Despairing of Toxic Humans

He’s witnessed a lot. What would his social media status be?

Albert Einstein said, “We cannot despair of humanity, for we ourselves are human.”

Of course, Al didn’t live in the age of social media, did he?

By now, everyone has seen video of the MAGA hat-wearing Catholic kids making fun of the Native American elder who may or may not be a Vietnam veteran. And everyone has an opinion. Some say the kids are at fault, others the African American men who hurled insults at them because they were wearing MAGA hats.

Personally, I find fault with everyone involved in that situation, including myself. And I was several hundred miles away when it happened.

Just to be clear here, the kids from Covington Catholic were absolutely behaving badly. Toxically. Their parents should ground every last one of them for disrespecting their elders.

With that said, however, those kids were mirroring not only what they were seeing right then, but also, probably, what they see at home and at school. The evidence for this? The chaperones did not interfere. By not interfering, they okayed the behavior of these kids. I’m not sure why anyone is surprised by this. They are from Kentucky, the lovely state that gave us Turtle Man McConnell, the most toxic human being in government.

Add to that the horrible behavior of the other adults on the scene, and you can see what these kids are up against. And then some idiot adult edited the video to make it look like the teenagers were the only ones misbehaving and idiot adults like me were outraged and posted and reposted on social media.

The truth of what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is that everyone was behaving badly. There are no martyrs here. And I really wish the adults would own up to their bad behavior and set a better example, because condemning kids for following the super bad examples they see from adults is going to get us nothing but more toxic adults.

Of course, Einstein also reportedly said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity.” So maybe I shouldn’t hold my breath where humans are concerned.

Bite-size philosophy and me

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Today’s world and politics often inspire a fit of philosophy in me as I try to make sense of what is happening and how to deal with it. –photo by Michelle Garren Flye

I’m a closet philosopher. Seriously, I’ve been accused of thinking too much. The problem is, if I try to read an entire book—or even an entire essay—by a philosopher, I get bored. I find myself thinking about what’s for lunch or what my kids are doing or when I need to go grocery shopping again.

The Internet has solved that for me. When I find myself pondering a philosophical problem, I can look it up on the Internet and find bite-size nuggets of inspiration in philosophical quotes. And since I always like to check my sources, I end up reading at least a paragraph or two from the quoted philosopher. Until I started this up, I had no idea who Bertrand Russell was but now I’ve read several paragraphs from him!

Google this one if you’re likely to fall for internet hoaxes: “…it is undesirable to believe a proposition when there is no ground whatever for supposing it true.”

–Bertrand Russell

That’s how I found out Albert Camus agrees with me that today’s attitudes toward “West Coast elite” writers, actors, and artists is a bad thing. Camus would have been heartbroken by the fall of Hollywood in today’s world. Of course, Camus died in 1960, and I don’t even know if he ever saw a movie, but I found a quote that seems to support this idea of mine. Camus wrote: “Beauty, no doubt, does not make revolutions. But a day will come when revolutions will have need of beauty.”

What a wonderful thought. I pictured men on a bleak battlefield ceasing the fight while they looked for the beauty of what they were fighting for. How many wars might end if we stopped to think about what we fought for? I checked the source of the quote and found a longer section of Camus’s essay “The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt.” In this section, Camus expounds on the necessity of art to make sense of history. Look, for instance, at this sentence:

“Every great reformer tries to create in history what Shakespeare, Cervantes, Moliere, and Tolstoy knew how to create: a world always ready to satisfy the hunger for freedom and dignity which every man carries in his heart.”

–Albert Camus

I dare to believe that Camus wrote, in 1951, how I’ve been feeling about the way many artists are treated today when they dare to make their feelings about the larger world known. Stephen King, Barbra Streisand, Colin Kaepernick (yes, sports can be art), J.K. Rowling—even Rob Thomas—all of these artists and many more have been slammed on Twitter and in conservative media for daring to make political opinions known in today’s highly divisive atmosphere.

To the artists I say, you have vision and you must keep seeing. Keep seeing and keep speaking out because though you are outnumbered by those who can’t see, your light shines brighter than theirs. And that’s your job.

In case you were wondering, Camus would have agreed with me about this. In that same essay, he said something which I can only take as a message to me and to all like me who see the world as oppressive and who want to make it freer and more beautiful and welcoming to all:

“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”

–Albert Camus

And that is how I will seek to live my life.

