What Does He Stand For?

This is one of the truest things I’ve read about our dear leader —


Toward the end he summarizes:

If all that matters when it comes to “law and order” is who is a friend and who is an enemy, and if friends are white and enemies are black or Latino or in the wrong party, then the rhetoric around crime and punishment stops being about justice and is merely about power and corruption.

And this is what “law and order” means: the preservation of a certain social order, not the rule of law. It shouldn’t have taken this long to see what has always been staring us in the face.

Exactly.  This is what Trumpism really is.  Not law and order, not equality, not democracy, but us vs. them.  Lie for your co-conspirators, your “family”, slander other groups, weaken them, crush anyone competing with you for authority even if it’s the other branches of your own government.  This is why having Trump in power is dangerous, he’s trying to use government power the way a mafioso uses his lieutenants. He wants to drag us back to Jim Crow, the clan, the Crusades, mob violence, because in that atmosphere he is powerful.  He is powerful when our vision darkens and instead of a nation we see ourselves as nothing but a thuggish brood, when our heart darkens and we feel that only people like ourselves deserve mercy and that laws are only for oppressing others, when our mind darkens and we lose any grip on the facts of this world and project our own twisted fears onto everything unfamiliar.

If we can stay a nation of laws, if we hold fast to the principles that so many have sacrificed for, to raise humanity up from blood and soil and brute instinct to a higher loyalty, to a universal brotherhood and sisterhood, to be committed to the truth and willing to sacrifice for the stranger even when it means loss and failure — if we can do that, then we can shrink Trump and his ilk down to the sick joke they have always been.  Then we will survive him.

Then we’ll be able to continue the journey we’re on, the journey to perfect our love, to live in the light of truth, to cultivate our humanity until it blooms into a glorious maturity the likes of which the world has never seen, when all of us will know for a fact in our hearts and in our minds that every person and every living thing on this earth is a sacred gift.



Rick Santorum

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Presidential Politics on the Ancient Savanna

It’s not news that people often behave irrationally. In many cases it’s not just random greed and fear that we see, but well organized bouts of instinctual group foolishness that follow fairly specific patterns. I’m proposing that the pattern we’re currently seeing in the behavior of our Dear Orange Leader and his supporters, and people like me who are dead-set against him, is all part of an instinctual response that I call “Follow the Bully”.

The “Follow the Bully Instinct” — An Exercise in Armchair Anthropology

Imagine that you and your tribe of hominoids are hunkered down in the grasslands. A neighboring tribe has been moving into your area, trying to push you out. This is a matter of survival for your group because there aren’t many good foraging areas nearby, and moving into another tribe’s area would make you the invaders and put your children and weaker members at risk. What do you do? You need to resist the invading group, but being hominoids, you’re very individualistic and don’t work together very well.

Luckily for you, you have an instinctual response to help in these situations. You and other members of the tribe find yourselves wanting to follow a leader who will lead the charge to expel the invaders. You are drawn to pick the biggest, meanest male in the group and you start telling him how mighty he is, building up his confidence so that he is willing to lead you into battle. You start going along with whatever he says, making him feel even more powerful.

The pleasure in gaining power over others is a seductive drug because it is an instinctual response. It allows a group to manipulate a leader to enhance survival. This instinct blinds the leader to the danger the group is leading him into.

You find yourself angry at members of the tribe who are too independent and obstinate to follow the bully. You and the other followers ostracize these traitors and in extreme cases kill them so that they don’t interfere with the group dynamic.

Independent thinkers and doers are essential to the survival of a species like ours because we depend on our intellect to make up for our lack of strength, speed, armor, claws and sharp teeth. We are a species that will lose every time in a straight fight, so we always have to change the odds by learning from our mistakes, adapting our techniques, and planning ahead.  While the “Follow the Bully” pattern is unfolding however, people unwilling to submit are just sand in the gears.  Their influence must be temporarily minimized.

