Tikkun Daily button

The Trouble with Brett Kavanaugh: “Founding Father Knows Best”

Jul10

by: Peter Gabel on July 10th, 2018 | 2 Comments »

Swearing-in Ceremony for Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Image courtesy of the White House.

Do you believe that the contours of your relationship with other people should be determined by a group of 20- and 30 year-olds living 250 years ago? This is what Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court Justice pick, actually does believe. He believes this because even though he seems like a nice-enough, personable, normal-seeming fellow, as a boy, he was conditioned to believe in a collective fantasy that he is part of an imaginary “we” whose relations with each other are to be determined by the “intent of the Founding Fathers.” In other words, at a certain point in his childhood, perhaps in his eighth-grade civics class but to some degree even earlier, through rituals like the pledge of allegiance to the red-and-blue cloth in the front of the room, he came to split his consciousness in two. In his direct experience of real others like his family and schoolmates, he lived in the “personal” life that he still lives today; but in his imaginary life, he became to some extent hypnotized to think that he was “one of the we” who were created by earlier Beings invested with majesty and unique prescience, and whose intent we must follow today.

Antonin Scalia, when he was alive, gave a lengthy talk to the collectively delusional Federalist Society, explaining what he considered a rational basis for this “Original Intent” theory of interpreting the Constitution. In that talk, he said that we cannot trust each other and cannot know what each other want in life, and therefore the only way to determine how we must relate to others, to determine how we are “constituted” in “the Constitution,” is by looking to the exact words of the document itself, that piece of parchment still held under glass in a museum in Philadelphia. Evidently at the moment of the signing of that document, to Scalia, “we” momentarily existed together and reached agreement as to who “we” were. And since that’s the last time “we” were truly connected, we must apply “the law” based on what the 21 year-old Alexander Hamilton and the 25 year-old James Madison, and others of these “founding fathers” thought at that time.

That is why Brett Kavanaugh thinks that, say, 21 year-olds today have the right to own semi-automatic weapons. “We” (in the imaginary world that Kavanaugh is partly living in) cannot take away their so-called Second Amendment Right to do so according to the meaning of that Amendment’s words that is “found” by today’s robed figures sitting elevated from everyone else in the Supreme Court building using their supposed specialized training that has prepared them to project back into the minds of the larger-than-life “founding fathers” living in 1789. Never mind that the actual words of the Second Amendment seem likely to mean the opposite of what Kavanaugh thinks, the point I’m making here is that Kavanaugh believes the effort to limit mass murders in the United States today is dependent upon, and severely restricted by, the magical pronouncements of young men existing “at the dawn of our nation”.

All the discussion in the press about “originalism” and “textualism” as some kind of legal philosophy comes down to a collective “belief” – really a hallucination of sorts – of this kind. It is the story of grownups today, mainly men, who feel we cannot create our really existing social world out of our own freedom and moral convictions, but rather must defer to our Father, to our founding fathers. If this contributes to the killing of 17 high-school children in Parkland, Florida, or 20 six and seven year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut, it cannot be helped; it’s out of our hands.

If we want to create a loving and caring world based upon our inherent goodness, based upon our desire for authentic mutual recognition of each other’s beautiful humanity, then we have to relinquish any residual belief in magical documents written by magical fathers and the like. We have to do it ourselves and take the spiritual and social actions necessary to bring that loving world into being.

For more on the “the law”, and on the imaginary nature of legal narratives, and on their origin in our fear of other people whom we also long to love, please see my book The Desire for Mutual Recognition, chapter 5 (“Language, Thought, Ideology”) and chapter 7 (“Politics as the Struggle Over Who ‘We’ Are”).

__

Peter Gabelis editor-at-large ofTikkunand the author most recently ofThe Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press.
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

The Holocaust Did Not Begin with Killing; it Began with Words

Jul9

by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on July 9th, 2018 | 3 Comments »

St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana

The St. Louis surrounded by smaller vessels in the port of Havana. Photo courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Among the numerous Facebook group pages to which I subscribe, some focus exclusively on issues of concern to members of Jewish communities throughout the world. A few of the Facebook pages serve as forums for specifically children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. On these pages, very contentious debates (more like arguments with some people lodging insults) are centering on reactions to U.S. President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric as they apply specifically to his administration’s immigration dictums.

Some people strongly support Trump for his outspoken support for the nation of Israel and for his “bold and decisive action” in moving the U.S. embassy to the eternal city of Jerusalem. While others declare that this action puts a final nail in the coffin of an already stalled and dying peace process and places Israel in greater danger.

