The House Vote — Relativism and Righteousness

December 18, 2019

The most serious questions raised in the US House Vote for Impeachment are these:

Are we incapable of reaching beyond our own narrow views of “reality,” in order to truly consider that we might be “wrong?” Is it possible to consider that, perhaps, we have been blinded by something, by someone, by our own selves?

Is it possible to escape our pre-conceptions, our deeply blind need to side with political narratives, bent on distorting the truth in order to preserve a foundational perception of our Selves?

How far have we come into a world of Post Truth?

Are we, as a culture, finally embracing the idea that there is no such thing as Truth? Is it time to accept that all of our truths may be dependent upon our singular perception? Is this not what Hume postulated a long time ago?

Is this a response to perhaps an over-zealous age of scientism, objectivity, big data, “realism,” a quest for a unanimous agreement on basic principles of truth.  Is this a response to Neitzche’s claim that “God is dead?”

Is this the fall of the use of a capital letter T when it comes to truth? Are we finally going to accept that no capital T belongs on the word, that our leaders and lawmakers can so completely rip our bodies politic in twain?

I wonder if my fellow artists, intellectuals, and soul-searching human beings, are contemplating the profound sense of confusion that is blanketing our nation’s capital.

Have we slid so far down the slope of Relativism that there is no climbing back up the hill?  What now?

__

I am ashamed of them all.  I have not heard one voice today that speaks of a middle road of any kind. Is there not one person in our body politic who has the guts to admit to complexity, admit to the possibility that this is not a melodrama for children, but a layered and nuanced discussion of perception?

Maybe this is why I have always been so suspect, even disdainful of politics—this need to vilify, this need to create a divide in order to take action? Maybe this is why I have been reticent to march in the streets, or carry signs for political action.  Maybe this is why I believe that we create division in order to more fully develop our own identities, because we have failed to do so without these external differences. We have not yet looked inside for our sense of Self—we only feel alive when we are in opposition to someone else?

I have no affinity for Donald Trump. I actually believe impeachment might be called for. But I am more disturbed by the division than anything else. I drive to work today—down the highway I go in my  2010 Toyota Corolla, on my way to a modest college in a modest town, where mostly working class families are trying to feed their kids and pay their bills. I do not live large, but I recognize my place of privilege in the middle class, my adult years dedicated to economic stability for myself and my family.  I’m a pretty ordinary person, on her way to work on a rainy Wednesday morning. I listen to public radio as I often do…I can name the major players in the big news stories of the day. Yes, I am informed, yes, I’m eager to listen, lean in, and learn… and yes, I have my opinions. In fact, I encourage my students (and myself) to have opinions about everything. “Stand up and have an opinion.”  It means you care.

But today, the vitriol, the hyperbole, the righteousness of the US House of Representatives has finally pierced my skin.   I am deeply troubled.…I hear no humility, no self-awareness, and finally, no Truth.

If this were couples therapy, I’d applaud the arrival into subjective terrainld, exploring experience over “fact.” But this is not therapy. This is business. This is taxation, this is governance. I believe in some old fashioned ideals from the 18th Century Founders. Forgive my romanticism for a moment? I know how to seek revisionism, and reading Zinn’s tome is an important reminder of our dangerous need for fairy tales.

Is this only history repeating itself? has it always been like this? Is my own naivete? I know politics has always been fractious…duh. But have we come so far as to seem ridiculous? Or have we always been ridiculous? Have ideologues always been this blatant in their righteousness? Do I have some kind of Romantic vision, guilty of believing that “it didn’t used to be like this?”

I want to be able to see this for what it is…

And I want to be able to admit that I might be wrong.

Following up on Match.com(mentary)

Finally, someone has sent me a note!  I had just upgraded a few photos, revised my summary to sound more charming and less intense (I’m a playwright, after all, fitting the word to the action is what I do),  Intense is scary, right? 

Look!  a word of sweetness in my Inbox…

We start to email back and forth, like “normal” adults…a few questions here and there, the usual.  I am a careful wordsmith, never saying anything too revealing…pretty funny, eh?  what with this blog, seen by millions? (okay, 10) … “He” gets intrigued… I think, “Of course he’s intrigued, I can spin a phrase, dangle a few metaphors, what else is more attractive than that I wonder?” (don’t answer that) “He” leans in—spills a few  gushy words in my direction.  My ego is fed. Maybe I’m not a loser after all,  ugly, old, boring.  

For a few days, I am slightly atwitter about my Inbox… checking it a bit too often.  I write a note.  He writes back.   We’re  getting to know each other in written notes? How delicious is that?  That’s 90 percent of why I write a blog,  why I write or read anything… I hunger to know.

