I Believed Juanita Back When

I Believed Juanita Back When

When I watched Lisa Meyers’ NBC interview with Juanita Broaddrick, back when President Bill Clinton had just survived an impeachment vote in the Senate, I called myself a “Clinton Democrat.” Why then would I bother to watch a TV program where, as I’d heard, damaging accusations would be made against the very President I’d been fervently supporting for many months?

Two reasons. First, I always keep back a portion of trust regarding The Official Story. I don’t have an alternative story. Probably it’s true enough. Everyone I know says so. But who knows? Maybe it’s not true.

Second, to me “feminism” is an ”ism” that stands for sympathy for other women. What did this grown woman have to tell?

That the President of the United States, when he was the Attorney General of Arkansas, raped her.   What she described was a criminal rape. Not date rape. Not a situation where two people in a drunken haze “go too far.” No, not anything like that.

She was a business woman.  As Attorney General, he had authority to license her business. Some concern related to her work made it appropriate to consult him. She and her husband were Democratic Party contributors. Clinton said it would be more efficient to have their meeting in her hotel room where the interruptions of the press could be avoided.

I have met with colleagues in hotel rooms, mine and theirs. Some were peers. Some were Department chairs, hence potential employers. For working people, male or female, it is not a racy or suggestive thing to do. It does not lead to sex.

Once they were in her hotel room, he walked over to her, began to kiss her and – when she objected – sank his teeth into her upper lip.  What would you do? Get your face torn? Or submit?

Her roommate and her son confirmed that her upper lip was swollen and blackened after the encounter. Her assailant was “the law” in Little Rock and the rest of the state.

This experience, which she hadn’t chosen to reveal publicly, came to light in the course of the impeachment investigations. As her son said later, she didn’t “come out.” She was outed.

Watching her revisit this story during the interview, I did not find it possible to doubt her. Lisa Meyers is a hardened news reporter. She doesn’t believe everybody. But she said to Dorothy Rabinowitz, the print reporter for the Wall Street Journal who first broke the story (thus forcing a reluctant NBC to run the Meyers interview) – “I believe Juanita.”

Dorothy Rabinowitz asked me how old I was because, she said, I must belong to a generation of Americans who still thought you could do something about public evils. Her Inbox was flooded with mail from younger women who, like me, believed Juanita but felt that they could do nothing — not separately and not together.

My Texas-born mother-in-law, who might have known more about types like Bill and Hillary than I did, said she was glad I got nowhere with the public feminists I tried to rally. Had I been more successful, I might have got hurt.

I am far from denying that innocent young college men have been targeted by false accusations and deprived of due process when they contested those charges. My former colleague at Brooklyn College, K C Johnson, has written about this, and K C is a scrupulous historian who has himself suffered for his truthfulness. Nor do I doubt that women can also take sexual advantage of vulnerable men and boys.

These grotesque trespasses do not respect sexual orientations, party lines, previous affiliations or demarcations of class and status.

Here I only address what I’ve directly seen and heard: Juanita Broaddrick’s credible accusation, the flight of the public feminists of those days, my own forty-minute, long-distance telephone conversation with Juanita. An intelligent woman. A woman with an earned place and position in her own world. A violated woman. And not violated by a street thug. Raped by a man who became the highest elected official in our land.

Is this not significant? What then does it signify?

It was impossible then.

It is still impossible.

It seemed to me a turning point, when it was pretended that the intolerable was tolerable. To me a civilization is a romantic matrix, a site where honor – the quest for and service to highest things – includes the intimacies of personal life, the life of desire. Eros and the highest good — personal desire and public engagement with the civilization one serves – ought to converge.

I could not love thee, Dear, so much,

Loved I not Honour more

should underwrite every commitment. A culture, a civilization, is a romantic setting; it is the stage on which our personal dramas are played.

That doesn’t mean we aren’t creatures of mixed motives and compromised circumstances. I am not talking about unearthly purity or some state of imaginary innocence at the beginning or end of history. Our enshadowed conditions belong to the givens of our lives. We’re not perfect. Nobody said we were. But lives of honor can still be raised on the platform of human reality.

What happened to Juanita Broaddrick is

an affront to the honor of this nation.

