Death, Taxes, and the Near Certainty of American Obstinance

image of blurred trees
Image by kalhh from Pixabay

I don’t know about you, but I’m dizzy.

A new COVID variant, B.1.1.529, or Omicron, has been discovered in South Africa, and has already begun its international tour of vulnerable human bodies.

If, for some reason, this particular variant does not live up to the hype it’s causing, you can bet your bottom dollar there will be another variant behind it. And another behind that one. Because we didn’t take the opportunity to stamp out this virus at the start, COVID, in some variation or another, is choosing our future for us: it stays. A lot of us will go. We have to accept this living arrangement.

There are other things that we have to accept as well, for instance, the fact that no matter how dangerous this new variant turns out to be, anti-vaxxers and those who have decided that the entire pandemic is a hoax will tie themselves further down to their beliefs. We don’t need a crystal ball to know that more people will die needlessly, that husbands will be taken from wives, children from parents, sisters from brothers.

Other facts that we as Americans will (likely) continue to do nothing about:

  • Guns are given more protection than children, travelers, concert-goers, shoppers,
  • Healthcare (better known as disease-management) remains wildly expensive, inefficient, inaccessible to many, and, ridiculously, a for-profit business rather than a public service.
  • The opioid crisis that rages on.
  • Our broken educational system, including underpaid and exploited teachers.
  • 38 million people who are food insecure in the “richest country” on the planet
  • The ongoing issues with policing, racism, fortified glass ceilings, and other inequalities
  • The increasing likelihood of an authoritarian regime in America
  • The trampling of women’s rights to their own bodies.

These are all issues worth getting worked up about. They affect us all—young, old, women, men, white-color, blue-color, suburban, urban, rural.

And again, guess what we’ll do? I’ll go with nothing, Alex.

We won’t band together because this time we’ve learned our lesson. We won’t dig our consciences out from under the hateful, divisive rhetoric and suddenly vow to value and protect each other. We won’t start seeing our differences as strengths rather than threats. We won’t choose to challenge our ingrained belief sets—even if it’s these beliefs sets that destroy us in the end.

Just like death and taxes, America’s stubborn unwillingness to change even in the face of a crisis is about as certain as you can get.

As you can tell, I’m not optimistic about our situation in America. I only see us digging trenches of beliefs so deep we can no longer see the ground in front of us. I honestly don’t see any evidence that it would be otherwise.

Hard to swallow? Just look around; no one changes anymore. Few actively seek out opportunities that will challenge them to transform. No one believes in doing anything in service of a higher common good that might require the tiniest smidgen of sacrifice. Fewer yet are willing to admit when they are wrong, taking the Trumpian double-down approach instead. As always, the microcosm tells the story of the macrocosm: our culture is unable to change because we as individuals are unwilling to change. The wheels grind on, maybe, but it’s all for show because we’re stuck in the mud.

Fellow humans, we need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves. In a world where trees will share their water to save a dying stump while humans fight tooth and nail over toilet paper, I’ll say the trees are doing community better.

Humans like to believe that we are conscious creatures. Technically, we are. We also like to believe that our higher consciousness is the differentiator between animals, plants, trees, and us. Here, I disagree. At least animals, plants, and trees respond when they need to adapt. For example, trees can smell, taste, and send distress signals. Plants, too, can read signals and know when they are being threatened and send out the S.O.S. Rather than crying “fake news,” or clinging to conspiracy theories, trees and plants prepare accordingly in a crisis. If our human consciousness actually worked the way it was supposed to, we, too, could see a familiar pattern coming and do something about it. If we did, we could avoid the needless deaths, the strain on our medical providers, the pain and suffering of so many that are likely coming our way.

Instead, like Groundhog Day, we will do and say and believe the same things we did last time. We won’t respond with hard-won wisdom and thoughtfulness, we’ll react autonomously—like any other animal. Republicans are already busy claiming the variant is a Democratic hoax. That sounds familiar. Democrats will try to appeal to common sense and intellect. Pardon me if that didn’t seem to work so well last time. And elected members of Congress will use their extensive reach to cash in for themselves rather than protect their constituents. Been there, seen that.

