Sunday, July 17, 2016

Make America Hate Again

Protestor Leshia Evans is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016.  

Hosea Williams and John Lewis confront troopers, March 7, 1965 on “Bloody Sunday” in Selma, Alabama.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Historical Cynicism: The Care of Self

A recent reading of Michel Foucault, The Courage of Truth,[1] reveals the long history of Cynicism viewed on the basis of a theme of life as “scandal of the truth”, or of “style of life as site of emergence of the truth”  (bios as alethurgy[2]) (p. 180).  Foucault wrote,

[In its ancient form] Cynic practice, the requirement of an extremely distinctive form of life—with very characteristic, well defined rules, conditions, or modes—is strongly connected to the principle of truth-telling, of truth-telling without shame or fear, of unrestricted and courageous truth-telling, of truth-telling which pushes its courage and boldness to the point that it becomes intolerable insolence. The connecting up of truth-telling [parrhêsia] and mode of life, this fundamental, essential connection in Cynicism between living in a certain way and dedicating oneself telling the truth us all the more noteworthy for taking place immediately as it were, without doctrinal mediation, or at any rate within a fairly rudimentary theoretical framework. . . Cynicism appears . . . to be a form of philosophy in which the mode of life and truth-telling are directly and immediately linked to each other. (pp. 165-6)

Cynicism was a distinct shift within the locus of the parrhesiatic speech, from the political domain to the ethical, truth-telling as part of democratic citizenship. More than mere franc speech it is more closely associated with the notion of ethos. The Cynics and their concerns went beyond the traditional topics of politics and democracy, unto questions of “happiness and unhappiness [3] Historically Foucault traced three profound historical paths or stances that resulted in the ethical development of the self: the confession or the Christian hermeneutics of the self, the Greek and Roman philosophical care of the self and the Cynical parrhêsia or fearless speech.
[eudaimonia], good and ill fortune, slavery and freedom” of all humankind. Cynicism established and sustained “constant relationship to the self on the basis of a particular truth discourse”.

We could say today, the cynic ("gentle" or otherwise) is one who publicly lives out inconvenient truths concerning one’s daily existence, an existential attitude and the mark of a sage (or development of); i.e., one who transforms one’s own body in a ”theater of the scandal of truth” which ultimately challenges ones’ fellow friends/citizens to radically revise their opinions, institutions and common shared values.  Cynicism should be viewed as beginning with the “care of the self” in the struggle of living daily against the normalization of injustices, violence, and uncaring modes and methods of people and the planet. It means at some level a resistance to solitude or estrangement, to “everything which separates the individual, breaks his links with others, splits up community” and forces an individual back on himself and ties him to his own identity in a constraining way.[4] Thus in its subjective forms, truthful speech (parrhesia)  is truth telling as a form of the care of self, intended to do work, to have an effects on others and on ourselves—to govern self and influence others.


[1] M Foucalt, The Courage of Truth(The Government of Self and Others II) Lectures at the College De France, 1983-84.
[2] ἀληθουργής, someone who speaks the truth (a hapax legomenon); This hapaxadjective is the result of composing the noun meaning “truth” (alétheia, ἀλήθεια) with the noun meaning “action” or “deed” (érgon, ἔργον). The “fictive word” forged by Foucault, alethurgy, is decidedly defined to signify “the set of possible verbal and non-verbal procedures by which one brings to light what is laid down as true as opposed to false, hidden, inexpressible, unforeseeable, or forgotten,” in order to conclude that “there is no power without something like alethurgy”. The word does not only sound like the combination of alétheia and érgon, but also like the combination of alétheia and liturgy. Liturgy, in turn, is a civil duty that one performs at his or her own expenses (and risks). As civil duty, it has a certain ritual, a series of forms and spaces where it can be performed. In fact, throughout Foucault’s text, alethurgy goes from “manifestation of truth” to mean the forms and rituals in which truth is manifested as part of the technique of government.
[3] Foucault’s 1984 lectures on The Courage of Truth, http://blogs.law.columbia.edu/foucault1313/the-thirteenth-seminar/
[4] Cristian Iftode, Foucault’s Idea of Philosophy as ‘Care of the Self:’ Critical Assessment and Conflicting Metaphorical Views. West University of Timisoara, Romania: Elsevier Ltd., 2013

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Response to Maria Popova Cautionary Essay regarding a Culture of Cynicism

Maria Popova essay, Some Thoughts on Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves, places cynicism on the polar side of Hope. This identified kind of raw cynicism is “that terrible habit of mind and orientation of spirit in which, out of hopelessness for our own situation, we grow
embittered about how things are and about what’s possible in the world. [Hence this sort of] Cynicism is a poverty of curiosity and imagination and ambition. . . In its passivity and resignation, cynicism is a hardening, a calcification of the soul. Hope [on the other hand] is a stretching of its ligaments, a limber reach for something greater.”