Posted in Absurdism, Action, Alienation, American Politics, Anthropology, Art, Art of Living, Autonomy, beauty, bureaucracy, Chivalry, Class, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courage, Courtship, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Evil, Existentialism, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, glitterati, Gnosticism, Guilt and Innocence, Health, hegemony, Heroes, hidden God, hierarchy, History, history of ideas, ID, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Immorality, Institutional Power, Journalism, Law, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Male Power, Martyrdom, Masculinity, master, master/slave relation, memory, Messianic Age, Mind Control, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, non-violence, Oppression, Past and Future, Poetry, Political, Political Movements, politics, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, promissory notes, Propaganda, Psychology, public facade, Public Intellectual, radicalism, Reductionism, relationships, Roles, Romance, Romantic Love, Romanticism, secular, Seduction, self-deception, Sex Appeal, Sexuality, slave, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, Sociobiology, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, Terror, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, TV, twentieth century, twenty-first century, Utopia, victimhood, victims, Violence, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Betrayal

Betrayal

Jerry and I have been attending the American Academy of Religion (AAR) meetings in Boston this weekend. That’s the venue at which Jerry continues his guiding activities in the subfield of “Theology Without Walls,” which he introduced at the AAR.

Flying is not fun any more so we decided to drive to Boston from Bucks County, PA where we live. We were on the outskirts of Boston when Jerry said to me,

“I have bad news.”

What? Has there been a nuclear disaster? Are the tires flat? What, short of that, could be bad? Jerry doesn’t usually say things like that.

“I forgot to pack the suitcase.”

Oh. You mean the bulging suitcase, stuffed with the right things to wear, articles de toilette, nightgown, underthings, socks and – not least – the packets describing Confessions of A Young Philosopher that I was planning to show to editors at the Books Exhibits? That suitcase?

Well, worse things have happened in this world of woe. It’s not a big tragedy, or even a little one. It’s not a tragedy at all. It’s just … a little thwarting?

I wasn’t really geared up to talk to editors about my new book, being now engaged in correcting proofs for the expanded reissue of A Good Look at Evil.  Maybe that’s why I didn’t look to see if the suitcase was loaded, as normally we both would. A change of clothes, into something more dress-for-success, wasn’t mandatory …

In fact, it added heaps to the stress of the trip. The long walks across downtown Boston intersections to purchase the necessaries, exhausting for a person with neuropathy, the unrelated and peculiar pile-ups of inconveniences at the hotel (one restaurant closed on account of a kitchen fire, the other restaurant closed – we were told at the door — “two minutes ago”), the in-room phone that couldn’t reach the concierge or anybody else with any button you pushed … . Meanwhile, the absence of basic personal stuff put a floor-layer of distress under everything.

Jerry was chairing a number of panels on TWW. Some were almost alive with interest – like organisms (composed of the speakers and the people attending) that had sprung to life. We joined some philosopher-theologians for lunch or dinner, with interactions – personal and conceptual both – that were substantive and real. Theologians seem to me nicer than philosophers. Maybe they didn’t use to be, in centuries past. But they are now. You can watch them having breath-catchingly earnest private conversations in the hotel lobby or the café. There seems more the sense of a common quest and less the sense of a war-by-other-means that you get in philosophy.

The TWW project is to go beyond the boundaries of particular “confessions,” or religious identities, so as to draw on the wide fields of spiritual experience that belong to humanity as such. The purpose is to find out all we can know – from whatever sources seem veridical — about what God is like and how to orient ourselves toward the divine dimension in our lives.  In a way, nothing could be more interesting, or more natural, than this exploration. What then is the concern, listening to my own reactions?

Really, cultures bestow the matrix of our personal choices. The drama of our lives therefore takes shape within cultures. And cultures, finally, are defined by what they take to be Absolute or Ultimate. Yet globally, we are at a fork in the road of human experience, where we can see that our cultural absolutes cannot contain us entirely. We all feel that there is more, outside the walls.

My private concern is betrayal. I want to be myself, the one who – very precisely – I am. That identity, that authenticity, turns out to have a Jewish thread running through it. At the same time, it’s God I care about, it’s truth I care for, most of all. Need these conflict? I see my own concern played out in theological discussions a slightly different vocabulary.

It’s the vocabulary of “cultural appropriation.” This seems to be the fear that the spiritual seeker from one tradition can reach for the treasures of insight and experience of another culture and these insights – taken out of context – will be misunderstood, used without paying the price they exact, or used in such a way that the culture where they originated is weakened. If we belong to that culture, have we betrayed the treasure we were supposed to guard when we allowed that borrowing to take place? Or, if we are the borrowers, have we tempted another to betray a trust? Or, have we allowed ourselves to be influenced in such a way that we ourselves have been disloyal to our own origins?

