Wednesday, February 28, 2018

"…I have a deep affinity and respect for Buddhism, and I think that I am as much a Chinese Buddhist in temperament and spirit as I am a Christian…. I think one can certainly believe in the revealed truths of Christianity and follow Christ, while at the same time having a Buddhist outlook on life and nature…. A certain element of Buddhism in culture and spirituality is by no means incompatible with Christian belief….”

--Thomas Merton

Monday, February 26, 2018

When I was a kid we had a lesson in school about advertising and propaganda. I still remember much of it because I found it so fascinating--the various tactics used by advertisers and propagandists to shape people's perceptions and motivate them to action (such as buying a product or voting a certain way or slaughtering their neighbors). Throughout my life I've informally studied propaganda. And to this day, since that childhood educational experience, when I see an advertisement I can't help but analyze it to see where the motivational hooks are: Is it appealing to a need for prestige or a desire to belong? Is it playing on fear? Is it implicitly promising success with sex/mating? Etc.

One of the things I've learned about the most heinous applications of propaganda--those used to foment things like genocide and fascism and violent revolution--is that they intentionally dehumanize a target group. Nazis referred to Jews as parasites, as plague-ridden rats. European colonialists in 18th-century America referred to the indigenous people as "merciless savages" (it's right there in the U.S. Constitution) and in the 20th-century depicted Japanese people, including Japanese-Americans, as dirty, sneaky, ruthless, murderous, nihilistic and fanatical bucktoothed caricatures (making it much easier to round up one's neighbors and put them in internment camps or explode atomic bombs over a couple of their cities). During the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, radio broadcasts played an important role in inciting ordinary Hutu citizens to take part in the massacres of their Tutsi neighbors. Tutsis were referred to by the radio propagandists as "cockroaches" and "a disease" and "snakes." There are, sadly, a plethora of other examples from history of this dehumanizing rhetoric about "the other" easing the way toward cruelty and atrocity.

Which brings me to something I saw last week that chilled my blood: Speaking at CPAC, the political conservative gathering, U.S. President Donald Trump recited a poem which he prefaced as being about "immigration" (not "illegal immigration" but simply "immigration"--I assume from "shithole countries") Apparently, he has read this poem aloud before at some of his rallies. The poem (actually lyrics to a song based upon one of Aesop's fables), is called "The Snake."

Here is a video of Trump reading The Snake at CPAC:

If you don't find it disturbing, you probably need to spend some time studying the historical role and consequences of propaganda.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

On writing a book...

Writing a book and having it published has been a tremendously eye-opening experience for me.

One spends a couple of years in hard intellectual labor: pondering, researching, gathering, sorting, clarifying, outlining, writing, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing, fine-tuning, tweaking, checking, re-checking, fixing, re-checking, fixing, working with the publisher on matters ranging from contract negotiation to grammatical and editorial choices to font selection to book cover design (and being humbled and gratified by the publisher's deep knowledge on these matters).

Then, finally, the book is completed and released into the world. And one faces the harsh reality that a million books are released into the world each year and this one is just a drop in the ocean. But still, something that didn't exist before now exists due to one's hard work. Then comes promotion: trying to overcome the inertia of the world's indifference to what one has produced. And occasionally a kind angel with a blog or podcast swoops in and takes the book under their wing and champions it to their audience. And then periodically an email comes in from a reader expressing how helpful the book has been to them on their journey. And every now and then a review appears online reminding you that your book really does have value. The royalty check arrives in the mail and reminds you that you won't be quitting your day job anytime soon.

And after a while things taper off. The labor involved was more sustained than you had anticipated at the beginning and you're a bit spent. You move on to the next things--after all, it's been 2 or 3 years since the process of writing your book began.

Then, for some reason--maybe an interview request or an invitation to conduct a workshop--you pick up your book and read through it again. And you think, "This is good. I'm happy with this." And you also realize that you thought you were providing answers but really you were exploring your own questions. And the questioning and searching for meaning continues. And maybe that means you'll do it all over again. 


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Another school shooting...

We have acclimated to atrocity in our midst and accepted it as a "fair price" to pay for our "freedoms." It makes me think of Shirley Jackson's classic short-story The Lottery, in which an American town selects at random once per year a resident to be stoned to death in order to insure a good harvest. We all, residents of the United States, are now participants in a deadly lottery.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

"Presence and Process does a concise job of introducing and distilling thoughts and concepts that are usually confined to academic circles. Coleman’s thorough research and careful gleaning of a wide variety of quotes from monks, nuns and masters throughout the ages offer lay readers lots of helpful nuggets of truth and could whet a reader’s appetite for deeper exploration." 

--Josina Guess, The Englewood Review of Books

Thursday, February 01, 2018

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."
--Jesus (Gospel of Luke 16:10)

Last night Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union address since becoming President of the United States.  According to the Nielsen ratings organization 45.6 million viewers watched.  In terms of ratings this puts viewership of Trump's State of the Union at sixth place because State of the Union addresses given by Bill Clinton (1994), Barack Obama (2010), George W. Bush (2002), Bill Clinton (1998) and George W. Bush (2003). 

Today Donald Trump has falsely claimed--despite indisputable data to the contrary--that "the highest number in history" watched his State of the Union address. No one seems particularly surprised that he has claimed this. We roll our eyes. His supporters will brush it off as no big deal, or maybe even choose to believe him.

In making this ridiculous claim, was Trump intentionally telling a cynical lie to try to shape perceptions or does he actually believe this to be true because his ego requires it? Does it really matter? Either way it is a denial of basic reality, of facts, of truth. If the President of the United States will not or cannot embrace reality on such a public matter as this, how can we have any faith that he can grasp reality, or communicate truth to the American people, on any matter, large or small?

In other words, we simply cannot believe a single word Donald Trump says, nor can we assume that he is functioning with anything resembling a clear understanding of what is real and true.