 But it hits me – you can see where this leading if you notice my quotation marks. Something’s amiss…It’s all in the language!  It’s in the punctuation, the nuance of curves, the commas are so revealing…  maybe even some topsy-turvy verbs.  I had already reminded myself not to be too harsh about grammar, etc…maybe I’m dealing with  English as a second or third language…  But no…that’s not it.  He’s not really responding,  he’s pretend responding.  

There is no “He.”  “He is an “It?”  

My friends tell me that he’s probably just a weirdo with poor language skills,  playing his hand clumsily.

No,  I think it is a chatbot.   Pure software.  Reeling in those of us iin need of connection – that would be all of us—this will lead to asking for money, no doubt. …augh, I’m hurt, I’m aghast, I’m even horrified.  The very concept turns my stomach. But I’m also a little ashamed of myself,  blinded by my vanity, my wanting?  “When you prick us, do we not bleed?”

 Rejected on the personal front, I get intrigued by the technology. Do some research.  Of course…this is it!…an attempt at human communication.  Wow…I love this, what a world to explore. I know we’re hard at it right now, simulating human communication…I’ve “chatted” with online assistants, inspiring a play about a lonely woman finding a sweet word from someone in the Xfinity chat box, looking for love.  

 The bot took “his” profile down from Match immediately, duh… Match is off the hook.  That’s your problem now, idiot. I stopped responding…nary a word. Without a cue, how will the software respond?  

 It’s a new experiment now. 

Okay, no one likes me on Match… but I’ve got new material.  Maybe that’s all I want anyway.

Got Weeds?

 Beautiful? 

Ugly?

If we didn’t know…if we didn’t surround our vision with…”understanding, contextualization, knowledge, experience”    then could this field of yellow blossoms just be beautiful?  Bright, delicate, nature’s greeting, whispering sunshine, a reminder of eternal rotation, repetition, renewal?   

But no.   They are weeds.  We know this.  Symbols of neglect, stubborn roots, plants to destroy, clear away, make room for the ones we deem…correct for gardens, suburban luxury, even privilege?

How do we free ourselves to just see things? Free ourselves to see freely…dandelions?

If we could…we would be free…but never notice our freedom.  Sigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Match Dot Com (ments)

Hey everyone, I’m back. For now.

Match Dot Com.

First, let’s be clear – seeking connections online is risky.  Duh… Seeking connections by looking at a few selfies and reading  “summaries” is pretty absurd, yes?  I get that.  But the idea/the expectation of finding a few folks to get to know with a few clicks …pretty tempting.  For some time, I’ve wondered, wow…what kind of middle -aged men are “out there” these days, who are these people? A few folks (men only) have told me, “oh there’s so many people out there, just looking for a good chat or sweet connection of some kind…it doesn’t have to be heavy, etc…”  Something, someone new?  A tiny bit of anticipation? A little excitement?  What could hurt?

Okay, after peeking around for a bit, I finally paid to give people a chance to respond to my Profile.  Paying  to meet people..?  UGH.  My millennial daughter:– “get over it mom,  that’s just how it is, no biggee.”    Okay…here’s my credit card # — UGH.

Okay…it’s time for that flood of curious, good-looking, smart, witty, charming, middle aged men to ring in. Surely, this will be easy, right?  Like my men friends said, “there’s so many people out there…”

I pay the toll, so I can cross the bridge.  I send a few hellos… Quick and Light…”Hi there. It looks like we might share a few interests.” God, I’m good…such a wordsmith.

Nothing in response.  Nothing…I’m talking Nothing.

Rinse and repeat.

No “likes,” no notes.

Match lets me see who has “viewed me.”  Wow…I got 4 “views” but not a single “like.”  No notes.  More views, more silence.  More notes from me, more silence, more nothingness.   So, they “view me” and then they don’t like me. Okay.  Wow.

I get theoretical. Is the old adage true?  Men want young, glamorous, fertile, blonde women to wear on their arms at dinner parties?  Men on Match sometimes post: “looking for…” and then they post an age quite younger than they are. I’m serious here people!

I rework my profile; what have I done wrong?  I revise my Summary:  Quicker and Lighter… Confession:  I post a new selfie, one with more eye makeup, longer earrings, a flirtatious smile…  I send a few more hellos. I never get heavy, or hint that I’m a writer and all that…stuff. “Hey there, nice photo.  Hey there…I like hiking too.” (god, I’m good)

Nothing.

Not a word.

Hmmm…

Do I get mad?  Do I get hurt?

I’m 60…  I have some wrinkles, but I’m so hard to look at—I look pretty healthy and fit—it takes a little effort these days, but I have all my original body parts (I thought this was a good thing?). Moreover, I’m not looking for a husband (I thought this was a good thing?), just a little company maybe…I’m chatty and warm, I read books, stay informed, have oft been told I can be quite the witty and sharp conversationalist.  I can be Quick and Light. 