Those who want to read all this in the language of power relations don’t pose the questions in a way that interests me. Power relations are ubiquitous and the remedies are not theological.

I’m interested in these questions as they impinge on personal integrity. The prophets speak of “whoring after strange gods.” How do you keep from whoring, from selling out? How do you draw the line? Where’s the line, anyway? What’s it made of?

Does it come from a Tradition? But those who made our tradition were themselves new and untried, once. Where did they draw the line? How did they recognize it?

It’s not that there’s no line, no judgments to make. Like all of life, this part of it – expanding boundaries without betraying origins — is risky too. There’s a bit of trial and error, much at stake, much to lose and much to win.

Posted in "Absolute Freedom and Terror", Absurdism, Academe, Action, Alienation, American Politics, Anthropology, Art, Art of Living, Atheism, Autonomy, beauty, Bible, Biblical God, bureaucracy, Christianity, Cities, Class, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courage, Courtship, cults, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Evil, Existentialism, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, glitterati, Gnosticism, Guilt and Innocence, Health, Hegel, hegemony, Heroes, hidden God, hierarchy, History, history of ideas, ID, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Immorality, Immortality, Institutional Power, Jews, Journalism, Judaism, Law, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Male Power, Martyrdom, Masculinity, Memoir, memory, Messianic Age, Mind Control, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, Mysticism, non-violence, Ontology, Oppression, pacifism, Past and Future, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Political, Political Movements, politics, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, promissory notes, Propaganda, Psychology, public facade, Public Intellectual, Race, radicalism, Reductionism, relationships, Religion, Roles, scientism, secular, Seduction, self-deception, Sex Appeal, Sexuality, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, Sociobiology, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, Terror, terrorism, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, twenty-first century, Utopia, victimhood, victims, Violence, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Anger

“Study of a Woman’s Head”
Leonardo da Vinci c.1483

Anger

At one of the numberless administrative hearings held during my seven-year job fight, the opposing counsel asked me, with an insinuating sidewise smile,

“Are you very angry at the people who fired you?”

I glanced down the long table where a bunch of former colleagues were seated, not looking friendly.

“No,” I answered truthfully. “I am not much given to anger.”

When I was eventually reinstated with tenure, collegial friends expressed anxiety about the buzzing, hissing nest of revenge-seekers I’d be reentering.

It did not fall out that way. I did not feel resentful of those who had put me through seven years of professional hell. I rather felt sorry for them. In my view, they’d picked the wrong parts to play in the movie we’d shared. Like the bad guys in Westerns, they’d had to have the unshaven chins, wear the black hats and ride the swayback horses.

My Gandhian affect must have been felt, for on the whole they relaxed and our relations became amicable.

Actually, I didn’t get my peaceable attitude from Gandhi, much as I revered the Mahatma. It came from reading Benedict de Spinoza, the great seventeenth-century philosopher. Here is his recipe for not holding a grudge:

  • Find out what made you angry, which will be something external that (in your belief) has taken your power away.
  • Do what you can to exercise the very power you think you lost, or the nearest capability to it that’s accessible to you.
  • If you can’t get back that power, or its simalcrum, understand the conditions that moved your adversary to protect his vulnerability by attacking yours. Your exercise of understanding is itself a power and your use of it a remedy against your sense of other powers lost.

This is how, for many years, I have sidestepped anger.

Till yesterday. Something happened that made me so angry that my heart pounded all afternoon. And the Spinozistic remedy, though I knew how to use it, didn’t seem to fit the case. Rather, my anger was what seemed to honor the person who I felt had broken a written agreement and now gave not the slightest indication that he knew what he’d done. It seemed better to remain angry. Not more fun. Not a healthier vent for my inner steam. Just better.

No need to wallow in it. But let your anger see the light of day.

Give it its hour.

What had changed in me to bring about this new approach to my anger?

Spinoza’s God is not personal. It’s also called Substance. It’s Ultimate Action, Ultimate Causality, Unqualified Power. It has infinitely many infinite dimensions. Only, it doesn’t love you back and you can’t pray to it. The divine attributes and modes of attributes are brilliantly deployed in Spinoza’s system. He’s a very great philosopher and an exemplary man. But I no longer think that way.

To me at the present hour, God is more personal than that. In the aspect of the divine that I relate to, God is a Person whose witness and care support my attempts to make sense of the person I am. Part of making sense of who I am involves a struggle to make the right prevail over the wrong — so far as I can tell which is which. The double combat is what makes our lives dramatic, risky and real.

