— “A Lonely Grave,” by Alexander Gardner, pictures Union soldiers standing near a comrade’s grave at the battlefield of Antietam, September 1862
Current Civil War: “To take away or radically modify the health-support system of 22 million Americans is an Antietam of sorts in that it strips people of the support — MRIs, medications — that keep them afloat.”

 

It’s a national tragedy that the United States is currently engaged in a fight over who deserves or has a right to assistance when they’re in pain or their life is threatened by some physical or emotional illness.

It’s a shame but not a surprise. It’s just the latest explosion in our current civil war, which began when the United States had its emotional breakdown several decades ago. Neurotic symptoms are everywhere.

And let’s not minimize the situation; it is a civil war. It’s not a war of bullets and bombs as in the original War of the States but a war of ideology when threats, identity-slashing labels, lying, and administrative decisions that punish and exclude, are used as assault weapons.

This kind of warfare is like the cyber warfare discussed of late, in that cyber warfare has nothing to do with bullets and bombs either and yet the hacking and invasion of people’s consciousness by electronically rifling through their private lives has deleterious consequences (for everyone).

Thus to take away or radically modify the health-support system of 22 million Americans is an Antietam of sorts in that it strips people of the support — MRIs, medications — that keep them afloat.

It’s also a stripping away of the economic security that supports emotional well-being as well as access to procedures that end pain and allow people to feel life is worth living.

The president of the United States has referred to the current measures to strip people of such supports as “mean” but to support the wellbeing of his fragile ego, has railed against the weak as unworthy for any communal consideration.  

And this from a man who never cooked a meal or washed a dish, from a man whose main source of mental anguish derives from whether to install the Kohler K-4886 or Panorama Round Ceramic bidet in a football-field-size bathroom.

But keep in mind that the issue of the providing for or stripping people of health care is only a symptom. The real issue is economic and has to do with the concept and definition of worth, what or who is worth something.

The current prevailing ethic is: Some citizens are worth more than others and therefore deserve more attentive consideration. The same ethic also says: Some citizens are worth nothing and therefore deserve nothing from the collective coffers.

Worth is a political economic variable — as university professors might phrase it — because it has to do with the differential allocation and provision of resources to those whose needs are defined as worthy versus those whose needs are minimized or dismissed as unimportant.

Worthy means “worthy of our attention” and worthy of our attention means worthy of receiving that attention when we are in need. We allocate resources to those persons, groups, places, and events we say will help the nation progress.

I have a hard time trying to fathom how a person manages — practically as well as psychologically — after he has been defined as having no worth by the collective and is refused support even when his cries for help are loud.

Thus the debate over “pre-existing conditions” is a sinister, sadistic joke. It translates into: If you come to us without being sick, without something wrong, we will attend to your needs. But if you come with medical problems you are out, we will not pay for what ails you. The logic is: Come back when you get better, then we’ll help.

Who we define as worthy of the community’s attention is what constitutes the definition of “united,” whether we consider ourselves a national community or a pack of tribes pitted against each other over supposed scarce resources.

The current civil war is a tribal war fueled by the policies and projects of the financially and culturally worthy who benefit from the conflict. Amid this war the president marveled recently: Hey, the stock market keeps going up!

The guilt of “taking the life” of fellow citizens is diminished or not felt at all through the creation of relational distance. Keeping the victim out of sight.

Thus the conflicting tribes have developed their own language and cultural reference points which serve as buffers between themselves and the enemy — the person or group of lesser or no worth.

In his July 11, 2017 column in The New York Times, “How We Are Ruining America,” David Brooks addressed the issue of relational distance and some of its consequences.

He says the well-to-do, the worthy, structure exclusionary, distance-creating, worthlessness-defining strategies to protect their privilege. In terms of this kind of protectionism he says, “Members of the college-educated class have become good at making sure their children retain their privileged status.” They do this “by making sure the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks.”

In the past 20 years, he adds, the affluent have increased what they spend on education by 300 percent while such expenditures for “every other group is basically flat.”

Those with the cultural, financial, and political capital to define worthiness also create and implement policies that say to some, as Brooks notes, “You are not welcome here.” In terms of health care, your body is of no value.

But it’s far more nefarious because the policies are geared to take away from the unworthy the means to consider membership anywhere. They become displaced.

Surprisingly, Brooks confesses his own blindness. He says he recently took a friend to a gourmet sandwich shop who had “only” a high school education.

When she looked at the sandwich menu with “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients such as soppressata, capicola, and striata baguette listed, she froze. The tribal “cultural signifiers” got to her.

When asked if she would like to go elsewhere “she anxiously nodded yes,” Brooks says, “and we ate Mexican. (He should have known better; he should have inquired of her from the beginning where she preferred to eat.)

In terms of the health-care policies that are currently being asked for, it is possible that close to 22 million people will never see a Padrino M.D., they will never be the recipients of Pomodoro surgery. The medical counterparts of soppressata, capicola, and striata baguettes will never be there for their ailing bodies to taste.

The only way to end the war is to transcend political economies that speak in terms of deserving and entitlement and to adopt a view of life where we meet the needs of everyone. This means treating the poorest among us as the richest treat themselves. That is a 21st-Century Sermon on the Mount.

Healthcare-wise it means that every citizen of the United States, at the very least, will receive the same level of care a U. S. Senator gets from the collective and the president from private coffers. When this occurs we will finally be able to say: Blessed are the Peacemakers.

 

— Bust of Seneca, by an anonymous sculptor of the 17th Century now in the Museo del Prado

Seneca the Younger wrote that clemency was not a sign of weakness.

It’s always enlightening to see two great minds come to loggerheads over the values they embrace and in doing so shed light on what it means to be human.

What comes to mind first is William F. Buckley’s interview with the great American poet Allen Ginsberg on “Firing Line” in September 1968 — two great thinkers agonizing over what they see at the heart of the American soul. It was Buckley’s show but Ginsberg made it a free-for-all.

Another case comes to mind but it’s strange because the two “contestants” live two centuries apart. I’m thinking of the Roman writer Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c. 4 B.C. to A.D. 65), known as Seneca the Younger, and the Argentinian priest, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whom most folks better know as the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis.

Their issue has to do with moral standards as well but more specifically with what is required of a moral person toward those in need, toward the least among us. For Christians the answer’s already there: Matthew 25 says what it is and Mark 10 says how to do it.

Seneca, if your ancient history is fuzzy, was the Stoic philosopher who became the Emperor Nero’s tutor (amicus principis). He had been working with the youth for several years before Nero took charge of the Empire at age 16.

Seneca also wrote Nero’s speeches when the boss had to explain something to the Senate or praetorian guard. In 55, he wrote the much-heralded De Clementia, a treatise on the concept and practice of clemency.

