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Kingston, NY, Friday, April 24, 2009

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When Past Is Present: Awakening To The Back-Story
By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

I continue to marvel at our new direction, orchestrated by the energies that influence us and the growing desire of the public to unearth what has long remained hidden, punctuated by news articles that are both welcome and disturbing. If you are one of those people who think that big things happen around you, to you, but you do not influence their occurrence in any way, then you are underestimating yourself. The news is relevant to your life because it's a reflection of our collective psycho/social mental structures, driven ahead by our fears and desires.

"How can that be?" you might ask. "Why should I take responsibility for what I have no power to change?" True, you aren't the Master of the Universe, able to control and direct everything around you with a flick of your hand or twitch of your nose. You have only so much free time to devote to the world and local situation, given your responsibilites and daily challenges; you can't keep up with everything. Besides, you might protest, this is the United States of America -- we have laws to take care of everything.

Yes, and some of them are very flawed. Those laws are determined by the very politics that we find so tedious and confusing, and while the high rhetoric and political drama may be a headache to follow, they are eventually winnowed down to great drafts of legalize that become Rule of Law. Any law struck by our nation should not only be thoroughly understood by its citizens, but thoughtfully and carefully designed. Having spent a bit of time in court this week, let me assure you that law is passionless, deaf and dumb to circumstances; once in place, law has no flex, and ignorance of the law, we're told, is no excuse. Much the same goes for the cause of our social ills; ignorance will not protect us from consequences.

We're influenced continually by public relations campaigns, and we should know by now that they are not limited to products we purchase but attempt to sway our every attitude and opinion; PR drives social and political movements as well. This is the equivalent of partisanship; you will hear the 'up' side while the 'down' will be diminished or dismissed completely. In essence, our society is driven by a loftier version of the pitchmen who hawk their junk at the county fair.

The process of unraveling the memes that we have accepted at face value has been slow but steady. We began to get some nuanced reality back a few years ago when pharmaceutical companies were obliged to mention contra-indications in their ads. Those nifty chemicals that might work magic on our, suddenly discovered, restless legs or relieve our asthma or high blood pressure, didn't seem quite so miraculous when accompanied by the possibility of a flurry of unrelated symptoms, up to and including death.

Smiling Bob, he of the Santa hat and "sack full of pride," might not be grinning so broadly given the occasional incidence of deafness, blindness or emergency care for super-boner. Gives one pause, yes? An unexpected reminder of 'consequences,' and a big hint that we should examine what we trust and why. Perhaps we should look at the pharmaceutical industry itself and its irresponsibility in protecting consumers, its powerful sway over government and its culpability in contributing to the economic meltdown.

The Bush years gave us more fodder for discovering the results of simplistic explanations and sunny projections; the 'liberation' of Iraq, you'll remember, was going to be a piece of cake and the Iraqis would pay for it themselves with their oil reserves. Tax breaks for the privileged were going to trickle-down millions of job opportunities and create an even more stable business climate. Establishing democracy across the globe was going to tame the Mideast and defuse the radical Muslims. None of that happened, of course -- but until we came nose to nose with the dismal consequences, we pretended there wouldn't be any.

Although I say this with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, I miss the Bush years; what was obviously designed to turn our heads, blow smoke in our eyes and keep us spun up had become blatantly, egregiously and stunningly obvious. Now that we have nuance, real decisions and explanations to contend with, the press has quickly adapted, the pundits are selecting their words more craftily and nobody but the resoundingly Right are showing their true colors. And what seems most distressing to me, is how much doubt is being sewn simply to feed a news cycle, increase ratings and titillate public opinion.

Delving into the underbelly of what we take for granted has become a necessity in today's culture. We get information in sound bites and tweets; recent history has shown us that we can't believe the media, or at a minimum have to assume it's swinging facts one way or another and/or leaving out necessary chunks of information or analysis. We too easily believe what's presented to us; perhaps a holdover from days when investigative reporting and trusted newscasters were the standard. You know -- the Good Old Days.

Now that Bush is gone, we can't expect everything to be rosy -- the very corporations that helped him to take power continue to wield power over us, attempting to lull us back to sleep. With the exception of FOX News, which makes no pretense of being non-partisan, the majority of news outlets present their material as factual yet too often they are quick to create a headline, if they can, rather than allow the facts to determine one.

Unless you're a wonk, of course, you may not notice how often we're misled. Let me give you an example: when Hillary Clinton rebuffed Dick Cheney's assertions that torture worked by saying she didn't find him a reliable source, CNN's Wolf Blitzer headlined the story by saying that Clinton had "mocked" the Vice President and asked if President Obama had failed to "change the tone" in Washington. While I took exception to both the comment and question -- Cheney isn't doing himself or his party any good by continuing to pretend he's Jack Bauer and deserves to be put in his place, and the tone in Washington has already changed even as those who are desperate to sustain it resist -- Blitzer had directed the conversation along lines that now had to be examined and put in perspective. His allegations then entered the 'wind tunnel' of pundit review; and the news of the day was turned into a circus of opinion.

Obama's recent statement suggesting that the Attorney General and Department of Justice have responsibility for holding the torture architects accountable, should they choose to do so, is another example. Since a president does not have that capacity, it's a reasonable assertion and comes on the heels of a public outcry over gruesome memos released showing the details of Bush's methods and justifications for 'enhanced interrogations.' Still, network after network announced that Obama, who has repeatedly said he is not interested in going after his predecessor, had suddenly changed his mind; perhaps due to liberal outcry.

I saw nothing in his statement that indicated change; he is passing this issue off to the law, and Congress may do as it wishes. He has not made a Bush prosecution part of his agenda, nor does he intend to. It seemed clear to me during his campaign that he would allow the legal community to take the lead in this situation. Attorney General Holder has reportedly been considering a special prosecutor to look into the matter, and Obama's release of the memos came after weeks of internal discussion; since many of the details had been released earlier by the Red Cross, he felt that the material was necessary to fulfill his promise of transparency. This was no sudden 'change of course' -- and the suggestion that it was seems designed to create an issue where one is not found.

We are misled day by day, and we have been for a very long time. Take Columbine for instance; one of the first of the school shootings that have become epidemic in the last decade. Ten years ago we were all horrified over a remarkably successful paramilitary assault of their Colorado high school by two young teens, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. A dozen students and a teacher were killed, while 23 others were wounded before the pair committed suicide. We heard that they were victims of bullying, that they were antisocial loners and that they targeted the religious -- a young girl was shot dead when she answered that, yes, she was a Christian.

None of that appears to have been true. On the tenth anniversary of the Columbine shootings, a couple of new books have dug through the details to present a more accurate picture of the situation. While Eric was clearly the leader and a budding psychopath, Dylan was more a follower, a kid struggling with teen issues and substance abuse. Both seemed as socially adept as most angst-driven teens, and had no problems with jocks or Christians, nor is there any evidence that they were overtly influenced by violent video games or drugs for depression.

The newest story of these kids and their community, along with a police force that ignored earlier criminal incidents and psychologists that were blindsided by Harris, has created something of a storm. It breaks the mythology that the parents were culpable or inattentive; it offers fewer answers to what motivates these kinds of incidents than the earlier version -- the easier version. The plan implemented was not even personal; it was designed to be a school-wide bombing that killed everyone in sight including themselves, and rivaled Oklahoma City.

Now, perhaps it stops there and perhaps it doesn't. If you put on your tinfoil hat and wander into the back-story, you'll find that the testimony of the Columbine students was thick with reports of other shooters; several more. Some of them were recognized by name; some of them were questioned by police. Complicating matters, if there is one consistent thread in this issue, it's the bumble and cover-up by Jefferson County officials. Credibility continues to be a question on the Columbine incident, even as we create new mythos to cover the horror of massacre. The truth is out there and I think it's likely that we still don't have it.

The same can be said of the ongoing torture revelations. While I understand President Obama's need to move forward without personally handling the back-story and particulars of the past, many of us continue to want clarifications and accountability. As Faulkner put it, "The past is never dead. In fact, it's not even past." Building upon a strong foundation, as Obama recently proposed, can't happen unless the old foundation is examined and disposed of; shadows only give way when enough light illuminates everything. Truth and consequences are a potent astringent. Perhaps if Nixon had been prosecuted, Bush would have thought twice about letting Cheney play International Overlord while he dithered with romantic notions about democracy.

Christianists got a lot of mileage over the notion that one of their own was murdered for her faith, and went after Marilyn Manson rock lyrics to spread their own version of fear-speak and moralistic PR. Dick Cheney seems intent on proving torture an expedient this nation cannot face a new century without, and the remaining squeaky wheels of the Right-wing continue to fashion PR through the voices of its pitch men, Hannity and O'Reilly, Limbaugh and Rove. Guns and ammo continue to fly off the shelves as the Tea Baggers perpetuate the notion that they will be needed in the coming revolution, and you have to entertain the possibility that the gun in the hands of your angry neighbor might be as dangerous to the world as the ones carried into Columbine High School by Eric Harris.

The whine that simpler times are behind us is quite true; and perhaps they were only simpler because we allowed ourselves to be lulled to sleep by giving over power to authority without questioning it. But everything is more complicated now, especially as we clear out generations of mythology about who and what we are as a nation; as we take back our responsibility as citizen activists. If we forget our past, we throw the baby out with the bathwater; if we do not learn from it, we will be destined to repeat it.

Our responsibility, to our community and to ourselves, is to weed out the facts from the fiction as best we can. We must take very little at face value, developing an ear for what flies in the face of reason and identifying what is calculated to prompt an emotional response. We can know when we're being pitched if we listen carefully; and the simpler times we miss so much belonged to simpler people. We must develop our capacity to be informed consumers, of both goods and information. The virtue of simplicity is not in a lack of complexity, but in our capacity to define and embrace the simple human virtues through which we filter all incoming information.

Facts are neutral; we assign the meaning to them. We are increasing our capacity to become aware of ourselves and everything around us while tapping the inner discernment that tells us the unvarnished truth. The past has shaped us, the future is informing us and our daily lives require our careful attention; the collective unconscious is lifting itself above the old paradigm that kept us smaller than we were meant to become. In a period of discovery leading us into a new era, this is what 'awake' feels like; 'aware' is just around the corner. And when it feels tiresome and unfair to work this hard, remember that New Age truism floating around -- I never said it was easy; I said it was worth it.

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