Discussion has more recently erupted regarding Trump’s immigration tactics, and specifically his policy of locking up refugees seeking a better life and separating them from their children for weeks and months at a time. Several people on Facebook write such things as “they are breaking the law and they should be locked up and deported back to their own countries.”

Others, though, understand their plight and are pleading compassion. As descendants of Holocaust survivors, they (we) can see clear parallels between the trauma of our relatives and that of this generation’s refugee populations. When we, though, discuss what we understand as these parallels, others on Facebook attack us for “trivializing the Holocaust,” as “feeding into the hands of the Holocaust deniers,” or of “jeopardizing Trump’s support for Israel” the more we speak out against his policies.

Someone wrote:”Don’t you DARE compare temporary separation of children from their parents for illegal activity with the MURDER of people for nothing more than their beliefs or color or intellectual ability. The parents of these children are doing ILLEGAL activities. They are arrested. The children have food and shelter.”

I feel I need to speak out to the larger Jewish community in the clearest of terms.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

The Uses of Appropriation

Jul9

by: on July 9th, 2018 | No Comments »

Audre Lorde famously said it, “[T]he master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” She went on: “They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” The essay was based on a 1979 panel presentation responding to a feminist movement dominated by those who opposed sexism but benefited in other ways from the existing social order. She warns a liberationist movement against reproducing the racial, economic, and other privilege-based operating assumptions of the dominant society, lest it fall far short of its potential to catalyze a more loving, just, equitable, and vibrant society.

Sometimes I like to adopt an alien view, to pretend I’m watching from outer space as we humans scurry across the face of the earth, billions of intelligent two-legged ants. What is getting them so excited now? What tools are being wielded with what intentions? And are they shoring up the master’s house or dismantling it?

In our little corner of the planet, my alien self picks up a loud buzz about appropriation. What’s that? In ordinary English the verb can mean many things: to set aside or authorize funds, to seize or steal something. In art worlds, the word has a fairly flat meaning and a heightened one. The flatter version covers things like Marcel Duchamp’s “readymades,” in which ordinary objects are renamed, repositioned, and exhibited as art. His most famous example was the 1917 Fountain, a porcelain urinal set on a pedestal and signed R. Mutt. Ever since, a huge amount of modern and contemporary visual art has included appropriated elements.

Appropriation is so common in popular music that a new word was chosen to represent it: sampling. There’s a nicely detailed account of Biz Markie’s losing a suit over a sample of “Alone Again,” one of many such cases in the early 90s challenging musicians’ right to use snippets of others’ copyrighted songs without prior permission. Rick James sued MC Hammer for sampling “Superfreak” on his hit, “U Can’t Touch This,” to cite one example among hundreds. The most recent cases turn on uses of as little as two words. But mostly, these are financial transactions having less to do with moral rights and more with getting paid. Reaching a financial settlement is almost always the endgame.

The heightened meaning of “appropriation” is cultural theft. The accusation is frequently made against artists—but also entrepreneurs and corporations—adopting and profiting by something emblematic of a culture not their own. “Cultural appropriation” is the full moniker, but mostly it gets shortened by omitting the first word.


Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Suffer the Little Children

Jul5

by: Michael Bader on July 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

Painting of a photo which has come to symbolize the US Trump administration current Zero Tolerance immigration policy.

Painting of a photo which has come to symbolize the US Trump administration current Zero Tolerance immigration policy. Painting by Dan Lacey.

Sometimes it seems that it took images of crying toddlers and grieving mothers to mobilize Americans against Donald Trump and his Right-wing enablers. Of course, there has certainly been a “resistance” to Trump before now, but nothing like what erupted following the implementation of Trump’s zero tolerance policy. Notwithstanding, the current Right-wing echo chamber’s cynical spin about these news stories, the outpouring of spontaneous indignation about forced family separations at the border spanned the political spectrum. Christian evangelicals, the UN Commission on Human Rights, several Republican lawmakers, and even the Pope were all upset and angry. The depiction of children who lost their mothers sparked greater and more intense resistance than most of Trump’s other offensive and provocative initiatives.

It’s worth noting that we didn’t see that same degree of passion about children who were about to lose their health insurance last year.

We certainly don’t read much about the heartbreaking lot of latchkey children raised in families headed by single mothers working for stagnant wages, barely making ends meet, or children raised by parents addicted to opiates. These kids will never appear on the cover of Time Magazine. The media doesn’t cover what Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb once called the “hidden injuries of class.” Instead, the media dotes on the latest news about Robert Mueller and Michael Cohen. And as they do so, the Left and Right inevitably settle into their own tribal tents.