Is it possible that the very attributes that worked for me 40 years ago work against me today?   Is it me, or has the world changed? I thought men liked smart, fierce, strong women…Did I live in a bubble?   Or is it that I’m just not blonde, young, or glamorous.  I don’t wear lip gloss?

I prefer to see this as social commentary, but maybe it’s just ego…I’m rejection whining.

Is it possible?  Middle aged men have an easy time dating and middle aged women …well, we don’t? Is the old adage still true, after all this work, all these struggles?  Whoops, what happened to Quick and Light?

I hope one of you readers is furious right now. How dare I generalize?   how dare I make sweeping assumptions?  I hope you’re fuming, “that’s NOT how it is…sure, some men this, some men that, but all men?  Oh Pllleeasse.”     Okay…bring it on… convince me that it’s not a societal flaw at all…we’ve come a long way baby and all that… we’re all so …evolved now.

WAIT – don’t tell me that…if you’re right, then I really am just a loser…don’t tell me that.  I can’t even get a follow up note on Match.com…

WAIT … if you’re reading this and you’re  “available”…send me a hello? (JK)

WAIT…if you’re reading this,  to hell with Match.com… I already have what I want and need.  Maybe.

 

 

 

Oh Mom, you’re (still) embarrassing me…

 

Oh Mom, you’re (still) embarrassing me (50 + years later).

Oh Mom, do you have to make friends with every clerk, waiter, counter person, professional person who is employed to provide you a service of any kind?

I read an article recently about how much New Yorkers prefer their quick, no-nonsense eateries and other services, everything from dry cleaners to pizzerias.  In, out, thank you very much. Done. Next?  The article was espousing the value of our precious time, and how New York had this equation down to the minute, so to speak. No one suggested rudeness or frenzy, only business-like efficiency.   Sounds great to me.

I’m not sure when this started for me, but I long ago abandoned any need to talk much to clerks, especially to people on the phone behind those 800 numbers.  I much prefer this attitude when doing daily business:  “This is my need, can you fill it? If so, let’s get it done, if not, let’s move on, the sooner the better for the both of us. Let’s make it quick and clean.”   Better yet…never talk to anyone! I do almost anything to avoid calling a stranger on the phone to help me.  Augh!  I confess, I prefer Self Check-Out anytime I can grab it (I know that this is sensitive because of the “automation and jobs” issues floating around. Yes, I’m guilty.  I’m guilty.) In fact, I’ll forgo the bargains at Trader Joe’s just to avoid having to make chat with the checkers.  Maybe I’m just not a Nice Person?

Sigh.  This is the opposite of my mom.

(and it was the opposite of my dad, too, who died less than a year ago, and with whom I had the almost unbearable chore of dealing with while we were out running errands)

I remember 30 + years ago when my grandmother’s daily trip to the grocery was her only social interaction for the day.  The stop at the bank once a week was even more highly treasured.  These clerks and tellers  knew about her grandchildren,  about her curtains too?   I saw it way back then…would that phenomenon become a defining distinction between generations?  Will my own children never have to talk to someone from a bank, or the IRS, or even the electric company?   Will they be spared the misses in communication, the frustrations on both ends of the telephone wires (augh, “telephone wires?” will we have wires?)

Maybe I’m just less and less inclined to talk to people in general.   Maybe this lies at the core of it, and it’s simply an idiosyncratic feature of my growing older?  Is it my incessant need to be left alone, which is the subject of many other examinations of my life?

But my mom—she just can’t walk into the “store,”  take care of business and get out of there.

We had an errand to run at the local Citibank.  My mom had to get yet another ATM card, since she had failed to use the last one and thus, it was deactivated?  (I posted here about her never having used one, so the wonders of 24/7 instant cash have still not come to fruition.)  She insisted on calling in to make an appointment of sorts, to speak to someone at a desk.  I reminded her that all we had to do was walk in the door.  No, she insisted on a phone call. I guess it doesn’t bother her when it takes 10 minutes and some keypad guesswork to talk to someone. Finally,  “might we come by and speak to you?  What’s your name?”

We find “Moshen” at the bank.

“How do you pronounce your unusual name?” (I’m cringing already.)

“Mo – sen.”

“Oh that is such a nice name. What kind of name is it?”

Moshen smiles a toothy smile, “It’s Iranian.”

(I hope this is the end of the name discussion, as I focus on the business at hand…get in, get out, move on.)

My mom:  “The Afghan people have a such a rich culture.”   (I think, mom!  The guy just said he was Iranian!)

She continues: “My ex-husband…well, he died last year…(my brow is furrowed, my shoulders coming higher and higher)  and  I collected rugs.  We went to Afghanistan and…”

I lean over, “Mom,  he is Iranian.”

