Staying Focus

William Penn: "A Kingdom divided against itself cannot stand: what he [Christ] said then, let me on another occasion say now, an interest divided against itself must fall."  

Ever had so many irons in the fire that you find yourself spinning in circles, literally?  I just did that in the kitchen.  Crazy!  My interests are so divided I can't focus.  So yes, Penn, I will let them fall and focus on one thing today!!!   And this blog is one of those interests that will fall... until another day. ;)

 

Lorrie Fields
I Despise Propaganda - It's too Sneaky

I despise propaganda - It's just too sneaky.

But the question in the media today is whether it's right for propaganda-prone organizations, like Alex Jones's Info Wars, to be banned by corporate giants as an action against fake news?  I didn't want to think about it, but the discussion in my head kept interrupting me -- 

Some would say it's a free speech issue - others a protection issue.  At first I thought, okay, if Info Wars were a news outlet then it shouldn't be banned - but it really isn't news or even serious commentary, is it?  I mean, the show is so provacative - shocking at times for the violent 'remedies' proposed against fellow citizens.  Or, does that even matter because, after all, "this is America" as some twitter feeds screamed today in defense of Info Wars and free speech... to which I think I agree on the free speech principle.  But maybe I'm being snookered.  These are private companies... so is the free speech issue being conflated here when it should not be?  I remembered the cake-baker story and how the court ruled...  Then, I thought, "Wait a minute."  Alex Jones still has free speech, no matter being dropped by a privately owned company.  And, on and on, my brain went. 

The argument about when and how to limit our freedoms is a big one.  l remember after 911 how we were persuaded to give up freedoms for the sake of security.  So should Info Wars be protected or not?  If so, by whom?  To me, Alex Jones and others like him (forget parties) hurt people and our country's civility by purposefully voiding the humanity of their enemies, which then justifies all manner of abuse.  This is a subject Darrell and I wrote about in our first book.  

Info Wars is by definition a propaganda outlet for their overt bias, partial truths, and perfectly placed lies.  The attorney for the organization said so himself when he said to an accuser in a recent libel suit, "You didn't believe that, did you?", suggesting what is said on the show should NOT be taken seriously.  I suppose the attorney thinks this is obvious to all Americans as if the show is watched like we watch alien conspiracies.  And... that leads me what finally surfaced as my absolute core issue.

The bigger issues isn't whether Info Wars or any other organization, liberal, conservative, or alien, has the right to distribute propaganda on one platform or another.  It is our susceptibility to believe propaganda along with our incapacity to recognize or question it, however it comes.  Propaganda is not news because it has an agenda, it withholds parts of truth, skews the rest, and rallies unsuspecting supporters.  It sneaky that way.  The world has a long history of propaganda-enticed horrors: The Holocaust, Bolshevik and Russian Revolution, Manifest Destiny, etc....  It's only after the fact, that citizens realize they were duped or complicit.  

So, since this is my central worry, and I can now dismiss the free speech argument from my head, I thought it would be helpful to provide information on propaganda techniques in order for us to better discern half-truths, bias, and misleading rhetoric. This comes from the University of Vermont on how to recognize propaganda and the dishonesty and fallacies codified in it.  

Please print it from the link below and keep it as a reference.  It may be useful in these uneasy, post-truth days.  After that you may go further by doing o a study on logical fallacies or study propaganda use during the World Wars.  Propaganda is everywhere, once you can see it.  

https://www.uvm.edu/~jleonard/AGRI183/propoaganda.html

-Lorrie 

Part Two - The Vulgarity of our Political Space & Acts of Suppression

So… I promised I would talk about how suppression is justified by some folks, according to William Penn.   

Suppression means to “put down by use of authority or force” and it means to “withhold disclosure” (dictionary.com).  Since we are not talking about germs or crimes here, the kind of suppression Penn spoke about is the bad kind.  After all, it’s good to suppress a gunman bent on murder.  It’s good to suppress a nasty flu bug.    