Why doesn’t the plight of the 16 million children currently being raised in poverty elicit the outrage that these children at the border do? Why exactly did so many people seem to wake up to the cruelty of Trump and the Republican Party when immigrant families were broken up?

On one level, it certainly seems that the abstract facts of poverty, social injustice, and the unequal distribution of wealth don’t elicit the deep psychological reflexes that are triggered by the stories and pictures of real panicked and grief stricken individual children. The former is suffering at a distance; the latter is up close and highly personal.

These reflexes and triggers are not uniquely American, nor do they have anything at all to do with American values. Instead, I think that our moral outrage reflects the universal importance of attachment in human life – the central importance of the earliest connections between parents – especially mothers – and children. Child development experts have warned us for a long time that any disruption to such ties in the course of development results in tremendous grief and distress, and if the rupture is great enough, it causes significant trauma that indelibly damages children’s brain development and psyches. Research has shown that significant disruptions of attachment result in later life in an increase of cardiovascular disease, anxiety disorders, addiction, criminality, depression, obesity, and suicide.

I believe that we react so strongly to stories of broken attachments because all of us have experienced, even in the best of circumstances, some version, some degree, of exactly such a loss. When we see it on television, it resonates with unconscious reservoirs of grief and trauma in all of us.

Read more...

Bookmark and Share    Discuss

A Prayer of Boundless Love: Extending the Shema to Include All Beings

Jul5

by: Charles Burack on July 5th, 2018 | 1 Comment »

As part of my integral worship each morning, I recite theShema, the central Jewish prayer. The opening verses of theShemaproclaim the People of Israel’s responsibility to affirm the unity of divinity and love the One with all our heart and soul and might. For many Jews, the initial verse “ShemaYisraelYHVHElohaynuYHVHechad” means “Hear, O Israel,YHVHis our God,YHVHis one.” For some mystically inclined Jews like myself, the opening verse means the “Hear, O Israel,YHVHis our divinity,YHVHis Onenessea.”

YHVHis the holy, unpronounceable divine name that traditional Jews replace withAdonai[Our Lord], and that modern scholars designate as thetetragrammaton(Four-Letter Name) and vocalize asYahweh. Various Rabbinic commentators glossYHVHas”the Eternal One” because it appears to merge three singular forms of the Hebrew word for “to be”: was-is-will be (hayah, hoveh, yehiyeh). The Sages also associateYHVHwith the quality of divine compassion (middat ha-rachamim) – which is the “womb [rechem] consciousness” of divinity. Jewish mystics note that the numerological value (inGematriya) ofYHVHis 26, which is equivalent to the sum of the values of the two central concepts in theShema: love (ahavah= 13) and one (echad= 13). This spiritual equation “YHVH= Love + One” implies that divinity is fundamentally unified and loving and that love itself is the primary means for creating and sustaining unity.

While many mainstream traditional Jews understand the divine as wholly transcendent, many Jewish mystics affirm, along with theZohar, that the Infinite One (Ein Sof) both fills and surrounds all worlds (memalai kol olmin v’sovev kol olmin). The divine is in All, and All is in It, and there is no place where divinity is not present.

Like many other members of the Jewish Renewal community, which integrates neo-Chasidism with progressive views and values and honors the insights and practices of other religious and spiritual traditions, I understand theShemaas enjoining “God-wrestlers” to experience the Oneness – of Being, Non-Being and Beyond – as divine. I like Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s translation ofIsrael(Yisrael) as “God-wrestler” not only because the Bible itself explains that it means “one who contends [struggles, wrestles] with God” (Genesis 32:29) but also because this gloss gives the word a more universal meaning that can speak to anyone, whether Jewish or not. Indeed, I am inclined to tell the students who take my Kabbalah courses, “If you are a God- or Goddess-wrestler, consider yourself an honorary Israelite.” Then I quickly add with a smile, “Most rabbis would not agree with that statement!”

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

A Review of Tommy Orange’s “There There”

Jul5

by: Frank Rubenfeld on July 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

This is a debut novel by Tommy Orange, an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes.

The book’s prologue gives us the context for the pain Indians inflict on themselves (alcoholism, suicide, drug addiction) and each other (domestic abuse, turf wars). Orange goes into horrific detail (the content of which I had never heard of before) about the treachery, sadistic cruelty, and grind-’em-down racism Indians suffered at the hands of the white colonizers from the time of the Pilgrims until the genocidal “Indian Wars” waged in the late eighteen hundreds.

Tommy Orange reading from his debut novel "There There." Image courtesy of Bank Square Books.