What does that mean, so far as anger goes? It means those who deliberately injure others have the freedom not to. If we say that really, deep down, they couldn’t help it, they become objects, subject to laws of nature or history. But we are not objects.

The perpetrator could have done otherwise

and merits anger therefore

– even if the victim is me.

Posted in "Absolute Freedom and Terror", Absurdism, Academe, Action, Alienation, American Politics, Anthropology, Art of Living, Atheism, Autonomy, beauty, Biblical God, bureaucracy, Chivalry, Cities, Class, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courage, Courtship, cults, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Evil, Existentialism, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Films, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, glitterati, Gnosticism, Guilt and Innocence, Health, Hegel, hegemony, Heroes, hidden God, hierarchy, History, history of ideas, ID, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Immorality, Immortality, Institutional Power, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Male Power, Martyrdom, Masculinity, master, master/slave relation, Memoir, memory, Mind Control, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, non-violence, novels, Ontology, Oppression, pacifism, Past and Future, Peace, Philosophy, Political, Political Movements, politics, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, Propaganda, Psychology, public facade, Public Intellectual, Reductionism, relationships, Religion, Roles, Seduction, self-deception, Sex Appeal, Sexuality, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, Sociobiology, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, twentieth century, twenty-first century, Utopia, victimhood, victims, Violence, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus

“Christuskop”
Rembrandt, c.1648

Jesus 

This morning we had one of those leisurely breakfasts that goes on for some hours. The pleasure of being two philosophers who love each other comes into its own at such times. There are philosopher couples who indulge in the swordplay of argument with their spouses. Jerry and I don’t argue. At least not in the sense of wanting to score points off each other.

What we do with each other is think aloud.

Today the talk turned to Jesus. In the politics of religion, that’s a sensitive subject. With us, it’s not. We’re interested in the question of how to relate to God. That’s very different from the question of whose religion is “best” or (what comes to the same thing) which one has the strongest battalions.

We both take as obvious the Socratic principle:

better to lose the argument and win the truth 

than win the argument and lose the truth.

So now, Jesus. What’s the truth and what was the argument about? Jerry records a few arresting one-on-one conversations with Jesus in his book, God: An Autobiography, as told to a philosopher. Among other things, Jesus says that he was the messiah, the promised deliverer whom the Jews awaited. While of course they never got together as single collective will to “kill” Jesus (some were followers, some opponents and most Jews were likely out of earshot) – the failure of the Jewish community to recognize Jesus as the messiah does count as a “mistake.”

What kind of a mistake? They were expecting a messiah like Bar Kochba who rose up in 135 C.E. to restore the kingdom and throw off the Roman yoke. That wasn’t what Jesus advised. He seems to have said to his co-religionists:

  • Pay your taxes to the occupying power and don’t get into tragic misadventures.
  • You don’t have forces capable of bringing down Roman legions.

That was sure true. Had Jewish patriots not fought their way to disastrous defeat, the Second Temple would not have been destroyed in 70 C.E. and, after Bar Kochba’s last stand, the people never exiled nor the land rechristened “Palestine,” in pointed reference to the sea coast people who show up in the Bible as Goliath or Delilah or in David’s military campaigns.

On the other hand, even if more Jews had followed Jesus’ advice, and seen his uniqueness more accurately, it’s not clear to me that the ignominy of the centuries could have been avoided. The followers of Jesus, who offered full convert status even to those who did not observe all the commandments, were peeling off the Gentile “Friends of God” from the synagogues. In the politics of religion, the more success they had in winning non-Jewish converts, the more likely they would have been to become the breakaway sect that eventually they were. That would have given momentum to those in the movement who wanted to banish Jewish practices altogether and make conversion to observant Judaism the capital crime it finally became in Christendom.

And even if Jewish authorities of the day had deemed Jesus the messiah, some hotheads would have pursued rebellion anyway and met with Roman iron. That’s how people are. And, looking ahead five or six centuries, the followers of Muhammed would be imposing their hegemony on the region no matter what the Jews decided about Jesus.

The traditional Christian view of Jesus – as the savior of humanity from Original Sin that, were it not for his crucifixion, would have sent the whole human race to hell — was never an option for Jews since they don’t hold those doctrines. Did Jesus hold them? I don’t see where. They enter the doctrinal field from Paul, so far as I can see.