It’s not by chance that clemency came to the fore because Nero had just hired a Roman woman, who was an expert in killing by poison, to toast his several-years-younger adoptive brother, Britannicus — during the family dinner!

By taking on clemency, Seneca wanted to let the Roman Senate and people know that the new emperor was not going to be a neutralizer in the way Caligula and Claudius were; the new man was going to be a man of clemency.

And showing clemency was not a sign of weakness, as Seneca pointed out, but of mensch-hood; it was also a wise political strategy. When someone harmed another, for example, the emperor could demonstrate his power by showing restraint to those in need.

But while Nero’s ventriloquist claims that clemency is good, he makes it quite clear that mercy (misericordia) is not and forgiveness (venia), worse. He said that the person who practices mercy is sick in the head, a pusillanimous soul. A show of mercy is two old ladies being suckered into letting a pleading prisoner go free.

What’s troubling is that Seneca, as a Stoic, also embraced the concept of simplicity. Living like a poor person, he said, was an essential ingredient to living a healthy life (vita beata). And the good person (sapiens) practices what he preaches (“concordet sermo cum vita”).

But in daily life Seneca was a money-grubber; he owned a ton of houses; his personal treasury topped 300,000,000 sesterces. He was a money-lender, a loan shark — though the data on this are slim — whose practices caused great pain and suffering among the Britons.  

The Roman writer Cassius Dio in Book 62 of his history says, “Seneca, in the hope of receiving a good rate of interest, had lent to the islanders 40,000,000 sesterces that they did not want, and had afterwards called in this loan all at once and had resorted to severe measures in exacting it.”

Dio says it was the reason the Britons revolted against Rome under the aegis of the famed Queen Boudica, an ancient Jeanne d’Arc.   

But we cannot fault Seneca for inconsistency; he was walking the walk, that is, he said mercy was for the dogs and so he treated people like dogs — or is that being too harsh?

The ideas of Nero’s tutor are relevant today because last year Pope Francis had declared 2016 the year of “Mercy” for Roman Catholics. He said every Catholic was called to think about the meaning of mercy in his daily life and then find situations to practice it.

At the beginning of the Jubilee year, as it was called, he wrote “Misericordiae Vultus,” a short note in which he laid out the integral relationship between mercy and Christian identity.  

He finished the year with “Misericordia et misera” essentially asking folks how they did thinking about things and whether they planned to make mercy an integral part of their lives.

No one who’s ever read anything about Pope Francis or seen him on TV needs to ask if this guy’s the real deal, whether his “sermo” is consistent with his “vita.” The guy is a font of mercy.

On Holy Thursday 2014, for example, he went to the “Don Gnocchi Center” in Rome and washed and kissed the feet of elderly and disabled women some of whose dogs were bent and swollen. Someone I taught years ago recently remarked that such acts are only symbolic, but look at the photos, watch the videos, this man is in love. When’s the last time you washed and kissed an old lady’s fat feet in a hospital like they were yours?

The Pope lives in a small apartment; he eats with a little community; he drives a little Fiat 500L, which people laughed at when they saw it tootling down Central Park West a couple of years ago.

I’d like to add that for his 80th birthday celebration Francis invited not bishops and cardinals but eight homeless people to his house for breakfast. Once again he was saying that living simply is a component of mercy, which requires that the daily basic needs of the poor and those without be given priority, not stealing health care from the poor to fund tax-cut-handouts to billionaires.

During Bill Maher’s television program “Real Time” two weeks ago, Ohio Governor John Kasich — who lost to Donald Trump in the last presidential campaign — addressed the topic of mercy in terms of health care in the United States.  

Maher asked him: Is healthcare a right or a commodity, is it clemency or is it mercy?

Feeling pressed, the governor gave in; he said it was a right. He said his ethical stance on human relationships does not allow him to embrace “the easiest thing,” that is, “[to] run over the weak and those who live in the shadows and those who don’t have much.” He added: “It is not right.”

All this is going on while the United States is engaged in a civil war, is at loggerheads over, its identity. What is America going to be? What “virtues” are in and which are out? Will we include mercy in our newly-constructed national identity?

A lot of people today talk about the importance of “difference” but they confuse it with the million-and-one varieties of cereal on the supermarket shelves; they refuse to take into account the real needs of others that differ from their own. Difference becomes a joke. Then they stigmatize the weak and needy, calling them cheats, deadbeats, freeloaders, druggies, the incorrigible scum of the earth. Why would anyone want to care for that crowd’s health!

Thus these days I hear more discouraging than encouraging words particularly from politicians who spit on mercy; they are assassins of hope.

I love the National Anthem of the West, “Home on the Range.” It says a good place is “where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.” I think the writer of that song was talking about mercy, taking into account the needs of all rather than loading them onto a slow train to nowhere.

—  Faithful reproductions of two-dimensional public domain works of art are public domain

John Keats made this drawing of an engraving of the Sosibios Vase in about 1819. It is currently displayed at the Louvre.

April is National Poetry Month. For some rhymed souls it is a time to dig out their Mary Oliver and scan a line or two while others sit quietly in their dens hoping the Muse will come and fill their pen with delight.

While such activities are most appropriate during the month when “Lilacs [are breeding] out of the dead land,” as T. S. Eliot says, that is not the purpose of its observance. It’s more complex.

National Poetry Month was established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 to goad each person in its country to accept responsibility for engaging poetry at an intimate level and to recognize that poetic consciousness is key to spiritual growth and development.

In a way, the month must be seen as one of the 30-day retreats the Jesuits run when people gather unto themselves to assess to what extent they’ve dedicated their lives to the proposition that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.”  

Those words appear in the second to last line of John Keats’s classic “Ode to a Grecian Urn” written in 1819. And the last line of the poem says, and I’ll paraphrase it here, that that axiom is all a person needs to know in life: beauty is truth and truth beauty.

It is quite a bold assertion and one wonders whether, for example, the mandates of the New Testament might fit into that. But that’s a no-brainer because the New Testament in its own metaphorical terms says the same thing.

The great T. S. Eliot found the Keatsian proposition troubling. In an essay on Dante he veered from his subject for a minute to note, “The statement of Keats seems to me meaningless.” Truth is Beauty and Beauty Truth “is grammatically meaningless” he said. But for a guy who considered himself smart, it’s surprising that Thomas Stearns took such a reactionary road.

He’s not alone. If you go to the Internet and ask for an analysis of the second-last line of “Ode to a Grecian Urn,” you’ll find a lot of other people similarly irked.

