Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn painted "The Return of the Prodigal Son" in the 1600s, a timeless representation of apology and forgiveness

It took 10 years of brutal war for the ancient City of Troy to fall; it took one 44-character tweet for the empire of Roseanne Barr to disappear from television. “The Conners” with Barr as queen, like Troy, is no more.

Barr was expeditiously deleted from the ranks of Burbank because, in a tweet on May 29 she called Valerie Jarrett — an African-American woman who was a senior advisor to Barack Obama — an ape, not the run-of-the-mill kind but one infused with Muslim terrorism.

ABC showed en force. Its entertainment president, Channing Dungey, said Barr’s action was “abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values” and ejected her, to mix metaphors, from the ballpark.

Hoping to reverse her fortunes, Barr kept tweeting but with what can be described as empty, lopsided apologies. At one point, she pulled out the “devil made me do it” card, blaming her venom on Ambien.

Lickety-split a spokesperson from Ambien said, “While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.”

From the denials and excuses she offered, it was clear Barr had little sense of what kind of transformation must occur before a person can offer a sincere apology — to the person harmed as well as the world at large.

Barr’s remorse was summed up in, “I was so sad that people thought it [the tweet] was racist.” (Exegesis to follow.)

The matter kept gnawing at Barr so she felt compelled to appear on Sean Hannity’s show two months later, July 26, to set the record straight. But pretty much everything she said failed to meet the requirements of a sincere apology.

At one point, she turned to the screen and said — to Jarrett presumably — “I’m sorry that you thought I was racist and that you thought my tweet was racist because it wasn’t ... And I’m sorry for the misunderstanding that caused my ill-worded tweet.”

In a myriad of ways, Barr pressed on like this, assuming defensive after self-protecting defensive posture. She was floundering emotionally and ideologically.

Right after Barr’s appearance on “Hannity,” Eric Deggans, media critic for NPR, commented, “Roseanne Barr has just given a master class on how not to apologize for a massive public flameout.”

I know a lot of people, some close to me, who have a hard time apologizing, even a little bit. When “sorry” leaves their lips, it’s followed with a flood of justifications that become masked attacks themselves.

First of all, in a sincere apology there is no “but.” “But” is a euphemism that hides a person’s real core behind justifications: “Ambien made me do it.”

When an apology is sincere, the penitent’s posture is one of owning the pain and suffering he inflicted on another. He takes back the burden he created.

And this requires finding out how the harmful act affected the “target’s” life — whenever possible through a face-to-face dialogue.

And how one speaks at every stage of the process is critical. Nowhere in an apology should there be heard, “Oh, I made an error,” the kind of thing a person says after he’s said two and two are five.

In his beyond-brilliant HBO situation comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David returns again and again to the issue of apology. Season 5, Episode 4 is emblematic of his thinking.

A young Japanese American, Yoshi (the son of a World War II Kamikaze pilot “survivor”), believes that David, when ordering chicken teriyaki during dinner, is taunting him with “chicken” when David repeats it several times looking Yoshi in the face with vehemence.

When Yoshi tries to kill himself, Larry’s wife among others believes Larry’s labelling Yoshi a chicken was the “cause.”

When a friend convinces Larry he must apologize, the norm-enforcing taunter calls Yoshi on the phone and says, “I’m sorry if I said anything that might have been inappropriate.”

Here, as in the case of Barr, David is not apologizing for the pain he inflicted but for violating some unwritten code of appropriateness.

He gets in deeper when he adds, “I didn’t mean anything to happen” by which he disavows personal responsibility for his act; it’s as if harms happen somewhere out there at random.

Of course subtly implied is: There would be no issue if you weren’t so sensitive.

But the coup de mal comes when Yoshi thinks he hears Larry eating. “Are you eating something?” he asks. A nonchalant David replies, “I’m eating pistachio nuts.”

Feeling victimized (again), Yoshi responds, “You’re eating pistachio nuts while you’re apologizing to me?” With even deeper hubris David goes, “Yes, so?”

Yoshi then sets a minimum standard for sincerity, “You can’t be sincere apologizing and then snack on pistachio nuts.”