She advises,
Today, the soul is in dire need of stewardship and protection from cynicism. The best defense against it is vigorous, intelligent, sincere hope — not blind optimism, because that too is a form of resignation, to believe that everything will work out just fine [or other sentimental blah, blah, blah] and we need not apply ourselves. I mean hope bolstered by critical thinking that is clear-headed in identifying what is lacking, in ourselves or the world, but then envisions ways to create it and endeavors to do that.

Popova’s notion of critical thinking resonates with my conception of gentle cynicism, which sees dark cynicism always lurking in the background seeking to make ground in some way, while in front of me is hope (I am thinking here of the theory of hope and its landscape). Gentle Cynicism seeks to hold the polar sides in tension via various practices that allow one to engage in clear-headed critical thinking, goals, and pathways that envision ways to create and endeavor to do something that contributes to human flourishing (eudaimonia) spured by the complex notion of hope.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Evangelicals Anxiously Forgotten the Way

Like Charles Krauthammer’s baffled response to evangelicals’ support of such a vulgar, egotistic leader, Donald Trump (“Defender of Faith” March 5), I too ask how a large mass of Christian evangelicals have become so far removed from the core ethic of the Christian Tradition in their craze with Donald Trump. The answer might be complex, albeit Trump helps to diagnose the problem. Trump’s own rhetoric has been able to tap into their anxieties--anxieties that surface as fear of impotence, negation, and disempowerment.
What’s worse is the shift to a leader like Trump is further evidence that a mass of evangelicals
are far removed from their namesake, the “good news.”   The evangelion or “good message” pronounces an enduring vision of the kingdom of God that protects and advocates for the exiled, the poor and parentless; and supports organizations that offer a vision and concern that has echoes of the Great Reversal (e.g., economic and racial equality). Instead, a great host of traditional evangelicals, it would seem, just want “someone to protect them” at the expense of choosing a toxic leader who reverberates strong tones of bigotry and racism.
Such regression, not to speak of sour interpretation due to an inability to set aside personal and ideological biases, means instead of becoming part of a life-changing and transformative encounter with the current culture, they are quickly overtaken by another’s weak promises and have quickly adopted his caustic ideology.
Trump offers strength against what these lost evangelicals fear. Yet he offers very little in the way of solutions with substance while rallying people about dividing groups, building walls and name calling. He motivates vigorously while under protest from others while his numbers continue to fathom many. This is the force of anxiety being feed like a cancer.
Anxiety, especially since 9/11 has become a pronounced feature of our time and Trump profits on people’s fears. While anxiety certainly has its place in the psyche and can be a motivating force, Trump is spreading societal anxiety epidemically. This pandemic can be interpreted through the insight of Edwin FriedmanA Failure of Nerve. The Five Characteristics of Chronically Anxious Societies (2007).
 First there is “reactivity.” No doubt, many evangelicals feed on the distraction of a 24/7 news litany that is destructive to their consciousness and have become acquainted and comforted by Trump’s reactive nature and his quick fix solutions that are mixed with his own anxious rhetoric.  Friedman explains that highly reactive groups “are in a panic in search of a trigger.” In this case, Trump supplies the trigger.  Second is the impulse of “herding”, a regressive tendency to reverse one’s direction of “adaption toward strength,” while organizing one’s survival around the least mature, the most dependent, or dysfunctional member of a group. As Krauthammer points out, “a more scripturally, spiritually flawed man than Trump would be hard to find.”
 “Blame displacement” is one of Trump’s fierce tactics which focuses on pathology rather than strengths. This is well exemplified in Trump’s naming all the ills and isms he promises to protect against with “a not-going-to-take-it-anymore defiance” absent of policy and substance. Trump feeds the primal instinct for mimetic scapegoat mechanism with his call to ban all Muslims from entering the US.  This and his mantra “I will build a great wall” are examples of the fourth characteristic of chronically anxious groups, a “quick-fix mentality”. Chronically anxious societies and groups find solace or obsession with technique and method over maturity.
Lastly, the above characteristics of chronically anxious groups lead to the creation and dependence of “poorly defined leadership” whose motivation revolves around crises while lacking distance to discern clear vision and is thus unable to develop a well-principled presence.
 It may well be too late, as evangelical’s insular need for protection results in an inability to function in a position of strength and to appreciate areas of consensus and agreement; hence preventing them from influencing the surrounding society with a range of concerns that religious and secular traditions all have in common, such as the sanctity of life, the well-being of the family, justice for the poor, economics of inclusion and equality, care for creation, peace, freedom and racial justice.
For Krauthammer, Trump appears like a malignancy, which can only be eradicated by an intense, all-out attack, leaving evangelicals on the right in a position of significant weakness and loss of an already weakening influence on the body politic.  We all do well to hear the often repeated message, “Be not afraid.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? Two videos that inform the politics and economics of our times


Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin 
work at the critical question: 
Can Capitalism and Democracy Coexist? 