Of course we can turn to Buddhism for an explanation — and a case can easily be made — but I’ll offer Carl Rogers, that great-20th-Century-full-of-insight-beyond-innovative psychotherapist who hit the nail on the head in his 1957 essay “To Be That Self Which One Truly Is.” The title is found in Søren Kierkegaard’s “Fear and Trembling.”

In that essay and elsewhere, Rogers describes what takes place when a person goes through the therapeutic process. He says, first of all, that, when a person comes to him suffering from unknown reasons, their inner conflicts have progressed to the point of disablement. The sufferers find themselves being eaten from within.

He says that in their own terms the sufferers reveal that they had tried every possible mode of denial and deceit to smother the truth but all failed and now they were at a dead end.

Rogers goes on to say that, when his patients come into the office, sitting right beside (or more correctly in front of) them is a façade, a wall they’d built to hide their true state of being, from others as well as themselves. But they unable to lay their weapons down.

He said he noticed that such folks also tend to view the world in black and white. Reality is this or it’s that. Transgendered people, for example, have no standing in that denier’s universe. It is far too complex a matter to juggle behind the façade.

But Rogers says that, once the patient feels at home, he begins to dig through the lies that lay beneath his pain. And in doing so he begins to experience a whole range of feelings and thoughts he never knew he had.

Understandably during their sessions the patient weeps, rages, even falls into a stupor of silence because what he said out loud took their breath away. The truth at first is dumbfounding.

But once the patient confronts fear (the word “ugly” can be traced to fear) and acknowledges the truths revealed, he incorporates the new dimensions to make himself whole.

The patient experiences great relief, and often joy, because he is no longer living a lie. As truths about the self are discovered he begins to dismantle the façade a brick at a time.

Rogers also saw, and his patients soon see it too, that hiding behind untruth requires the expense of great energy. Masquerading costs. Plus the patients admit that while undercover they viewed themselves as despicable and ugly because they were treasonous. They had equated not beauty but mask with truth.

Read Rogers’ essays, he alludes to the disdain people feel for themselves when they constrict themselves to living behind a pharisaical wall. His 1961 classic, “On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy,” is a great place to start.

But what’s heartening about the process of unveiling, of opening one’s heart to the truth of is, to the thing in and of itself, is that a person begins to see a radiant beauty in himself. “Then the body of the Enlightened One,” as Anagarika Govinda reports in his “Foundations of Tibetan Buddhism,” “becomes luminous in appearance, convincing and inspiring by its mere presence.” Truth is Beauty.

Indeed, looking upon, experiencing, the wondrous creation of the radiant self, the peregrinator laughs with gratitude because he cannot figure out why he ever agreed to live a life of abstraction.

He sees that experiencing a thing — one’s person — in and of itself, without modification for political economic or other self-enhancing reasons, is beauty.

And when the person begins to recite this experience to the world he dons the mantle of the poet. In spiritual terms the person enlightened begins upon the path of sainthood, the realm of overflowing silence.

Keats was no idiot. He knew what he was saying. That is why we are grateful for Poetry Month, to remind ourselves that we need to put our house in order, the house of Truth, the house of Beauty. No more needs to be said.

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— National Geographic photograph of item in the British Museum

The ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead portrays a scale that weighs the heart of a scribe, on the left side, against the feather of truth on the right side.

My maternal grandfather owned and operated a wholesale produce business in New York City for over 40 years. When I worked with him full-time during the summer of 1954, I noticed he had a practice of “topping off” his bushel baskets of tomatoes.

When I first saw him putting the greener and less-comely-looking specimens on the bottom of the basket and their rosy-red counterparts on top, I asked why he was projecting a reality that wasn’t there.

An early-on ethical kid, I recall being bothered by the practice and chided him for cheating the truth. He said the practice was de rigueur, introducing me to the concept of caveat emptor, letting persons adversely affected straighten out the truth for themselves.

I loved my grandfather but I started to have a few doubts about him. I thought his M.O. was a form of injustice because, for his benefit, he was depriving others of reality.

Early this year, I was reminded of my “crisis” with Pop when I saw the current president of the United States, Donald Trump, creating and projecting realities that did not (and do not) exist by denying physical reality. Trump incessantly “topped off” facts for his own benefit and sadistically laughed as people scrambled to straighten them out.

On inauguration day, he said there was no rain but it rained. He said he had the biggest crowd in history but photos showed he did not (by far). He said the photos lied.   

He claimed three- to five-million people cheated in the presidential election though every Secretary of State of every state said the electoral procedures are so tight no such thing could ever happen.

He also asserted that he was on the cover of Time more times than anyone else — he was on 14 times, Richard Nixon 55 — leaving such distortions for the “emptor” to straighten out. The current (March 23) cover of that magazine reads “Is Truth Dead?” with a lead story “Can President Trump Handle the Truth?”

Last month, Trump hit the jackpot when he accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of committing a felony by having the FBI wiretap his heavily-guarded golden tower in New York. Public officials from A to Z verified that such an act was a political and strategic impossibility. Houdini couldn’t have done it.

Mr. Trump’s supporters continue to be unbothered by his inversion of reality. Indeed, during the 2016 presidential campaign, he huffed, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”

This is a world radically different from political spin and therefore is accompanied by a whole new range of justifications people use to ease the guilt of their complicity in upending the principles (and laws) of Physics, Epistemology, and Thought.

I am not one to convince (or shame) anyone that they are engaged in mirage-building, mirage-supporting, and mirage-selling. But I notice worry in the eyes of some folks who know they are fooling with the psychological grounding that once provided emotional stability for them.   

Thus, what’s at stake today far exceeds Donald Trump’s bushel of lies. It has to do with his followers, and others, radically wrenching their minds to accept the existence of objects that are not there. It’s ideology striving to bring the laws of Physics to its knees.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, the human race decided to reach common ground on what constituted reality by agreeing, for example, that a 1 always equals a 1. It was a way of preventing constant conflicts about whether “this” was “that” or wasn’t. Thus all agreed that a 1 is a 1, and not a 2, and certainly not 3/4. Some say the origin of numbers is unknown but counting was developed to insure justice, to prevent shysters from scamming others through bent truth.

Weights and measures do that as well. We agree on the weight of a “pound” so that some sharpie cannot pass off three-quarters of a pound as a pound for profit’s sake. A pound remains a pound even when it does not appear to be. A pound of feathers is equal to a pound of steel regardless of looks.

And, if someone is buying a yard of electrical wire at the hardware store and the clerk gives him 31 inches, the customer says: You shorted me five inches; what’s going on? The Trumpian hardware man’s retort is: Hey, what I’m giving you is a yard, believe me: 31 inches is 36 inches.  

