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Changing Our Reflection
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

Welcome to September. It seems to have come quickly this year; perhaps that's because time is moving faster than a freight train or maybe because the summer was so cool and rainy here in the Pea Patch it didn't hit all the normal markers that anticipation sets in place. Typically, August is a difficult political month, summer breaks create a Petrie dish in which mixed messages and speculation can grow in fungal splendor; the hot August winds traditionally blow a lot of chaff to litter the Hill. This year, no matter the local weather, Washington DC, and ultimately the nation, experienced a shitstorm of hot air with cold, deliberate calculation driving it. Yes, if this is that juncture where the conversation turns back to something that encourages rationality and civil discourse, September is welcome indeed.

August was the month when desperately needed healthcare reform became a Liberal Socialist plot, its proponents warned off by guns and hysteria in town hall meetings across the country. Citizens everywhere exercised their right to keep their minds vacuum-sealed, and even the most tediously irrational such as Glenn Beck, who lost a bevy of corporate sponsors for his inflammatory commentary, is forced to rely on the old Republican counterintuitive meme of being persecuted for telling unwelcome truths. Promise of violence poked its ugly head up like a mole in the great American lawn, encouraged by the rhetoric of the Party of No that did its level best to scare the hell out of seniors; this Ann Telnaes cartoon, based on an actual event, sums it up nicely, and frankly, if these elders -- the Pluto in Cancer crowd -- don't get a clue, I'm going to have to rethink that Greatest Generation thing.

In this remarkable age of Internet access, even overwhelmed as we are by factoids and tidbits and opposing philosophies both rational and un, we have been given all the information we need to form our own thoughts; but not the education in critical thinking to do so. We're still too driven by the steady, gossipy beat of "what's new" in pop culture, the persistent barrage of advertisement, the holographic fiction of television and the insecurities prompted by harsh realities, to tame the various voices in our heads. The change of consciousness that is required of us does not come easily to those who resist its necessity; yet, as with pouring fresh water into a glass, the dregs that await us at the bottom must float up to be eliminated, and will do so whether we wish them to or not. That's where we find ourselves now; pummeled by events we'd rather not get cozy with or admit into our consciousness -- which is highly nonproductive because that's where they were born.

Our access to world news and local events is remarkable; and now that we've had a really good look at what's outside of us, we need to turn off the media for a bit and take a hard look at what's within. Nothing will change outside if nothing changes inside; and as a nation we are being forced to examine the ignoble thread of cruelty and selfishness that winds its way through our American psyche. I've said before that I'm not a Boomer-basher; yet one can't properly assess that topic without discussing the Pluto in Leo that is at the heart of their transformational process.

Leo is all about personal identification, the creation of self; it brings enormous energy into play with its ruling planet -- the great Sun, itself. The many phases the Boomers have moved through show their theatrical, idiosyncratic and often arrogant tendencies; yet they are also capable of great intelligence, noble aspirations and devotion to causes that stir their mighty hearts. They're not so good, however, at being 'wrong' -- yet that humble self-revelation is the price the cosmos demands for evolution, and why we can no longer turn our heads from what is so desperately wrong-hearted in our culture and our world; reflecting if not our appetites, then our indifference to the suffering around us.

If the Boomers are to mature into the souls they came to be, they will have to accept that life is not all about them, within the limitations of their own self-interest. The breakdown and reintegration of their essential energy is defined by that Pluto placement -- and critical, in that wherever we find Pluto in our own charts, that is the place where we do not see ourselves clearly; this energy must always be reflected back at us by our life experience.

August brought us any number of WTF moments; the kind that we try to process in our minds because to move them into our hearts is just too painful. I will try to make short work of them in the next paragraphs and not bludgeon you with details -- but read on, brave hearts, because we dare not turn our heads any longer. If this is who we wish to be, good enough; but if it is not our vision of what this nation and world can further tolerate, then they are the necessary dregs we must examine. If we ignore them, they continue -- if we begin to address them, they must give way to changing consciousness. A rising tide lifts all boats.