David responds, “I’ve snacked and apologized many times and everyone’s accepted it.” Which translated means: Why can’t you submit to my disrespect like all the other dummies I’ve conned?

David then minimizes Yoshi’s pain further: “What, is that a Japanese thing?” That is, is it some kind of subcultural oddity that does not apply to the rest of us? Without a shred of sincerity in anything he’s said, David has re-victimized Yoshi.

Integrally linked to apology, as we know, is forgiveness. And there’s a whole protocol for determining whether an act of forgiving is sincere.

But it should be pointed out that, because someone has apologized, forgiveness need not follow. There is no “rule” that says a person who’s been apologized to must forgive the person who harmed him.

What is remarkable is that there are occasions when a person who has harmed someone refuses to apologize, but is forgiven by his “victim” nonetheless.

When Pope John Paul II was shot in May 1981, he asked Catholics to pray for his assailant, but more importantly he went to the prison where Mehmet Ali Agca was housed to talk about the situation. He then forgave Mehmet.

Perhaps the classic example of forgiveness offered without a precondition is Jesus on the cross. After being whipped, mocked, and dragged through the city wearing a crown of thorns, he says moments before he dies: I forgive all of you who are responsible for this (my death, my murder).

I forgive you, he adds, because you have no idea what you’re doing. You don’t get the big picture of human value and worth.

Roseanne Barr does not seem to get the picture either, as is the case with the character Larry David. Their ignorance resulted in the re-victimization of those they harmed in the first place.

At no time did Barr choose to meet with Jarrett face-to-face, and David diminished Yoshi by calling him on the phone, sadistically eating.

Justifications are a heavy drug. Beneath them beats a remorseful heart but saving face always seems to send that heart packing.

When I ask people how they talk in apology-forgiveness situations, some respond: Is that some subcultural peace-thing question you’re trying to trick me with?

I persist: Would you mind sharing how you apologize to someone? Are you able to forgive when you’ve been harmed? Do you think “sincere” is what they’ll call you when you die?

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— From the Xinhua Agency

Jean-Paul Sartre with Simone de Beauvoir at Tiananmen Square in 1965 for the sixth anniversary of the founding of communist China.

Jean-Paul Sartre was sketched for The New York Times by Reginald Gray.

The French existentialist philosopher and playwright John-Paul Sartre’s 1943 play “No Exit” (Huis Clos in French), contains one of the most celebrated lines in literary and philosophical history: “L’enfer, c’est les Autres.” “Hell is other people.”

I’ve heard a lot of people say that sort of thing over the years but Sartre, as an existentialist, meant something more.

The play is a narrative about three people who have been “sentenced” to hell: Garcin, Inez, and Estelle. A man and two women.

When they meet, they start fudging facts about their prior lives especially about the acts that brought them to hell. Also they are puzzled about what their punishment is supposed to be.

That is, there is no fire, no brimstone, no “official torturer” working the sinful crowd. All there is is the three of them locked in a drawing room bedecked with a hodge-podge of period furniture, seemingly for all eternity.

Because they shave the truth, they get short with each other; a negativity arises and their distrust strengthens.

We soon find out that Garcin died by a firing squad for deserting in war; Inez, a postal clerk, was gassed by her lover for seducing a friend’s wife; and the beautiful Estelle had an affair with a man whose love-child she drowned in front of him; he then took his own life.

Sartre says hell does not need Torquemada to satisfy justice. It exists when we present a “twisted, vitiated” self to others and this occurs once we’ve accepted twisted, vitiated values as the basis of our identity.

The vitiating twist begins when a person relies on the judgment of others to establish personal definition and self-worth, the polar opposite of those souls who strike out on their own in search of authenticity. Strike out not in a John Wayne individualism sort of way but in a way that involves self-responsibility and includes concern for the needs of others.

Sartre’s existentialism, therefore, is about choices, about making decisions to free ourselves from the imprisoning “gaze” of others, from being the object of another’s view, from a consciousness that projects an identity for us to assume. Often under pressure.

Inez, the existentialist among the trio, says accepting such an imprisoning mode of self-definition is the hell we endure because “It’s what one does ... that shows the stuff one’s made of.”

