September 1996, Volume 4 Nr 1, Issue 37
I start this issue writing about grass. This is Metaphoria after all. And Metaphoria is about metaphor. No. It is not about the illegal weed, marijuana. It is about the other grass weeds: rye, clover, alfalfa. It is about the grass we see everywhere, the grass we grow and the grass we cut.
Isn't it amazing how much time we spend on our lawn! We seed it, water it, fertilize and help it grow, only to cut it. Then, we make it grow only to cut it again. Grass doesn't grow in places where we want it to grow and, it does grow in places where we don't want it to grow. It seems that grass always requires our attention.
Grass is a wonderful ego symbol. Just as lawns demand tending to, so does the ego. When we ignore either, we become saddled with tall weeds, difficult to manage and difficult to ignore. Without our watchfulness the lawn becomes a hay field. Cutting by conventional means is much more difficult. So too, the ego becomes an overgrowth, a Hey!-field exhortating special care in order to be cut down to size. Grass and ego love to grow to oversized proportions. Each thrives, maintaining reasonable size and good health when cut down.
The Encyclopedia Brittanica states, "the complexity of the vegetative cover of natural grassland is much greater than it appears to the casual observer. The many plants occupying grasslands may exhibit as much variety within a square yard as is present in an acre of forest." The ego as well, is much more complicated than we believe. Add to that the infinite number of disguises the ego may take and it is no wonder that we often cannot tell apart weeds from grasses, native wildflowers from imported opportunistic plant life; the many voices in our mind.Differing Nature
At the start of writing this section, there are 5,866,280,224 people on planet Earth with 8,686,938,566 acres of useable land - according to the constantly updating IDRC population and resources clock on the World Wide Web (we'll get back to this statistic later). There is much diversity on this planet, as there is in the United States. Very few of us actually know the scope of the diversity. Rarely, can any of us accurately portray the scope of that diversity. JeanneE read to me the following from the August, 1996 issue of Comic Relief - "Average percentage by which white Americans overestimate the Latino, Asian-, and African-American populations: 100. Average percentage by which members of these groups overestimate their own populations: 100."
The problem between people is not the differences between the groups to which they perceive they belong but rather the personal phenomenon of difference itself. The definition of the term difference from Webster's Dictionary is: "the quality or state of being different; an instance of differing in nature, form, or quality; a characteristic that distinguishes one from another or from the average; the element or factor that separates or distinguishes contrasting situations; distinction or discrimination in preference; disagreement in opinion: DISSENSION; an instance or cause of disagreement; the degree or amount by which things differ in quantity or measure; a significant change in or effect on a situation. Difference: to make different."
Science uses quantitative analysis to come to conclusions based upon changes of outcome produced by small differences of single variables. All things being equal between the control and the experimental group, a single alteration may produce a noticeable change. Quantitative analysis relies on difference. It relies upon measurable difference. Consider the following table from the U.S. Census bureau.
If we continue with a breakdown of an individual group, we can further quantify it. The Samoan populations for example can be broken into religious groups: Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, etc. Each religious group in turn can be broken into conservative, orthodox, reformed, etc. We can continue for quite some time arriving at many silly levels of segregation. No matter how small the segregated group becomes, because the individual members are not identical, there will remain at least one quantifiable difference. This is the nature of quantification.
Demographic analysis is useful for monitoring trends, predicting future events and planning for change. The analysis does little to improve our understanding of and tolerance for each other. It may actually foster just the opposite. People, for the most part, are not scientists. A misunderstanding of the purpose and process of scientific quantitative analysis may actually foster highlighting the variance among people. As a result of our natural desire to explain, to quantify, and our learned response to distinguish threat through separation, we actually look for traits, actions, behaviors that separate us. This occurs even in groups that have much more in common with each other than not. The lack of knowledge and the fear of the unknown emphasize Webster's last definition of difference: to make different.
The extent to which we see each other as different is a consequence of the fear we maintain inside. It is the acceptance of the concept of difference as a focus in our life that gets in the way of recognizing that across the spectrum of human life on this planet sameness is more common amongst us than are differences. We are trained from an early age to notice those qualities that separate us. That need not be.The Politics of Separation
Who can forget the infamous "Flag Burning Issue"? The issue resurfaces from time-to-time. It is a divisive issue brought out to maximize effect, that is, to polarize the people. It deliberately focuses attention on the politics that pit family member against family member, friend against friend. The flag burning issue draws lines between those who see it as a First Amendment right and those who believe flag burning should be prohibited through a Constitutional amendment. The orchestration of the flag burning issue creates an emotional dichotomy between people that masks the real issues that require attention. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the flag burning issue, abortion, draft dodging, or some other separating topic makes its way into public consciousness whenever the people come close to learning the truth, whatever the truth happens to be. It is the classic divide-and-conquer strategy and is most successful when it is met with the ego response of reaction and attack.