First, of course, is this debilitating business of American torture; the ACLU has finally unearthed new revelations about the CIA's activity, and our Attorney General has determined an investigation necessary. Dick Cheney is rallying his old-war/cold-war supporters to both approve these heinous techniques and blast Obama for 'politicizing' the heroic efforts of his minions to keep our country safe. Only a third of the American public disapproves of torture; that's up from a quarter last year. Is that stunning to you? It certainly is to me -- and points to a serious moral decline in the last 40 years, coinciding with the Christocrats blasting a foothold in the wall that separated church and state. Can any of us approve the threat of crushing a child's testicles, or the dehumanization of rape with an object? In this opinion piece, Ted Rall tells us we're Nazis -- who, in the gentle meditation of their heart, can argue? Is this who we are?

The Iranian uprising has given us plenty of additional information on torture; of course, as many would remind me, this is Iran we're talking about ... not the good old US of A. To that I'd have to say: there are differences, certainly, but not as many as we'd like and not nearly enough. There are terrible reports of rape, torture and death from Iran, similar in too many ways to those from Abu Ghraib (and for those who might say that wasn't American-on-American crime, they should check the similar daily fare in our prison system.) There are reports of government cover-up and denial in Iran; the same as is ongoing in this country, and that we seem only mildly interested in investigating. Iran is, in the minds of nationalistic Americans, the Axis of Evil; and we are ... what, exactly? Mirror, mirror, on the wall -- we're brothers and sisters; caught in the purge of dark cruelty and disrespect for human life and liberty that knows few territorial boundaries.

In other news, it appears that Texas, always enthusiastic in this regard, has executed an innocent man; they did so despite scientific evidence that quite probably would have cleared him. The very concern that drives the national controversy about the death penalty was realized in the Willingham case -- and Texas snuffed him anyway. They did so deliberately, perhaps mindful that our High Court is seated with Justices that give opinions such as this one, from Antonin Scalia:
This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is "actually" innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged "actual innocence" is constitutionally cognizable.
Not all states are as bloodthirsty as Texas, so those of you from states that have declared moratorium on the death penalty might be feeling a little virtuous; don't. Every state has a prison system that is busy brutalizing inmates, punishing without rehabilitating and creating future criminals. America has more people institutionalized than any other country; and, along with providing health care for their citizens, civilized nations across the world no longer practice state-sanctioned murder. No one knows how many are truly guilty in our penal system, or serving just sentences. Each state sets its own course and few fund the process generously enough for the system to offer thoughtful defense. Some prisoners found guilty of marijuana use decades ago serve time to this day; once convicted, it's pretty much over. Does the "liberty and justice for all" line in our Pledge of Allegiance account for these people? I never repeat that pledge, much to the chagrin of bystanders, without adding these words at the end ... "some day." Is this, a nation of prisoners and punishers, who we are?

Andrew Sullivan wrote an interesting bit in his blog regarding what's called the Just World hypothesis -- that old saw that we deserve what we get, with the judgmental nature of humans assigning the punishments. There is more than a hint of cruelty at the base of this phenomenon, as Sully indicates in the reports of a study. We see a similar kind of energy in the emotion known as schadenfreude: the enjoyment, even feelings of glee, at another's downfall. It seems to me that this is the kind of perverse nihilistic neurosis that authors our taste in pop culture events, often peppered with public humiliations and personal embarrassments; everything is fodder for entertainment, as long as it ain't US. Perhaps in the mechanics of our consciousness we know that it could just as easily have BEEN us, and as long as all eyes are turned toward the famously vainglorious, they won't be looking our way. Seriously, would Michael Jackson's death certificate indicate murder if we hadn't all been covering his confusing life story like flies, feeding on the salacious details? Is the pusher responsible for the demise of the junky? Isn't there someone we can blame and punish besides (gasp!) ourselves? Is this who we are?

What is always missing in these broader social contexts is compassion; the ability to genuinely plant ourselves in another's shoes, feel the intensity of their emotion. I'm empathetic to a fault, and sometimes ... when there's no there, there ... it makes me very grumpy. There are television personalities on this planet I daren't watch for instance, lest my blood pressure rise and my sailors' vocabulary erupt (in all candor, this doesn't take much prompting;) Nancy Grace and Judge Judy, to name two. I've got this hair-on-the-back-of-my-neck early warning system I've relied on since I counted my age on my fingers, and it never fails me. For awhile, I watched these two despite my hairs prickle to see if there was some wiggle room in their performance. Alas, I saw compassion doled out to only the worthy, the polite and the well-dressed; and then, only in dabs and dribbles. All I can think, when I occasionally stumble on them -- faces set, personas larger than life and standing on the authority their popularity gives them -- is, judge not, ladies, lest ye be judged; keep your ego in line, your insults to yourself, take a breath and think it through one more time. They never do, of course, and, oh yes ... a bit of unexpected trivia tells us that Judge Judy is the third richest television star, making some $30 million a year to be our favorite belligerent little bulldog and social arbiter.

