Racism. Antisemitism. All the other intolerant beliefs that can lead to dangerous deeds. With us forever, like an endemic virus that will spread and surge, inflict death and suffering, and despite mitigations, never go away.
Good news about that. The recommended treatments have been around as long as the evils. They are described in the principles of most of the traditions—religious, spiritual or philosophical. You don’t even have to seek out brilliant teachers or complex texts. Just ask the children you’ve been raising. Maybe you’ve been teaching them these principles from the start. Of course, maybe not, or maybe if you’ve been teaching the principles—love, compassion, kindness, respect, truthfulness, humanity, etc.—you haven’t been modeling them.
And that’s the bad news. The evils aren’t new. The treatments aren’t new but they are very, very hard to do, in thought and in practice. Again, those traditions we claim to embrace make that difficulty quite clear.
If you believe that the solution to these evils comes from carefully reshaping society, you are partly but far from completely right. As we all know, we developed some effective tools to oppose our most recent evil health pandemic. Massive numbers of Americans refused, so hundreds of thousands needlessly died, and the virus will now go on forever.
Without people transforming, something as simple as the golden rule, a formula for compassion that even a five-year-old can understand, will have no effect. The evils will go on and on.
This saguaro is more than a hundred years old. It lived through the dropping of the first atomic bomb. It lived through the 1950s and 1960s when concerns about nuclear war prompted Americans to build fallout shelters to survive that war.
It was during that time that this saguaro began building a fallout shelter. But then it changed its mind. It wasn’t sure how well a saguaro could fit in a shelter. It wasn’t sure that others who were fearful and hadn’t built their own shelters wouldn’t invade and displace the saguaro. It wasn’t sure that even if it built a shelter that a saguaro could fit in and even if it stayed there for years, there would be a world worth returning to. Most of all it wanted to believe in world peace and an end to war. So the saguaro stopped building.
The uncompleted shelter still stands as a monument to the fears and ultimately the hopes of this saguaro.
“Today is the eighth day and tomorrow is the thirteenth!”
Simply go beyond rational thinking and you will reach a point where you will not know what to do. Inquire there. Who is it [who inquires]? You will know him intimately when you have broken your walking stick and crushed ice in a fire. Now, how do you achieve this intimacy? Today is the eighth day and tomorrow is the thirteenth!*
*This sentence seems probably to be Bassui’s way of indicating transcendence of logical thinking.
Died on the twentieth day of the second month, 1387, at the age of sixty-one
Look straight ahead. What’s there? If you see it as it is You will never err.
When Bassui was about thirty-one years of age, he heard the running of water in a brook and was enlightened. Thereafter, he spent most of his days in a hut in the mountains. When people heard of the solitary monk and gathered to hear “the word, he would flee. In spite of his longing for solitude, Bassui did not turn his back on the simple people, but taught them Zen in words they could understand. He often warned his followers against the dangers of drinking, and forbade them to taste “even a single drop.” On the margin of his portrait he wrote, I teach with the voice of silence.”
Just before his death Bassui turned to the crowd that had gathered around and said the words above. Repeating them in a loud voice, he died.
Scholar and novelist Theodore Roszak is most famous for the book The Making of a Counterculture (1969), his appreciation, analysis and hope for a nascent alternative society. In 1972, he compiled a cornucopia of the most creative visions of that culture in Sources: An anthology of contemporary materials useful for preserving personal sanity while braving the great technological wilderness (out of print, no digital version available).
From the Introduction:
What are these sources for? I suppose for the only revolution I can see within this technocratic order still strong with contrived consensus: an accelerating disaffiliation and internal restructuring which will in time become the new society shaped and tested within the shell of the old.