Like them or not, you should listen to the poets

If anything has caught me off-guard about today’s political climate, it’s the rising dislike of celebrities and intellectuals. Once upon a time, these were the heroes. Movie stars like James Dean smoked, so everyone had a pack of cigarettes tucked in their rolled up t-shirt sleeve. Jane Fonda said we need more exercise so everyone started aerobics. Remember those “The More You Know” PSAs? They featured everyone from Tom Brokaw to Matthew Perry speaking out about issues like conservation and education. Stars trying to use their star status to make a difference in the world.

In 2016, it felt like all that changed. All of a sudden, conservatives wondered out loud where athletes and movie stars and, God forbid, writers got off having political opinions. And why should they be allowed to speak out about the every day world of politics? Movie stars should just act, singers should just sing, athletes just play their sports (and stand for the National Anthem). The other day, Rob Thomas tweeted that he was shocked to see a reporter’s White House press credentials taken away because he asked the president a question the president didn’t want to be asked. The response Thomas got from fans was less than encouraging in many cases.

But the worst of this is that suddenly writers aren’t supposed to have an opinion. Writers aren’t supposed to speak out against what looks like certain doom. Writers shouldn’t remind the public of what has come before and what it wrought. The press is “fake news” because they are trying to report what’s happening to us. This seems a particularly dangerous attitude, honestly. To prove my point, I’ve compiled a partial list of things writers (mostly in science fiction, but not all) predicted, for want of a better word, in their fiction.

And after reading this, maybe you can understand why I say, listen to the poets. Otherwise, you may live to regret it.

1726 (Jonathan Swift) Gulliver’s Travels predicted the discovery of Mars’s two moons.

1818 (Mary Shelley) Frankenstein predicted organ transplants.

1865 (Jules Verne) From the Earth to the Moon predicted solar sails and lunar modules that launch from Florida and return to earth as splashdown capsules.

1887 (Edward Bellamy) Looking Backward predicted credit/debit cards and shopping malls.

1898 (Morgan Robertson) The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility predicted the sinking of the Titanic—by iceberg in the month of April—fourteen years before it happened.

1899 (H.G. Wells) When the Sleeper Wakes predicted motion sensing doors.

1903 (H.G. Wells) The Land Ironclads predicted tanks.

1909 (E.M. Forster) The Machine Stops predicted video chatting.

1910 (Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg) The Achievements of Luther Trant predicted the lie detector test.

1913 (H.G. Wells) The World Set Free predicted the atom bomb.

1923 (H.G. Wells) Men Like Gods predicted phones, email and television.

1924 (J.B.S. Haldane) Daedalus; or Science and the Future predicted in vitro fertilization.

1932 (Aldous Huxley) A Brave New World predicted genetic engineering.

1961 (Robert Heinlein) Stranger in a Strange Land predicted water beds.

1968 (Arthur C. Clarke) 2001: A Space Odyssey predicted the iPad and its use to access news media.

1968 (John Brunner) Stand on Zanzibar predicted satellite tv, violence in schools, and, eerily, President Obama (Obomi was the character’s name). Interestingly, it is set in 2010.

1984 (William Gibson) Neuromancer predicted computer hackers.

1990 (David Brin) Earth predicted broken levees in the Deep South and the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant.

1994 (Tom Clancy) Debt of Honor predicted the use of hijacked jet planes to crash into U.S. government buildings.

Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency has been predicted by everyone from The Simpsons to Philip Roth. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, her presidential candidate even used the slogan “Make America Great Again”.

Are these all coincidence? Life imitating art? Possibly, though Stand on Zanzibar and The Wreck of the Titan sound like blatant fortune-telling to me, and how Jonathan Swift could know Mars had two moons in 1726 is beyond me. But what is my point here, anyway? Should Stephen King and J.K. Rowling be allowed to say whatever they want about Donald Trump and the fools who voted for him?

Yeah. Probably. Because true poets have a knack for looking at things a little closer, opening themselves up to the universe a little more, feeling things a little deeper…and seeing things a little clearer than others do. I’m not saying me. I try, but I haven’t gotten there yet. But I do believe we are given poets and prophets and visionaries by a God who wants to help guide us.

And if the overwhelming majority of those poets and prophets and visionaries are saying don’t go there, I suggest we listen.

aged antique book stack books

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Jesus walked into the Supreme Court

Jesus Walked Into the Supreme Court

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Jesus walked into the Supreme Court. Today was the day the latest justice would be confirmed, and He felt sure this was where he needed to be. All eight current justices were dressed in black, their robes and faces matching in their sobriety.