As an aside, I would point out that this evolutionary emphasis on independent thought and action causes us endless strife and conflict when we try to live together in groups — and yet we are social animals, we can only survive in groups. There is a reason that the Buddha talked so much about suffering.

Your group becomes totally focused on building up your leader and working in absolute unison. Independent thought and questioning become anathema because it weakens group cohesion. When the day comes to fight, your bully believes that he is invincible. You and your group are completely committed to following him. You march into battle. Win or lose, your willingness to work together as one unit, your ability to unite behind a leader willing to fight with reckless confidence because he is convinced he will win, has increased your chances of survival.

Since the intelligence, independence, and adaptability of our hominoid tribe is a crucial survival trait, continuing to have a violent, power-obsessed bully as a leader is detrimental to its long-term survival.

After the danger has passed, your instincts lead you to start ignoring your bully, reducing his influence over the group.  The independent-minded members of the group who had been ostracized are allowed to return and reestablish a looser sense of group organization. Soon normalcy is restored and the band returns to its more peaceful and democratic ways, foraging in small groups and exploring the world with curiosity – at peace until the next crisis.

The Follow the Bully Instinct was helpful in hunter-gatherer societies, but has been the cause of much evil in the last 10,000 years or so. Perhaps it has outlived its usefulness. The only way to blunt the various behaviors caused by this instinct is to stay mindful, to watch for them, to be conscious of them when they arise, and to resist following their lure. It takes a certain amount of discipline and a spirit of renunciation to stay unattached to instinctual responses. A clear set of ethical principles can help you objectively evaluate your behavior and identify when you are in their thrall. Practicing Metta, Karuna, Mudita, and Upekkha (goodwill, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity) can help you retain your natural sense of empathy and kindness when you find yourself hating and rejecting those who think differently from you.

We don’t have to live heedlessly.  We can make our world a peaceful Eden if we choose to do so.  It won’t be easy though, it takes constant effort to go against the stream of normal human behavior, to avoid the blind reactions of untaught worldlings.

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Battling Reality

It’s easy to frame the republican dominated legislatures in the United States as being in revolt against liberal ideals. That’s certainly true, but I see a deeper trend. What I see happening right now is a revolt against good government and civic virtue. A revolt against impartial justice and the rule of law. A revolt against empirical science and evidence-based reasoning. A revolt against empathy and self-sacrifice. A revolt against the common fate of our planet that binds all of humanity together. A revolt against the limits of the natural world. A revolt against centuries-long historical trends toward peace and justice. I see it as a revolt against reality itself.

This revolt cannot succeed, but it may cause a great deal of suffering before it consumes itself and we are able to resume the ancient and noble work of civilization — to more deeply establish humility, compassion, and restraint in human society.

Viewed in this way, the Bannon administration as I’ll call it is ultimately on a suicide mission. In the interim we must try and protect as many vulnerable people as we can. We may not be able to turn events from their set course in the short term. The momentum of history is strong and world events have a life and logic all their own. This drama will take years to play out, and the aftershocks will reverberate for generations.

We must be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We must fuse unshakable resolve with a deep well of compassion for all beings. We must be ready to share a belly-laugh over the absurdity of it all, tremble in the presence of suffering, and confront ignorant cruelty with a stout heart and ready hands in every hour of every day.

To do this, equanimity will be as important as oxygen. The only way I know how to make equanimity a friend that stays with me in adversity is time on the cushion, resting with the breath and the heart. But everyone will have to find a way.

We, the resistance, are not battling reality. We accept what is happening in this moment as the hard truth of the world. At the same time we are giving birth to the better world that we are always envisioning in our hearts. With a firm commitment and an open and unflinching vulnerability of the spirit, we will work together to bring that world into being.

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America Last. Because the Last Shall Be First

Powerful people do not make a nation great. Legions of modest, conscientious people quietly doing the right thing do that. The powerful take what others create and twist it to their own ends.

