Posts Tagged 'cynicism'

Jazz – A Riff on Integrity

June 30th, 1960, Tanglewood, slipping in a side door and climbing to secluded seats high above the stage. Dave Brubeck, Joe Morello, Gene Wright, and Paul Desmond are warming up ahead of their evening performance. I remember Desmond’s notes rising clear, fully formed, beautiful, intimate, unmistakably Desmond. I experience that perfection still.

May 30th, 1977, Bear Creek, California. Paul Desmond died that day. A San Francisco station playing his music though the night. Pure Desmond – clarity, notes projected with perfect understanding of their shapes and relationships. His music an expression of absolute integrity. I sat up and listened until I fell asleep sometime before dawn. What has always made Desmond’s music beautiful for me is the integrity.

April 3rd, 2014, dense blowing snow out the window, a good fire in the wood stove, Paul Desmond in the background – thinking about virtue and integrity. I’m wondering why so few people, especially in high places, seem incapable of the virtues of personal integrity and intellectual honesty once considered essential to the conduct of a viable civil society. How long does any society have to live I wonder when there are so many liars and so many lies? A society based on lies cannot be viable and 4000 years of history give truth to this. We have always suffered rent-seeking politicians, morally corrupt judges and greedy businessmen but they were not then, as they are now, the dominant minority.

I’m reminded of the Cold War, behind the Iron Curtain, cynicism was the coin of the realm. About the two major Russian newspapers Izvestia and Pravda it was said, “There is no truth in Izvestia and no news in Pravda.” amusing cynical take but not so amusing when applied to courts of law or Congress in a democracy where truth needs to be the vital currency. What happens when the foundational, “All men are created equal” is no longer a belief? When a court, in a God-like gesture, endows corporations with human status? How often can beliefs be disregarded before they are discarded? What replaces abandoned beliefs?

In the commons, integrity and intellectual honesty have all but disappeared, strangled by insatiable unrelenting greed by politicians, business people and judges. A judge excused a jail term for a wealthy man who raped his 3 year old daughter because, the judge said, he wouldn’t “fare well” in prison. Does she make the same allowances for not-wealthy people? Is this judicial integrity? Do society and children deserve this cynicism?

There is a high societal price for deceptive political calculation that highjacks hope but delivers alienation. There was that “hope and change” sales pitch for example that eventually revealed itself as shuck-and-jive-business-as-usual politics, regressive education policies, secret rendition and tapped telephones. Lots of us fell for it. Will we ever again be lured to the rocks of disappointment and cynicism because we wanted to believe? Cynicism is, by itself, likely the most dangerous and contagious disease in any society it undermines everything corroding all that it touches. Cynicism destroys belief, hope, faith, trust – all the necessary components of healthy viable societies, it bleeds any social contract dry.

Brooks Adams in his 1896 “The Law of Civilization and Decay”, speaking of 5th C Rome says, “Wealth is the weapon of a monied society; for though itself lacking the martial instinct, it can, with money, hire soldiers to defend it.” Updated for our times it could read, “… it can, with money, hire politicians and other people of low self-esteem to defend and promote it.” This idea is nowhere more articulately expressed than in the recent 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision allowing even more corporate money into the election process. What will be the ultimate consequences of corporations being made human by the Supreme Court? Where social integrity is absent, social commitment has historically taken its leave because people no longer believe.

When a populace no longer perceives a common good it devolves to everyone for themselves as a matter of survival. This cannot be denied nor, once past a certain point, can it be resisted. There is always a critical point in momentum that is irreversible when chaos supersedes order. If plutocrats think they can easily herd impoverished angry mobs they are paddling against a rip-tide of history. Human beings never long tolerate being treated as serfs when they have tasted better fruit.

From the top of the food chain on down our country is rapidly taking on classic symptoms of a failed society. I never thought the day would come when the UN would cite my country for human rights violations. This is a new aspect of our self-anointed “exceptionalism” wherein we are cited for jailing homeless people, torture and 23 other violations of human rights while berating other countries for doing the same. It must be understood, the social contract is at once experience, perception and belief. How can rational people not look back over 4000 years of one civilization after another rising and then falling to the same causes without seeing themselves? They must ask, where are our virtues? What happened to our integrity?

Reflections On Disgust and Cynicism

February 24, 2013

Am I the only one to have noticed this recent phenomenon? You know, the ascendency of Republican women in the social vandalism sweepstakes. I’m thinking here of the Bachmanns and Coulters on the national stage and the cadre currently inhabiting the New Mexico Roundhouse and state offices. The Spanky-Mama vandals who are taking over from their men, baring their teeth, and going after civility and comity. Maybe the boys just aren’t up to the task.