“Surely today is a good day,” said Jesus to one, a black man with a reflective look in his eyes.

“Not today.” The black man shook his head. “Today, we confirm that we never learned anything.” He looked at Jesus sadly, and Jesus knew what this man’s thoughts were. That he hadn’t always been a good man. That he had made others uncomfortable, had even laughed at them. But this man had worked hard for many years to live down his faults. Now, faced by one who had done worse, he felt the weight of his sins again.

Jesus placed a hand on the black man’s. “The days will be better. Some day.”

The black man smiled but he turned away. Jesus looked at another man, a man with silver hair. He was the last justice to be appointed to this court. He wasn’t a bad man, either. He had strong opinions and beliefs and they sometimes colored his judgments, but he tried hard. He looked at Jesus. “What are you doing here?” he said. “There’s not much you can do here today.”

“I can’t do much here any day.” Jesus sat next to the man. “That’s up to you.”

The silver haired man nodded and looked at his hands as if he wished he could find answers there. The others seemed not to know Jesus was there. All but one, an old woman with deep hollows in her cheeks and dark circles under her eyes. She looked at Jesus with caution. “You’re not here to take me, are you?”

“Not yet.” Jesus patted the bench beside Him. “I think you have work to do yet.”

The old woman sat down and crossed her wrinkled, old hands in her lap. “For once,” she said, “you and I agree.”

Poem: Take a Knee

For the #KneelingMan. I heard you. My heart believes in you. #TakeAKnee.

 

Take a Knee

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Red and White and Blue and White,

Symbol of long-forgotten bravery—

Of men who fought and men who died

For our right to be free…

 

To take a knee.

 

Salute no star whose unworthy light

Shines on the path of treachery.

Beware the stripes of men who delight

And celebrate their criminality.

 

Just take a knee.

 

What is a flag when democracy fails?

When leaders grub for riches at the feet

Of a false idol who demeans and defiles

All that once made us great?

 

No. Take a knee.

 

Take a knee, say a prayer

That God can save us now.

Plead forgiveness—

Your head must bow.

 

Simply take a knee.

 

Ephesians 3:14 “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.”

 

 

 

Today is another test for civil disobedience

pexels-photo-905191.jpegToday, all over the country at 10 a.m., school children will exercise one of America’s most fundamental rights. In an act of (hopefully) ringing civil disobedience, they will walk out of their classrooms for seventeen minutes in protest of the lack of government action on sensible gun control. In the wake of the Parkland shooting and our national government’s subsequent groveling at the feet of the NRA, students across the nation will seek to make themselves and their opinions heard through this act.

Good for them.

Today of all days I think it is important to remember that civil disobedience has shaped our country in some wonderful ways.

  • Without civil disobedience, women would not have the right to vote.
  • Without civil disobedience, African Americans would still be enslaved.
  • Without civil disobedience, we’d all be paying taxes to Great Britain.

And yet, this week alone, I have seen some horrible reminders that civil disobedience can (and usually is) forced to become militant.

Consider the case of the two Seattle Seahawks football players going to practice who were followed by a woman who screamed at them that they better not kneel during the national anthem because her tax money paid for them to play football. I won’t even address the tax money fallacy or even that she was screaming obscenities at two men who aren’t actually known for kneeling during the national anthem. My problem with this is that they have every right to kneel during the national anthem if they want to and feel the need. Hell, the way things are in our country right now, I have a hard time keeping my knees from buckling during the pledge of allegiance and national anthem rituals I once embraced wholeheartedly.

But worse than that were the comments I read on a local news story about how school systems in our county are dealing with the school walkout. Two school systems issued statements promising to support the students in peaceful protests and to provide safe spaces for them to do so. Comments on the online story ranged from supportive to a some really ugly sentiments like the students were making themselves targets by walking out of the school and one from a parent who said no kid of hers better take part in such a display.

Are today’s young people willing to make their peaceful cause a militant one? Women were imprisoned and beaten for demanding their right to vote—and they kept marching and demanding. In the 1960s, some—not all—African Americans fought back against similar treatment when their peaceful sit-ins and marches were threatened. The Black Panthers were a frightening and militant group who were ready and willing to kill for their cause.