Sartre wants his readers to see that a person’s decisions toward freedom determine his essence; it does not work the other way around. The pudding’s proof is in action.

A person’s addiction to false-identity-status is highlighted in the play when the beautiful Estelle discovers there is no mirror in the room. She grows anxious and panicky — Sartre called this state of being “nausea” — because she cannot connect with a reality that will make her feel alive.

Pathetically she pines, “When I can’t see myself in the mirror, I can’t even feel myself, and I begin to wonder if I exist at all.”

This frame of mind Sartre calls “bad faith.” It manifests little or no concern for others. It follows the axiom: An inauthentic person’s values cannot extend beyond the prison that contains him.

I’m sure that someone coming from proverbial Mars who watches the news in America today and listens to political commentators from every side of the political aisle, would conclude that America is a living Sartrean hell, a hell of its own choosing.

And should our Martian look at things with an existentialist’s eye, he would see sectors of folks who agree to be locked in a “base” (of ire’s hue), amount to little more than an object projected from a politician’s consciousness, gaze, and critical assessment — not for the collective’s well-being but for his own.

Under any circumstances, it’s not possible to create an authentic self by mouthing a script; this is more true when the script requires a person to fit into a one-dimensional, homogenized reality.

Donald Trump’s base seems to fit such a description having turned into a postmodern version of Marx’s lumpenproletariat.

You can search Wikipedia for what they say about lumpenproles but today they’re described as stereotypical clowns, the kind you find in an absurdist comedy.

Robert Bussard, now a music librarian at Western Washington University, once examined the lumpenproletariat the way Marx and Engels first described it.

He said in “The ‘dangerous class’ of Marx and Engels: The rise of the idea of the Lumpenproletariat” in 1987 that lumpenproles act out of “ignorant self-interest.” They shoot themselves in the foot and call it progress.

Because they are subject to a version of self-victimization, Bussard says they are “easily bribed by reactionary forces ... to combat” those primed to meet the needs of others.

That is, the lumpenproletariat is a spoiler. It does not “play a positive role in society,” Bussard adds, “Instead, it exploit[s] society for its own ends, and [is] in turn exploited as a tool of destruction and reaction.”

I’m sure you know people like this. They yell, they shout, they think it’s possible to keep things the way they were before the current upheaval began. They’re John Wayne or a comedian playing to the weakest part of the soul.

In movies and on TV these days, hell is projected in a host of dystopian formats, the bastard offspring of George Orwell’s “1984” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World.”

In such works — include Marge Piercy and Ursula Le Guin’s among them — every soul from the orchestra seats to the far mezzanine — is panicked for a way out. Like everybody else, they do not like hell and scan the walls for a breach they might squeeze through and breathe life.

All of which points to how difficult change is. It requires re-vision, re-configuring the way the eyes see by reconnecting them to the heart, that is, creating a political economy in which the needs of others count as much as our own.

I ask people all the time about the means they use to escape the unhappiness of their hell — pharmaceutically and otherwise. At first they’re stumped, they stumble over the words. They never thought through what it means to see others as they see themselves.

In the speech he gave in December 1980 upon receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz said that freeing one’s self from prison requires a special kind of vision, the kind poets have: double-vision.

Milosz said poets see close-up and face-to-face, but they also see from up above, in overview, not sequentially but simultaneously.

Milosz used Selma Lagerlöf’s “Wonderful Adventures of Nils,” to make his point. Like Nils, he said, the poet sees close up but he also “flies above the Earth and looks at it from above.” He sees it “in every detail” but also “beholds under him rivers, lakes, forests, that is, a map, both distant and yet concrete.”

This is not a therapy session so how to get such a vision needs to be discussed. It will take years.

Realizing this explains why so many people are angry today. They do not want to have this discussion, they deny its importance and, in doing so, encase themselves in hell, a base that feeds on despair.

This may be cause for hope because, as Sartre said in his 1943 play “The Flies” (Les Mouches in French), “Life begins on the other side of despair.”

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This Paramount Pictures poster publicized the movie in 1962.

The great American western “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is a cinematic paradox. It’s set in the Old West but it’s a movie that reaches our times.

“Valance” is the story of a town coming to grips with a bully who runs roughshod over the civility of its everyday life by using violence to get what he wants.