Because of our fears and insecurities and wanting to get a leg up on the other guy, we all have a tendency to shave the truth at times. Often enough we add a little to a 1 and claim 1 1/8 to be a 1; sometimes we shave a little off and claim 7/8 to be a 1.

But Physics condemns the hyperbolic discoloring of reality as hallucinatory. When it’s raining, it cannot be not-raining; a smaller crowd cannot be a larger crowd. It contradicts the Law of Identity as Schopenhauer confirmed: Nothing can simultaneously be and not be.

The wrenching I mentioned earlier has to do with our souls commanding our tongues to speak what the eyes are not seeing. But I am not surprised that such a confrontation between ideology and the laws of Physics and Thought is growing today because it is a symptom of a larger phenomenon.

The great German-Swiss psychiatrist and philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) spoke of “axial ages,” those periods when the old gods have left the stage but the new gods have not yet appeared.

It’s a “liminal” period that Jaspers described as “an interregnum between two ages of great empire.” How insightful Rod Serling was in his ’60s television series “The Twilight Zone.” He said his stories reflected a “middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.”

The late great Honduran philosophical essayist and fabulist, Augusto Monterroso (has a wonderful fable called “El Chamaleón que finalmente no sabía de qué color ponerse” (The chameleon who finally didn’t know what color to become”).

The story says that the fox taught all the people of the forest that they could counteract the chameleon’s changing definitions of reality by carrying a purse of different-colored glass lenses on their persons. When the chameleon faked a new color, they simply put the appropriate crystal before their eyes and saw his original purple or blue.

The system became daunting, Monterroso says, when the chameleon projected more complex realities of gray or blue green. Now everybody had to use three, four, and even five crystals to see things straight. But when the chameleon realized that everybody had caught onto his system, he decided to adopt it himself.

“Then it became a situation,” Monterroso says, “of seeing everybody on the street taking out and switching crystals when somebody changed colors according to the political climate or to the prevailing political opinions of that day of the week, or even of the hour of day and night.”

In other areas of our lives, political ideology long ago challenged the laws of Physics and Thought but Physics just moseys on with the truth as the Atlantic Ocean oozes up onto the streets of Miami Beach, creating an American Venice in people’s living rooms.

 

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— Screen capture from Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose”

And there on Seventh Avenue in front of the Carnegie Deli, on Thanksgiving Day, was the incarnation of love.

The democratic republic of the United States that has existed for nearly two-and-a-half centuries is on hiatus. It was on hiatus during the first Civil War and it is back on hiatus now that we’re in the midst of a second civil war.

The Pulitzer Prize recipient and Princeton Historian James McPherson said the first Civil War “started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in territories that has not yet become states.”

The current civil war also started because of uncompromising differences but now it’s between the one-percenters (and their surrogates) and the rest of us over the power of the collective, the “we the people,” to provide for the needs of all as the planet and its sentient beings struggle to rise above conditions of enforced scarcity.

The new conflict has brought to the fore questions which the philosopher movie-maker Woody Allen raised in his two great tragi-comedies, “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Broadway Danny Rose”: Is there a moral structure to the universe? Is there some accountability for people who make evil choices and commit evil deeds?

In “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” an ophthalmologist, Dr. Judah Rosenthal, is consumed with guilt because he put a contract out on his flight-attendant paramour who threatened to tell his safe-from-the-ways-of-the-world wife that a pillar of the community had been cheating on her.

After the murder, the doctor goes close to having a mental breakdown. He visits his childhood home to see if he might get in touch with the values he grew up with and they might become a source of stability. In the old house — which the new owner has allowed him to walk through at his leisure — he hallucinates that all his relatives are sitting around the dining room table at a Seder.

He projects a question into their midst about the nature of culpability, and in response nearly every adult at the table offers an opposing view on justice. One of his aunts laughs at the idea that someone who has committed an evil deed will be brought to justice; she says people get away with murder.

That is the view of many people about how the one-percenters manage the world to suit their profit indices rather than to devise and implement strategies to meet the needs of all, health care and otherwise. Thus, for millions, that minority is the source of pain and suffering. And one wonders, if significant dissent arises in contradiction, will they be made to go away like the stewardess?

Standing in the way of any resolution to adopt a position on justice that takes into account the needs of all are the uncompromising differences alluded to. Soldiers on each side of the battle line cannot even agree on the physics of reality, on what sits before the eyes, that a can of beans is a can of beans, so they continue to lambaste each other with condemnatory stigmatizing rhetoric about their respective blindnesses.

Some people I talk to about these things are so engrossed in a knee-jerk meta-reality with no basis in the material world, that they’ve insulated themselves not only from the pain and suffering of others but also from their own need for an existence without cynicism.

In Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose,” a theatrical agent, Danny Rose, manages a cadre of acts who others define as “losers” among whom are a one-leggèd tap dancer and a stuttering ventriloquist.

Rose is a personalist. He gives himself over to his clients without reserve; he is devoted to them in every way. When he resurrects the career of a has-been singer who winds up with a big hit song, that winner calls Danny Rose a “loser” and ditches him for a high-power publicity agent.

The singer’s girlfriend, Tina, sees the basic goodness in Rose and feels there might be something in him worth pursuing. But she ultimately calls him a loser and ditches him too. His personalism goes unrewarded.

But Rose is able to transcend because he is armed with ethical maxims he learned in childhood. Like a mantra he repeats what his uncle Sidney told him for getting along in life: “acceptance, forgiveness, love.” When things go awry, you accept the other, you forgive the other, you begin to love the other. However, for devoting himself to the lives of others unconditionally, Rose is called by the one-percent a fool.

Today in the United States, where religious views of acceptance and forgiveness have been jettisoned like infernal debris, people talk past each other as if an-other did not exist. Therefore a new measure of justice has to be created that will mollify the factions.  

It resides in the question: To what extent and in what way have you relieved the pain and suffering of someone today? Did you meet people at the level of their wounds and bandages and make things better for them? Did you challenge the political economic institutions that keep people locked in poverty and distress though an ethic of enforced scarcity?

Last week, I mentioned to an older woman at the Y that Pope Francis had celebrated his 80th birthday by asking eight homeless people to breakfast. I related that he chatted with each person individually while sharing Argentinian cakes with them before saying Mass. Besotted in cynicism, the woman implied the Pope did this as a publicity stunt.

I asked her if she thought the Pope was stunting last Holy Thursday when he met with men and women prisoners at Rome’s Rebibbia prison and washed their feet like Jesus had done on the Thursday before his death.

I asked her if she had ever visited someone in prison who had no family or who had been totally rejected by society. Did she believe in acceptance-forgiveness-love? I must admit there was a great pause of silence.

