of physics. This common space has its shape, and within it the laws of physics sculpt an infinite number of forms that are incessantly linked to one another. Our cardiovascular system is like the system of a river basin, the structure of a leaf is like a human transport system, the motion of the galaxies is like the whirl of water flowing down our washbasins. Societies develop in a similar way to colonies of bacteria. The micro and macro scale show an endless system of similarities.

Our speech, thinking and creativity are not something abstract, removed from the world, but a continuation on another level of its endless processes of transformation.

When facing racism, undercut and expose

I wrote an email on Wednesday with a subject of: “About Black hair & portrayals of Blackness” to the mother of another child in the 3 and 4 year old class. What propelled, if not compelled, me to do so was having read a helpful article on microagressions by Ruth Terry in the October 2019 YES magazine a few weeks prior. In it, Terry describes how Derald Wong Sue responds to microaggressions with:

 By “naming” a microaggression, a concept Sue borrows from Paulo Freire’s seminal work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, we are able to undercut its power and expose metacommunication behind it.

I’ve had mixed feelings about microaggressions for years, yet the article provided me with some new perspectives of how to name what happens with ignorant interactions and how to deal with them, leading me to conclude that this was an opportunity to practice confronting the petty bullshit that white people spew and do in the faces and over the days and lives of people of color.

Simultaneously, I have been doing work this year where a big piece in the group dynamics work is to “name the thing.” Having to practice what I am preaching, I sent the “portrayals of Blackness” email in order for me to name to one white mother how whites — in her family and in the world — need to figure out how to talk about and tell stories about whiteness, family histories, and experiences with race. And when I say race that is shorthand for racism and racial differences and race-based consequences be they in school, in workplaces, or in society.

I had to name the thing for myself because to not do so would be to placate and accommodate ignorant, hurtful conduct. I was deliberate about writing how this other parent’s behavior was racist as well as name some of the larger implications of racism and the heft of what it is to be Black in the United States; though, I could have said Black in the world, but that would have been a bit too meta and likely abstract for a white person that I had never had a conversation about race before Wednesday’s email.

I made a clear request for corrective action and also asked that they let me know of their choice. I made that request not assuming that they would definitely respond or even acknowledge my missive. On Thursday, I did get a response from the husband saying two things: that the corrective action had been done and that I should not (maybe it said never) contact them again.

I was not looking to make friends with the other parent. If anything, I was undercutting power by exposing what was already in the internet. And I was practicing for my own liberation. And for the liberation of my descendants, both blood and chosen.

Not death, destruction or agony but joy

I am a paradox of patience and impatience. I endure hours and decades of odd behavior and unfortunate choices while I detest the sluggishness of the status quo in politics, the imbalances of economics, and the persistence of racism and sexual violence.

So, it is with some reluctant intrigue that I read this discussion on Kurt Vonnegut by Suzanne McConnell:

You do not have to experience death or destruction or agony to write. You simply have to care about something. Perhaps what you care about is joyful. 

I have waited and procrastinated. I have doubted self and squandered storylines and anecdotes. At times, I have dreamed of a story that does not dwell in the hatred and violence of humankind. I aspire to read more and write some such writing as the spoken word carries heft and the written word carries power. The power to continue, perpetuate or the ability to break from broken habits and cultural norms and storied tropes.

Trope: 1. any literary or rhetorical device….