The rich are not important. The important people are the ones who ignore their own comfort and security to seek the truth and lift up the downtrodden. The rich inevitably corrupt society and oppress the weak, and their fortunes make them blind to their immorality.

War does not better the world. Instead it is kind, responsible people working for generations to improve the lives of others who do that. War destroys in hours what took centuries of painstaking care to build.

Pride does not make a nation great. Pride makes it easy for a nation to commit atrocities against the weak, and to then delude itself by calling them victories over evil.

Those who seek to be first shall be last. Those content to be last shall inherit the earth.

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Casualties in the War Between Head and Heart

There are two types of moral blindness.

The first is blindness of the mind, where people assume that what is traditional, comfortable, and familiar to them — God, country, the values one grew up with, family, social respectability — provide a framework for one’s life that cannot be questioned.

The second is blindness of the heart, where people are dazzled by intellectual understanding and believe that all problems have one rational solution, which is their solution. They cling hard to their ideas and ideals and demand that everyone believe in them as much as they do.

People who are head-blind listen to their heart, but they live in a dreamy cocoon. Only their tribe, their neighborhood, their God, their country exists, and all beyond it is treated with indifference fading into contempt. They believe their comfortable assumptions and biases and never see the suffering people just beyond the hazy view of their blinkered, rose-colored glasses. The idea that they’ve ended up on the wrong side of an issue or need to adapt to a new situation deeply offends their foolish pride. They will take up arms against the foreign and try to wipe it out so that nothing disturbs their delusions.

People who are heart-blind see the real world in all its particulars, but don’t want real people living in it. They want human beings who work like computers and societies that work like machines. They don’t understand that people, including themselves, are an exasperating, unpredictable mix of logic and illogic, and that this is a very good thing. Society is always in a muddle, falling away from old ways of doing things and dimly groping toward new ones. We are a simmering stew of potentials, constantly evolving. People who can’t accept this situation try to force the unruly humans to do “what’s best for them”, and they can be mercilessly cruel when they do so.

You can’t force the status quo to continue, you will just keep making new enemies, driving away the young, and fading into extinction.

You can’t force new visions on people either, artificial rules that didn’t arise spontaneously from society are never fully accepted. The more you push society into some “rational” pattern, the more it rebels and subverts your plan.

What’s the answer? Buddhism says that we depend on both faculties, head and heart, to behave morally. The Buddha called these two moral senses “The Guardians of the World”. We need the clear light of reason and the warm intuition of our feelings working together. We need them to teach one another, discipline one another, before we will be able to find our way.

The head and the heart are not natural enemies. When they learn to work together they are much wiser and more creative than either is working alone. This unified creativity can give birth to visions that satisfy both head and heart, and rally people toward ways of being that are both comforting and clear-minded.

Without these two faculties working in harmony we can easily fall into great evil. Either type of blindness can harden the heart against vulnerable and suffering human beings. Moral blindness makes people invisible and thus expendable.

You can find moral blindness in the boys around the bar talking about “glassing” the middle east. You can find it in the intellectuals at the coffee shop angrily dismissing those who can’t see their brilliance as mouth-breathing morons who don’t deserve the benefit of their vision.

If we can make peace within our own souls, we may yet have a chance at peace on earth.

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Should We Teach Our Children to Feel Good About Being Selfish, Cruel, and Irresponsible?

We’re hearing a lot about “winners” and “losers”, with regard to success in business. Here’s how I would characterize the morality of many business decisions these days:

I’m sorry I had to burn down your house with your family inside, but you see, I have a fiduciary responsibility to the stockholders.

In the abstract, capitalism is an excellent way to encourage an efficient use of resources in a large economy. It also teaches the value of work, responsibility, ingenuity, delayed gratification, and a host of other positive qualities.