During the third weekend in August, our family drove to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont where we attended The Bread and Puppet Domestic Resurrection Circus. Bread and Puppet is a free outdoor pageant using giant puppets performing mythical and political commentary. The Theater bakes and freely distributes free slices of sourdough rye bread, baked in outdoor clay ovens typical of Quebec. Peter Shucman of New York City founded The Bread and Puppet Theater in 1962.
Twenty-seven thousand people lined the hills of Glover, Vermont. We paid tribute to human diversity, to the differences inherent in the members of the same human species. Bread and Puppet celebrates the glory of human spirit. Our ten-year-old son, Dylan, commented that "Bread and Puppet is the first place that I have gone to where the people did not call me a girl." At Bread and Puppet, it simply does not matter if one's features are masculine or feminine, or whether one is gay or straight. Likewise, it does not matter whether people's hair is short, long, skinhead, Mohawk, purple, clean cut, dreadlocked, twisted, kneaded or braided. These are the adjectives of description. They need not become the adjectives of division. We are all better off emphasizing the verbs that unite.
Until Bread and Puppet, I had almost forgotten the wonderful feeling possible when surrounded by people who see each other as the same tribe, as family, as humanity. Amidst the huge crowd, with the backdrop of constant drumming, I had the feeling that I had come home. I made a commitment that weekend to make a yearly pilgrimage to Bread and Puppet. Next year will be the twentieth annual Bread and Puppet Circus.
The next day, my son and I attended an event that was in sharp contrast to the Bread and Puppet experience. I have a fascination for airplanes. Out of curiosity for the technologically sophisticated, we attended the Rutland Air Show. My naïveté was highlighted by the emphasis on warplanes and the impersonal nature of the crowd. While everyone greeted us as family, brothers and sisters at Bread and Puppet, the air show brought not one face-to-face greeting, not one smile of affection, not one gesture suggestive of welcome. On the contrary, the war machinery on display contributed to an air of ominous distance.Separation Machinery
War is a reactionary action, the failure to resolve differences. It is the ultimate conclusion to the politics of separation. Under the guise of protecting the American Flag from desecration, the politics of separation would have the First Amendment right of freedom of expression through burning abridged. Yet, the separating war machinery condones and makes possible the parachuting of a forty-eight-foot flag which falls onto the ground. The latter is seen as an act of patriotism while the other considered "obscenity."
During the hour or so that we attended the air show, I wondered if any of the people there seriously thought about the Huey helicopters, or the A10 jet that brilliantly executed turns at four-hundred miles per hour? While I admit to marveling at the sight of thousands of pounds of steel, chromium and titanium maneuvering at close to the speed of sound, I was dumbfounded by the lack of recognition that a death machine was in our midst. Did the mention of "kill potential" or "anti-tank" weaponry register as murder and slaughter.
Does not the mere existence of the weaponry, the staggering cost, complexity and creativity of its production highlight the necessity of fabricating an enemy somewhere, someplace that is different than us? I can only imagine what the world might be like if the resources of the technology of death were changed to the technology of bringing people together.
I commented to a close friend, "I learned a lot today. I learned where my people are and they are not here." Possibly, some day these people, as well as all people can experience, at least once, the beauty and inclusiveness of the Bread and Puppet experience. Perhaps, if each of us see all people as our people we need not feel that way.
What is it in the human condition, in education or upbringing that gravitates an individual toward the politics of separation versus the politics of inclusion? As a child, I remember my father laughing at the absurdity of television programs such as Combat. My father talked to me about being a soldier in the Polish Army in Northern Africa during World War II. I would not call my father a Pacifist. This man, with his conservative values, his experience on the battlefield, had proof enough that war was folly. Instead of glory he saw death. Not only did he not want his son to go to war, he did not want anyone's son to go to war. Perhaps, I would feel differently had he and I not had those conversations? That is why my son Dylan and I do have these unpleasant, necessary talks.Big Boys Clubs
Over the past two weeks the Republican, Democrat and Reform Parties held their national presidential conventions. Our daughter, Guinnevere, commented that the parties seem to act like little children with a need to belong. Each flies a flag (the donkey, the elephant, the eagle). Each takes the opportunity to exclude the other by trying to prove to the country that their form of inclusion is superior to the other. The practice of selective inclusion is a collective ego mask for exclusion by virtue of projected moral and ethical superiority-over. John O'Brien, Marsha Forest, Jack Pearpoint, Shafik Abu-Tahir & Judith Snow in The Ethics of Inclusion suggest three common delusions. They are:
The Republican Party's "Big Tent" philosophy is doomed to failure because the underlying tenet is the antithesis of inclusion. The philosophy of burying differences in the name of unity represses the discontent and dislike that people in the party feel for each other. Not allowing Pat Buchanan, Pete Wilson or others to speak, in an attempt to preserve the appearance of a united front, is counterproductive repression. Sooner or later the facade will fall apart. Diversity not celebrated but orchestrated into an illusion is a catalyst for reaction.