Back to Jesus. If accepting him as the promised Deliverer wouldn’t have delivered his people from the Romans, the future Christians, or the Muslims – from what would this man have delivered them if they had “accepted” Jesus?

From Jerry’s report of his Divine/human conversations, I get the picture of Jesus as a man who loved himself as God loved him, so well that the barriers of self-contempt, which remove the rest of us from God, did not work like that for him. Most of us, young and old, blame ourselves for what we did, good or bad, and also for what we didn’t do. Jesus merged with God precisely because he did not do this.

He became filled with God as a result. Their wills merged. What he did, God did, and vice versa. When he said, “the Kingdom of God is within you,” that’s what he meant. And it enabled him to be a conduit to God from then on.

What houses of worship does Jesus frequent today? From Jerry’s conversations, it appears that he hangs out in synagogues. Like my Temple Judea. That’s where he liked to be when he was on earth. That’s where he still likes to be.

Jerry once stepped into a synagogue where the child of a cousin of mine was to have a bar mitzvah. As soon as he was inside the sanctuary, he felt almost knocked over by the Shekinah, the Divine Presence.   And he was equally struck by the seeming fact that the Jewish congregants inside didn’t seem to notice. They just went about greeting each other, nodding and chattering as if everything was going on as usual.

As it was.

Posted in Action, Afterlife, Anthropology, Art of Living, Atheism, Bible, Biblical God, Christianity, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Courage, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Evil, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Freedom, Friendship, Guilt and Innocence, hegemony, Heroes, hidden God, hierarchy, History, history of ideas, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Immorality, Immortality, Institutional Power, Jews, Judaism, Law, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Male Power, Martyrdom, Masculinity, master, memory, Messianic Age, Mind Control, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, Mortality, Mysticism, non-violence, novels, Ontology, Oppression, pacifism, Past and Future, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Political, Political Movements, politics, politics of ideas, Power, presence, promissory notes, Propaganda, Psychology, public facade, Race, radicalism, Reductionism, relationships, Religion, Roles, Romantic Love, secular, self-deception, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, Suffering, Terror, terrorism, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, twentieth century, twenty-first century, Utopia, victimhood, victims, Violence, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Good Look at Evil

Proposed Cover Design

A Good Look at Evil

Last Friday the galley proofs arrived for the new edition of my book, A Good Look at Evil. When the first edition came out, decades back, Temple University Press nominated it for a Pulitzer prize. Back then, since it didn’t get the award, I never realized that it counts as an honor to be nominated. But it’s probably why, once I forwarded the nomination letter to the current publisher, Wipf and Stock, they accepted the book for reprinting without further discussion. The second edition will include two new essays. One of them is the essay that – to my great surprise — created quite a stir when I read a shortened version this summer at the San Francisco Voegelin Society conference. The other new essay is quite different but also “outside the box.”

Both of the new chapters take the book’s thesis — that a good person’s life can be deciphered as a long, corrigible, nonfiction story, which an evil-doer will try cunningly and deliberately to mess up – and they show how that thesis applies to particular real-life cases.

Jerry (who is not given to flattery, not even to flattery of his spouse) thinks my new preface so persuasive that it should be sent to opinion-shapers for reactions.

I’m not against doing that, if he thinks it’s a good idea, but I can’t think who the opinion-shapers are, these days. I guess they’d be public intellectuals, people like the late Lionel Trilling or Susan Sontag, whose names everyone knew at one time. There were famous feminists, like Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan, or the earlier Simone de Beauvoir who launched the feminist movement of the twentieth century. Where have all those stars-in-the-firmament-of-opinion gone?

Are there any opinion-shaping public intellectuals these days? Certainly it’s not as familiar a type as it once was. I can think of people whose opinions I value because their intellects are disciplined, their minds fine and their characters upright. But I can’t think of anyone whose intelligence and character have made themselves audible and visible in today’s static-saturated world!

It’s like spitting into the wind. We are exhausted in advance by the labor of keeping our own communicative life up-to-date. The questions having to do with its importance have trouble getting to the forefront of our consciousness.

Anyway, the galley proofs have arrived. In line with current practice, they’ve been sent as an attachment, for me to go through, looking for whatever needed corrections I can find. When it’s all good to go, and I have whatever endorsements can come in now, it goes to print. The cover designer gets to work.

I have to say that I’ve been reading through these galley proofs with mounting excitement. First, they look gorgeous. The content of the first edition has been fitted together handsomely with the new material of the second edition.