The problem with the way our particular version of capitalism works is that it condemns a good chunk of our society to a life of poverty, crime, ignorance, disease, humiliation, and hopelessness. It’s also encouraging us to poison and pillage our planet at an alarming rate.

This sounds so idealistic, doesn’t it? It’s easy to dismiss these concerns as “that’s just the way it is”. Nothing is perfect, and we should be thankful for all that our way of life has given us. Making fundamental changes could be messy and lead to unforeseen consequences. All that is true.

It would be one thing if we as a society understood that our system is just the best we can do for now. We should see it as our current compromise between our ideals of fairness and freedom and the harsh truth that human beings are irrational and have a strong selfish streak. Instead, we have a cheerleading section of free-market acolytes who proclaim that our system is the best possible one, and that to think otherwise is unpatriotic.

Even worse, they promote the immoral idea that greed and indifference to the suffering of others are valuable qualities in business, that precisely these qualities allowed “market forces” to created all the good things we have. I don’t think that’s right.

Many things that make our lives worth living exist in spite of our fetish for wealth and our bootlicking deference to the powerful and heartless. Our devotion to our children has no conceivable price tag. Educators, artists, and social workers are definitely not in it for the money. Policemen, soldiers, and rescue workers endure great difficulties and mortal danger for modest pay to keep us safe. Those working to protect our environment for our descendents have no economic incentive. Great thinkers and inventors are famous for their often indifferent attitude towards worldly wealth and status.

We need to decide what lessons we want to teach our children. Are greed, heartlessness, and a full belly the highest ideals toward which we can strive, or should this “animal” aspect of our nature be recognized as only part of our birthright? To fulfill our true promise, do human beings need to develop a great heart as well as a cunning mind? Do we require a noble purpose for our lives to keep the lure of worldly success from imprisoning our soul?

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Is There a True Cause to Believe In, or is it All Just Crap?

We as human beings run on beliefs. We believe in our future, our families, our country, in science, religion, political beliefs, and economic theories. We believe in our plans, our dreams, and our ideals. What could be wrong with that? Don’t we need to believe in something?

Sure, beliefs are fine, but when we are addicted to our beliefs, when we trust our beliefs more than our own nature, we can become delusional or downright evil. Our beliefs exist to serve us, not the other way around. When we “lose ourselves” in some higher cause, what’s really happening is that we’re turning our backs on our own innate wisdom and goodness.

Giving up your freedom in order to serve a belief is the origin of all slavery. If you are willing to forfeit your independence to a belief or ideal, forfeiting it to a person or organization follows very easily.

If giving up our intellectual freedom is such a bad thing to do, why do we do it? Buddhism tells us that we become addicted to our ideas. Clinging to them, identifying with them, gives us a sense of relief from the fundamental pain and dissatisfaction that we feel. It doesn’t last though, the pain always comes back. Then we either give up that belief and look for a “better” one or else cling more and more tightly to our cherished ideal in an attempt to recapture that original good feeling. It’s a cruel trap to which we fall prey because we are ignorant.

How do we avoid it? Buddhism tells us that the solution to ignorance is knowledge. We have to see and understand the traps we’ve fallen into. Once we understand what’s happened to us and clearly see the harmful effects of our clinging, we will naturally be able to let go. Knowledge is freedom.

So what is that knowledge? What is it that we cling to? Buddhism teaches that there are four types of upadana, four types of clinging:


The first set of things that we cling to are what we’ve already been discussing — views, ideals, and intellectual beliefs. These can include political and economic ideologies, religions, philosophies, and many other systems of thought. This category also includes the belief in the value of science that so many of us share. When we think that there is some idea that will solve our problems by believing in it, and that the world’s problems could be solved if everyone believed it, we are clinging to views.


When we carry our ideas into the the world they become standards of right and wrong behavior. This type of clinging includes the rules of our political and economic systems, social conventions, religious rituals, and any sort of method or technique. When we think that there is some set of actions or behaviors that will always make situations work out for us, we are clinging to behaviors. When we think that the world’s problems would be solved if everyone followed some fixed set of rules, we are clinging to behaviors. What is happening here is that we’re creating rituals out of our beliefs, it’s magical thinking.

