Monday, October 10, 2011

The Need to Burn Each Other at the Stake

The excellent investigative report State for Sale, published last week, reminded me of when I first learned of the now forty-year-old then-confidential playbook for the take-over strategy described in the report ( you may need to wait for a moment at the acrobat screen before it opens.)

I was briefed on the playbook while attending law school at night and working days at a chamber of commerce out west during a 29-month stint during which I was helping to shape and launch a free-standing community/destination marketing organization (DMO.)

No one at work asked, they just just assumed everyone was a Republican even though business people were evenly divided by party-affiliation, as they still are today. This is similar to the ego-centrism among Carolina fans today who assume everyone in Durham is a Tar Heel fan, even though scientific polls show most people here root for the home teams, Duke and NCCU.

The secretive memo/playbook had been written a couple of years before I learned about it in 1974 and, as any law school student would, I immediately recognized the author as Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. who wrote it just weeks before being appointed by President Nixon and confirmed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Powell was already famous as the Justice appointed to replace the legendary Hugo Black who during his lifetime evolved from a young Alabama Ku Klux Klan member to an outspoken center-liberal defender of free speech, separation of church and state, etc.

Like Black, during his time as a Supreme Court Justice, Powell moved much more to the center than he had been in private practice as a corporate attorney or as expressed in his pre-court, 1971 memo/Republican playbook. In retirement, Powell even expressed some regret for some of his more conservative opinions on the Court.

His memo/playbook foretold the formula described last week in the State for Sale and being perverted in several other places across the nation to control or purge public institutions:

  • fund think tanks, scholarly works and op-eds
  • flood the news media with columns and op-eds
  • attack higher ed. to undermine liberals (and moderates)
  • reverse policy in local schools
  • intervene in court cases
  • directly use business funds to finance political campaigns etc.

The playbook eventually fell into the hands of wealthy ultra-conservatives who deployed it, in the extreme, first to purge their own Republican Party of moderates and liberals and then stigmatize any other viewpoint or ideology as liberal and socialist including the swollen ranks of Independents, often through financing extremely negative, hostile and distorting campaign attack-ads while claiming to be the defenders of morality.

Except that through the hubris of power and money and what is described as a condition called “confabulation” in books such as Brain Fiction and the more recent and humorous Being Wrong – Adventures in the Margin of Error, their “rock-like certitude” convinces them that these distortions and lies are fact.

Confabulation has enabled ultra-conservatives, recently, to absurdly proclaim with a straight face that Mitt Romney isn’t a Christian because he belongs to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (Mormons) or that the Bill of Rights does not apply to non-Christians.

The rigors of succeeding in business transform a few to become like Warren Buffett or Bill Gates or many closer to home such as Jim Goodmon. But many emerge not only successful and wealthy but entitled and retaining a huge “chip on their shoulder” feeling marginalized, angry, hurt and judgmental.

Rather than humbled by just how much “luck” is also required to succeed in business, they emerge blinded to the public services and infrastructure that under-pinned their success while, at the same time, seeming far too often disdainful and judgmental of the customers upon whose exchanges their success was built.

Turning away from philanthropy, they seem locked into a self-proclaimed Jihad against the minimum wage, environmental protection, consumer, voter and civil rights, immigration, education, social safety-nets and much more only to learn that inherently fragmented moderates and liberals are easy prey and not their polar opposite at all but only midway along an ideological “ring” where the seeming opposite ends of of ultra-conservatism and Marxism rest side by side, separated only by Totalitarianism.

Seemingly ensnared in a perpetual closed-loop of inductive confirmation bias and rock-jawed homophily, some often resemble more the abused child than either part of ideological typology offered by linguists where conservatives are the strict, authoritative father and liberals are the nurturant mother.

When the pendulum of power swings back again, and it always does, hopefully we can all put an accepting and inclusive arm around the shoulders of those who are currently wreaking so much havoc in the name of morality and remember together the words of poet Mark Nepo in the book entitled Facing the Lion, Being the Lion -- Finding Your Inner Courage that:

“…as we grow, we often start to perch alongside of life, watching while leaning on the rail of whatever values we were taught to uphold. Before we know it, we become cold messengers whose message is muted because of our detachment.

…Compassionate justice is rarely just about right or wrong, but more about our courage to see and embrace the fallen part in others as the humanness in ourselves. This does not preclude holding ourselves and others accountable for the moments of trespass we engender.

Rather, compassion deepens our response to such trespass, demanding that we lean into what went wrong- together. The recognition of trespass with honesty is often more helpful than unconsidered judgment that exiles the fallibility of being human.

Unconsidered and unfelt judgment often provides a way to remove ourselves from people and situations.

When we feel justified judging others, we give ourselves permission not to stay involved…This is the hard gift of compassion, that it allows us to stay involved in a meaningful way with the living. It allows us to respond to the splendor and messiness in life.”

…Ultimately, the urge to hush our anxiety is not the same as facing it. Ultimately, creating noise or a list of good deeds won’t keep us from ourselves or the fact that time is precious and that life will end. Isn’t this at the heart of our noisy obsessions with fame and crisis? Isn’t it all a way to feel important and needed?

In running from the basic questions of living haven’t we become a society of firefighters whose identity of goodness so rests on putting out fires that we never face our secret life as arsonists?

Nevertheless, whatever situations we are left to mend, we all face the ache…and the challenge of being led by our compassion and not our anxiety. Otherwise, we risk becoming all that we abhor. And if we keep setting fires with our judgment and putting them out with out with our guilt, the face of humanity will be scorched.

This is the cost of our busy need to save each other and our righteous need to burn each other at the stake.

These dilemmas – of turning judgment into compassion, of letting vengeance disperse into forgiveness, of sinking below the noise of our anxiety till we can take pain out of the mind – these quandaries are ageless.

…our endless dream of having the courage to face our judgment, our vengeance, our anxiety, our resentments and live with them.”

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