Second, I’ve now reread A Good Look at Evil, the first edition. It was my first book. It talks about “narrative” before anyone else that I know of did, if the term is applied to an individual’s life experience. By now, “narrative” is much talked of, but in the sense of something made up, not in the sense of something true.

The book also talks about evil in a way nobody has yet. It figures out how a Nazi thinks, in a way that anticipated the since-discovered transcripts of conversations that Adolf Eichmann, the man who implemented the Holocaust, had with his SS comrades in Argentina. When he could talk freely, not being on trial for his life, Eichmann did not pretend to be a nondescript bureaucrat who followed orders unthinkingly. Rather, he described himself as an impresario of mass murder and he was extremely proud to claim that feat.

In sum, A Good Look at Evil was ahead of its time when it first came out. And, so far as I can tell, it’s still ahead of its time. However, the thing that blows me away goes beyond the ahead-of-its-time factor. It also goes beyond the estimable quantity of research that went into some of the chapters — the ones on genocide, for example.

What blows me away is that I’m reading a book (mine, as it happens) by a very good philosopher! It’s original. It’s truly thoughtful. It’s philosophically literate. And it’s helpful, shedding light on the hard subject of good and evil as they are found in our actual lives!

How’d that happen? And how’d it escape my notice? I drew on it for all the work I did subsequently, but only noticed it in a glancing way. That I never paused to take it in, full on, is not exactly an accident. Nor is it entirely the effect of feminine self-erasure. What then explains it?

To know that one is x, one has to work on the project of being x. I would’ve had to stake out my opinions on the map of current opinions, doing it publicly and often. This involves reading the current stuff already occupying the territory. I would have had to show up in person to explain why other respected colleagues are not as right as I am. I would’ve had to read all their articles and books as fast as they came out in order to make known my partial agreements and partial disagreements with what the late writer Norman Mailer used to call “the talent in the room.”

Would I have been able to do that? Oh, I think so. If I was capable of writing A Good Look at Evil, I must surely have been able to do what had to be done to get known for the book – known by others and known by me.

So why didn’t I? The short answer is,

I didn’t want to.

I had real unknowns to confront, new territory to cross, tasks that belonged to my evolvement in my time.

I had my own life story to pursue.

Posted in Academe, Action, Alienation, Art of Living, Autonomy, bureaucracy, Class, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courage, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Ethics, Evil, Existentialism, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, glitterati, Guilt and Innocence, hegemony, Heroes, hierarchy, history of ideas, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Immortality, Institutional Power, Jews, Judaism, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Male Power, master, Memoir, memory, Mind Control, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, motherhood, Oppression, Past and Future, Philosophy, Political, Political Movements, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, promissory notes, Propaganda, Psychology, public facade, Public Intellectual, Race, relationships, Roles, secular, Seduction, self-deception, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, status, status of women, Suffering, Terror, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Time, twentieth century, twenty-first century, Utopia, victimhood, victims, Violence, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Steeper Cliff

A Steeper Cliff 

The escarpment of Sunday loomed as one of life’s steeper cliffs. At 10:00 a.m. that morning, Jerry was scheduled to give a talk about his book, God: An Autobiography as told to a philosopher. By now he’s done that quite a few times in venues around the country. But this time he was to speak at Temple Judea, my temple.

Inescapably, it would involve the coming together of worlds I had carefully kept apart, the way one can prefer to keep one’s friends apart because one holds them close in different and – one fears – incompatible ways.

When I met Jerry he was a typical male agnostic, a serious man fully prepared to take life’s moral imperatives to heart and to act with care in the real world. He was not seeking to know stuff that he hadn’t personally run up against. And he hadn’t run up against God.

When we fell in love, he did meet with an experience that had not been part of his inventory of the real things that real people encounter. It opened his mind and heart to those farther dimensions. The incredible encounter that ensued — with a voice that sounded like God’s and said it was God — launched him on a journey whose significance gets more manifest as he follows it out.

What’s my part in all this? Unlike Jerry, whose philosophic specialty was epistemology (theory of knowledge), I’m not naturally a doubter. My weakness goes the other way. As I often put it, “There’s nothing I don’t believe!” Ghosts? Aliens? Bigfoot? Past lives? Not a problem. But all that has for me the character of escapism, of entertainment. The other-worldly communications I enjoy mostly tend to sound alike:

God is Love;

We’ll see our pets in the next world;

each of us is divinely terrific;

we are all essentially One;

the afterlife will fully compensate for every trouble I have,

including losing my cell phone in Colorado.