Some recent New Mexico examples:
1.    (Monica Youngblood) A New Mexican woman legislator who commented that the minimum wage should not be raised because it apparently leads people to enjoy poverty. Perhaps she should try poverty and see if she’s been missing something.
2.    (Cathrynn Brown) Famous for her stealth attempt to criminalize victims of rape and incest seeking abortions. She also voted against extending the deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
3.    (Diana Duran) Our Secretary of State delayed voter confirmation for a year until the election cycle – “What? – Who? – Me?”
4.    (Nora Espinoza) She proposed a constitutional amendment to “define marriage” as being between a man and a woman. She was also a cosigner to Brown’s rape-and-incest end-run. Not to forget Nora’s attempt to make it a felony to enforce federal firearms laws.
5.    (Hanna Skandera) Author of a long list of destructive strategies and efforts to destroy public education de facto and de jure as the Secretary Designate of Public Education. Her mandate comes from the legislative committee that hasn’t had the courage to vote her up or down, thus giving tacit approval to her work.
6.    (Susana Martinez)  The governor who loves all of them.

Like the historic Vandals who sacked Rome in AD 455, these latter-day vandals are hell-bent on senseless destruction of the social contract out of a general disrespect and disregard for others. It’s a well-fed country-club matron’s mentality that all those of lesser circumstances are there by their own fault, lack of ambition, effort, and intelligence.

Monica Youngblood, a New Mexico Republican legislator who wants to see “people strive”; she wants to see them “aspire to be more than minimum wage.” In the meantime we must assume that by her dictate they and their families must live in poverty. This is as cynical an attitude as I can imagine. It reminds me of Marie Antoinette’s “let-them-eat-cake” remark. Youngblood “wants” to see impoverished people strive and aspire, as if it is imaginable that people aspire to live in poverty.

Cathrynn Brown, the New Mexican Republican legislator who tried to slide her legislation through the system to punish, to criminalize, in fact, women who abort a fetus caused by rape, is a cynic of apparently generous proportions. When called out she laid blame on someone else for not expressing her real intent when drafting her legislation—neglecting to say that she signed the bill after it was drafted and then introduced it with a bevy of other eager Republican women legislators on board. How cynical is that? Are we to believe that Republican women legislators do not read the legislation they sign on to. One has to wonder.

We also have the spectacle of a Republican woman governor and a Republican woman Secretary Designate of Public Education proposing the antediluvian, draconian and discredited educational policy of retention of third-grade students who fail to learn to read on an arbitrary schedule. Both the governor and her secretary designate are cynically engaged in the process of privatizing New Mexico public schools, using a variety of tactics including intimidating teachers with Gestapo-like raids and starving funds to such an extent that New Mexico has earned first place in the US for the largest reduction in public education budgets.

This essay is as much about moral disgust as it is about the specific behaviors of society matrons and matron wannabes with their mink cuffs and collars as they denigrate the society that supports them. Charles Darwin in his book, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, wrote that disgust refers to a reaction to the quality of something revolting. Disgust is a basic emotion, a response to things that are fundamentally and viscerally offensive. Among the varieties of disgust is moral disgust—a revulsion to certain behaviors, comments and attitudes. Hence disgust expresses my response to the behaviors and comments of Republican women politicians as described above.

What can be said of a society wherein elected officials mistrust the very society they ran for office to represent, or of politicians, national and local, who stuff their PACs with money from generous donors who want favors done? Does one have to be cynical to ascribe cynical motives to that sort of cynical behavior? What kind of society does this lead to but one underlain with cynicism? And, it certainly cannot be a civil society.

Franklin Roosevelt’s agenda, inspired by the “Great Depression,” between 1933 and 1936 was characterized by an intent to alter social conditions. Just as certainly it wasn’t intended to oppress or denigrate the middle or lower classes of society. So much of the good for working people that followed sprang from the many programs Roosevelt’s “New Deal” put into place that were in most considerations successful in lifting people out of the oppressive poverty of the Depression. Which Depression I will point out wasn’t caused by working-class people anymore than the recent stock market and bad mortgage crisis was.

People who earn minimum wage do not cause financial crises; greedy, cynical, wealthy people do that with the help of legislators both national and local, which “help” falls into the category of cynicism by definition. When people run for political office because they have an agenda to somehow alter society in a regressive and oppressive nature we have a serious problem on our hands and a problem which historically has led to serious and widespread social unrest.


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