In “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the killer ophthalmologist finally pushes through his homicidal guilt, he is never caught, he goes on living his one-percent life with his one-percent wife. His aunt was correct, people do get away with murder.

There is an intermittent voiceover throughout the film; a philosopher, Doctor Levy, offers a vision of a way out of internecine conflict. He says, “We define ourselves by the choices we have made. Human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation at all, it’s only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the universe.”

It is actually an optimist, democratic, republican solution to conflict in that it invites all to participate in creating human happiness. But sadly, things got too tough for Doctor Levy and he took his life amid the insensitivity.

But in a epilogic postscript to the film, Levy reminds folks that “most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.”

But will future generations understand anything unless the collective “we the people” becomes personalists, like Danny Rose, and dedicate ourselves to meeting the needs of the planet and all its sentient beings?

And when the woman, who called Rose a loser and derided him, fell on hard times and knocked on his door one Thanksgiving afternoon while the loser was feeding all his loser acts in his apartment (with TV dinners), all he could hear was Uncle Sidney: acceptance, forgiveness, and love.

He failed at first, he could not say the words, she left forlorn. But after a moment’s deliberation he ran after her. And there on Seventh Avenue in front of the Carnegie Deli, on Thanksgiving Day, was the incarnation of love.

 

Location:

I’ve been wanting to say something about the meaning of Christmas for some time now. I’ve gone through so many transformations about it and I know others have too but they say nothing about it unless asked. They’re kind of embarrassed because they know they’ve “sold out.”

I know that for a fact because, when I’ve engaged certain people about what Christmas means, a goodly number submissively admit they succumbed, that is, sold out to the marketplace.

But anyone who makes a judgment that someone has sold out Christmas has to come up with some kind of definition of what Christmas means and what selling out means and — it might sound tautological but I’ll add it anyway — what a true Christmas is. It’s a shame but today that emphasis “true” has to be added to everything.

In this age of ersatz democratic participation — where every kid who runs a race on Memorial Day gets a ribbon that says he or she’s a winner — it would seem that one definition of Christmas is as good as any other but that is not the case, I repeat “not.”

Let me start out with the manger scene: Mary and Joseph are looking for a place for Mary to have her baby. They can find no Holiday Inn with a vacancy so the child is born in a stable and placed in a manger kept warm by a wrap of swaddling clothes.

This is not the exact chronology of the nativity story but some shepherds show up for the birth and angels arrive and sing songs that are played on the radio to this very day.

Earlier in the story, the gospel writer says an angel appeared to the mother-to-be and told her: Lady, you will give birth to a revolutionary, don’t worry, it’ll be OK, it’ll be a new way of doing business and it’ll outlive him two-thousand fold.

But the angel was not telling the whole truth about revolution. She did not reveal that, if you refuse to sell out, you will find great joy in life, in fact will find life eternal but you have to give your life for it. A very complex promise and a very big leap of faith.

So what does selling out mean? It means, first and foremost, you will never create “fake news,” you will never base any life decision on what you do not know to be true and never say anything that is not true. Later in life, the aforementioned revolutionary,when put under the gun by questioning authorities, quipped back: You guys have no idea what Truth is. The actual wording is: quid est veritas?   

To get to the truth means you have to get to words before the marketplace does, before the nation-state does, before institutionalized religion does, which means a person has to go to where words are born, to the very font out of which words flow and come into being. You have to become a midwife of words and thereby breathe in the untainted word as it comes out of the womb of silence.

Christmas then is a story about the well of silence where the words are born and about believers camping by that well so they can hear silence speak truth to power.

This is a tall undertaking because it means a person must commit to silence, which requires a certain stripping down of the elements of “noise,” a big part of which in the United States these days is lying about reality, about what sits right before the eyes.

It’s the old Social Psychology experiment come true: A group in on a secret “forces” a person to deny what the person sees before his eyes. The stooge sees a 7 and calls it a 5 because that is what the others said.

The poet in us, among us, does not succumb to this kind of spiel because poets sit by the well of silence and wait for words to be born. It’s what they do for a living; they refuse to succumb. It’s a daunting way of life and one that requires great discipline. It’s not Donald Trump spewing realities that do not exist, that never did, and never will.

But most people think poets are useless, that they waste their time fiddling around with words when, in fact, the opposite is true. They are bringing the revolutionary message of Christmas unprejudiced by, unhindered by, any sectarian creed. For poets, a 7 will always be a 7 — no more, no less. They would never confabulate that Hillary Clinton was involved in a sex-ring trade. Every word the poet writes contains the forceful truth of the Law of Gravity because it is a word born directly from the womb of silence.

Thus the true Christian message is: If you wish to be free, if you wish to share in the revolution Jesus spent his life talking about (and living), you must embrace a life of poetic consciousness that entails taking the life of silence seriously, listening to each word as it’s being born: daily, hourly, by the moment. It’s a radical shift in consciousness.

It’s life lived in a manger — and why so many poets died destitute — where nothing counts but the word being born, of its own accord, untainted by marketplace, State, and institutionalized religion.

The fire of that message is so great that the person on fire is compelled to sacrifice his or her life for it, like Jesus did, through a life of unparalleled service. Destitution and death are mere annoyances.

The Catholic Worker revolutionary, Dorothy Day — whom some have put up for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church — knew about that sacrifice. She wrote a book called “The Long Loneliness” in which she speaks about the price a person has to pay listening to and recording what silence has to say.

I sometimes imagine a big Christmas store where there is nothing but a small well of silence in the center where believers come to gather, and sit, and quietly listen.

Some listen for years and do not hear anything but their commitment to silence does not wane. Even in despair I’ve heard them sing the words to Merry Christmas, the first verse of which says no one will be happy until the needs of every human being are met.

The second verse speaks about “the 1 percent,” keeping their foot directly on the throat of humankind so that meeting the needs of all is mocked from behind a golden plate of caviar.

Oh, when I first got into this stuff, I never realized how much the Christmas revolution had to do with making people happy, as in each and every person having the same income, regardless of anything, and receiving the same care for body and mind as the richest among us — from the day they’re born to the day they die.

Boy, that’s my kind of Christmas. But I cannot say anything more, I’m sitting by the well of silence here, waiting for my next mission impossible.

I’ve been wanting to say something about the meaning of Christmas for some time now. I’ve gone through so many transformations about it and I know others have too but they say nothing about it unless asked. They’re kind of embarrassed because they know they’ve “sold out.”

I know that for a fact because, when I’ve engaged certain people about what Christmas means, a goodly number submissively admit they succumbed, that is, sold out to the marketplace.

