The Darkness Just Before the Light

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At five o’clock it was dark and I closed the shades. It was a rainy, grey day anyway. The Christmas lights were already burning. It is getting close to the shortest day of the year. The winter solstice is December 21. In the northern hemisphere it is the dark time, the long night. It is also the time when the days stop getting shorter, and the light begins to return. People have celebrated this return of the sun for ages. Our celebration of Christmas is based on it.

Symbolically, the birth of Jesus fits well with the time of light coming back into the world. Hannukah is also a festival of lights. This time of year is cold and dark. Many people experience loneliness and despair around the holidays. However, the days, by December 24th, are already getting longer. Psychologically, there is also an analogous process by which a time of personal darkness precedes an awakening. Our difficult times often help us find our strength, courage, and open heartedness. On the spiritual path, the “dark night of the soul” is a stage the seeker must pass through before realizing enlightened awareness.

This year, 2016, is a year that presents a particular time of darkness on the national and world scene. Hope for the well being of the planet seems to be at an all time low. And yet, or maybe because this is so, holiday cheer seems brighter than usual this year. I have always been visited by the “Christmas Spirit,” a feeling of love and goodwill toward others that comes over me like a state of grace at this time of year, and it has always been closely connected with the solstice, even before I knew the word. I never really felt the holiday mood until the 21st, then suddenly – there it was.

This year it came early, about a week ago. Friends who are aware of what I’ll label “New Age” philosophy have told me there is an unprecedented quantity of light surrounding earth just now, associated with the recent election. My hope and prayer is that we are undergoing a collective dark night that will somehow bring us to a much happier time for the good of our nation and the planet. I know that this doesn’t mean go back to sleep about what is happening. I know it means to stay engaged. Our task is to bring our love and wisdom into the darkest hour.

 

 

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One Nuclear War with China (or Korea) Can Ruin Your Whole Day

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Back in July, I read an article in The New Yorker about Tony Schwartz. Mr. Schwartz was the coauthor of Trump’s best selling book, The Art of the Deal. He spent considerable time with Donald Trump and was one to raise the issue of Trump’s temperament making him unsuitable for office. He described Donald Trump as extremely narcissistic and as having a short attention span. He also described him as belligerent. We have seen these personality traits on television during the campaign. He also knew next to nothing about how our government works or about foreign relations. By now he has been briefed and would know a little more, it must be assumed. Schwartz pointed out that it is not a good thing to give someone who so easily takes offense and is so ready to attack sole responsibility for authorizing a nuclear war, as will be the case when he becomes president.

Since the failure of Communism, the threat of nuclear war has faded from our imagination. Global warming seems to present a more clear and present danger. We really can’t avoid that now, but we could ameliorate the situation.  But nuclear war is still possible and only a countdown away. In some ways the danger is greater than it was in the 1950s. More countries, with less to lose, possess nuclear warheads. Most of the people living today don’t remember the terror in the period after Hiroshima. I still remember air raid drills from my school days. A siren would sound and we were told to get under our desks and cover our heads. I crouched there shaking all over my body. I knew you couldn’t survive an atomic attack. I was never sure it wasn’t really happening at that moment.

Trump’s temperament has been mentioned less often recently. He seems to act more civilized. I doubt, though, that his personality structure has really changed. Nor do I believe it was all just an act. Even with advisors he won’t have the experience to interact with foreign leaders in a non-incendiary fashion. He has displayed an interpersonal tactic of winning by intimidation. I don’t think this is a strategy he has developed intentionally. I think it’s his basic personality since early childhood. I can’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing. I happen to have a background in psychology. Apparently, intimidation has worked for him in business, but it won’t always work in diplomatic relations. Donald Trump’s recent phone call to Taiwan may have been deliberate and strategic, but it was ill advised. It can’t be in the best interest of the United States to alienate China.

 

Divide and Conquer

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There is a reservoir of covert racism in the United States, perhaps more than most of us would have expected. The same can be said of sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia.(As Lenny Bruce, the midcentury stand-up comedian used to say, have I left anyone out?) In this country, we have been ambivalent at best regarding diversity. The Native Americans debated whether or not to accommodate diversity by allowing white settlers to live here. By the time it became clear that wasn’t really a good idea, it was too late. On the part of the colonists, treaties were made and then broken with the Indians. This has kept happening up to the present day. At the time the Constitution was written, only white men were able to vote, and it was a radical idea even that  poor, uneducated men would be allowed to vote. New immigrants came in waves to settle the country and do the grunt work. Each group was subject to bias and resentment, then gradually assimilated.

Populism and racism have been linked in the past. Welcomed to California and Oregon from China, Japan, and Southeast Asia to cook and clean in the cities and in mining camps and on the railroads, Asians were soon labeled “the yellow peril” by white labor leaders who resented their willingness to work hard for lower pay, similar to the situation that Mexicans find themselves in today. By the way, much of this country was part of Mexico prior to the Spanish-American war. We literally moved into their country. Through all of this, white settlers from Europe have always been assimilated more easily. People of color, even if they were here first, have been subject to the most bias, derision, and out-and-out hatred.

In his brilliant and important book, A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn says that racism in what became the United States was deliberately created by the ruling class in order to keep the black slaves and white indentured servants from banding together to overthrow the establishment. This was done by initiating laws which differentiated between the two, such as prohibiting people of color from owning property, which white indentured servants could do once they earned their freedom. Initially, such distinctions were not made between the two groups. Although I believe racism is unfortunately much older than the “new world” and lies deeper in the collective mind, I have no doubt that it was used for a long time on this continent and elsewhere to keep people from banding together for a common cause.

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As the recent election has shown, race is still being used in exactly the same way. As people are becoming more informed, it is getting more difficult to sell a majority of the people on less taxes for the rich, discontinuing social security, and defunding public schools. It is easier to engage them by tapping into their fears and the projection of those fears onto faceless groups of others. When changes that are difficult to understand threaten the way of life, the well being, and the livelihood of people, they start looking for someone to blame. Donald Trump had his intuitive, money-making (by which I mean his instinct for marketing) finger on the pulse of a certain segment of the citizenry. He only needed something less than a majority of the voting population, as it turned out. Then all he had to do was point in the direction of those they were already blaming.

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I am hardly the first to point out that there are some similarities here with Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. In the nineteen twenties and thirties, Germany was reeling from the effects of the First World War. They had not only lost the war and the prestige of being a conquering nation, they had been required to make reparations and were suffering from a terrible economic depression. Hitler blamed the Jews, many of whom were bankers, for the depression. This seemed to be a notion that sat well with many Germans. Hitler did quite well in a democratic election, was appointed to high office, and eventually gained power in his country. In our country, although we are not in a depression, many manufacturing jobs have left the country or been replaced by robotics. The root cause of this may be “corporate greed,” but that has been with us as long as corporations have been. The point of a corporation, after all, is to make a profit. The recent cause is globalization. A global economy has taken the jobs, not Mexicans or any other immigrant group. Trump can’t turn back the clock to a more local economy by building a wall.