Lacking self-control, the bully turns the town of Shinbone into a vortex. His name is Liberty Valance or “bad violence man.”

Early on, we see Valance and his few spineless thugs — pawns of the territory’s cattle barons — hold up a stage and, after forcing the passengers out onto the road, strip them of their valuables.

When Valence starts to rip the pendant off the neck of a frightened old lady, the indignant passenger next to her intervenes and for his act of courage is beaten close to death.

The man of courage is Jimmy Stewart, a lawyer by trade who’s headed west with satchels of books to teach the frontier how to settle differences without the use of violence. Stewart is “rule of law man.”

From the outset then, we see the rule of law beaten into submission by bad violence, making us believe that violence will be the way things’ll get done in the territory.

But John Wayne is in the movie, too: a middle-aged, purposely-driven, psychologically-detached, one-dimensional rancher who looks formidably-handsome in his white ten-gallon hat. He has dibs on the lady at the diner, which everybody in town knows.

They, including Valance, also know that the Duke is the toughest man, the fastest gun, in the territory. In a tense standoff between the Duke and bad violence man in the diner where the Duke’s gal works, Valance is forced to beat it out of town, his tail between his legs.

Valance, the Duke says, is “the toughest man south of the Picketwire … next to me.” We can see he’s a man not to fool with. “Out here,” he says, “a man settles his own problems.” The Duke is “good violence man.”

He’s at the other end of the spectrum from Valance but it’s still the spectrum of violence.   

And because good violence man beat bad violence man, and bad violence man beat rule of law man, we conclude that good violence can beat the rule of law as well — with a gun if need be.

The movie’s not even halfway through and already we see the rule of law stretched out on the ground with the black boot of violence — good and bad — standing on its neck.

Because his identity is based in the shaky foundation of power, Valance is thin-skinned. When he sees a story on the front page of the “Shinbone Star” critical of his mania, he throws a fit, raging about “fake news.”

He heads to the paper with his thugs and beats Mr. Peabody, the affable, bibulous publisher-editor, into nothingness just like he did with rule of law man.

Valance doesn’t want to be reminded of the weaknesses everyone knows he has. The paper articulates how bullying continues to bring pain and suffering to people’s lives — not the cattle barons Valance works for but the regular, everyday folk who strive to make Shinbone a cordial community.

Fast forward to the end — how we get there is explained in between — and we find the rule of law man forced into a showdown (on the main street of town) with Valance. The choice is clear: the rule of law or bullydom as the prevailing social ethic.

We all know the tenderfoot from the East is no match for a seasoned gunslinger especially when his weapon looks like a broken cap gun. Drawing his gun, bad violence man toys with the rule of law like a cat administering flesh wounds to a mouse.

Tired of the hunt, Valance aims his gun to drill the sockets of the law man’s eyes. Law man raises his piece and Valance falls down dead in the street. There is rejoicing: the rule of law has prevailed over bully-violence, the wicked witch is dead.

Thus the once-mocked agent of law is now revered as the man who brought evil down, who dismissed the use of violence as an ethic of worth. For his bravery, rule of law man is selected to represent the territory in its move toward statehood.

But halfway through the nominating convention — through a strange turn of events — Shinbone’s holy hero is told by good violence man that the law did not bring Valance down but he did, working with a Winchester from the shadows of an alley.

The revelation is disorienting. The rule of law did not bring bad violence down but good violence did. The law did not have the juice to take bad violence down; it took a “good” gun-packing bully disguised in the white hat of justice to do it.

Every day of the week on television, I see public officials, news anchors, political pundits, and people of the most conservative political ilk, call Donald Trump a bully with zero respect for the rule of law. Some say Trump is a gunslinger of sorts.

When I watched “Valance” the other day, Trump came to mind, an hombre who makes fun of the rule of law, who beats down the Mr. Peabodys of the world, and steps on anyone who stands in the way of his selfhood.

When this bully’s wife was most vulnerable after having a baby, he bedded a porn star to satisfy his adolescent libido. He himself says his needs take precedence over those of the collective —  the rule of law be damned! In one way or another, he reiterates: I’m the fastest gun in Shinbone, try me.