And, possibly the most poignant history lesson of all to every American citizen out there, when throwing tea into the Boston Harbor in protest of British taxes didn’t have the desired effect on the British government, war was the result.

So listen to your children. They aren’t tomorrow’s voices anymore. They are today’s, and you ignore those voices at your own peril.

How to Save a Boiling Frog

The day after Donald Trump’s election was a tough one for me. Like many, I had believed it was a done deal. President Hillary Clinton was supposed to be a thing. I was supposed to wake to a better, brighter tomorrow.

I hadn’t slept much. Before I went to bed, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. I saw it in the stunned faces of the broadcast journalists who just hours before had been crowing jubilantly about Hillary’s chances. But now we all knew different.

America had done the unthinkable. America had elected a man who, by all accounts of every expert the media could conjure—economists, politicians, career military men, four-star generals, the intelligence community and even psychiatrists—according to every last one of these “experts”, this man was not fit to lead.

And yet.

I got up at my normal time, though it certainly seemed as though life should have come to a halt. I nearly cried when I looked into my daughter’s eyes that morning. But I didn’t. I let them all go to school and I sat down in my office and began searching for hope on the news sites I’d haunted for months. It couldn’t be real. But it was.

Throughout the day, I cried, I cursed, I thought of friends who would be affected by this man who somehow had been elected to the highest office of the land. What would happen to gay marriage, to the right to choose, to the environment? Oh dear God, what kind of world would I be sending my oldest into in just a year and a half? How could I protect my family from this?

And how had it even happened? How could the world be so different from what I’d believed it was?

I know now that the same thoughts were going on in the minds of many men and women throughout the nation.

As the days and weeks wore on and the inevitable became obvious to all of us, we turned rebellious. The popular vote count grew more and more disparate in favor of Hillary Clinton. Donald J. Trump didn’t win that election. We had pulled it off. Hillary won. She won among educated voters in populous areas. The problem was, she didn’t win among rural voters in states where voters were more spread out. Trump won those. Hillary won in Charlotte and Raleigh in my own state of North Carolina—but the state turned red anyway because she didn’t carry my less-populated county and many of the other mostly rural counties in my state.

Rebellion built and carried us through the inauguration. We laughed at the man who we not-so-affectionately dubbed “45” when he claimed his crowd at the inauguration was the biggest ever. We posted pictures of the record-making crowds who turned out for the historic Women’s March next to the pitiful crowd of supporters who gathered to cheer the president they had elected.

For my part, I marched. I mailed postcards. I called senators and wrote senators and I raved on Facebook and Twitter, just as I’d done for months before the election.

And in spite of this, 45 began the onslaught on my country that I’d anticipated. He appointed unqualified people to posts they should have been disqualified for. He rolled back environmental protections and, in June, pulled the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. At various times throughout his first year, 45 insulted and/or angered Australia, Mexico, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the entire continent of Africa. Germany, France and Canada have expressed distrust for his ability to make the right decisions.

Our closest friends and allies do not trust our president.

But that’s not all. Through Twitter, 45 has continuously needled the U.S. intelligence community, the U.S. Department of Justice, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, his own Secretary of State and Attorney General, members of Congress, and, especially, the media. His lack of faith and knowledge of what truly makes America great has revealed itself time and again and each time I thought, Surely, this time the American people will have had enough. Surely Congress will act and we’ll be rid of this despot.

And each time, I was proved wrong.

Meanwhile, day-to-day life continued. I went back to writing about happy things. Love, romance—fantasies that lifted me out of the carnage I saw 45 wreaking on our government. And I found that as day-to-day life settled in and we were dragged from crisis to crisis—North Korea, the media, the Russia investigation, white supremacists, the Islamic State, North Korea, the media, immigration, mass shootings, climate change, Twitter wars, racist obscenities in the Oval Office, repeated denials and alternative facts—it all became a comfortable blur as I adapted to living in a world of turmoil.

And then, three days ago, while our nation celebrated 45’s one-year anniversary in office with massive protests against him—the government shut down. And suddenly, despite the constant shouting about who is to blame, there was relative silence from 45…and I realized something.

We the People are in huge trouble. We’re like the frog in the pot of water whose temperature has been turned up so gradually he cooks before he realizes he needs to escape. The media has been so busy bombarding us with so much information about so many scandals and crises, we’ve grown numb to it. We’re cooking slowly, but we’re not going to realize it until it’s too late.