Tommy Orange reading from his debut novel "There There." Image courtesy of Bank Square Books.

The venue is contemporary Oakland, not a “rez”. Many Indians have left the rez behind and become “Urban Indians”. We get to meet more than a dozen of them close-up: Orvil Red Feather; Edwin Black; Tommy Loneman; Dene Oxendene; and the one with coolest name of all: Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield. Each name heads a chapter (some more than one). Orange dexterously braids the lives of these Indians, and knots them all together in an ending that reflects their legacy. A legacy of both violence and spiritual depth.

As the narrative culminates, we witness a big Powow at the Oakland Coliseum. Hundreds of Indians from the Bay Area and beyond, dressed in Native Regalia, ready to dance to the sound of the big and little drums. Ready to dip, shuffle, and pound their feet against Mother Earth, while the singing counterpoints the beat of the drums; the beat of their feet.

This was the sound of pain forgetting itself in song, the author writes. In that sentence the beating heart of the story lies. And the author, Tommy Orange an Urban Indian for years, is part of that drumbeat. He has created this song of a book. A song of pain redeemed by his artistry.

We the witnesses, implicit in the oppression of his people; occupying what was their land; are given the opportunity to see more clearly and comprehensively the costs the Indian community has paid for our deeds. Tommy Orange has done his job. It is up to us to feel empathy, compassion, anger, guilt, whatever. And to see what we might do with our feelings and our new knowledge.

__

Frank Rubenfeld is a Berkeley psychologist who co-founded Psychotherapists for Social Responsibility and authored The Peace Manual: A Guide To Personal-Political Integration. He is an active member of the Gestalt Associates of the Bay Area.

Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Healing the Heart of this Country

Jul5

by: Dr. John Goldthwait on July 5th, 2018 | No Comments »

Those who disagree politically often demean, blame, and criticize those who differ from them and the result is the climate of divisiveness we see in this country today. Each political party believes they are the “good guys” while those in other party are the “bad guys” who must be defeated. Members of both parties believe this is a logical and desirable way to proceed and act accordingly. However, to do this is to accept and act on the “us versus them” understanding of how the world works.

This approach has absolutely no hope of succeeding because it is based on an invalid premise. This premise is that there are good people (us) and bad people (them). If the “good” people fight against and defeat the “bad” people, then everything will be just fine. So how well is this working out? Are we a loving and peaceful country?

The history of our country and the world confirms that trying to attack and defeat those we perceive as “bad” has never worked. Yes, there may be times when the “good” guys succeed in defeating the “bad”guys and things may seem better for a time until, once again, there are more “bad” guys we must attack and defeat. They perceive things in the same way, of course, and set about defeating us. What ensues is mutual blaming, criticizing, demonizing, and attacking that only results in more suffering for everyone involved.

Despite the failure of us-versus-them thinking to solve our difficulties, this does not stop people from thinking it will work. It is so tempting to blame someone else for one’s difficulties in life. A convincing case can always be made that “they” are responsible for our suffering. “They” may be people with the wrong political and/or religious beliefs, the wrong skin color, the wrong national origin or who have other unacceptable characteristics or behaviors that differentiate them from us. The delusion is that once we defeat those we blame for our problems and suffering, everything will be just fine.


Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Faith in the Face of Bad Faith

Jul4

by: on July 4th, 2018 | No Comments »

Shortly after the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, very shortly after, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) decided that the Senate would not consider a replacement nominated by President Barack Obama, he not only demonstrated bad faith, but he also showed that he does not function out of a duty to the Constitution of the United States. Worse, to cover up his naked disregard for the Constitution and his disregard for good faith understood as fair play, he used words from a speech given by Joe Biden when he was in the senate taken out of context to craft a fig-leaf, some non-existent something called the Biden Rule.

According to McConnell’s lie, the Biden Rule says that the Senate ought not to consider a Supreme Court nominee in an election year. McConnell said “the people” ought to decide who would make the next pick. Clearly McConnell and his invertebrate GOP minions in the Senate who lied then and continue to lie now, who are participants in a theft of a Supreme Court seat, have forgotten that we live in the age of fact checking, that there is video tape that allows us to see what Biden actually said.

First, according to PolitiFacts, the context of Biden’s remarks was very different. When Biden spoke about this in 1992, there was no vacancy on the Court. Biden made his remarks thinking of the toxic political climate at the time and suggested that if a vacancy were to occur, that the process ought to wait until after the election. Second, there was no recommendation that President Bush the elder not fill the vacancy. Biden spoke about compromise in the event that Bill Clinton won the election. (http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2016/mar/17/context-biden-rule-supreme-court-nominations/)

Beyond the lies that McConnell told about the so-called Biden Rule, some people want to say that McConnell’s move to end the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominations is the next logical step from the action taken by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2013 to end the filibuster for nominations to the federal judiciary below the Supreme Court. This again is an analysis that does not consider the context.