She continues…”that was several years ago, before we got divorced, and…”

Moshen:  “Let’s get this card set up for you.”

(Whew, let’s get down to it, mom.)

My mom:  They have beautiful rugs in Afghanistan, we used to go to rug exhibits, the people there are…

Moshen:  That’s nice.

( I want to crawl into the floor. )

My mom:  “See, I don’t have my card because I fell down a year ago. I was with my dogs at the dog park, the one over on Calaroga Ave… I have two little dogs,  they like to go to the dog park, their names are…”

I’m thinking, mom, this replacement card has nothing to do with your fall, or the dogs, or any of this…what are you talking about??

But I just say with a tight grin:  Mom, let’s set up your pin now, okay?”

Moshen is being very patient.  I’m about to explode.

My mom:  You are being so nice to us, Moss en.  (she’s butchering the pronunciation) Is that how you say your nice name?   Can I have one of your cards?  Rachel, you take one too, it’s good to have one, in case…

I sigh loudly,   “Okay.”  (Mom! Mom!  We will unlikely see this guy ever again, let’s just …)

My mom is smiling, a little coy even. (Mom, what’s up with that?) 

Thank you for being so helpful today.  You are such a handsome young man, and we really appreciate your kindness and…

I try to meet Moshen’s eyes as if to apologize somehow… I’m so…so embarrassed?

He gently reminds my mom that all she has to do in the future is go online and do anything she wants, she is, after all, “a gold member.”

(are you fucking kidding?  You think she can go online?)

He reads my mind?  He says, ” you can call the number on the card and TALK to anyone on the line. 24/7. ”

Oh, you are so kind.

(Can we just get out of here?)

__

We have more errands – Costco, the eye doctor.  My mom tells the teenage worker at the Costco Hearing center,

Oh, I haven’t met you before, I’m Audrey.  This is my daughter, she works at the college, she teaches…

(Oh my god! Mom!  Hearing aid batteries, hearing aid batteries, that’s all we need!)

My mom waves to “Jason” who is sitting 20 feet from the front counter, intensely focused on the phone.

“Hi Jason (to me) Jason helps me with my hearing aids, along with Jessica.”

He glances over, a (very) quick nod in her direction.

Mom, mom, let’s get to the doc.

Once there, it’s much the same, with one additional quality – my mom becomes a little girl, hoping for the doctor’s approval, for motherly praise perhaps.

I’m taking those drops just like you told me to.

She is not only completely deferential to her doctors, but she expects them to know her too, as though they will remember her dogs’ names and what her daughter – that would be me—does for a living.

You’re so nice to see me today.

She says this as though they had a playdate after school or something. (mom!  that’s what they do.  That’s their JOB.)

Why is she so ingratiating? This is all business, mom.  This is commerce, this is the buying and selling of goods and services.  You pay. They get paid. Done.  This is business.

But for my parents, and grandparents too, of course, it’s so much more than that.  They equate doing business with forming relationships somehow.  I remind them: don’t mix business with pleasure, but they can’t hear me at all.  I am reminded of Willy Loman’s reverence for charm and personality over transaction efficiency and Blanche DuBois’ reverie, “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Augh, make me nauseated.  These are tragic figures to me.  But not to my parents?

I have friends in business who say,  “business is all about building relationships.”  Okay, duh…but I believe that these relationships serve one purpose, and not the purpose of human connection, human compassion.  These relationships are cultivated for the nefarious purpose of increasing profits. That’s what they mean in business 101:  “business is about building relationships.”

Some customer service folks still make small talk with their customers, I know this. The tellers at my bank ask me how my weekend went, and I look at them, wondering, “what the fuck do you know or care about my weekend?”  what? Me, hostile?   Why can’t I just be polite, why can’t I be business-like friends with these people?

Maybe I’ve forgotten how.  Maybe I’ve worked too many hours serving the public myself?  Maybe I think it has shady, underpinnings of privilege, class condescension? Maybe I want to call it out as the bullshit I think it is…Maybe I just don’t like to waste time.

But it’s not bullshit to my mom, and it’s not a waste of time.  In fact, it may be one of the best uses of her time.   This is how she participates in the world, how she connects; this is her social media. I doubt my mom will ever post a picture of her dinner on Facebook.  But she’s yearning to tell the clerk at Walgreens that she tried a new Chinese restaurant down the street.

Good for her?

What’s my problem?  Why the angst? Why this rant/blog today?

Is it so easy to fall out of step with the pace and manner of commerce in the world?  Is it so easy to believe in things that just don’t work anymore, that just aren’t “true” anymore?

Perhaps it is.  And perhaps… I’m just afraid.

Maybe it’s already happening.  To me.

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