Sense Pleasures:

As animals, we have biological drives to satisfy our wants. Food, comfortable surroundings, social contact, sex, these can affect our thinking and behavior to the point that we ignore the obvious consequences of our actions. Other’s suffering can become almost invisible in the haze of our preoccupation with our own comfort and stability.


The previous three types of clinging come together in what Buddhism considers the most fundamental type, clinging to our sense of self, or self-view. We want to be right, we want to be respected, to be desired, to be important, to be safe, to be smart, to be beautiful, to see ourselves the way we “should” be. We take our bodies, our feelings, our understanding of the world, our plans and desires, and our stories and assumptions (the skandhas) to be the essence of ourselves and we defend them at all costs. We can convince ourselves that it’s not just OK but that it’s even morally commendable for us to harm others and spoil our environment, all to preserve our sense of self. No end of pernicious evil comes from this.

Letting Go

Letting go of clinging is not easy. In Buddhist practice we develop a mindful, spacious awareness so that we can look at our thoughts without judgement and see them more objectively. We also don’t have to let go cold turkey, we can replace harmful types of clinging with more skillful ones. We fill ourselves with goodwill, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, the four immeasurables. Because these four qualities have no particular object, they help us to be more skillful about our attachments. We have to decide in each situation how to show loving-kindness, how to practice compassion, how to share joy, and how to abide in spacious equanimity. There are no cookie-cutter rules in Buddhism that you can unthinkingly apply. There is no mindless technique you can do by rote. Mindfulness and clear comprehension are required to walk every step of the path.

With this understanding, we can come back to our systems, our religions, and our philosophies with a more skillful approach. We can use our beliefs to guide us without becoming blind adherents to some creed. We can use the benefits of rational thought and science to make the world a better place while recognizing that ideologies can spawn fanatics and scientific knowledge can be used for great harm.

We can use the insights of some ancient iron-age system of thought like Buddhism (or some upstart modern creed like Christianity or Islam) to learn to be better people, recognizing that some will misuse it to block out reality and create divisions between us.

There are still things worth believing in, but you have to believe in them lightly. They must be used in service to your humanity, they must support your natural human compassion, and perhaps most importantly, they must not be allowed to stifle your sense of humor.

If you can’t laugh at your own beliefs, your sacred cows, then you’re taking them too seriously. You’ve identified yourself with them and have lost your footing in your real home, which is the unspoken, intuitive understanding that you have of your life. You’re smothering your natural sense of grace.

One of the profound teachings of Buddhism is the simile of the raft. In this teaching Buddhism is compared to a raft used to cross a river. Once you’re on the other side you don’t carry it around with you, you leave it behind, it’s done its job. Buddhism isn’t some absolute truth to be clung to, it is a set of methods to be used appropriately.

Would that all ideologies and systems of thought contain such a teaching, a door that lets the practitioner avoid becoming trapped inside! Systems that do not understand themselves in this way are more likely to create the sorts of mindless puppets we all know, people who are True Believers in some ideology. We pity them, even more because their beliefs are are usually being used by unscrupulous people to take advantage of them.

The obvious example these days is the large number of people in thrall to the free-market snake oil that the 0.1% pays corrupt journalists and fake think tanks millions to produce. These con artists convince people to vote for those who will crush their hard-won workers’ rights, slash their social safety net, and destroy their communities and their environment. Our citizens are being criminally taken advantage of by the robber-barons of our day and they’ve been carefully taught not to realize it.

Yes, this is a view, but I try my best to hold it lightly. I do however consider it to be a skillful view for dealing with our current situation.

When we don’t question our views, we become slaves. Don’t believe anything because it’s comfortable to do so or so that you can be part of some group.

Think For Yourself!

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