Some of us do not live in the United States of Amnesia. We remember 2013 and before that. We remember the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy where Republican leaders of Congress met at dinner to conspire to obstruct EVERYTHING President Obama would propose. This while President and Mrs. Obama were dancing at the various inauguration balls. This while the nation was facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, while fighting two wars.

Mitch McConnell did not attend this dinner, but he announced that his primary goal was to make President Obama a one-term president, and the Republicans in the Senate did all they could to not only stop President Obama’s legislative efforts, but to stop his nominations for cabinet positions and for judgships. The unprecedented obstruction continued after President Obama won a second term. This is why Reid and the Democrats who were in the majority changed the rule.

When the Republicans won the majority in 2014, they had the numbers to take obstruction to its ultimate by refusing to allow President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court the respect of a hearing and a vote. During the 2016 election, more than one Republican senator spoke of refusing to give a hearing or a vote to anyone who Hillary Clinton would nominate if she were to win. For McConnell and the Republicans to talk about the nonexistent Biden Rule or to blame their obstruction on Harry Reid is disingenuous in the extreme. The refusal of the majority of one body to do its job was probably unthinkable to the founders.

So, McConnell is a liar and a thief. He and his colleagues failed to honor the Constitution that they are sworn to defend. Here is the oath of office for United States senators:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.” (https://www.cop.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Oath_Office.htm)

Regarding nominations to the Court, the Constitution says in Article II Section 2 describing presidential powers:

“. . . and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law.” (https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript)

There is nothing here about an exception for an election year. The people voiced their preference during the previous election, and the president’s term is four years.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

The Hidden Who Uphold The World

Jun30

by: on June 30th, 2018 | No Comments »

 

Rabbi Abraham Heschel, presenting Judaism and World Peace award to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A friend posted on Facebook, sharing the fatigue and demoralization she had been fighting as she sorted through old papers documenting her journey in the last few decades of the progressive movement in this country: the ideas appropriated without credit; the individuals whose own sense of entitlement blinded them to the injuries they inflicted; the surplus ego, the embedded pathways of patriarchy, and more, much more.

She touched my heart in the tender place of my own questioning, and I wrote back:

The challenge of remaining whole amidst the brokenness is formidable. The challenge of holding all these contradictions is fatiguing. It may not be much consolation to be seen as one who helps to shift the energies, inside and out, by speaking these truths, but you are such a one. There is a Jewish legend of the 36 just ones (the Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim) who by their existence uphold the world. It is not given to anyone to know who they are, but we are asked to live as if life itself depended on us, as if we were among the 36. Love and honor to you for answering this call, my friend.

You see, her words brought to mind the legend of the 36 Just Ones – The Lamed-Vav Tzaddikim in Hebrew – who by their righteousness uphold the existence of the world. In Jewish mysticism, the story goes that if at any time the total number of these pillars of existence were to fall below 36, the world would end, as together they constitute an ironclad argument to the Divine that humanity is worth the trouble.


Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss

Review of Michael Pollan’s How To Change Your Mind

Jun28

by: Anthony Minetola on June 28th, 2018 | No Comments »

Michael Pollan recently published How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence. It is a remarkable work of participatory journalism not only because it highlights the recent renaissance of what had been a very promising field of psychiatric research prior to government backlash against the counterculture of the 1960s, but also because it suggests a broader understanding of how we might define ourselves and thus live happier, more meaningful lives, something relevant to each of us, afflicted with mental illness or not. While the book’s title is certainly a reference to the extraordinary capability of psychedelic compounds to allow the user to view his life and the world around him from a vantage point inaccessible to our normal state of consciousness, it also could be said to refer to the book’s ability to change our mind about psychedelics, from believing they only offer meaningless, drug-induced altered states of consciousness, to understanding they can be used to effectively treat a wide variety of mental illness, and perhaps even engender insights into the meaning of spirituality. To Pollan, after various experiments with these compounds, that meaning is both profound and simple – we can see that egocentric ways of living our lives are harmful to ourselves and our loved ones, and “spirituality” means recognizing life is much bigger and more mysterious than it appears from our vantage-point of everyday awareness. Opening up to that mystery entails a greater sense of connection to our loved ones and even to all of humankind and the natural world.

Read more...
Bookmark and Share    Discuss