Penn linked suppressive acts with vulgarity (See my Beauty Heals post definition of vulgarity and Part One for what Penn said) because it requires negative presuppositions:  1) that a person or idea is wrong; 2) that the person or idea disorders the orderly or acceptable views; or 3) that to disclose something would bring about negative consequences.  By definition alone, suppressors either believe truth needs to be enforced or suppressed in order to maintain outcomes.  They hold the keys to truth. 

And, that’s the short of it (though there is the long of it too)!   It all comes off as rejection or the inability or unwillingness to see and respect others.  Once opinions and beliefs are totalized, then everyone who disagrees becomes an opponent worthy of suppression.  It’s justified. Unfortunately.  

Lorrie Fields
Giving the Liberties We Ask
 Photo by  Fabian Fauth  

Photo by Fabian Fauth 

Franklin Graham tweeted July 25, 2018 about people being judged by God for the words they say, seemingly as a deterrent to those who criticize the president.  Some comments to his post added warnings about ‘not touching the Lord’s anointed’... or else!  Or else some deserved-evil will visit the naysayers. They said so straight up.  I’d reference them but they are so wide spread they pass the no-reference-needed rule.  As harsh as these in-your-face tweets come off (unless you are a karma-kind of person), I actually believe these folks earnestly worry about lack of unity in America and worry that criticism against President Trump is further dividing us.  Some of it is.  But I am not talking about the vile.  Those should be judged… by all of us.  I am talking about the mistaken belief that to dissent is unpatriotic and unifying.   

Now to be fair, I need to say, I like unity too.  I speak about it.  I’m writing about it now for an upcoming book—about why it doesn’t happen and sometimes shouldn’t, how to achieve it and more.  I even feel the passion in Christ’s last words on earth, expressing his desire that humanity know the oneness in which he and his father share.  I even think I experience this in a few of my relationships. 

However, in these days of hot rhetoric and excited sensibilities, definitions and context make a difference.  I want to start from a historian’s point of view and mention a few societies that have sought unity using similar rhetoric as our friends from the Graham tweet.  

It’s important to remember that civilizations have universally needed a way to legitimize authority as a way of creating societies.  It’s always been a “thing” to find a way to assign sovereignty, a higher calling, and a glory to leadership positions.  Often it was called a divine right, an anointing, a bloodline right, or a prerogative.    

The big problem is that whenever this kind transcendence and hierarchy is given or taken by someone, a state of exception occurs.  It does tricks on followers and public servants who would otherwise never accept ill-gotten gains, injustice, or unrighteous means for attainment.  A blindness sets in.  Some sociologists explain it by group thinking.  I agree.  However, it’s a worse kind of group thinking when a religious import is attached with the goal to silence opposition.  By ‘religious,’ I don’t necessarily mean a deity is involved, since religious traditions have historically and deeply been embedded in collective cultures.  They still are.   

Consider Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War.  He and his Puritan followers believed he was saving Christianity.  In order to achieve his goals he assumed from Old Testament examples a “calling” from God with the common belief that peace could be won through conflict.  His call gave him leverage to massacre thousands of “Romanish” Irish and also to carry out the persecution and death of Quakers, Jews, and other alleged heretics. 

Then there was Charlemagne or Charles the Great and later Holy Roman Emperor.  He is credited for saving Christianity, the arts, and Western Europe, even though the rivers Aller and Wiser literally ran red in the 8th century from the blood of more than 4500 Germanic leaders and people who wouldn’t convert to Christianity quickly enough.  And, this was only one massacre, the massacre of Verden, of many.  In university, only I and one other student stood against my entire class which praised this Christian leader’s anointed-calling.  My classmates did admit, however, the unfortunate circumstance, but they concluded it was a necessary price to pay.  

