Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Great Divide

--Here comes the great divide.
I walk the slide
That only killers should fear.
Here comes the great divide
I walk the slide
I hope I never fall.

--Stuart Adamson

A while ago Joan installed a "podcast app" on my new cell phone. (I had to get a new cell phone because my old cell phone was flipping into "airplane mode" by itself, and at odd times.  A real problem if, say, my boss wanted to call me.  Naturally, T-Mobile couldn't fix it and gently "suggested" that I get a new phone.)  If you're not familiar with "podcasts," all I can say is, check a few out.  They're like radio programs, usually about half an hour long, recorded by regular people, some with agendas and some who just have a topic they like to talk about and educate other people about.  You download them from the Internet and you can listen to them on your computer, or through your tablet or cell phone or what have you.  Because my cell phone talks to my car somehow (I still think this is magic, or else the little guys inside my cell phone talk to the little guys inside my car dashboard and tell them what to say), I can now listen to "podcasts" while I'm driving to and from work, and in rich, stereo sound, too.  This was a revelation.  Imagine; all this time I could have been learning something instead of bouncing around at intersections and belting out the lyrics to "Come On, Eileen" for the 9,827th time.

Anyway, one of my favorite podcasters is Dan Carlin.  He's a political commentator, in a sense, but he approaches U.S. politics as though he's a space alien who has just come to Earth and is starting to learn a little bit about human society.  He's neither conservative nor liberal but kind of a maddening mix of both, which is what makes him so interesting.  Mr. Carlin has two main podcasts; "Common Sense", which is about politics, and "Hardcore History", which is also about politics but in the context of what happened during, say, World War I or the Holy Roman Empire.  (We interrupt this blog post for a quick plug: Although the podcast about World War I was six episodes long and each episode ran about three hours, it was totally and completely worth the time spent and you should go download all six episodes from his web site right now, while they're still free.)

Up until just before The Election, Dan Carlin was saying in his "Common Sense" podcast that he thought the biggest problem we face as Americans is corruption in government.  What, you might ask, did he think the solution was?  Well, he thought we should vote in an outsider who would do things in a way nobody's ever done them before.  So we did that, and, uh, guess what happened.  Now Dan Carlin is saying no, I was wrong; the biggest problem we face as Americans is not corruption in government, nor Donald Trump, as you might expect, but the fact that a large chunk of our population hates another large chunk of our population.  And the reverse.  Which is where Donald Trump came from.  And there are smaller groups that hate other smaller groups, and those smaller groups hate lots of other small groups, and primarily it's just a great big hatefest out there, and if we're not careful, the whole country is going to break up into a bunch of nationalistic, nuclear, surly little rocks.  Sort of like the Soviet Union did--oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.

 See, back in the 1960s, and even probably up until maybe ten or twenty years ago, if you told somebody the United States might break up, their likely initial reaction would be, "Oh no!  What can we do to preserve the Union?"  Nowadays, the reaction's a lot more likely to be, "Good.  I don't want to live with those people anymore."  Whoever those people may be.  The Jews.  The blacks.  The gays.  The conservatives.  The liberals.  The Society of Left-Handed Spanish-Speaking Librarians Without Tonsils.*  Pick your label.  Depending on who you talk to, you'd be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that in the very near future, you'll have your choice of Californiastan, Texasberg, the Kingdom of Washoregon, Utahsville,  New Yorkguay and the Republic of Gilead--oops, I mean the Confederate States.  (Maine, of course, will make like a tree and join Canada.) Presumably they'll all have separate currencies and you'll need a passport to travel from one to another. What's more, you'll have to pass an ideology check. No one beyond this point may openly advocate interracial marriage, for example.

So what can we do about this?

Maybe nothing.  Maybe us fragmenting and falling apart would be for the best.  We are using 25% of the planet's resources, after all, which is all the more shocking when you know that we only have 5% of the world's population.  We export our environmental damage by buying lumber from countries that don't have sustainable forests, messily manufacturing our products in countries that don't have air pollution controls, and overfish oceans that aren't subject to our environmental laws.  Breaking us up might be good for the world.  I think it'd be just terrible for us, though.  For all kinds of reasons. I mean, we've been a country for a long time.  It'd be kind of cool if we could keep on being one.