But anyone who makes a judgment that someone has sold out Christmas has to come up with some kind of definition of what Christmas means and what selling out means and — it might sound tautological but I’ll add it anyway — what a true Christmas is. It’s a shame but today that emphasis “true” has to be added to everything.

In this age of ersatz democratic participation — where every kid who runs a race on Memorial Day gets a ribbon that says he or she’s a winner — it would seem that one definition of Christmas is as good as any other but that is not the case, I repeat “not.”

Let me start out with the manger scene: Mary and Joseph are looking for a place for Mary to have her baby. They can find no Holiday Inn with a vacancy so the child is born in a stable and placed in a manger kept warm by a wrap of swaddling clothes.

This is not the exact chronology of the nativity story but some shepherds show up for the birth and angels arrive and sing songs that are played on the radio to this very day.

Earlier in the story, the gospel writer says an angel appeared to the mother-to-be and told her: Lady, you will give birth to a revolutionary, don’t worry, it’ll be OK, it’ll be a new way of doing business and it’ll outlive him two-thousand fold.

But the angel was not telling the whole truth about revolution. She did not reveal that, if you refuse to sell out, you will find great joy in life, in fact will find life eternal but you have to give your life for it. A very complex promise and a very big leap of faith.

So what does selling out mean? It means, first and foremost, you will never create “fake news,” you will never base any life decision on what you do not know to be true and never say anything that is not true. Later in life, the aforementioned revolutionary,when put under the gun by questioning authorities, quipped back: You guys have no idea what Truth is. The actual wording is: quid est veritas?   

To get to the truth means you have to get to words before the marketplace does, before the nation-state does, before institutionalized religion does, which means a person has to go to where words are born, to the very font out of which words flow and come into being. You have to become a midwife of words and thereby breathe in the untainted word as it comes out of the womb of silence.

Christmas then is a story about the well of silence where the words are born and about believers camping by that well so they can hear silence speak truth to power.

This is a tall undertaking because it means a person must commit to silence, which requires a certain stripping down of the elements of “noise,” a big part of which in the United States these days is lying about reality, about what sits right before the eyes.

It’s the old Social Psychology experiment come true: A group in on a secret “forces” a person to deny what the person sees before his eyes. The stooge sees a 7 and calls it a 5 because that is what the others said.

The poet in us, among us, does not succumb to this kind of spiel because poets sit by the well of silence and wait for words to be born. It’s what they do for a living; they refuse to succumb. It’s a daunting way of life and one that requires great discipline. It’s not Donald Trump spewing realities that do not exist, that never did, and never will.

But most people think poets are useless, that they waste their time fiddling around with words when, in fact, the opposite is true. They are bringing the revolutionary message of Christmas unprejudiced by, unhindered by, any sectarian creed. For poets, a 7 will always be a 7 — no more, no less. They would never confabulate that Hillary Clinton was involved in a sex-ring trade. Every word the poet writes contains the forceful truth of the Law of Gravity because it is a word born directly from the womb of silence.

Thus the true Christian message is: If you wish to be free, if you wish to share in the revolution Jesus spent his life talking about (and living), you must embrace a life of poetic consciousness that entails taking the life of silence seriously, listening to each word as it’s being born: daily, hourly, by the moment. It’s a radical shift in consciousness.

It’s life lived in a manger — and why so many poets died destitute — where nothing counts but the word being born, of its own accord, untainted by marketplace, State, and institutionalized religion.

The fire of that message is so great that the person on fire is compelled to sacrifice his or her life for it, like Jesus did, through a life of unparalleled service. Destitution and death are mere annoyances.

The Catholic Worker revolutionary, Dorothy Day — whom some have put up for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church — knew about that sacrifice. She wrote a book called “The Long Loneliness” in which she speaks about the price a person has to pay listening to and recording what silence has to say.

I sometimes imagine a big Christmas store where there is nothing but a small well of silence in the center where believers come to gather, and sit, and quietly listen.

Some listen for years and do not hear anything but their commitment to silence does not wane. Even in despair I’ve heard them sing the words to Merry Christmas, the first verse of which says no one will be happy until the needs of every human being are met.

The second verse speaks about “the 1 percent,” keeping their foot directly on the throat of humankind so that meeting the needs of all is mocked from behind a golden plate of caviar.

Oh, when I first got into this stuff, I never realized how much the Christmas revolution had to do with making people happy, as in each and every person having the same income, regardless of anything, and receiving the same care for body and mind as the richest among us — from the day they’re born to the day they die.

Boy, that’s my kind of Christmas. But I cannot say anything more, I’m sitting by the well of silence here, waiting for my next mission impossible.

An 1867 map shows the telegraph lines in operation, under contract, and contemplated, to complete the circuit of the globe.
 

Marshall McLuhan — the great assessor of the impact of mass media on our lives — wrote an essay in 1963 called “The Agenbite of Outwit.”

He said that, when humankind implemented the telegraph in 1844, it radically altered the state of human consciousness because it had projected its central nervous system out onto the world. Every conscious neuron was thence connected by immediate-information-giving utilities to every other.

McLuhan was aware that human inventions involved extensions of the body into space: the wheel an extension of the foot; the hoe, the arm; clothing, the skin; and the book an extension of the eye.

But with humankind’s global connection through its nerves, the axis of reality shifted radically; it created benefits of course but it also created a new set of obligations because no neuron could deny the presence of every other.

The late great contemporary composer John Cage took a liking to these ideas. It was not that they flipped reality on end but more that they presented opportunities for living more sanely. They redefined the concept of sharing so that it now includes sharing not only the benefits but also the burdens of others — fully supportive of the axiom: People are happier when dog no longer eat dog.

In his classic, “A Year From Monday,” Cage says (and I paraphrase, you can see the original on Page ix): it is now incumbent upon humankind to implement globally the disciplines people traditionally practiced to be at peace, at one with themselves — meditation, yoga, psychoanalysis, and every related modality.

When such disciplines are practiced globally people recognize that others are not threatening and greedy by nature. They are better able to see the needs of others (people are more inclined to speak of them) and moved to take steps to meet those needs without resentment or derision. Such is how an effectively working planet-wide central nervous system operates.

For a long time, Cage was interested in producing a list of utilities that connect us to each other (e.g., the telephone, radio, Internet) whereby we come face to face with every language, custom, and ritual situated along the spectrum of humanity.

In “Agenbite,” McLuhan said that, since the world contracted to the size of a tribe or village where everyone knows what’s going on everywhere, the human community feels compelled to participate. Participation is the democratization of happiness.

Understandably McLuhan has long been thought of as one of the inventors of “global village” but a village free of zenophobia. Zenophobes fear diversity, it contradicts assumptions about self and other that thrive on a divide-and-conquer ethic.