So, while I like to browse in the New Age counter in bookstores, the messages get a bit tiresome in their Hallmark Card sameness. I could write this stuff if you paid me enough.

Jerry’s encounter was not like that. I don’t know how to describe it in brief compass, but the God he conversed with … sounded like God! Even if you’ve never (to your knowledge) heard the voice of God, when you hear it, you can tell. I am not one to throw myself in front of Chariot Wheels of that size with the intent of blocking their onward course, so of course I had the sense to provide such intelligent listening and encouragement as I could.

But I was rather careful to keep this part of my marital adventure in the background with regard to my membership in a local Reform temple. My joining a temple was a first for me and I only joined because Jewish identity doesn’t come with the territory in Bucks County. When I moved here from Manhattan, I could feel it slipping down off my shoulders and starting to hang on me slightly askew. So I joined up, in my way, going regularly to weekly Bible study (“Torah Study”) and being sporadically part of other things too.

Actually, temple membership has provided quite a trove of experience for me, in its darks and lights alike. It’s come to form the concrete background to a more uninhibited delving into what I think this Jewish thing means. One thing I have thought is that Jews were and are God’s pilot project, which means that their existence as a distinct people needs to be conserved.

So here I am in this intermarriage and my man is having conversations with God that occur outside the Jewish project. So what do I do? Nothing. I do nothing. I keep the two worlds separate.

That had been my plan and it suited me fine. So what went wrong? Our temple leadership found Jerry’s God: An Autobiography on the net and proffered an invitation to tell about it in the Adult Ed venue, despite Jerry’s own residual doubts about the appropriateness of such a talk within the temple precincts.

So how’d it go this morning? Jerry eschewed all “literary” and rhetorical devices. In a straight way, he communicated the marrow of God’s self-revelation, quoting extensively from the Q & A that forms the bulk of his book.

And how did they take it? From the outset, they listened intently, schooled by millennia of first-hand acquaintance with an unfinished, multi-faceted, reactive and expressive God who has forged a covenant on the rough ground of history with a people who preserves the unbroken threads of intelligent memory with respect to their covenant. Nothing in the Jewish sense of God is overturned by Jerry’s message.

Sometimes,

no matter how you try,

you can’t keep your friends apart.

Posted in "Absolute Freedom and Terror", Absurdism, Academe, Action, Afterlife, Alienation, American Politics, Anthropology, Art of Living, Atheism, Autonomy, beauty, Bible, Biblical God, Christianity, Cities, Class, conformism, Contemplation, Contradictions, Cool, Courage, Courtship, Cultural Politics, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Evil, Existentialism, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, Guilt and Innocence, Heroes, hidden God, hierarchy, History, history of ideas, ID, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Immorality, Immortality, Institutional Power, Jews, Judaism, Law, Legal Responsibility, life and death struggle, Literature, Love, Male Power, Martyrdom, Masculinity, Memoir, memory, Messianic Age, Mind Control, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, Mortality, Mysticism, non-violence, novels, Ontology, Oppression, Past and Future, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Political, Political Movements, politics, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, promissory notes, Propaganda, Psychology, public facade, Public Intellectual, Race, radicalism, Reductionism, relationships, Religion, Roles, Romance, Romantic Love, scientism, secular, self-deception, social climbing, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, Sociobiology, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, Terror, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, twentieth century, twenty-first century, Utopia, victimhood, victims, Violence, War, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Most Complex Trip Imaginable

“Theseus and the Minotaur in the Labyrinth”
Edward Burne Jones, 1861

The Most Complex Trip Imaginable

We are just back from two weeks away, the first week in Boulder and Denver Colorado, the second mostly in Riverside, California. In the envisaging stage, each week appeared daunting and the ensemble looked beyond our combined strength or coping skills. Yet the net effect has given us a sense of a cup that … as the psalm says … runneth over!