On my list of the top 25 westerns of all time, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is Number One. “Shane,” “Red River,” “The Searchers,” “My Darling Clementine,” “The Ox-Bow Incident,” “High Noon,” and “Stagecoach” are not far behind.

In a review of a Harvard Square Theater production of “Valance” in the March 18, 1967 issue of “The Harvard Crimson,” Tim Hunter wrote that the director, John Ford, was “not interested in reality but in [a] subjective viewpoint, not fact but romance and legend.”

But such an assessment is wrong. Ford wants America to see there are times when “the people” are tempted to adopt violence as a way to govern and will mock the rule of law on its way to self-destruction.

When you view “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” you wonder if the rule of law does in fact have the juice to keep violence — good and bad — in check, and whether the United States today, as has happened at other times in history, will let the black boot of violence stand on its neck without uttering a sigh of indignation.

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— Jesus is coming. Look busy.

Poet-philosopher: George Carlin performs one of his last shows, in April 2008.

George Carlin is the greatest comedian of all time. Some “best of” lists put Pryor first and Carlin next but others say Carlin is a league all his own.

Jon Stewart may have solved the problem in 1997 when he introduced Carlin during the comic’s 10th HBO special “George Carlin: 40 Years of Comedy” as one of the “holy trinity” of comedy: Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin.

Carlin traced his roots to Bruce and, before Bruce, to Mort Sahl, a lineage of social critics who, through the millennia, called Aristophanes, the “Father of Comedy,” the seed of their comedic work. It was a bloodline that did not suffer Borscht Belt mother-in-law, two-guys-walk-into-a-bar, and lost-airline-luggage jokes.

While Carlin started out with a suit-and-tie Vegas act, when the Sixties rolled around, a beard appeared and his hair fell to his shoulders. He painted iconic characters like Al Sleet, the “Hippy Dippy Weatherman.” Fans recall with delight Al’s: “Tonight’s forecast: Dark. Continued dark tonight, turning to partly light in the morning.”

It seems from the beginning Carlin was piqued by people’s disabuse of language through mystifications, masked contradictions, and linguistic absurdities. While he could garner a laugh from his oxymoronic “jumbo shrimp” and “military intelligence” bits, his true interest lay in sustaining an attack on those who devalued the gift of language by using it to obfuscate reality.

In a classic bit on euphemisms he said: “I don’t like words that hide the truth. I don’t like words that conceal reality. I don’t like euphemisms, or euphemistic language. And American English is loaded with euphemisms. ’Cause Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation.”

Those familiar with comedy know Carlin was arrested at Summerfest in Milwaukee in July 1972 for saying the “Seven Words you Can Never Say on Television.”

It was a bit he introduced on his best-selling album “Class Clown” two months earlier. “There are 400,000 words in the English language,” he began, “but only seven of them that you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is! 399,993 to 7. They must really be bad.”

You can see why Carlin remained an “outside dog,” as Mort Sahl would say. In the preface to his 2004 “When Will Jesus Bring the Chops?” Carlin revealed: “I’m an outsider by choice, but not truly. It’s the unpleasantness of the system that keeps me out. I’d rather be in, in a good system. That’s where my discontent comes from: being forced to choose to stay outside.”

In each of his 14 HBO specials, the first aired in ’77, he hammered away minute by minute at the shaky myths the human community creates and submits to thereby limiting its chances for achieving well-being. He spoke about the “American Okie Doke” with its pithy equivocations: “all men are equal;” “justice is blind;” “the press is free;” “your vote counts;” “the police are on your side;” “the good guys win.”

He also went after the duplicities of religion, spoliative parenting, the hubris of prayer, demeaning education, illness-producing health, the glorification of the military, and a pandering self-help movement. He made his fans laugh but he pounded out his points with such vehemence that anyone who went to see him live had to take a day or two off to let the mental dust settle.

In many respects, Carlin was a Socratic prizefighter faulting the Athens of his day, the hoi polloi, for submitting to the demands of the powerful and for settling for a robopathic existence energized by consuming the packaged goods the market sells as indispensable for survival. He blurted that the gods of nature were on their way to strip this planet of sentience.