Anyone interested in anthropology knows that people living in pristine tribal cultures — there are a million studies on it — find it impossible to think of themselves as an “individual” or “independent” operator.

Of course “primitives” recognize differences — some folks are faster, smarter, stronger, and more efficient in amassing prized money-shells — but the faster do not tax the slower to enhance their prestige. A consciousness wired to every other induces genuine humility and compassion.

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church tried to promote global connectedness through the concept of a “mystical body” asserting that through Jesus all Christians share a mystical, spiritual bond that cannot be broken.

And Alexander the Great proposed a similar idea in his “homonoia,” a universal union of hearts, a “brotherhood of man” but, in his brotherhood, brother does not share the burden of brother.

Though we continue to reap the benefits of a fully-operative global nervous system, the human community still has not faced up to the task of putting flesh and bone on those nerves, that is, of creating a political economy designed to meet the needs of all, one that fits the complex of nerves.

And needs-based means providing not only full health care for everyone, from the day we’re born to the day we die, but also housing, daily sustenance, old age care, the works — the opposite of a deserts-based, dog-eat-dog, tribal mind.

Thus the potential for achieved well being is no longer limited to Christians or Macedonians or any other sect but extends to every physical, neurological, consciousness in our global home.

Disbelievers in this connectedness are at least willing to acknowledge that what happens in China (and Mexico, Vietnam, and Japan) affects the quality of our lives in the United States. They acknowledge globalization but only in so far as it relates to money, trade, power, and deserts-based benefits.

Otherwise their battle cry is for walling off the self and nation from what exists on the other side of the synapse and for siphoning off “differences” among populations into “ghettos.”

This is nervous-breakdown thinking and explains why at any moment some group somewhere can rise up and terrorize the world, claiming their dreams were shattered through demonizing, exclusionary, needs-denying practices.

Quite astoundingly, two of the 2016 presidential candidates in the United States are calling for revolution: one for “political revolution,” the other for a guilt-free battering-of-the-weak-without-reprisal revolution based in an ideology that stigmatizes difference.

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard predicted this would occur when his “The Concept of Dread” appeared the same year the telegraph was born. He was addressing the dread of connectedness, the dread of facing up to a needs-based political economy that being linked neurologically requires.

Pope Francis recently said that people who wall themselves off from others, who classify and divide, are destroyers of the mystical body and cannot call themselves Christians. They tear away at the limbs of a universal needs-meeting body.

Which brings us to the true function of the computer. People might use the machine to Google cheap flights to Spain or find a good house at the shore but the computer exists primarily: (1) to inventory the needs of every neuron in the cosmic system; (2) to inventory every available worldwide resource (every kind everywhere); and (3) to find the best way of getting what’s needed to those in need without charge or delay.

We do know of course that in every Eden people steal, cheat, rob, and raid your cache — sin is a given — but in the meantime, in this era of our neurologically-connected needs-based revolution, every person on the planet is treated like the richest person on earth.

Now that’s a revolution of dread.

Location:

Circa 1935: Dennis Sullivan’s family visited Coney Island and had this portrait taken. His mother is the woman in white, third from the right in the second row, and her mother is in white all the way to the right. Four of the author’s aunts and one uncle are in the photo as well as lifelong family friends.

The presidential candidates are out on the trail again and the topic of “family values” is back on the agenda, if only slightly. I like that. I like talk about the family.

When I’m in conversation with folks at a coffeehouse or casual-dinner setting and the topic of family comes up, I invariably ask the person who’s sallying forth about it: What does your family stand for? And invariably I get: What in the world does that mean?

And I say, well: Do you come from a creative family or maybe a family that likes to laugh and, when it does, the pain of life is relieved somewhat? Does your sense of humor provide perspective when times get rough?

“What does your family stand for?” is a kind of Rorschach test. Someone connects with one of the inkblots and says: Oh, look, that’s me, there’s my family, we’re into power; we love money; we thrive on prestige, privilege, and things elite. Our Sermon on the Mount is: Do unto others before they do unto you and then cut out.

There are people who say their family has believed (and practiced) for generations giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. They say they’re “into” justice, standing up for policies that meet the needs of everyone.

Asked to give an example they say: Well, every person on Earth has a right to full health care from the day they’re born till the day they die, no exceptions. And when you ask why they say: Because Health and Healing are inalienable rights.

I’ve talked to people who come from laissez-faire families who care about nothing and it makes no difference; they say they want to keep stress down.

With respect to “What does your family stand for?” it should be pointed out that this is not a niche or boutique question designed for a certain few. It pertains to everyone, and anyone interested in bettering personal development and mental health must answer it, and do so through serious self-reflection. Become an Ancestry.com for the genealogy of morals.

Secondly, the question in question is not academic because the family — and that includes everybody who has a say in it — wills you something.  And you’re willed not just proteinic DNA but social DNA as well. In some cases, it means the row assigned you is easier to hoe; in others, it entails seeing a therapist for 30 years to peel off layers of familial gunk.

Thus, answering “What do I stand for?” has to do with finding out what you were “willed” and how your legacy affects your standing in the world. It’s a sad game because it involves our forebears saying: Here’s a little keepsake, I hope it works out for you — we are never consulted.

Some people get left holding the bag. They’re willed racism, hating black people and Jews and demeaning women, Muslims, and people whose sexual being requires complex solutions for well being.

If a family’s traits are based in aggression — perhaps from a fear of scarcity — those traits can erupt when the family comes together. Every year, hordes of articles are written during the winter holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, et al.) advising people how to emerge from family encounters with their hide in tact. 

The great Irish lyrical poet, Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) has a poem called “That Actor Kiss,” which speaks to his relationship with his father especially during the father’s last days.

His father is in a hospital or nursing home and Michael, as he’s looking at his father in bed, leans over and kisses him; later over a drink he realizes that was the last kiss he ever gave the man, and also the first.

He says the shame is that that “kiss fell down a shaft too deep/to send back echoes that I would have prized.” And what did the father leave him?

(he willed to me his bitterness and thirst,

his cold ability to close a door).

Hartnett says he was given an acerbic tongue based in loss, a fondness for the drink, and a revenge that gets even with people by shunning them.

I teach, maybe “facilitate” is a better word, a course at the Voorheesville Public Library called “Writing Personal History for Family, Friends, and Posterity.” People in the group write stories about what they were willed, where it’s gotten them, and how they feel about the deal. It’s self-analysis and writing your own obituary rolled into one.

One inventive member of the group, Jim Corsaro, says in a story “Family Closets” that his garrulous Italian-American family in Niagara Falls were forever gabbing, talking about everything under the sun.