There may have been excitement at the Republican Convention, but there was little genuine crying, screaming, laughing, hugging. There was little reveling in the emotion of human common ground. Instead, there was the appearance of unity especially during moments of attack and character assassination.
The Democratic convention was a little better. If nothing else, the political operatives recognized that celebrating diversity through the acknowledgement of differences promotes an atmosphere of belonging that goes beyond the superficial membership in a clubhouse. Although parading differences may be a tool of disingenuous inclusion, I could not imagine the Republican party feeling comfortable with the vast array of differing peoples assembled at the Democratic Convention. I believe the Democrats recognize, for all their emotional manipulation, that change is necessary and that change is inclusion. Conversely, inclusion is change. Inclusion is Rosa Parks being welcomed on the bus. The Democratic Convention gave all appearances that Rosa would be welcome in the front seat sitting there along with all her friends.Rugged Individualism
Political campaigns are built around rhetoric, sound-bites and for the most part, non-issues. Hillary Rodham Clinton has been criticized for her book, It Takes A Village by the Republicans who contend that, "It Takes a Family." Operating from the premise that individualism and hard work can accomplish anything, some Republicans conclude that there are no limits to what we can have, to who we can be and to what we can do. If we take responsibility for our own lives and act, we can have it all. Sounding much like a commercial, the philosophy of rugged individualism, a subset of the politics of separation, teaches that we neither want nor need to give or get help from others. We can go it alone. The difference between a liberal and conservative, they say, is that the conservative has his hands in his own pockets. This is social and political survival of the fittest. Surely, the thinking goes, the destitute, the impoverished, the homeless, the uneducated and the poor, by not adopting rugged individualism, have brought upon themselves their own misery and plight. They have chosen to be the way they are, the thinking goes.A Village Experience
In 1991, our family of four took up residence in Boston Childrens Hospital. We lived there for ninety-three days. Two of us underwent major surgery. A kidney was passed from me to our son, Dylan. We as individuals did what we had to do. It was however, the greater village that helped make success possible.
The Communities of Wells, Manchester, Vermont and Granville, NY helped support the family through contributions. Two community members took care of our daughter at times that she was unable to be with us. Friends drove back and forth from Vermont to Boston with mail, letters, family, food, etc. A neighbor cut our lawn. At no charge, the local fuel utility installed a backup heating system for our home which at the time only had wood and coal heat. Our best friends were at our bedside to help relieve stress, offer support, take care of us. My employer and colleagues at the Burr and Burton Seminary community - the faculty, staff, teacher's association and administration - came to our aid and support. The First Unitarian Church of Rutland, Vermont offered financial and moral support. Family members came to our aid and bedsides as well. All of these people, collectively, are the village.
Scott Bradfield in his book, What's Wrong with America, calls Americans "rowdy, self-centered, and smugly superficial, hell-bent on individualism at all costs. We prefer sitcoms to Masterpiece Theatre, beer (not even good beer) to wine, common image to distinctive substance." The members of the village that I've described are far from that. They are unique individuals who recognize that that which binds us together is far more plentiful than that which separates. We have more in common than the politics of separation suggests and there are more of us than rugged individualists would like to believe.The Numbers
As I draw this issue to conclusion, I revisit the World Population Clock and find that the planet's population is now 5,869,194,832 and counting up. The useable productive land is 8,686,811,104 and counting down. Since I began writing this issue 2,912,608 new human beings joined the Global Village while 127,462 acres of productive land has been lost. It is clear that if the almost six-billion people of Earth subscribe to the philosophy of rugged individualism, there would be little room, tolerance nor future for any of us. In 1968, Robert Kennedy said,
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice towards those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or they be black.
To that I would add, regardless of who or what they be, for if one of us suffers, we all suffer.Back to Grass
I started this issue using grass as metaphor for ego. I suggest that the politics of separation is akin to the overgrown lawn. What lies below is covered by the tall weeds of ego divisiveness and fear. We are all there in the microcosm of that small patch of grass. With a little attention and pruning the cornucopia of what grows below becomes visible. It is the interdependence and symbiosis of life forms that keeps the lawn healthy. The same is true for our planet. With more and more people sharing less and less land, it is more true now than ever before.Quotations
What I often do is imagine myself on my death bed...all the dreams I've had in my life are going to come bubbling up and I'll have to answer to them: Why I did them and what I didn't attempt? 'The two things I want to be able to say is I've experienced what it's like to be a human being which is really a profound, big thing. The second thing is it would make it easier for me to die, when the time comes if I know that by my being here, that other people had a little better time or it was easier for them.
Within us, the people of the United States, there is evident a serious and purposeful rekindling of confidence. And I join in the hope that when my time as your President has ended, people might say this about our Nation:
Suspicion is the companion of mean souls, and the bane of all good society. For myself, I fully and conscientiously believe, that it is the will of the Almighty, that there should be diversity of religious opinions among us: It affords a larger field for our Christian kindness.
© 1996 Jozef Hand-Boniakowski