One group he especially liked to buzz were helicopter parents, the familial wardens who hover over their kids to insure they grow up to be disciplinized, docilized consumers of packaged realities.

Thus for kids he said, “The simple act of playing has been taken away ... and put on mommy’s schedule in the form of ‘play dates.’ Something that should be spontaneous and free is now being rigidly planned. When does a kid ever get to sit in the yard with a stick anymore?” And maybe dig a hole with it. He said that.

The stick is a metaphor for the imagination of course, kids not being given time to think and muse, and sometimes peer at the sky on a summer day to wonder how it all came to be.

Carlin well understood his professional development. Playing off a paradigm of Arthur Koestler on creativity, he acknowledged that he started out as a jester, comedy’s bottom-rung.

But, he added, when he began to follow ideas to their logical conclusion, he turned into a jester-philosopher; his routines changed. He said after that, because of his love for language, he reached the pinnacle of comedic art: the philosopher-poet.

The unending flow of his HBO specials forced the philosopher-poet to become a writer; he said they made him a writer-performer. And, if someone failed to acknowledge the writing as central, he’d set the record straight straightaway.

And it became clear that, the more America sold out her dream of equality and justice, the darker Carlin’s comedy got, very dark, in fact fading to black in his final HBO Special “It’s Bad for Ya.” He said the human race could blow itself up for all he cared; the planet would survive.

Over time, Carlin’s fancy for drugs forced him (in 2004) to go somewhere to get unhooked. On the road nearly every week of his adult life, he struggled with being a good husband and father. In “Conversations with Carlin: An In-Depth Discussion with George Carlin about Life, Sex, Death, Drugs, Comedy, Words, and so much more”, published in 2013, Larry Getlen presents a man who speaks about every aspect of his life with disarming honesty.

Carlin made million-seller comedy albums, he hosted the first “Saturday Night Live,” he wrote funny books, and in 2008 was posthumously awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, I believe for being a great American.

Next month, that great American will be dead 10 years; I hope he’s doing well. Let us know if you run into him. The sad thing is: No one’s picked up the mantle of philosopher-poet.

The Australian-born but Americanized comic Jim Jefferies comes closest. Popular wits like Louis C. K., Amy Schumer, and Kevin Hart and a host of similars remain as distant from Carlin’s soul as Myron Cohen was 70 years ago. Even Chris Rock misses the boat.

As Carlin poured salt on America’s wounds he was the first to admit “Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist.” And if he had had, like the comic legend Bob Hope, a theme song, it would have been “America the Beautiful” and Carlin would have pointed to the line “God mend thine every flaw” and say that was not God’s job but his.

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“Caritas,” which means “Charity,” was drawn by Pieter Bruegel in 1599. Dennis Sullivan writes that the work “portrays neighbors meeting the needs of each other with a reflective tenderness.”

I don’t know what your history classes were like in school but, when you studied the Civil War, were you taught the South had the “bad guys?”

It’s more than 150 years since the war and some southerners still say the North has the bad guys. Last summer, a band of Confederate-based, Nazi-leaning demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia waged a pitched battle on that city’s streets against citizens demonstrating for peace. One ill-witted Confederate cut down a living flower with the bumper of his car.

And some southerners still say the South was inches away from winning the first time. Terry L. Jones in a March 2015 article in The New York Times, “Could the South Have Won the War?,” quotes sources saying that, if Lee had tweaked his military strategies here and there, we’d all be singing Dixie.

In a comedy bit on the last week of the Letterman Show in 2015, Norm MacDonald opined that, when Germany went to war with “the world,” it was close. With a few turns in Wehrmacht fortune, we’d be goose-steppers.

During an interview with Elliot Mintz in 2015, as part of a celebration marking his 90th birthday, the social satirist Mort Sahl — the first modern stand-up in history — expressed concern about how the current civil war in America is going.

With a tone of pained uncertainty, he non-rhetorically asked the interviewer: Don’t the good guys always win? Isn’t that how things turn out in history? It was a latent fear of fascism’s growing claim on America.   