But he said he never heard a word about his brother being gay, which everyone had to acknowledge when he died of AIDS in a far-off land. Jim said he got the job of telling his mother about the death and the way his brother died. Much to his surprise his mother said she always thought her son was gay.

But what kept the family from acknowledging a sexuality that was different from theirs (presumably) and required a dose of empathy?

In conjunction with the publication of his memoir, “But Enough About Me,” the actor and movie star Burt Reynolds said growing up he always said his father was his hero but when Burt came to be an actor the father kept saying acting was for sissies. Plus he would not acknowledge his son was a going concern and, no matter how big Burt got, he refused to see him as a “man.”

As in the case of the Corsaros, Burt’s father could not stretch to meet the unique needs of a kin. Their scales of justice were skewed, unbalanced, exclusionary, discriminatory, callous — and toward a son, a brother, someone they once loved as a child.

Someone told me recently that if he starting talking about “What does my family stand for?” he’d wind up writing a book. And I said: Well, what’s holding you back?

Location:

Mister Rogers wassailed every day his program aired in hopes of bringing forth a crop of worthy neighbors.

In the Fall of 1957, the ABC television network aired a new game show, “Who Do You Trust?” It was a follow-up to a show that ran the year before, “Do You Trust Your Wife?”

In the new format the host, a young Johnny Carson, gave a contestant a category of questions and told him he was going to ask a question from it. The man had to decide whether he would respond or wanted to call his wife (waiting off stage) because he trusted her to know that part of life better.

The show could have easily been called: “How Well Do You Know the One You Love?”

Such shows spark viewer prurience because, as the contestant is deciding what to do, the viewer is wondering what he would do in the situation, that is, how well does he know his own wife?

A postmodern version of the show — in societies where people often arm themselves with automatic weapons and head to a movie theatre or holiday party to blow people to smithereens — might be called “How Well Do You Know Your Neighbor?”

Unlike the prototype “Who Do You Trust?” where winners walk away with a few dollars, the neighbor show is high-stakes stuff involving light-flashing ambulances and emergency rooms filled with bloody limbs.

Of course what comes to mind is the mass killing that took place in San Bernardino, California earlier this month when 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook and his 29-year-old Pakistani wife, Tashfeen Makik, went to Farook’s place of employment and “took out” 14 and sent more than 20 in emergency vehicles to the hospital to have their discombobulated bodies made whole again.

In terms of a game show, what the families knew about those folks is enigmatic at best. Nobody saw they had lost their minds to the belief that violence is an efficacious problem-solver — called “radicalization.”

If the relatives were on the game show “Do You Know Your Neighbor?” or “Do You Know the Ones You Love?” they’d have walked away with nothing while the community had been assigned the task of picking up mops and pails to wash away the stains of blood.

Farook’s brother-in-law, stunned by the event, said he was “baffled.” He said Farook was a “good religious man,” “just normal,” “not radical”; he and his wife were a “happy couple.”

When Farook’s sister, Saira Khan, was asked whether she noticed anything, her eyes glazed over, so soaked in disbelief was she. She said the couple was married, they had a child!

Feeling guilt over what occurred, she told CBS interviewer David Begnaud, “So many things I asked myself. I ask myself if I had called him that morning or the night before, asked him how he was doing, what he was up to. If I had an inclination, maybe I could have stopped it.”

“Inclination” is the operative word, which means “I knew nothing.” In response to her statements the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump publically called her a “total liar.”

But the collective’s pool of predictive measures told us nothing either:

— 1. Neither person had a criminal record;

— 2. Neither was on a government terrorist watch list; and

— 3. The government had no concrete evidence (inkling) that something was going on.

Of course in retrospect, when 150 million FBI agents are put on the case, a few critical facts will turn up, such as those folks were engaged in big-time subterfuge (advocating violence as a problem-solver) for quite some time.

Though government officials are not allowed to take part in our game shows, we have to admit the FBI would score high on a show called “We Know a Lot About Your Neighbor — Retrospectively!”

We have to laugh at the “profilers” (sadly) who people the television screen after such bloody events, boldly stating that we need to be on the lookout for this or that. But, if their prediction tables are so good, we’d see scores of suspects being arrested while you’re reading this.

A headline in the Jan. 16, 2015 edition of “The Atlantic” reads: “To Reduce Gun Violence, Know Thy Neighbor” with the tantalizing subtitle, “How a sense of community can help stop a bullet.” The premise, of course, is a truism: If you know the people around you, you have a better chance of knowing what’s going on around you.

The author of the article, Andrew Giambrone, points to a recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program on “neighboring” where the researchers found that a majority of their interviewees said they knew little about what went on in their neighborhood.

Scads of books and articles have been written on the loss of “social cohesion” and “social capital” — “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” jumps to mind first — the glue that holds the species together, the collective wherewithal we bank on to move us into the future with minimal blood and violence.

With all the talk these days about building walls — physical and psychological — around racial, ethnic, and religious groups we want to keep at nation-boundary length, is it not feasible that members of some communities, worried about whether newcomers into their neighborhood are latently violent, will pay real estate agents to administer a battery of psychological tests to screen out the potentially violent?

If we’re ignorant about the current people we walk among, perhaps we can classify potential neighbors into the “good,” the “bad,” and the “ugly.” A kind of psychological redlining in the interest of building walls around our worries.

In a few hours, the New Year will be upon us. In some quarters, the champagne will flow like mad as revelers waltz across the ballroom floor subconsciously wondering how different things will be in 2016.

Me? I’m going to do two things. First I’m going to sing the traditional anthem, “Auld Lang Syne”:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and never brought to mind ?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,

and auld lang syne?

 

For auld lang syne, my dear,

for auld lang syne,

we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.

 

And, while I sing this sad reflective song, I’ll raise a cup of kindness and give thanks for the collective good will and tenderness that have brought us this far. Then I’ll sing a wassail song under the guise of the famed Mister Rogers.

In the cider-producing parts of western England this time of year, neighbors sing and brandish toasts to awaken their apple trees to scare away the evil spirits that threaten loss in the harvest to come. Mister Rogers wassailed every day his program aired in hopes of bringing forth a crop of worthy neighbors.

Perhaps you’d like to sing along with me:

 

It's a beautiful day in this neighborhood,

A beautiful day for a neighbor,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

 

It's a neighborly day in this beautywood,

A neighborly day for a beauty,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

 

I have always wanted to have a neighbor just like you,

I've always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.

 

So let's make the most of this beautiful day,

Since we're together, we might as well say,

Would you be mine?

Could you be mine?

Won't you be my neighbor?

 

Won't you please,

Won't you please,

Please won't you be my neighbor?

Eso es todo, no hay más. ¡Feliz año nuevo!

 

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