Then there is Genghis Khan who used his transcendence to say, “I am the punishment of God...If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

What about Vladimir Lenin who fights his noble cause against the abuses of the tsars and the Industrial Revolution (which were many) to become a violent dictator himself and allowed a Stalin to emerge.  He manipulated his way to rule Russia silencing his opposition while proclaiming a utopian peace. 

There are so many of these stories.  It’s just what humans do.  It’s easier to rule if one can dominate; it’s easier to dominate if transcendence above and over others is assumed; it’s easier to have transcendence when “Providence” is the stimulus behind the means.  And, once “Providence” is inserted, the nature of means, somehow, no longer matters; they are just unfortunate circumstances for a greater purpose.   Unity is required, defined by punitive language and acts.  “Join us or else…” just like Cromwell, Charlemagne, Genghis Khan, Lenin, and that lady who commented on Franklin Graham’s post said.   

But America wasn’t founded to be a utopia of singular ideas, not even to be a legislated Christian nation, which would make God immoral by the mere testimony of Jesus alone.  No.  America was founded to give liberty of conscience to all.  And that carries with it the express freedom to dissent.  To allow dissent is messy.  It is noisy.  But it is exactly this seeming chaos that is the material we use to continue this experiment of government we call the United States of America.  It helps us grow and if we can dare to believe it is the true root of unity – to respect people we will dissent from and to know their respect in return.  It’s a unifying experience.  William Penn had it right when he said, “We must give the liberties we ask.” 

-Lorrie 

 

Beauty Heals
 
 Photo by  Laura Skinner  

Photo by Laura Skinner 

 

I know I promised to write a part two from my last post on the vulgarity of our political space but wanted to share a piece I wrote from a challenge a friend of mine proposed -- to share a novel that impacted my life.  It supports my recent argument.

Here it is:  

My first book-impact happened in elementary school.  It was the first time a novel took me out of my own small world, living in Southern California.  And, it was the first time I fell in love with words. The book: "The Secret Garden," by Frances Hodgson Burnett. 

Its message to me then and now:  BEAUTY HEALS!   

So the story goes, in one sentence, that when the orphaned Mary Lennox (wounded in heart) and her newly discovered cousin, Collin (wounded in body), transform an equally broken garden into a place of beauty, they are both restored, body and soul. 

Many times in my life, after the death of my first husband and after a host of devastating losses from a number of causes over my life, finding beauty was key to recovery.  One of those times, Darrell and I were in England, staying at England's top horticulturalist’s home. In his yard, overlooking Wales, there was a flower blooming that grew no where else (since he genetically engineered it). No one else on the planet ever saw it before, EVER, except for us. It literally took our breaths away - it was like this incredible beauty was reserved just for us to enjoy. We felt somehow chosen and humbled. Transcendent. 

Then there was the time when the trajectory of our life abruptly changed. Very scary! Yet, we found ourselves in the beauty of nature and each other, retreating from all the ways the world uses to gather value to itself. It was incredible and profound; and while I will never say, "yippie, yippie" to the causes that led us to this wonderful-terrible place, I am forever grateful for who we became and the beauty that so naturally finds us now. 

My and Darrell's, and Mary Lennox's experiences in the “garden" are such a contrast to the grisly grind of daily life today, where hatefulness underlies the collective conversation and is nearly fitting. It’s common and natural to hit back and be punitive, to be filled with “what-about-isms” to avoid listening or being responsible, to use partial truths, to be susceptible to intrigues and conspiracies, and to justify the end by whatever means. These habits prevent us from finding beauty around us and in each other. These habits are defined in one word, by beauty's opposite: vulgarity. 

The Greeks had a terrific word for vulgarity: apeirokalia, which is the lack of experience in things beautiful.  One hundred years ago Frances Burnett knew this - the Greeks knew this. It must be because humans default to vulgarity when they can no longer see the beauty in others. I know my experiences are my own, but there is something about changing our focus to find beauty that disallows vulgarity and hate. I truly believe that if we spend more time in the "garden" and take as many folks with us as will go, the experience would make it difficult to form those vulgar thoughts. And, if they could form, we'd instantly know they didn't belong. 

-Lorrie

The Vulgarity of our Political Space & Acts of Suppression - Part One
 
 Photo by  Mikael Kristenson  

"Contests naturally draw Company, and the Vulgar are justified in their Curiosity, if not Pity, when they see so many Wiser Men busie themselves to suppress a People."   William Penn - 1675

Conflict and fear excite interest; in fact, these excite many more neurons in a person's brain than peaceful conversations and peaceful events do.  It's only "natural", Penn thought.  And he was right.  Conflict is necessary for a good story (or we wouldn't waste our time watching a movie or reading a book).  The news wouldn't keep our interest long if reports were all tip-toeing-through-the-tulips.  (Though I wouldn't mind a day in the media of nothing but tulip sniffing.)  So what is the downside to the "contests" to which William Penn referred?  

Penn was saying that the use of conflict in the hands of these "wiser men" was designed to suppress opposition.  The ruckus drew a crowd.   He said it brought out the vulgarity of the "company," a potential mob.  They were the people who may have started with curiosity but end up vulgarized by their active participation.  This was what "wise men" needed to validate their acts and build support to suppress.   

In Penn's society people felt threatened by differences.  It was literally considered a security risk to disagree, to not conform to the party's point-of-view, never mind these dissenters were peaceful citizens.  Nonetheless, suppression and violence were legitimized to bring solidarity to the nation and its leaders.  The strategy involved devaluing "disagreeable" persons.  It was a necessary, else suppression and coercion would be noticeably improper.  I mean, how does one get away with destroying people’s lives, if they are, in fact, their loved neighbors and friends.  No!  They had to be "traitors, fanatics, and pigs" sent from the Pope in a secret conspiracy to destroy England.  Argh!  

Today, in America, our differences are hardened battle lines, just like in William Penn's day.  To dissent, even from your own group, is traitorous, just like it was then.  Questioning authority brings a discrediting campaign, just like it did then.  We'd rather skin people alive, one personal attack after another, instead of listen, just like... you get it. No one is curious about another's point of view, and yet, everyone has harsh opinions.  Otherwise good people can be turned into militant, sneering crowds, just by the mention of their "enemies's names."  

Unfortunately, this current "contest" in which America and the world are engaged, isn't for story telling sake.  There is no satisfying payoff to end this tale.  This is real American life in which we are unashamed to betray ourselves and each other.    

Somehow, it starts with the need to suppress; somehow it's "justified."  Just as Penn said it would be. 

We'll talk more about why next.  

 - Lorrie 

 

 

 
Values in Tension
 
 Photo by  Darinka Kievskaya     

Photo by Darinka Kievskaya 

 

The interesting thing about the values of civil equality, religious liberty, and inclusion, is how they often clash with each other. These are trigger words used to incite people from both red and blue states in America, or any nation with similarly divided groups of people.   

Some fear that civil equality denies a particular version of society that must be protected and fought to preserve. But, that’s when society breaks down – as demonstrated in Charlottesville, Virginia recently.  

The same goes for religious liberty. 

For that right, William Penn said, “We must give the liberties we ask.”  That means the liberty not to believe, if one so chooses. The tricky part, the revealing part of this for anyone, is not to turn the dissimilar person into an “other” – a person we tolerate, but that’s about it. This is barely civil and often justifies all sorts of abuses. Toleration is only a baby step towards love and respect.   

Imagine if a family member, in a gesture of good will, would say they tolerated their supposed loved one.  It doesn’t work. A tolerant society is an immature society, better than intolerant for sure, but far from the dignity and respect for humanity that language like “civil equality” imagines. The end must be a radical inclusive approach that neither prohibits one’s convictions or belief or demands it from another.   

Our ability to retain the humanity of others has to be the measure of us.