Thursday, January 8, 2015

France’s 9/11: listening to the voices of the people

The voices of the people were a real zinger last night.
One voice: “This is a day which will live in infamy. It will live in infamy not only because they declared war, but because the Presidents crawled over to the radio, and announced they their plan to stay in bed, roll over, and then go play golf somewhere with rich buddies.”
Another “voice,” an image from a 1950’s B grade sitcom: A funny guy with an accent in the desert says,”Yes, boss, we really declared war. We took over the crusaders’ last main base in Nigeria, their only remaining source of oil other than the US itself, which may soon go out of business. We took over Tripoli. And now we pulled a Pearl Harbor on the very center of their civilization, and published a mein kampf about how we plan to take back that continent which is rightfully ours. But, no, they still won’t even get out of bed. What can we do? Maybe we should just shrug our shoulders and go ahead and clean it all up.”
In a variation, a reply to this image: The boss takes off his hood, smiles, and reveals a face something like Palpatine of Star Wars or Cheney or one of the Koch brothers and says: “Don’t worry. It is all set.. My time is coming soon.”
What to make of this?
First I should say that I view it as a real sacred duty for some of to listen hard to the voices of the people, even when we do not like all of what we hear. In the 1990’s, there was a time when many said “The voice of the people is the voice of God.” Not exactly, but please don’t just throw away that thought..
When religious or antireligious activists try to pin down where I stand on the great cultural wars of our times, I usually reply (except in China) that I am a Quaker, or Quaker Universalist. These answers have many advantages, one of them being that they are true, even though they are far from being the whole truth.
Many religions formally believe in a million sacred things, which members pick and choose from as they will. Traditional Quakers, as in Friends General Conference (and the writings of Rufus Jones which I never read but which sound like the real culture), essentially believe in one common principle: the value of working the listen as well as one can, in weekly meeting, to “listen to the voice of God” – while also connecting as deeply as possible with other people, and seeking the light. That’s it. All else is what different people choose to build on that simple but challenging foundation.
I take that seriously, and do try to learn how to listen. I have also worked pretty hard to master the intersection of a lot of tough intellectual subjects, and, to be honest, did spectacularly well in some school stuff starting back around when I was 8 years old. But I suspect that sustained progress in those areas has depended a lot on my ability to “cheat” by being able to hear what a professor was really thinking, by being able to really listen to the views of people speaking in NSF panels, and even, with effort, to probe into the thoughts behind some of what I read. By nature, I started out like a bull in the China shop, with levels of testosterone and “yang” ‘way beyond the norm (very helpful from ages 8 to 14 or 15), but I was lucky to have a mother who said “Ferdinand, learn to smell the flowers,” and my intellect itself really understood the need to cultivate empirical data. It understood that effective small groups need to adopt a culture where everyone tries to listen to everyone, where there is a real dialogue.. and where everyone accepts the responsibility to listen, to reflect very seriously, and to communicate with a kind of deep honesty. (Sometimes NSF encourages that, but some myopic careerists  give priority to other agendas.)
And so.. There are levels and levels of learning how to listen, and it is natural for us to strive for the highest that we are capable of. Quaker universalists are a strand of Quakers who believe in reading and listening far and wide, tolearn as much as possible from the totality of our shared human experience. (I received a weird phone call from Macedonia the other day, from a guy high in Greek Orthodox, who had a nice metaphor about trying to be like a honeybee, buzzing from flower to flower. Nice metaphor, though the human version of buzzing is not exactly the same as listening. Real bees do listen to each other, however.)
As I read widely…. Many years ago, I read a lot of the writings of a Quaker named H. Spencer Lewis, who decided to work hard to develop a more systematic approach to teaching people how to listen. I can’t say more right now, because it’s time for me to stop typing and listen to my wife. Among the many interesting things he talked about (some of which I agree with more than others, and some of which I find more useful and stimulating than other parts).. was a specific idea of “cosmic consciousness”..

But it seems I must cut it off right now. Sorry. Best of luck. How does this connect to the new movie Ju[iter Rising? How could I know, since I haven’t seen it yet? Best of luck indeed.

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