Dan Carlin isn't sure what to do, but I have a suggestion. It's kind of Buddhist-y, but here it is: Let's try actually listening to each other, instead of just seeing who can shout the loudest.  Let's get to know some of our neighbors who think differently than we do. And more to the point, find out why they think differently than we do.  How they came to those conclusions.  What pieces of information they considered.  And whether or not they're convinced of the truth of those pieces of information and, if they're not, if they've ever considered any other pieces of information that might point to a different conclusion. And (here's the hard part) let them get to know the same things about us.  And give us the same pieces of information.  After all, we might be wrong about a thing.  It's not unheard of.

In Buddhism we have this thing called "nonattachment to views."  About which there have been lots of words written, but what it basically boils down to is, "I might be wrong.  Therefore I'll listen and see if I can learn something."

How important is nonattachment to views?  Well, Right View is one of the eight things on the Eightfold Path that leads to enlightenment.  And I quote:  "“Right View” is also called “right perspective”, “right vision” or “right understanding.”...You need to see the world and yourself as they truly are, not what you have been conditioned to see."  And nonattachment to views is a big part of this.  In short, if you've grown up, say, in a country that has a dominant religion, and you and your family are of a different religion, you could perhaps be forgiven (at least for a while) for thinking that people of the dominant religion are inherently bad, evil, or otherwise nasty--especially if people of the dominant religion went out of their way to harass, repress and terrorize you.  (And I have no experience with this whatsoever, as I'm sure you know.)  But, once you got out there in the world and met some of the people of this dominant religion, you might learn that they have the same dreams, aspirations and ambitions as you do, that they want all the same things you want, and that just because they believe something other than what you believe, they're all individuals and it's unfair to paint them all with the same bad/evil/nasty brush.  Even if they've done the same to you.  Which, let's face it, a lot of them have.

We have so many choices anymore for our sources of information, and it's easy to get stuck in a bubble by turning only to those sources of information that support things we've already made our minds up about anyway.  Like, say, watching only Fox News, logging in only to Breitbart, and hanging around only with the #tcots on Twitter.  Conversely, you might watch nothing but CNN, log in only to The Daily KOS and hang around only with--with--I'm not sure there's an opposite label from #tcot.  But if there is one, that's the one I mean.

So what am I suggesting, you may ask.  Am I suggesting you watch Fox News for ten minutes a day?  Follow Karl Rove on Twitter? Log in to LifeSite News, for crying out loud?!  Well, yes, sort of, but more to the point, I'm suggesting you actually talk to people.  People people.  Human beings people. People who think differently than you do.  Find out why they think differently.  Ask them what they believe.  Here's a thing--people love talking about what they believe.  Get them started and you probably won't have to say a word for ten minutes or more.  Excellent tip for cocktail parties where you don't know anybody and you're only there to be arm candy for your wife.

And if you can, without being obvious, ask people why they believe what they believe.  And don't take "Because that's what it says in the Bible" as your answer.  Come back with "Okay, but you decided to believe that the Bible is true. When did you decide to do that?  What happened?"  And maybe the person had a born-again experience when he was fourteen or maybe he was in a terrible accident and almost died and thinks that God saved him or maybe he hasn't a clue when he made that decision or why.

Ah, now you are getting somewhere.  You have, after all, just learned something about this person that you didn't know before.  Maybe it will be enough to alter your view of him.  Maybe not, but more to the point, he's learned something too.  About himself as well as about you. If nothing else, he now knows that you're a good listener.  And what's more, you want to learn things.  Curiosity may have killed some feline back 70,000 years ago, but trust me, intellectual curiosity is about the best asset a human being can have.  Besides being a good listener.  I really think that trumps just about everything.

So that's my suggestion.  Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but it's certainly worth a try, isn't it? Because breaking up the country isn't only stupid, it would be really expensive.  You think taxes are high now?  Buddy, just wait until Utahville figures out it needs to host the Olympics again  You ain't seen nothin' yet.

*Not a real political action committee, but wouldn't it be interesting if it were.

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