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Silent Guilt (But I digress...)

It feels like there's more to say. That somehow the right words could solve the American Puzzle. (Written on an iPhone, so errors may abound.) When I open my ears, however, I hear so much being said and so little being heard that I recoil from the first thought.

We--Americans--are a very selfish people. No matter our hue or creed. We're bred that way, as our economy requires our culture to turn us all into aquisition engines.

At the highest forms of this art we get the Discipline Dons, clucking away at lesser beings who don't have their strength of will and moral fiber. I've learned to distrust those the most, as people who verbalized the stream of conciousness which is positivistic and Calvanist are almost certainly battling some trully dark demons of their own and need a constant pep talk/public preening to keep the beast at bay.

In other words: when someone says "all you need is self reliant will" I hear "I am so damn weak I don't know how to connect with others."

But I get it: if there's anyone who understands solitude and loneliness it's me. Hell, it's Thanksgiving and I'm writing this alone in a public park on a hill in my home county. In a couple of hours I'll be surrounded by people but right now I'm left alone with my thoughts and I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. It's just what is. And always has been.

I keep coming back to this idea: that we've become islands into ourselves. That the performance of an American life is judged almost exclusively through a libertarian/Randian lens, even when we abhor that lens. Collectivist thinking has a twinge of the inferior about it. It's an emotional coloration that seems to be unavoidable, the drive to be self-reliant is so baked into our myths that we lose the ability to think in other terms.

It's an illusion, of course.

In truth we are part of a network. Multiple networks: family, polity, state, species, nation, biosphere, intellectual tradition, and on and on. We are, as integral philosopher Ken Wilber would put it, holons: both wholes and parts. We are dual state creatures, we humans. Switches in the great machine of life.

What that machine is supposed to do, I have no idea.

That doesn't deal with the silence, or the guilt. I feel the urge to take up the pen and write about the injustice we've seen this week: the more one pulls apart that grand jury testimony the more it is clear the process was abused. It is also clear that there are two sets of rules in practice: one for cops and one for citizens. That's wrong. It's just as wrong that the justice system has different sets of rules in practice for rich and poor (see Matt Taibi's The Divide for details.)

We are raised on the myth that our society is one ruled by law and not by might. It's a good myth. We should do our damnedest to live up to it.

(I'm not one of those people for whom "myth" means "lie," for me "myth" means "poetic truth." And no, I won't be updating my definition to make anyone feel comfortable, I've found it to be a more useful way to see the world.)

There are other myths that have been at play this week, indeed that have been very active in American politics--more so than usual--in the past decade. Myths that we haven't been questioning or updating. In part because there are those who would have is throw all the myths out. Those are the people who don't understand how the human brain works. It's a heuristic computational device (see Daniel Kahenaman's Thinking Fast and Slow) which relies on shortcuts to make decisions. Myths are part of that process. Jettisoning them doesn't work, so you have to update them.

Those who want to do that work would be wise to learn to see wider than they do now. That's what I'm feeling guilty over being silent about, because I think I can see where part of the problem lies.

There are those among us who have--understandably--confused the notion of seeing people as individuals with the idea that you can stumble around the world blind to the notion of race. Race is a construct, after all. It's a bit of legacy code that has seemingly outlived its usefulness.

The problem is that in order to see a person as a whole you have to be able to see their lived experience. For people of color that includes their race. If you--a white person--chooses to not see race because it is not part of your lived experience you are choosing to stay blind to the lived experience of people of color. You're blocking out part of the world to keep things simpler for you, but you're not seeing that individual as they are.

Even though race is a construct it is a part of our identities. As a straight white guy who grew up in the SF Bay Area in the 90s I've always been aware of the race and gender parts of my identity. In most contexts they let me slip by in observed if I want, but in the neighborhoods I grew up in I was part of a plurality, and that meant sometimes being singled out. Sometimes I could fit in, sometimes I couldn't, and other times I could retreat to where it wasn't an issue.

My black friends didn't always have those options. The world often had harsher consequences for them, and didn't allow for chameleon ease.

Those formative years taught me the value of code switching and trying my damnedest to see people on their own terms. It's a trait that I take with me when I put on my critic cap: I try and see work on its own terms even as I attempt to place it into larger contexts. It is a trait that I find paralyzing when attempting to create fiction, as I know that I will never get the "each person is a complex universe" thing right.

Which leads me back to the Holon and The Network. Because each person is a part of something bigger even as they are complete unto themselves. Even as they are comprised of different elements: race, gender, creed, cupcakes. Okay, maybe not cupcakes, but they should be. It's not like there aren't vegan, paleo, gluten-free and regular options. (But I digress.)

Maybe it's possible to see some of the people as parts of the whole some of the time. So long as you acknowledge that you are applying a heuristic and leave yourself open to reexamining the postion.

That's not something I see in the rhetoric and the tone of the culture warriors who are out battling online this week. Moreso on the "conservative" than the "liberal" side of things. I mostly just see righteousness, and that's always a big turn off. It's a signal that people are done listening, and while that can be understandable there's a secret to progress: if you don't listen you can't be sure that you're being heard.

So for the most part these days I stay silent, and listen for the listeners.