Saturday, November 5, 2016

Moral Fatigue: Diagnosis, Estimable Conscience, Outcome

Friday, November 4, 2016,  Diagnosis: Moral Fatigue
As we come towards the conclusion of an election season unlike any other in modern history I have been thinking about the combination of horror, dismay, and outrage that has created the toxic cocktail lodged in my throat as if I were the blue-throated Shiva Nilakantha.
What strikes me as the essential realization is not disbelief in my fellow citizens who endorse an avowed racist whose character in every way disqualifies him for the office of the Presidency. Rather it is how utterly exhausting it is to witness such ethical failure on such a scale. This is not mere individual moral failure, rather it is like breathing a history of toxicity. Truly the election has revealed something vile about America. Those hurt every day by racism, sexism and xenophobia know it’s endemic in our country. But to witness these failures on unapologetic display creates moral fatigue. We will need to cleanse our hearts even though this sickness will not be cured even with the better result. More about this soon.

Saturday, November 5, 2016, Moral Fatigue, Part II:
Recovering an Estimable Conscience, Finding Worth in Anaphoric Questions
Last night I wrote a bit about the weight we have felt, the moral fatigue of this election season. It may well be presumptuous to say but I think the malady is shared also with those most ardently reveling in a venality directed at their opponents. Whether it we acknowledge malaise or exuberance, the outcome is that we are all frayed by the decay of civility and the apprehension we have for the future. The toll has been real and what comes next is far from certain.
An election’s results have traditionally supported the sense of America’s promise, for no matter the results we have in the past agreed to concede, to defer to the majority for the sake of a better shared future. Elections have not answered our questions but we have answered to their results. I’m not prepared yet to affirm we will again do as much again but we are resourceful people even when we are not wise. In the shadow we share there is the prospect that we might still be resourceful if we ask ourselves who we want to be even if, driven by our thirsts, we believe that we already know who we are. The answers we need to carry forward depend upon our willing to ask and to listen to voices, other than our own, who are also asking. 
There is a story, not often told, in the Mahabharata’s Book of the the Forest where the reluctant sovereign in exile Yudhisthira comes upon a lake and finds that his brothers lay dead on its banks. Before beginning the search into his brothers’ murder, the prince finds himself burning with thirst and reaches into the lake to drink, not knowing that it was drinking from the lake that brought his brothers’ end. At that moment a celestial appears, a yakhsa, no god or angel but instead a presence of power presiding over the lake. The yaksha warns Yudhisthira not to drink lest he suffer the fate of his brothers. He has an alternative: Yudhisthira can instead answer the yaksha’s questions. Everything will depend upon his resourcefulness: life’s riddles provide exigent possibilities and unambiguous solutions will present only more riddles. Need I remind you we are every character, every thing in the story, including the riddles and answers?
In true epic form there are said to be eighteen questions, which mirror the number of books in the great leviathan, but in these urgent times I think we’ll need some abridgement. So I present my favorite version of this conversation with the caveat that there are any number of questions and ways to answer ---what is at stake is our willingness to stay in the conversation. If our thirst overwhelms our willingness to listen or our access to our own resourcefulness, then the refreshment within the waters of the lake, which hold the history of human experience, will become our poison too. 
What is happening?
A voice asked the prince:
What is quicker than the wind? Thought.
What can cover the earth? Darkness.
Who are more numerous, the living or the dead? The living, for the dead are no more.
Give me an example of space? My two hands as one.
An example of grief? Ignorance.
Of poison? Desire.
And example of defeat? Victory.
Which came first day or night? Day, but it was only a day ahead.
What is the cause of the world? Love.
What is your opposite? Myself.
What is madness? A forgotten way.
And revolt? Why do men revolt? To find beauty, either in life or in death.
And what for each of us is inevitable? Happiness.
And what is the greatest wonder? Each day death strikes and we live as though we were immortal. This is the greatest wonder.
And then the Lake said, may all of your brothers come back to life.
Who are you?
I am Dharma, your father. I am constancy, brightness, the order of the world.
You’ve taken the form of a lake?
I am all forms. Yudhisthira, I am very satisfied.
Look for Dharma in these troubled times--- the bright, the constant, the resourceful way that brings you back to life as the storm still rages over the great lake of consciousness. Know too that the answers you need are inside you and in each other, even if the answers present only more riddles and uncertainties. Have the temerity to ask and to stay in the conversation. At stake are not merely the answers we put forward but the wealth we discover within the questions we dare ask. Be resourceful. It is the resource all Americans share, that all humans possess to uncover more humanity.

Tuesday, November 8, What Are We Prepared to Do Now?

I write for the same reasons I teach. It's a kind of self-medication, a therapy for the soul: I have to get something out, I need to go further in, I cannot ignore the lavish, insistent discomfort that demands a verdict even when I don't have all the evidence, much less approach certainty. I think artists and poets, musicians and writers, actually I think all of us have this need to reach into our hearts looking for some way, any way to find expression. 
There is a human need tell our secrets even when they are secreted from ourselves. Over the past two days I've been writing, largely to myself, and there are pages and pages. A small portion of that has appeared here in posts and then has been reposted on the Rajanaka Sammelana blogspot.

The last two posts about Moral Fatigue, from yesterday and this morning, I've now reposted again, if you'd like a reference. Somehow creating that record does me some good, so it's more than a little indulgent. But again I was asked by more than one of you to create that record. There will be a third installment after the election results, or maybe more than one before. This is the record so far.