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Posts Tagged ‘reading’

beyond resisting

My sister Rachael recently texted me to gloat that Naomi Klein would be in Portland, Oregon to promote her new book. She didn’t type “neener-neener,” but she might as well have.

There’s no way she’s visiting Portland and not L.A.! I thought. I dropped everything and searched her publisher’s events page. Nada.

When I saw an announcement including an L.A. date, I messaged Rache again. “LOS ANGELES!!!” I said.

“I get to see her first,” Rache replied.

(Neener-neener.)

Who is Naomi Klein, exactly? Apart from being author of The Shock Doctrine, she’s an inspiration to both Rache and me.

Klein looks brutality squarely in the face, assesses it, and writes about it without losing either her passion or compassion. For a couple of decades now, she has looked into the abyss without becoming it.

She’s been a light along a very, very dark journey (of history and politics) I’ve been making for about a year. I’ve read her words and heard her podcasts and thought, “I hope I can emulate her someday. I hope I, too, can choose to look upon the darkness and see within it the possibility of greater love.”

My sister listened to Klein speak in Portland on Monday. I listened, alternately tearful and laughing, in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

nine two

Far from resenting my sister for hearing Klein first, I was grateful to listen and know Rache had heard the same heart, the same compassion, the same entreaty.  Read more…

my playlist

I’ve been building and rebuilding a playlist in my mind the last couple of weeks. I’ll write about it someday, I’m sure, I thought. When I’ve finally gotten it right-enough.

Without pressure or hurry, it could have been months before I solidified the playlist. But then I read a post that got me fired up, and I found my playlist.

The post bemoaned how everything is a competition now: singing, playing instruments, sports, politics. Everyone’s in it to win it. Period. Read more…

books & (bigger) dreams

Almost a year ago, I realized I was virtually alone.

I’d surrounded myself with people who understood I’d endured just about every kind of violence possible, and that I’d witnessed it even when I hadn’t experienced it directly. They celebrated the fact I’d “won” while calling the rest history. They apparently failed to understand what devastating long-term consequences are wrought even when one “wins.”

They had no concept how many tens of millions of people suffer my “history” now, nor–it seemed–any interest in exploring how their comfort helps keep other people subjugated. I was a meanie, for acting horrified; they, meaning well, were mere victims of a mean person who didn’t understand how much well-meaning means.

(Not a damn thing, I understand even better now. Not one damn thing.)

Surrounded by “friends” who didn’t really understand me, or care much how the limited suffering they’d endure under Trump is but a fraction of what others have endured daily for decades, I found real friends: books.

In Glenn Greenwald, I saw recognition of the U.S.’s two-tier justice system (one for the super-rich, and one for the rest) that ensured my family and I would never achieve recourse as poor people in America. The system wasn’t built that way.

With Peter Schweitzer I discovered that elected Democrats and Republicans long ago ditched pretenses of acting on the peoples’ behalf. They said they did, and that was enough to content most people who voted.

Naomi Klein, even more importantly, demonstrated the incredibly stark divide between what America preaches and what it practices. For many decades, the U.S.’s elected officials have claimed one thing to its people while doing quite another abroad. Klein’s The Shock Doctrine was the decoder ring that unveiled the purpose behind the pretense.

I read Chomsky and Postman and hooks. Each taught me a little more about the world that actually is, enabling me to see past my reality-illusions into what actually is.

Chalmers Johnson remains one of my favorites. Months ago, I picked up his Dismantling the Empire on a quickie trip to a bookstore. In a few short pages, he revealed almost as much as Klein did in many more pages.

I read so, so much Neil Postman. He died years before I began reading him, but wrote in such a way that reading him feels like a present-day conversation. He, more than anyone, eased the loneliness of (somehow) being stranded among billions.

Matt Taibbi really brought me despair. Before I read his books, I had the illusion the financial crisis of ’07/’08 was maybe just a really unfortunate accident. He showed that simply wasn’t so, which brought me closer to the truth … even if I kinda disliked him for it. A lot.

Bryan Stevenson showed me the joy of working for little changes–and celebrating them–even when enormous changes are needed. Arundhati Roy taught me the value of a newly hard-boiled egg (priceless), even as George Monbiot showed me how to discard “inevitable” in favor of imagining what’s actually just.

