The Chicken Sutra
Dare we count them before they cross the road?
Does a chicken have a Buddha nature?
I have been having a lot of foul thoughts the last couple of weeks but it was only today that I realized the reason: I’ve got something stuck in my craw. Over a week ago I wrote a 3,000 word screed going into detail about how we will accomplish nothing in the US that will save us from the populist plague personified by Donald Trump, his family and supporters — nor can we hope to accomplish anything to deliver the Philippines from the bloody hands of Rodrigo Duterte — if we continue down the path we’re presently on.
Back in the days when chickens freely walked on the earth — before they became production-line goods — the “craw” was well understood because most people killed, cleaned, plucked and prepared their own chickens. Or in urban areas, bought (unpackaged) chickens of recent demise directly from the person who had done the killing, cleaning and plucking.
Now reduced to just another item in our inventory of idioms, the loss of the tactile experience of actual in situ anatomical craws, the idiom has lost much of its original power. The craw is an esophageal pouch or pocket — a fork in the road that the food follows — except that one fork leads to the stomach while the other is a cul de sac. By means of reflexes about which I know nothing, the craw collects hard objects such as stones (though in some mythologies, items of great value are also found there, usually several plot points after ingestion).
Whether primary or secondary, one benefit of this alimentary modification is that seeds, nuts, acorns &c, that are ingested eventually get their protective shells worn away by the other stony contents and provide the chicken with nutrients that would otherwise pass through their digestive tracts unaffected by such a brief residency inside the chicken. (Production-line chickens have never touched the ground, much less encountered or ingested a stone or a seed. So, in addition to all their other privations, they have also been stripped of their already-limited mythology.)
Enough then with the chickens — can we please move on?
Thus, when I said I’d discovered I had something “stuck in my craw,” I wasn’t just talking about the kind of discomfort and anxiety that arises from having something literally stuck in my throat — like the seeds in the chicken’s craw — but also that a gemnosperm was being prepared for digestion. I hereby confess that this piece has nothing further to do with chickens.
It isn’t about Medium either, but that 3,000+ word piece I didn’t publish last week… Well, that was partly because, in a depressing sort of way, I already knew what was going to happen: My two or three quasi-regular readers would look at it, hit recommend (thank you for the little green hearts) or at least spend enough time on it to count as a “read” so that my views-to-reads ratio remained respectable. Then, once covered up in my profile’s archive, might net me something on the high side of less than 10 reads total — eventually.
But, as a writer, I’m not all that caught up in the stats thing — hell, I read fucking marvelous things on Medium all the time that manage to garner single-digit recommends. In truth, I know that the numbers themselves are of greater importance to Medium-the-business than they’ll ever be for me-the-writer — mainly though, I understand that the problem isn’t a problem. Unlike other periods in the history of man, right at this time, the world is chock-full of fucking fantastic writers. What can I say to that, other than, “Yay!”
No, the non-hitting of the publish button was because I knew publishing the piece wouldn’t do any good. It wouldn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish — for me or anyone else.
I have changed. My intentions have changed. When I started this whole line of Duterte-Trump comparative assessments in the development of political demagogues, my intent was cautionary. As a native of Texas who has lived over half his adult life in the Philippines — has gone to jail for protesting against both countries — and has lived through two declarations of martial law, 45yrs apart, there was a time I simply felt I could offer some “look down the road/What’s my number” sort of anecdotal warnings and cautionary tales to help my American friends and readers navigate the transition into this (hopefully) temporary bout of authoritarianism. That time has passed. I am now an evangelist of unified political opposition.
Here’s today’s sermon. I am not a centrist — indeed, my natural proclivities tend more toward anarchy, albeit of a philosophical rather than bomb-throwing sort. (I have hung with the bomb-throwers at times in the past and they my buds, see? Also, getting thrown in jail as an exemplary trouble maker typically puts one in contact with people with diverse methods of political expression.)
I also laced my previous comparative political pieces with the word “resist.” Resistance is still imperative — but it is no longer enough. The only way we can ever hope to get these miserable creatures out of power is through forming a genuinely unified political opposition. We must defeat them at the ballot box or learn to live with them. When, in either country, I go looking for that opposition, all I find is…a mess.