Nick Hanauer, "Beware fellow plutocrats, the pitchforks are coming!
A "proud and unapologetic capitalist," he has also been looking at our growing inequality gap, and the way it damages our democracies. In 2013, Hanauer published a commentary in Bloomberg BusinessWeek proposing a $15 minimum wage. Hanauer believes if societal inequality is allowed to grow unchecked, modern societies could start looking like pre-Revolutionary France.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Another Expanding Year of the Practice and Art of Gentle Cynicism

Cultures that endure carve out a protected space for those who question and challenge national myths.” [1]

I have traversed another year aware of the expanding, living dynamism that comes by way of the practice and art of gentle cynicism.  While this site provides numerous examples of my thinking and musing around this practice, gentle cynicism has and continues to be a dynamic filter of sorts (dialectical in aspect, phenomenological in mind) between myself and the world that in a way sifts chaff from wheat, i.e., what is accepted from what is best, what misses the mark from what is actually participating with or working toward a higher ideal/reality/vision—Shalom, the Way, Tao, The Middle Way, truly and fully living substance.

The Society of Gentle Cynicism has become a personal nomenclature for me that identifies a way of existence in a culture that is at large unaware that it follows a failed dominate script (story ) that promotes an illusion of safety, health and happiness. This dominant script in the society at large is therapeutic, technological, consumerist militarism [2] that unfortunately imbues almost every dimension of the common life.  Gentle cynicism supports disengagement from and relinquishment of that script while mediating the de-scripting and disengagement and the unfolding via a steady patient intentional articulation of an alternative/counter script that opens the actual, self−becoming, self−development experiencing fully and realizing human flourishing.

While the roots of gentle cynicism may go back a ways for me (and have ancient roots), my experience in the military between 2003-8 became an encounter that called for serious engagement and relinquishment from the dominant script. See “From Soldier to Conscientious Objector” [3]. After more than eight years  Gentle Cynicism” continues to be a way of moving through (not stepping away from) tensions where there is a complex array of easy-to-get-to thin practices, answers and ideals on one side; while on the other, profound, thick sources of questions and insights that invite persistent souls toward the way of becoming more fully human. The task is one of becoming comfortable with doubt, negation and integration via dialectic process knowing that forms are dynamic and developing in time.

My recent projects practicing gentle cynicism have focused around how I work and live in the day-to-day, being aware of the challenges that comes from living in a society that widely turns a blind eye, is ensnared by the technological craze at the expense of their minds (geist); taking on the dominant story, for they have no story; and realizing that I need and want to be and stay awake/alive in a way that surmounts the dark reality expressed by Thomas Merton, and William Stafford.

The flesh and passions, of themselves, tend to anarchy, being at the mercy of sense stimulation, and hence responding blindly and automatically to every stimulus that presents itself . . . the psyche of man struggles in a thousand ways to silence the secret voice of anxiety. [4]

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give--yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. [5]

Why resist in anxious quest the vast, expanding universe defending our plans, imaginations and desires against the cruel, dark world, when instead we could go with a flow that overtime unfolds a journey, hidden wholeness, expressions of reality, all infusing essential substance and knowing within and around our human lives with dignity, contributing to eudaimonia.

 I commit afresh to the practice of and Society of Gentle Cynics . . .

Touring as a recusant
of hegemonic norms, arrive
a gentle cynic
negating Deus Aderit. [6]

-----------------------
[1] From “How to Think”; e.g., Prophets, Artist, Poets, Writers, Journalist, Philosophers, Musicians, Theologians
[2] Tim Suttle, “Walter Brueggemann’s 19 Theses Revisited: A Clarification from Brueggemann Himself” (4/15/2014); http://www.patheos.com/blogs/paperbacktheology/2014/04/walter-brueggemanns-19-thesis-revisited-a-clarification-from-brueggemann-himself.html
[4] Thomas Merton, The New Man
[5] William Stafford, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other”, The Darkness Around Us Is Deep. New York: Harper Collins, 1993, 135.
[6] Daniel J. Seifert, the last stanza of “The Ride” 2012.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Theology of Cracked Spaces: A Confluence of Traditions to a Confluence of Spirit

“A Theology of Cracked Spaces: A Confluence of Traditions toa Confluence of Spirit” is a holiday reflection that comes from Omid Safi, a columnist for On Being.


A Christmas card by Banksy, showing Joseph and Mary blocked from Bethlehem by the Israeli West Bank barrier. 
(Banksy / Flickr  All rights reserved.)