Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Terribly Ironic Friends: Reconciling Cognitive Dissonance Through Art

I had a group of friends in college, virtually all white men, who were, and still are, as far as I can tell, terribly ironic, sarcastic, clever, irreverent guys. They made fun of everything. Bascially they were my drinking buddies. On some level, I'm still drawn to people like that: it's the Jon Stewart syndrome. But it's been decades since I've gone out drinking, and now I recognize this attitude as something more than fun, but rather as an attempt to reconcile cognitive dissonance through irony and humor.

My ironic friends are educated enough and moral enough to recognize their unearned privileges. They never use the term "white supremacy" and rarely discuss or recognize race. They have gripes with capitalism but accept it as inevitable. But deep down, my ironic friends feel conflicted about the suffering of others: crippling poverty, failing schools, foreclosures, prisons, endless war.... And they're smart enough to connect the dots and understand that the extreme disparities between rich and poor are due to a global system of oppression, intended and designed to benefit a few. They understand that this global system is one of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. They oppose this system, yet recognize they benefit from it. Yikes!

So Irony and Art come in. We use these practices to let just enough air out of the white supremacist/patriarchal/capitalist bubble to relieve our anxiety and allow us to sleep at night, but don't release enough air to actually burst it. We stand outside the bubble and question it, poke it, make fun of it, and talktalktalk about it, but don't actually change it. In this way, art and humor become palliatives, Marx's opiate for the masses, which is why we can't get enough of Stewart and Colbert.

So instead, can we actually use art and humor to change our lives and our behaviors? Can we use art for the revolution? Instead of retreating into the palliative of art, we have to make our lives the work of art itself. It's not enough to create art, to BE an artist. That's so 20th century. We actually have to LIVE it.

How do we daily live outside the white supremacist/capitalist paradigm? How do we daily refrain from buying anything produced through exploitation, using unrenewable energy, ingesting corporate media, supporting big pharma, depending on corrupt banking systems, and participating in racism/classism/sexism/heterosexism/ageism? These are the only ways to overcome cognitive dissonance. Irony is only a first step, a harmless little poke to the bubble of white supremacy.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Revolutionary Diary, Entry 3

A while back, a friend made an observation that we have a natural resistance to things that are good for us. She was referring to people who know they would feel better doing yoga, but they just can't get themselves to do it. I'm thinking about this in light of Grace's first chapter in her new book, "Growing Our Souls."

The observation points out that deep down, most of us know what we need to be healthy. We see this in healthy animals who know what to eat and when. It's a physical rather than intellectual knowledge, this feeling of "hmmm, I need something crunchy and green," or "I've overworked my legs today, I need to raise them up," etc.

So why do we resist these things that are good for us? Perhaps we also have a deep-seated resistance to change, which is connected to instability, which is connected to survival. I would surmise that the higher our level of privilege, the more we resist change, for we could compromise our very privilege.

This is the disservice unions in the late 20th century have wrought: replicating the system of privileges which they were created to resist. Unions, dependent on an economy based on exploitation and abuse, contributed to a growing middle class which has despoiled the earth, and made us unfit for survival in a post-oil world.

To do what is good for us will require us to renounce our privileges. The goal of leveling the playing field by "bringing people up" is a 20th century concept. Now we all must come "down" to the same level. Yvette Mitchell pointed out last night that "privilege is a disease." Unfortunately it's a disease few want to be cured of, ie an addiction. Growing our souls means overcoming the resistance to do what is good for us. What do you do to overcome that resistance?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Revolutionary Diary, Day 2

In this interview, a Palestinian American anthropologist describes her privileges in Israel, and she says she appreciates where she can go etc, but also these privileges make her very uncomfortable.

As awake and aware revolutionaries, are there any privileges that do NOT make us uncomfortable? Is it possible to accept privileges without what I think of as a nagging, divine discomfort? Can you think of any privileges you have that you are indeed comfortable with? It seems like much of the political rhetoric of national pride is a weak attempt at justifying American privilege, thus continuing our delusion of American exceptionalism.

At the same, we are deeply attached, and even addicted to our privileges, and we long to keep them. Transition Milwaukee is discussing whether a 12-Step group for those trying to break away from a fossil fuel lifestyle might be appropriate.

On another note, in my iCalendar, I changed the category of "political events" to "community building." Thus the GLB study group is now a "community building" event. I have been deleting emails from Obama, Barbara Boxer, Harry Reid, and others. My focus is on Eight Limbs Housing Coop, gardening and foraging, yoga and singing and certain podcasts to grow my soul, community-building events like hosting potlucks, and naming and renouncing (to my capacity) my privileges.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Revolutionary Diary

[Last night we had our first study group for Grace Lee Boggs's new book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Action for the 21st Century. It was an extremely productive session, bursting with ideas and questions. As an accompaniment to the discussion, I will blog a bit between meetings.]

In the 21st century we will no longer be defined by work. There simply are not enough jobs to go around, and few resources left to exploit to grow our economy to create more jobs. What does this mean as we try to get our physical needs met? How do we survive without a paycheck? GLB emphasizes that marginalization brings liberation. Can we be liberated from our jobs and still live?

God knows millions in America are in deadening, stressful, energy-draining jobs. Are all jobs by definition hegemonic? What about unpaid jobs? GLB continually asks "what does it mean to be human?" Part of being human, I think, is contributing to the common good through labor, whether growing food, raising children, making baskets, building shelter, creating art .... Can we fulfill such responsibilities of being human without oppression or hegemony? This takes sensitivity, an inner drive, seeing the big picture, trust... what else?

How do we proceed through our daily responsibilities while engaging in the revolutionary struggle? For instance, I have to order tshirts today for Riverwest Yogashala members. Why do I need to do this and how does this strengthen or detract from the necessary revolution?
- I contracted with members of RY that they would receive a member shirt. This is a gesture of thanks and exchange for supporting us.
- Why is membership encouraged? To help RY pay for its free and reduced classes and make yoga accessible to all.
- I'm ordering organic cotton shirts from a local print shop. Is even growing organic cotton harmful to the environment? What is the toll on the land? Where is it grown and what are the conditions for workers? How are the shirts produced and by whom? How do the shirts arrive here? What is involved in the printing process and how does it affect the workers and the environment? Finally, do any of our members really need another shirt?
- As GLB says, we need to grow our souls. Is this shirt more soulful because it has a Sanskrit excerpt from Patanjali's yoga sutras? Does this make it a work of art? Are some works of art more useful for the revolution than others?

On another matter, I am sitting at my laptop this morning, blogging, instead of doing pranayama. I am using fossil fuel to charge my computer. My laptop contains precious metals which are causing wars in the Congo and elsewhere. Is the internet inherently oppressive and corrupt because it depends on commerce, is exploitive and addictive, and violates privacy? Does blogging accomplish anything for the revolution?

So you see where I am going.... Please contribute your thoughts here or in person at our next meeting, 28 July, at People's Books, 2122 E Locust, 7pm. Discussing Intro and Chapter 1 next week.