In the Philippines we talk about family, clan and dynasty, but I see America becoming equally “tribal.” The tribes center on ceremonial dances; not around a golden ox, but around a gored one. Of course I recognize the importance of each tribe’s gored ox — that redress of that wrong should get first priority because… (Fill in here the essential reasons why yours is more important than all those other gored-oxen cults.) This is, however, no way to win an actual election — no matter how righteous each cause may be.
For one thing, it’s way too self-absorbing. If everybody to the left of center continues Othering everybody else left of center, the right — split only between the Trump nuts and the ones who think Trump is nuts — will still neatly win in 2018 and perhaps beyond, while we in our gored-ox cults will continue to fight over the one remaining hind tit. Just as we are now.
Now, did you ever wonder how so much of the right wing ever got so ugly? Not cosmetically ugly (though there’s plenty of that to go around too — especially among the old white men I’m so sick of seeing grip the levers of power) but ugly in the attitudes they express, the ideas they propose, the way they openly conflate the “public good” with their own financial gains. The right is so ugly because it plays to its constituency’s.
Better still, it inoculates their constituency against liberal infection — because it enrages us. Then, the right wing can point out how enraged we are— thus how outrageously we on the left hate them and look down on them as ignorant, red-neck trailer trash.
It’s double-othering. The uglier the right wing gets, the more the worst aspects of their constituency’s culture gets reinforced — the more that happens, the more we on the left dismiss their concerns and even humanity — which the political right can then hold up as an example of how outrageously snooty and out-of-touch liberals are. Shit man. Fucking Oraboros! And, truth to tell, many of us have no idea who those people are or how any reasonable person among them could ever support such lying, crap-filled assholes such as we see now running the government.
What’s on the menu?
And that’s a big loss to the left, because many of those people are quite reasonable. Many of them would, in fact, welcome something better — something less saturated with tincture-of-bullshit. It’s our loss that we can’t offer them anything better — because we simply don’t know how they think well enough to formulate the kind better offer they’d be amenable to.
Right wing politicians , demagogues and hate merchants — as much by intuition as by design — have learned how to prevent liberals from effectively appealing to their constituencies and in inoculating those constituencies against any appeals that manage to sneak around the perimeter fence.
But that’s just a secondary defense. The primary strategy is for them to gore each cult’s ox in turn — which keeps each individual group convinced that its particular righteousness deserves the primacy it claims. All that’s just to say there’s simply too much fucking noise! Any single advocacy group acting alone or even in a small coalition can be disrupted by a single Tweet, y’all. And you better believe the right is locked and loaded to deliver that disruption at the drop of a political threat — or just to keep the pots boiling.
The piece I didn’t publish was called “The Sutra of Perpetual Imminence.” Quite honestly, I’ll probably never publish it — though I’m certainly holding the title itself in reserve for future use. It enumerated and justified various ways and means for converting the present state — semi-hostile tribes — into enough of an opposition to beat the GOP rascals about the head and ears as we drive them out of office by the only means at hand — winning elections.
Neither here nor in the original did I offer any specific solutions. There aren’t any yet — because instead of debating issues among ourselves, we’ve been busy eviscerating each other. We urgently must learn to compromise in the sense of electoral politics without compromising in the moral or ethical sense. That’s how politics gets done, after all — not compromising ethics/morals is a sign of political and personal integrity. Compromise in the political sense means getting enough people to join your parade to win an election. “Politics,” goes the old saw, “is addition.” We’re still busy subtracting and dividing.
So, how about it? We’ve got over a year. Will we learn to escape from the 24/7 news cycle, to find out what Americans and/or Filipinos are so pissed off about? Form an opposition that can show voters — even the ones we don’t particularly like — some things that are both truly better and doable? If we can put liberals of integrity in office in place of rich old white men, we have the opportunity to continue (hopefully, in even better ways) the liberal gains of the Obama years.
Or — if we can neither quiet our minds from the impact of every daily outrage, nor cease hugging our own poor ox so tightly — we can just go on taking the day-to-day loses.*
*N.B. If it’s the approach of the final paragraph that appeals to you, look up stuff written by the Caitlin creature and her ilk who — along with some of the more extreme “Bernie Bros” accounts &c— are doing their best to make sure the left stays as fragmented as possible.