Another startling bit of mayhem surfaced late this month with the discovery of Jaycee Lee Dugard, kidnapped and assaulted at age 11 by one Philip Garrido, who fathered her two children and kept her prisoner in his back lot for 18 years. I read today that the two daughters, 15 and 11, had just been told that Jaycee is their natural mother; not their older sister. Psychologists are proposing that this woman's trauma will take years if not decades to heal. Nancy Grace has already exploited this revelation with split screens and the various guests she goes through like a box of Kleenex, used and disposed of ruthlessly; I expect it to go on for months, a real ratings gangbuster. You may not be surprised that she and her callers would like to see Garrido and his wife dead, if not forever shackled to a wall. Garrido appears to be a genuine nutcake; and a product of the parole system in California that has come up wanting. We learn from this if we're wise, reconfigure our checks and balances on those who are dangerously unstable -- or default to our misshapen dark side and do that same old eye-for-an-eye business that makes the whole world blind.

Do I have a point? Yes, I do -- if our collective We can tolerate something as mindlessly cruel as this (warning: gawd awful) then it's no surprise that we find no pity for those tortured, or incarcerated or just plain crazy; that we care intensely whether or not we can get our morning latte, but aren't overly concerned if the bum in the shadows has eaten this week. In subtle ways we seldom acknowledge, we are as cruel to ourselves, as heartless to our loved ones and as unfeeling with our acquaintances and we don't even know it. In order to recognize the dregs that are floating to the top, right the wrongs of an era, we have no choice now but to dig down into the bowels of our thought process and unearth all those behaviors we've chosen not to recognize as self-hatred.

I understand the "Us versus Them" bumper sticker is regaining popularity; I'm supposing this has a political, if not religious, context -- it shouldn't. The more we peel the onion of our psyche, the more we find "us" and "them." Us being the Christians, them being Islamist. Us being Democrats, them being Republicans. Us being well-heeled, them being downtrodden. Us being our family, them being our neighbor. Us being me, them being everyone else. Until we can heal this split from our actual truth -- that we are all part of one another, and that every action everywhere moves the collective in ways we cannot imagine -- we will not contribute to our eventual wholeness or be part of the solution we long for.

As long as we pit our interests against anyone else's, our ability to collaborate is doomed; if we do not make it our business to find commonality, we will have no room for dialogue. The isolation of our ego-misunderstanding keeps us looping in old tribal behaviors, our dark side hidden from even ourselves; others must point us to it, and it seems to me that the world is doing a pretty fair job of that, just now. The most productive thing we can do at this moment is to stare into that mirror, recognizing what we've refused to see for so long -- and taking responsibility to notice and eliminate the nihilism in ourselves, as well as correct it in the collective as we are able.

We begin, each of us, with tenderness to ourselves that extends out as kindness to others; we practice forgiveness and acceptance, in all things. We substitute gentleness for criticism, inclusion instead of separation, compassion instead of judgment. We go out of our way to find the gray areas; we have too long supposed life to be either/or, black/white -- us/them. We stop separating ourselves from what we've become; we look squarely into that big collective mirror and decide if we like what we see.

Make no mistake -- this will take some bravery on our part; we have to allow ourselves to be the wonderfully flawed, often wrong, sometimes petty folks we are. We have to stop trying to cover over our errors, and begin to learn from them. We have to accept the here and now, and begin to take control of our choices. We have to stop complaining, as Wayne Dyer has it, or explaining, either; we must stand in our own reality and own it. Here's the assignment today, beloved -- pick a link, any link, and open it; maybe more than one. Take a look at who we actually are; our decision to become something finer can only come when we take responsibility for what we are and determine to love it into something else. One at a time, working to come into our soul Self with forgiveness and lovingness and compassion, we can lift all boats; then, one fine day, the monkey in the mirror will be the Hundredth -- and a new era will begin.

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