Trump and Authoritarianism

I’ve written before about Trump as a candidate,  arguing that he represents a frightening trend in American politics toward an interest in “doers,” those who want to exert their will on the political stage to “get things done” despite the constitutional and republican (little-R) barriers designed to prevent such singular action. While I’m sure I used to word “authoritarian” in that post, I used it in the general sense, rather than in its political science sense, which is detailed nicely in this video from Vox. (And, as a brief aside, I’m not uncritical of Vox as a news organization–I think their bias especially in terms of 2A issues is far too strong–but this analysis is sharp and to the point.)

In this brief video, reported Amanda Taub does a nice job of walking through what authoritarianism means in the political science world, looking at some of the research on its increasing traction with the American public and the Republican Party in particular, and talking about some of the possible trajectories this trend might take. This problem of authoritarianism, the urge for a strong leader to “get things done,” is a very real one in this country (and in the world, really), and an easier pattern of thought to fall into than one might think. I’m reminded of another old post I wrote about the hard work of being human–that we must resist the path of least mental/intellectual resistance, and that includes the thought-path that leads to authoritarianism. The question becomes, I think, how to show people the value of doing the hard mental work, and not to fall prey to black-and-white thinking.


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J.S. Bach — The Six Cello Suites, by Pau Casals

As finals wind down, Bach has been getting me through.

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Tony Hoagland — “Please Don’t”

tell the flowers—they think
the sun loves them.
The grass is under the same
simple-minded impression

about the rain, the fog, the dew.
And when the wind blows,
it feels so good
they lose control of themselves

and swobtoggle wildly
around, bumping accidentally into their
slender neighbors.
Forgetful little lotus-eaters,

hydroholics, drawing nourishment up
through stems into their
thin green skin,

high on the expensive
chemistry of mitochondrial explosion,
believing that the dirt
loves them, the night, the stars—

reaching down a little deeper
with their pale albino roots,
all Dizzy
Gillespie with the utter
sufficiency of everything.

They don’t imagine lawn
mowers, the four stomachs
of the cow, or human beings with boots
who stop to marvel

at their exquisite
flexibility and color.
They persist in their soft-headed

hallucination of happiness.
But please don’t mention it.
Not yet. Tell me
what would you possibly gain

from being right?

Tony Hoagland, “Please Don’t” from Application for Release from the Dream. Copyright © 2015 by Tony Hoagland.  Reprinted by permission of Graywolf Press.

Source: Application for Release from the Dream (Graywolf Press, 2015)

Also, a Mr. Alex Killian does a fantastic job reading and putting film to this poem. Thought I’d give him a deserved plug and let you enjoy this poem twice.

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Death Cab For Cutie — Cath (Acoustic)

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Kintsugi (きんつぎ) & Beauty through Overcoming

Collectively speaking, how a culture views and responds to brokenness, setbacks, and pain says something about the character of that culture. At least in my experience, trying to locate and separate this thread for purposes of comparison can be a vivid and instructive experience. One practice in particular, “kintsugi” (きんつぎ) or “kintsukuroi” (きんつくろい), literally translating to “golden joinery” and “golden repair,” respectively, is the practice of repair800px-thumbnailing broken pottery with a gold-infused lacquer. While the philosophy behind this practice is much older, the common understanding is that the practice of kintsugi dates roughly to the 15th century CE, when a Japanese ruler sent his beloved broken tea bowl to China for repair and had it returned stapled together in a way he found quite ugly. He tasked Japanese artists/craftsmen with finding a better way to repair valuable pottery, and kintsugi was born.

Underlying this practice is the assertion that the piece’s damage, its brokenness, is not something to be hidden; instead, its brokenness adds to its beauty. Relating somewhat to wabi-sabi (侘寂), there is an acceptance of the imperfect and ephemeral in kintsugi. There is not quite a parallel philosophy in the Western tradition, where more attention is paid to those things that transcend the immediate rather than dwelling on what is momentary. From the Western European tradition comes more of an interest in the manner of beauty that comes from symmetry, from a kind of perfection, as opposed to that which comes from imperfection. The European aesthetic, at least in some senses and especially in discussing post-Christianization Europe, there seems to be more of an interest in aesthetics of the absolute. This tendency is countered by the Japanese (and Zen) interest in the ephemeral, the fleeting, and what beauty it contains.

And when we push the idea of kintsugi past its literal practice and work to break open its philosophy a bit more, applying it not to lacquer and ceramic, but to people, something interesting emerges: not an abhorrence of scarring, weakness, or wound, but a whole-hearted acceptance of these things in the realization that life is so brief, and that to live and thrive despite hardship seems in some ways to be intrinsically beautiful. It is precisely the brokenness and transience of a thing that makes it beautiful.

Applied to people, this philosophy is life-affirming and all the more intense. Our broken things–our relationships, our pasts, our very selves–once mended through understanding and acceptance are all the more beautiful. This is not to say we should not strive to do better and be better, but that our imperfections and scars are things to be accepted and celebrated–these things are evidence of living.

Nerdwriter (who, if you’re not familiar, you should certainly know), built a fantastic video-essay on the concept. Certainly worth a watch.

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Iron & Wine — 4AD Session

Something about Sam Beam live is so soul-satisfying.

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Back into the Stitch of Things

I am a poet because I sit down at my desk, at my computer, to ask questions I didn’t know I had in ways I didn’t know I could express. Often, that is the reason I get up in the morning–to explore that space. But sadly, the overwhelming amount of work I’ve been tasked with recently has hurt that writing practice (if you value your free time, don’t get a PhD). I’ve been unable or at least not in the right mental space to write. And now that some of that work has waned, I can be mindful about my practice again and work back into that space. And as I work into that space, I find it more difficult than I thought.

Unlike riding a bike, it’s like trying to find a path in a dense wood that’s grown over. I catch glimpses of the path, but then lose it, and I find myself wandering. Not that there isn’t value to that wandering–there certainly is. I just have more interest in wandering mindfully, wandering in a productive space. So I do what I always do when I’m in this situation: I turn back to my poet-mentors. I re-read Charles Wright and Tony Hoagland and Allen Ginsberg. It’s proving helpful, and it’s a potent reminder that we’re not lone voices out in the void; we belong to a rich collection of voices all sounding in relation to one-another, even if we don’t realize it.

There is some romance to the rugged lone voice, no doubt. I know the allure of the romance of the rugged individual better than most, and it’s a substantial effort to be aware of how woven into everything my experience–and my voice–really is. Something to embrace and celebrate, that intricate stitching. More than the appeal of the lone voice out in the wilderness, our writing becomes an important part of that larger effort and experience.

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