Early in his career, Democrats accused Sahl of being a conservative, Republicans said he was a Commie. In “Last Man Standing: Mort Sahl and the Birth of Modern Comedy,” the wonderfully-written new biography of the comic, author James Curtis quotes Sahl as saying both camps were wrong; he said: I’m a radical.

Radical in the sense that he kept his satirical light shining on the powerful as they stepped on the dignity and well-being of people whose needs they dismissed as unworthy of attention.

Sahl hoped that, because a person has a particular race, color, creed, gender, or some other defining attribute, he would not be excluded from being treated as fully human. Consider the two black men arrested at a Starbucks in the City of Brotherly Love two weeks ago as they waited for a friend inside the café.

The satirist also used a word seemingly out of character for him; he said Americans have lost their commitment to “nobility.” In saying so, he sounded like the great 20th-Century poet Wallace Stevens who in his classic essay, “The Noble Rider,” addressed the nobility of the poet, laying out the requirements for being noble.

Stevens says the poet fulfills that function when he offers up his imagination to the community so the community can find the courage to delve into its unconscious ways and examine the justifications that induce people to become “bad guys.”

Those who persevere in the process develop an acute sense of human dignity, dignity as a political-economic variable that equates with a person’s worth.

Stevens said withstanding the abrasive assaults of bad guys requires “a mind of winter.” That’s what his beloved poem “The Snow Man” is about, standing up to the incursions of power, the deadly winter we create for ourselves.

I’ve mentioned the ongoing civil war in this country before. Some people seem unable to grasp its cultural context; a few say it’s a touch of conspiracy.

A person picks up a gun and shoots another dead. We see the death, we see the gun, we see the war. But today people obliterate each other ideologically, as when someone says to another: You’re dead, you’re of no account, your point of view is nothing, you’re a bad guy — and there’s nothing you can do for redemption.

The justification for this military incursion comes from a deserts-based view of reality. You hear it all the time: Hey, you don’t deserve this, you’re a Mexican! You’re nobody! Hey, you don’t deserve this, you’re a woman, you’re not equal! You’re a non-deserver too.

Civil war always has to do with deserts, over who deserves what according to pre-assigned value. If those who assert “conspiracy” wish to address value, they can deconstruct sexism, racism, ageism, classicism, cultural chic-ism, and all the efforts of the powerful to enforce modern-day versions of — shall we say: Aryan supremacy?

As our civil war continues, people of different ilk blame Donald Trump for pouring kerosene on the fire. But it’s not “Trump” because, if he had not come along, somebody else would have, so disconsolate is the Confederacy to find a secessionist standard-bearer.

Trump is a mirror for America to look at herself to determine how long she will allow her citizens to flail away at each other with unbridled id; Trump’s the clarion call for a secession-nation that devalues American commonweal. The lie promulgated by such an assault is that social institutions do not require benevolence for sustainability.

You can see why terms like “conservative” and “liberal” no longer have meaning. They’re like worn-out prize fighters banging at each other’s head to seize the title of: Assigner of Value and Worth.

And while the rights of all — including clouds and rivers — always require protection, the political economic map of a sustainable American future is rooted in needs, in communities across the country finding ways to meet the needs of all their citizens.

The nagging big-elephant-question in our national room then is: Are you a good guy or are you a bad guy? How do you know?

Outside the political boundaries of left and right there is indeed a measure to determine if you’re good: To what extent have you dedicated yourself to relieving the pain and suffering of others by tending to their needs? And do you support programs designed to do so?

Good guys are like living-hospice-morphine-drips, first listening to what people say their needs are, and then taking steps to meet them. In his 1559 drawing “Caritas,” Pieter Bruegel portrays neighbors meeting the needs of each other with a reflective tenderness. Is that not what their faces show?

If a person has one meal today and you come along with two, that person has three; it’s measurable. If a person is living in squalid conditions and you provide quarters that support the dignity of the person so he can sit quietly and ponder with gratitude the life he was given, it’s measurable.

Call yourself what you will — left, right, down, up in the air — the new American dream calls for needs-meeters, relievers of the pain and suffering of fellow Americans without charging for offered aid.

The decision to “form a more perfect union” and to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” as the Preamble to our Constitution says, is formed in the national unconscious. How a person handles the darkness there determines whether he becomes a good guy or a bad guy.

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