Thomas Merton. Rain and the Rhinoceros John Haines. “Poem of the Forgotten” Kilton Stewart. Dream Exploration Among the Senoi Carlos Castenada. The Psychedelic Allies Meher Baba. Undoing the Ego MANAS. The Mists of Objectivity Abraham H. Maslow. I-Thou Knowledge Michael Glenn. Radical Therapy: A Manifesto Denise Levertov. “During the Eichmann Trial: When we look up”
Norman O. Brown. The Resurrection of the Body Kay Johnson. Proximity Paul Goodman. Polarities and Wholeness: A Gestalt Critique of “Mind,” “Body,” “External World” Michael McClure. Revolt Charlotte Selver. Awaking the Body Pablo Neruda. “To the Foot from Its Child” Dennis Saleh. “The Psychology of the Body”
Martin Buber. The Organic Commonwealth Stanley Diamond. The Search for the Primitive George Woodcock. Not Any Power: Reflections on Decentralism Murray Bookchin. A Technology for Life E. F. Schumacher. Buddhist Economics Bill Voyd. Drop City Peter Marin. The Free People Patsy Richardson. No More Freefolk Wendell Berry. “To a Siberian Woodsman” Gary Snyder. “Amitabha’s vow”
IV. WHOLE EARTH
Anonymous. “Smokey the Bear Sutra” Edward Hyams. Tools of the Spirit Joseph Epes Brown. The Spiritual Legacy of the American Indian E. F. Schumacher. An Economics of Permanence Gary Snyder and Friends. Four Changes Ecology Action. The Unanimous Declaration of Interdependence The Berkeley Tribe. Blueprint for a Communal Environment Theodore Roszak. “Novum Organum” Kenneth Rexroth. From “The Signatures of All Things”
R. D. Laing. Transcendental Experience Herbert Marcuse and Norman O. Brown. Mystery and Mystification: An Exchange Herbert Marcuse. Love Mystified: A Critique of Norman O. Brown Norman O. Brown. A Reply to Herbert Marcuse Lancelot Law Whyte. Morphic Man Dane Rudhyar. The Zodiac as a Dynamic Process Ronald V. Sampson. The Vanity of Humanism Harold C. Goddard. William Blake’s Fourfold Vision Alan Watts. Tao Kathleen Raine. “The World” Theodore Roszak. “Loyalty”
You may not be familiar with most of the authors, though you will be richer for knowing them. Some are essential (such as Thomas Merton, poet Gary Snyder and others). Some may be a bit more of their time, but creative and provocative and worth knowing. You may (hopefully not) dismiss this as tired nonsense circulating in the old days that has been proven silly and wrong, now favored and promoted only by nostalgic older people. It wasn’t wrong and isn’t silly.
We are, if you haven’t noticed, stuck. If it was obvious fifty years ago or five years ago, it is undeniable now. We are stuck, and if we are stuck while time moves forward, we are moving backward. If you think we have all the ideas and strategies we need to actually move forward, think again.
I’ve quoted Bobby Kennedy quoting Tennyson’s Ulysses before, and will for all my days. You should know it too:
Come, my friends, ‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. Push off, and sitting well in order smite The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die.
May 1 represents three different things, depending on who and where you are.
For ages it has been a celebration of spring, including dancing around the Maypole.
It is International Workers’ Day, a labor holiday celebrated around the world, where it is sometimes known simply as Labor Day.
It is Law Day in America.
The spring thing is obvious. International Workers’ Day and Law Day require a little history.
In 1886, a general labor strike was planned for May 1 in Chicago, to promote adoption of the 8-hour work day. It is estimated that 300,000 or more showed up in Chicago, and thousands more around America. A further demonstration was planned for Chicago’s Haymarket Square a few days later on May 4. Clashes there between police and anarchists led to death and destruction, in what is called the Haymarket Square Riot. Nine defendants were arrested for their alleged involvement, and six were ultimately hanged. Since then, May 1 has been International Workers’ Day.
In 1921, at the height of America’s first Red Scare, May 1 was designated Loyalty Day. Then in 1957, during another Red Scare, President Eisenhower declared May 1 Law Day, a celebration of the rule of law—something America needs now as much as ever.
Take your choice on May 1: Celebrate spring, celebrate workers, celebrate the rule of law. Why not all three?
If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break If it keeps on rainin’, levee’s goin’ to break When the levee breaks, I’ll have no place to stay
When the Levee Breaks was written and recorded by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy in 1929, echoing the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. In 1971 Led Zeppelin reworked it for the Led Zeppelin IV album, creating one of their most accomplished tracks.
It came to mind at the time of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It brings to mind an ancient global flood story, that of forty days of rain meant to destroy the world and (almost) all of its inhabitants.
What the song now brings to mind, lyrics and dirgeful blues, is the news of that same world. It is raining, metaphorically. Not that the sun isn’t shining somewhere, sometime, dry and pleasant. But it looks like it’s also going to be raining, has been, apparently will be, for time to come. We have to believe the levee holds.
Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good No, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move
JOB Explain it to me. I talked to my friends, I talked to God, but I didn’t get an answer. The good prosper, the bad prosper, the good suffer, the bad suffer. You’ve talked with God up close. Do you have any ideas?
MOSES I am as in the dark as you. You can’t win an argument with God. I’ve learned that. Sometimes I felt like a glorified secretary taking dictation. I didn’t know why God even needed me. Why not just make a general announcement to everybody? So, no, I don’t have an answer for you.
JOB I got pretty far with God, just not far enough. God chastised my friends for being know-it-alls. Between me and God, I didn’t win but I didn’t lose. In the end, I said let’s agree to disagree, and that was that. I got everything back, but that really didn’t make up for what I went through. You know how it is, though. You want some kind of reasonable principled explanation, but never get one.
MOSES I never got one. The question we’ve got to ask, you, me, your know-it-all friends, all those I led who look up to me, is whether there is an explanation at all, and if there is one, whether we are owed one. You and me, we are both famous, maybe me a little more than you, and I think when we get through all the fine and fancy words—a lot of words—maybe nobody knows anything.