And so I pray for some ice to be added to our pot to delay the inevitable just long enough. A Congress that proves it can unite to face down evil. (I’ve seen glimmerings of hope here, though not enough.) A midterm election that Democrats somehow manage to sweep. Or—the iceberg it seems absurd to pray for because if we hit it, who knows what will happen to our democracy—Robert Mueller’s investigation turning up the smoking gun that finally brings down 45’s evil, autocratic regime.

No matter how we cast our ballots, we’re all cooking in the same pot. And unless we all jump out of it together, we’re most likely going to need that iceberg to save the boiling frog.

“But”: A Poem for Independence

Happy birthday, America. You’re 241 years old. Congratulations.

You’re still an infant on the world stage. An infant with a very big gun, but an infant still.

Maybe that’s why we’ve allowed you to get to this state. Mass deportations, guns in every pocket, a tyrannical toddler in charge, squabbling lawmakers unwilling to compromise, and worst of all, your beautiful land pockmarked and disfigured, air polluted and waters spoiled by avarice.

But.

But you’re a lovely idea, a perfect ideal to work toward. We’ve only taken a moment to tend to our worst selves. We’ll get back to the job eventually. We’ll return to the original intent of our forefathers. I believe that.

And I love you.

“I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” — James Baldwin

But

By Michelle Garren Flye

 

Lady Liberty holds a tablet and a torch—

The law of freedom, the light of hope.

 

But what does it mean when guns fill the street?

When drugs are offered but food is not?

Fear is the only law. There is no defense.

 

What happened to our freedom?

 

Some fight still for their most basic rights,

But the Bible of an intolerant God quashes them.

Your love is wrong. Your life is less.

 

Where is the light of hope?

 

It shines still, cutting a swath through darkness.

Land of plenty, home of brave, promises made—

 

But will they be honored?

How steep is the high road?

Was it really just a week ago?
 
I took a picture of my daughter on election night. Her face is lit with hope and belief that our country could unite under a woman president. That we could cross that threshold into a new era. She’s holding two American flags. I can’t look at that picture without tears in my eyes, because I remember the look on her face the next morning when I told her who our president-elect was. Resigned disappointment.
 
I know why that resigned disappointment bothers me so much. It’s because that’s an adult expression, and I saw it on my nine-year-old daughter’s face. Acceptance when you really want to scream and shout, but you know you have to move on with life in the face of disillusionment.
 
For the past week, I’ve been torn. I half want to go burn Trump in effigy, but the other, cursedly practical half of me knows that’s the wrong thing to do. I want to protest and scream and shout, but I know it’ll do about as much good—and probably look like—a toddler in the middle of a toy section who’s been denied a bauble she particularly wants.
 
I wanted Hillary Clinton to be our president. I wanted it with all my heart. I wanted our country to vote for tolerance and inclusion and love.
 
I didn’t get that.
 
I got President-elect Trump, and the idea fills me with dread. But I’m still not going to say he’s not my president. I’m not going to move to Canada. I’m not going to burn the flag. What I’m going to do is stay informed, read the news, know what he’s doing and what it means for our country. If he institutes policies I don’t agree with, I will protest those policies. And in two years, I will vote again. And two years after that, I will vote again.
 
Persistence in the face of disappointment is what’s called for here. My nine-year-old knows that. I hope the rest of the country gets it too.
 
#GoHigh #StrongerTogether #LoveTrumpsHate

What’s the use of being an optimist if you can’t just decide it’s gonna be OK?

I’m a glass half-full kinda gal. I had hoped to wake my daughter up this morning to the news that we have the first ever woman president. I couldn’t do that, and part of my heart is broken because of it.

Still, there’s what’s left of the water in the glass. How do I call it? I’m choosing half full.

This is an opportunity for us as a nation. There are a whole lot of things we can do with these election results and the coming four years. We now know we are a nation divided. Let’s start filling in that chasm. And here’s what we can fill it with: Hope.

Don’t lose hope. Whether you’re gay, straight, white, black, Hispanic, female or male, educated or not, we’re all Americans and more than half of us voted against Donald Trump. Not enough and not in the right places, but those people are out there. Those voters are out there, and that means there’s hope, and that’s a good base to build anything on.

Grab a shovel, Americans. That great divide the media has been talking about is bigger than we thought, and it’s our job to fill it in. Whether you’re on the winning side or not, we’ve got work to do, and it’ll go a lot faster if we all dig in together.

And once we’re done, let’s meet in the middle and go from there.