Sheldon S. Wolin showed me how deeply democracy was being subverted a decade ago, back when I cared only about my next paycheck. Renegade economist Kate Raworth pointed to a better world, inviting everyone to envision–and create–a global economy based on what we know of economics today, not what a handful of closet bigots decided to pass as indisputable truth close to a century ago.

A year ago, I realized most of my … friends … couldn’t help get me where I needed to go. They could only barely see the world that is, favoring instead the world they wish was.

But my books? They have broadened the world for me, page by page, showing that I need not be constrained by the limited imaginations of those around me physically … when bigger dreams are being dreamed around the world, for me, for you, and for all our children.

perspective(s)

I’ve wanted to write a post about perspective, but I wasn’t sure how to begin it.

Then, yesterday, my husband turned my three-year-old’s carseat around. Instead of facing backward, looking through my car’s rear window, Littler faced forward and shared my view through the front window.

“Woooooooooo!” he yelled after we pulled out of our driveway and began down the road. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” He might as well have been riding a roller coaster.

“You like the view, huh?” asked Littler’s older brother, Li’l D.

“Yeah!” cheered Littler, who’d had more than his car seat reoriented.

His whole perspective had changed.

Last week, a familiar horror crept over me while I read. None of this can be changed, I thought. It’s far too late to choose a different track.

The fact I’d thought such a thing was my signal: It was time to set aside the book I was reading. Though it was both illuminating and engagingly written, its content was grim.

I’ve learned over the last couple of months that I must read such things in small doses. Doing otherwise can catapult me into depression. (For example, I shouldn’t have read Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia and The Divide back to back. Spending a couple of days immersed in what exactly a handful of corrupt financiers have gotten away with while millions of others languish in prison for less … left me thinking, for some weeks, there is no way to overcome this scale of injustice.)

What can I read right now that will walk me back toward something like hope? I wondered. I landed on The Guardian’s George Monbiot, whose words reveal wisdom and perspective that reorient my heart.

One article’s title especially piqued my curiosity: “Finally, a breakthrough alternative to growth economics – the doughnut.” Read more…

On heroing

Once upon a college-time, I found myself so useless–to myself, to others, to the world–that I wanted to die.

I challenged myself to find one thing I liked about myself; if I didn’t, I’d kill myself. If I could find one thing, though, I figured I could probably find more … with some patience.

I decided my calves were pretty rad. Seeing that one good thing paved the way for my sticking around to see more, so that one little thing meant everything: choosing life, as opposed to suicide.

Over time, I came to have faith in words. I understood them and became adept at shaping them to express precisely what I meant.

Then I began reading Neil Postman, who helped me understand some of the biases in words and word combinations, particularly English ones. Nouns are especially appropriate to represent some physical items (table; car; sandwich), but help create the illusion of stasis in some more dynamic “things” (language; people; school).

There’s a lot to this, but some of the biggest questions Postman opened for me were about this illusion of stasis, or unchangeability. By referring to “language” instead of “languaging,” English speakers may perceive language as an unchanging behemoth instead of sets of ongoing processes. By referring to people by individual, set names, we tell ourselves each person is one relatively stable unit instead of a changeable, changing entity who does the hard, ongoing work of “personing” in a rapidly changing world.

Some statements presented as fact aren’t, really.

“Projection,” as the term is used by semanticists such as Korzybski and Hayakawa, means that we transfer our own feelings and evaluations to objects outside of us. For example, we say, “John is stupid” or “Helen is smart,” as if “stupidity” and “smartness” were characteristics of John and Helen. A literal translation of “John is stupid” (that is, its most scientific meaning) might go something like this: “When I perceive John’s behavior, I am disappointed or distressed or frustrated or disgusted. The sentence I use to express my perceptions and evaluation of these events is ‘John is stupid.'”

When we say, “John is stupid,” we are talking about ourselves much more than we are talking about John. And yet, this fact is not reflected at all in this statement.

Language might actually be used to conceal more than it reveals.

At first, it felt liberating to be able to see some of the processes behind purported “things” I’d wrongly perceived as more or less stable. Slowly, though, it destroyed my faith in something that had almost always been a bedrock for me: that I could set forth words that showed precisely what I meant to almost everyone who read them. But if meaning is projected onto words by a perceiver instead of simply absorbed as stated, what I stated was far less important than the meanings being projected onto my words by readers/hearers.

With everything apparently objective revealed as potentially quite subjective, then, I lost faith in my ability to English-language … or that there was much merit in bothering to even try. I was especially disturbed by one kind of illusion I began seeing everywhere, especially in my own words: one of scale. Words can help things I’d consider enormous seem small, and can give small things an illusion of comparative enormity.

For example: If it’s a “disaster” when I flub an important meeting, what is it–apart from, of course, a crime–when hundreds of thousands of people lose their homes and retirement funds due to the bad behavior of a small number of extraordinarily powerful bankers? When those bankers aren’t even held accountable, but slapped on the hand by having less-than-incremental fees effectively taken from investors … as punishment? (How is that “punishment”? How does that deter abuse of power?)

If it’s “crushing” to remember a particularly bad memory, what is it, then, when entire villages are literally crushed by American-sold (and, often, -dropped) bombs? Especially when many of those bombs are “gifts” that keep giving for decades to come?

If an especially tasty hot dog can be “awesome,” then what’s the feeling you get standing and looking upon grand portions of the Grand Canyon?

If it’s “amazing” to get a great bonus at work, what is is when a family is granted asylum … and thus given a chance at life when they’d have almost certainly died had they stayed in their (prior) home?

With so many hard-to-see flaws in tools of meaning conveyance, words, I stopped seeing the point of trying to negotiate them.

If I was no longer a(n effective) worker-of-words … what was I, even?

Last week, I was fairly bludgeoned–multiple times daily, each day–by a word that I’d always translated as representing goodness. Read more…

Not a fixed state

This morning, I read an article on business “culture.” Its author wrote about this in a way that demands quotation marks be placed around the word. Is “culture” really some fixed thing, perceived and experienced the same way by everyone?

As I read, I imagined the author conversing with Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, authors of the 1969 book Teaching as a Subversive Activity. The book is less about teaching than assumptions, and specifically learning to explore and challenges one’s own assumptions, including those shaped by a specific language. One of my favorite passages is about “the mind”:

Even the words “the mind” are subtly metaphoric. Think of those words for a moment. Why the mind? Why a noun? Why a “thing”? As John Dewey and Arthur Bentley observed, we would come much closer to actuality if we spoke of “minding” (as a process) than of “the mind” (as a thing).

With that passage in mind (ahem), I chuckled at the idea of “a culture.” Why does English treat it as a thing, not a process? It’s dynamic and evolving, shaped by many factors and influences, not a point in time! It seems more apt, then, to think of “culturing” than of “culture.” Every day, through countless acts and interchanges, the people who participate in a company or community are shaping it. They might be said to be “culturing,” rather than “impacting ‘the’ culture.”

I have no answers to these questions, but I do love reflecting upon them. Before last month, I’d never really considered how language shaped my world instead of simply helping me describe it. Now, I see dozens of examples of this shaping every day. It’s fun exploring these questions I didn’t even realize were questions a few weeks ago.

If this isn’t enough for you to mull over, here’s a parting consideration I’d do well to hold in mind keep minding: “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” This is important because judgment can make us “behave in response to our judgments rather than that which is being judged” and because: “People and things are processes. Judgments convert them into fixed states.”

I’m not a fixed state. Are you?

This 4/4/17 post transferred from L2SP 6/3/17

Knowledge is a quest

When I began striving to speak Politics late last year, I had the notion that “politics” was a separate subject distinct from all others. The first few months, then, it was very easy to practice; everything I read was new to me and fairly easily summarized, and so I wrote almost daily.

After a few months, I started feeling like politics wasn’t really separate or distinct from anything else. Rather, it was a part of everything, and everything was a part of it. The “politics” books on my bookshelf weren’t on separate, discrete topics, but on different aspects of an interconnected everything I could only barely fathom and definitely could not articulate. The books’ covers only created an illusion of disconnectedness between the books themselves, as well as everything they attempted to represent.

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The beginning

I found it much harder to write about politics once I discerned politics wasn’t an isolated body of knowledge. Before, I’d thought politics was one thread running through a quilt. After I saw that politics was made of many subjects, moments, feelings, and experiences, I despaired of distinguishing what was related and what wasn’t, because each thread within the quilt contained elements of different subjects.

Where would I start, and where would I leave off? I had no idea, but that didn’t seem like a good reason to stop. If I persevered, I might get better at seeing which threads ran closest together, and someday expressing those connections with any clarity.

Several times recently, I’ve written about former NYU professor Neil Postman. Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death was required reading for three of my husband’s American Studies courses at Yale. As I began my quest for understanding, Anthony told me I’d really appreciate the book. Read more…

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