Fellow humans, we need to stop thinking so highly of ourselves. In a world where trees will share their water to save a dying stump while humans fight tooth and nail over toilet paper, I’ll say the trees are doing community better. We may have the ability to behave consciously (mindfully, wisely, appropriately), but we don’t often use it. If we did, we’d use our gained awareness to see when we’re circling the same drain as before.

Because of our stubbornness, inertia has set into all aspects of American society. Patterns, even the most dangerous, are rusting up and locking us into place. Everyone subscribes to their own set of facts, and social media conglomerates keep us from seeing anything else.

We are no longer a nation that is leading the way. We are not a shining city on a hill. We’ve lost the taste for progress and change. We’ve gotten stuck and don’t know how to get ourselves unstuck.

So much for the land of progress.

Au contraire.

When I was studying and teaching yoga, our stated goal was to become more awake. The practice of meditation helped us hold conscious awareness for longer and longer periods of time. Mindfulness is a practice intended to train up the ability to stay attentive and present from moment to moment, allowing us to reflect on our options and make the wisest choice. How can “waking up” be the problem here?

I know—the “waking” we talk about in spiritual communities is not the same as the “woke” movement. But they are grounded in similar intentions: to know more tomorrow than we know today—and then to do better tomorrow than we do today.

The conservative right, and many on the left too, have co-opted “wokeness” to mean something it doesn’t. These critics think wokeness means canceling everyone who says or does inappropriate things. Rather, it is about accountability and consequences in a society where we all need to work and live together. They think it means finding racism in every nook and cranny. Instead, it means getting racism out of every nook and cranny. People blame the woke movement for keeping us stuck. I say it’s our reluctance to wake up that’s to blame.

Maybe people don’t recognize how powerful the energy of the status quo is— both in the microcosm and the macrocosm. We think we’re always choosing what we believe, but much of the time, we’re not awake enough to do so. We believe we are discerning, sorting through and carefully choosing what information to throw away and what to keep based on intelligence and reason, but the truth is that, most often, we’re unconsciously absorbing information from our environment without our conscious awareness.

From Time Magazine:

“The conscious you, in effect, is like a not terribly bright CEO, whose subordinates do all of the research, draft all of the documents, then lay them out and say, “Sign here, sir.” The CEO does — and takes the credit.

“The information we perceive in our consciousness is not created by conscious thought,” Morsella said in a statement accompanying the release of the paper. “Nor is it reacted to by conscious processes. Consciousness is the middle-man and it doesn’t do as much work as you think.”

Repetition makes lies feel more true, and no one knows that better than politicians. So they repeat false information until our minds simply absorb the lies as fact. And it is through repetition that the status quo in our world hardens until it feels like it can never change. But—and here’s where I can get a bit more optimistic—anything can change. We just need to put some energy toward creating tipping points.

What this means is that in order to disrupt the existing state of affairs in our society (if we want to get off the merry-go-round and do something different this time) we have to match that energy with energy that is even more powerful. History has shown us that the only thing as powerful as the status quo is the power of a woke populace.

In these situations, people suddenly “wake up” to an awareness they never had before. They were asleep, allowing things to happen—maybe in their families, in their workplaces, or their country—and now they will no longer allow it. They were trusting that those in power were appropriately using their power. The people woke up. It happened “slowly, and then all at once,” as movements tend to do.

Movements gather steam as people wake up from “normal” to see something different. One person might point it out, and the second person, called “the first follower,” helps to “tip” the momentum, as is shown in this video, until everyone agrees that this new way is the better way.

From souce

How do things that initially seem impossible become possible? Because people wake up. They become “woke.”

Wokeness is not the problem in America. It’s our sleepy-stubborn-headedness we need to address.

From this article:

When capital markets change direction, to the upside or to the downside, they often go too far before finding the right balance. When they overshoot to the downside, you can find some real values.

We, too, can find value in an overcorrection. Perhaps we can once again find our values—as human beings, as members of a society, and as Americans.



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