At first however, the cup looked merely perforated. We were greeted in Denver by a howling rainstorm that darkened the skies and made guesswork out of driving. What was that big white splash next to the little white splash? Has anybody seen the yellow line?   It was obvious that our choice of hotel had been a mistake, as to location and interior amenities. The “Send” function failed to work on our laptop, though many of our engagements urgently required email confirmation. Breakfast at a trendy eatery in holistic-health-conscious Denver served gooey-sweet yogurt along with 12 lonely granola bits and everything dusted with white sugar. One famed restaurant, which had hosted kings and presidents, brought a dinner plate that had no earthly connection with the one we had ordered and repaid our hunger by bringing me a yellow rose. I would have headed the column for that week, “They Can’t Cook in Colorado,” had not other concerns diverted me. At the paper I presented, the brimstone smell of anti-Jewish animus wafted up from the coldly staring audience. Finally, on leaving day, we had to beat it to the airport racing about two feet ahead of an unseasonably early blizzard.

That was the down side. Was there a sunny side? Well, the young woman on duty at the first hotel went to considerable lengths to get us booked into the hotel where we needed to be, near the Denver University campus. The Rockies look so good, you could eat ‘em. Our Colorado stay was bookended by the warmest welcomes from former colleagues on Jerry’s side and friends – now moved to Colorado – on my side. All of Jerry’s talks were listened to with a silence so intense that you could almost hear it crack. As for my talk, though I woke in tears the next morning – still seeing the faces of stone when I mentioned a vision I experienced that included a procession of Jewish angels – I fielded the one question I got with a confidence seasoned by many combats. I don’t talk for the hell of it. I really want to give some guidance on the difficult fronts we all face. It’s good to know that I will do that no matter how I am received.

In California, we were still pursued by technical glitches reflective of Murphy’s Law: “If it can go wrong, it will.” In other respects though, there was more sense that the current of happenings was flowing in our direction. At a School of Theology, Jerry gave a talk so unpretentiously delivered, tightly reasoned and relevant to the present state of things theological that the extraordinary response he got from the first sentence on was almost predictable though deeply gratifying.

The talk was one of several commitments undertaken by Jerry before the death of my father-in-law on September 16th. Now all those commitments had to be honored despite our present reason for being there: the graveside service for L B Martin. For that event, family flew in from Dallas, Florida and Memphis and formed the circle alongside a number of people who had known him locally. The service, which Jerry gently led, was honest, unrehearsed and moving. It faced the reality of a good man who had run his race to the finish line. The mourners were not there to mourn but to provide the sendoff and say their own goodbyes.

Meanwhile, running alongside all these demanding days, I was spending the mornings at a local hospital. Here is the story. Lately I’d been asking for wheelchairs at airports, so that — walking handicap or no — I could get to the plane by the time they were boarding. On a recent airport occasion, the dispatcher who called for wheelchair support asked Jerry what was wrong with his wife.

“Neuropathy,” Jerry told her.

“Oh, my husband has neuropathy. He was greatly helped by a new treatment offered only at Loma Linda.” That’s a highly-regarded research hospital within easy driving distance of Riverside, California, where we were staying. Then she was gone, to look after other customers.

To my mind, the idea of trying to squeeze medical appointments into a week already loaded up to the bursting point was … let us say … contra-indicated? But Jerry can be very stubborn. So we had an appointment every weekday morning that we were in Riverside, the first for evaluation, the next three for treatment. More will be required, as well as an at-home program affecting exercise and diet, but I never had a more thorough diagnosis of my body’s actions and reactions, inside and out. The initial effects look promising.

So fifty seconds with an airline dispatcher?

What are the odds?

Posted in Academe, Action, Alienation, Art of Living, Autonomy, Biblical God, Childhood, Chivalry, Cities, Class, Contemplation, Cool, Culture, Desire, dialectic, Erotic Life, Eternity, Ethics, Evil, Existentialism, exploitation, Faith, Fashion, Femininity, Feminism, Freedom, Friendship, Gender Balance, glitterati, Gnosticism, Guilt and Innocence, Health, hegemony, Heroes, hidden God, history of ideas, ID, Idealism, Ideality, Identity, Ideology, Idolatry, Institutional Power, Jews, Judaism, Law, Legal Responsibility, Love, Masculinity, Memoir, Modernism, Moral action, Moral evaluation, Moral psychology, Mortality, Oppression, Past and Future, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Political Movements, politics of ideas, post modernism, Power, presence, Psychology, public facade, Public Intellectual, Reductionism, relationships, Religion, Roles, Romantic Love, scientism, secular, Seduction, social construction, Social Conventions, social ranking, spiritual journey, spiritual not religious, Spirituality, status, status of women, Suffering, The Examined Life, The Problematic of Men, The Problematic of Woman, the profane, the sacred, Theism, Theology, Time, twentieth century, twenty-first century, victimhood, Work, Writing, Zeitgeist | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment