Saturday, June 23, 2018

An Open Letter to the Democratic Party

It is almost intolerable to sit by and watch while the Democratic Party prepares to lose yet another election. In spite of the polls there is a deep underlying weakness in democratic strategy that could turn November’s election from a golden opportunity to reverse the country's direction under Trump, to yet another unexpected and humiliating defeat. That weakness revolves around the party’s apparent inability to understand that right now it is, crazily enough, the Republicans who are winning the votes of the Democratic Party’s natural core constituency, working class and poor white Americans.

For all of its appalling ethical debauchery, the Trump administration knows what it’s doing when it attacks immigration, because they know it’s a divisive issue, and dividing people is the Republican’s stock in trade. The more they can focus people’s attention on race and immigration, and keep it away from the unifying issue of jobs, wealth, and class, the better off they will be in November.

It is amazing, that while the Democrats have such legitimate contempt for Trump’s intelligence, it is Trump who, through this strategy of keeping the dialogue on race and immigration, is now controlling the agenda, and in so doing will be able to claim at least a partial victory in the next election by effectively limiting the damage to his party, in what should be a decisive Democratic landslide. The results of this to the Democrats would be devastating, and might even user in a chapter of American neo-fascism.

For all of our legitimate hared of Trump’s agenda where race and immigration are concerned, the Democrats must not allow themselves to be distracted from the one essential, uniting, issue of our times – the one that will lead to inevitable victory or defeat, the issue of economic inequality.

Look at the deplorable state of the America working class. The destruction of trade unions has left millions with work that cannot support even a marginal standard of living. Medical care for all is still a far off dream. The minimum wage hasn’t been raised in decades. We have an epidemic of opium addiction. Our standing in the world community is in a deplorable state as a result of this, and the policies we’ve followed to get there.

The point is that we will not make progress on immigration, or racism, or sexism, or anything else unless we win back political power in America, and we can’t do that without the while middle and working class. That is start, obvious, political reality, and the Democratic Party seems utterly blind to it.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Great Ten Dollar Bank Caper (A True Story)

This morning I went to a bank to get a roll of quarters. I went to the counter, and said, "I need a roll of quarters."
"Do you have an account?"
"Then we'll need to see an ID."
Wait a minute, I thought to myself, I need an ID so I can get quarters?
"Okay," I said, taken aback - like a dutiful drone.
So I gave her my ID. She looked at my ID, and proceeded to spend literally two minutes typing away on her keyboard.
I'm thinking, just what the hell can she be looking at on her screen, and what the hell does she have to type for 2 minutes, and why the hell should I have to tolerate this bullshit?
Finally, her printer spit out a piece of paper. She looked at me skeptically, and then showed the paper to her supervisor, who also came over and looked at me skeptically. (I should add here that I have no criminal record whatsoever.)
At last she whispered something to the teller, who finally passed over the. . . contraband. . . I mean roll of quarters, and I sort of furtively slunk out of the bank to my get-away car, feeling pretty mean now, pretty bad you might say - like Machine Gun Kelley.
Does this strike anyone else as being as weird as it struck me? It's like we're all criminals now, trying to prove our innocence.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower
*Image source unknown

The Sirocco

A murder of crows soars above the golden corn,
Their wings furled against the buffeting wind.
Beneath this blinding glare of Provencal sun,
The air feels heavy from the steaming earth.

There is no shelter from this wild wind;
So I spiked my canvas to the stubble plain,
To frame this dazzling bonfire of a sun -
These fields, swept by its archangel light.

I'm staggered by the fierceness of this place;
By these crows that rip and tear each other -
Cold, and black, and as pitiless as death,
Scrapping over the remnants of my dreams.

Brent Hightower,
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower
*Image, public domain

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The Tragic Reality Underlying Our Terrifying School Shootings

Several weeks ago I wrote an ironic article recommending that we arm special education students, as a solution to the tragic number of school shootings in the U.S. today; and given the superficial nature of the solutions bandied about by the media, and by our malodorous current "leadership," that seems about as good an idea as most, and better than some. But now I'd like to address the question in all seriousness.

Firstly, I think we must realize that school shootings can't be stopped by putting more guns into the schools, in anybody's hands. A student with violent intent can only be given more opportunity to commit violence by bringing guns into the schools. To think otherwise is to think that these kids aren't intelligent enough to get their hands on those guns, with the element of surprise on their side, and to believe that is a fatal flaw in our own reasoning. It's difficult to believe that it's even necessary to point this out.

Likewise, the view of gun control itself as a solution is almost equally superficial. Though gun control is a good idea in general, and many killings would undoubtably be prevented by it, school shootings are among the relatively rare percentage of murders that are calculated, in which case the perpetrators can overcome the inaccessibility of guns, through premeditation.

Our notion (or more accurately the notion of the NRA) to inject guns into our schools is a tacit admission that our culture's degenerated to the point we are no longer civilized, and that most certainly is not a problem that can be solved with more guns! What we must do is ask why our culture is producing such maladjusted kids, how to deal with these kids in the short run, and ultimately, what aspects of the culture itself must be changed to solve the problem.

Recently, the NRA has been funding advertisements, in effect blaming these shootings on a "liberal, permissive society". . . Well, whether America is permissive or not, it certainly isn't liberal. The far-right now controls virtually every element of American society from the Presidency, to Congress, to the Supreme Court, to Wall Street, to corporate business, to most of the governorships and state legislatures. Yet somehow the NRA, the conservative think tanks, and their obsequious puppet media, blame school shootings on liberals! The question of exactly how liberals are responsible is kept very vague, of course, because it can't stand up to a moment's scrutiny on either the grounds of logic, or morality.

This effort to blame liberals is a spoiling attack, intended to preempt the much more logical argument that these shootings result from the unjustified increase in militarism, and authoritarianism, in America - and our incessant promotion of guns and violence. Because these things, along with increasing wealth disparity, are indeed among the most obvious culprits. There isn't any other country in the developed world where this is happening - not in democratic societies, socialist societies, communist societies, or among the Inuit. It doesn't happen in Denmark, France, or Holland, which are socialistic countries, and far more "permissive," (if I understand that also vaguely defined term) than the United States.

No. School shootings are a singularly American problem.

In all of this one very important thing is missing, and that is to ask these kids themselves why they are doing it. I haven't seen a single interview with a kid at risk for this kind of behavior (and there are many), asking them why they think others like themselves are doing it; and such omission is not unusual in America. It's become standard practice over the last forty years, or so, in the media. We ask everybody else. We ask "the experts." We ask school principals, teachers, housewives, the man on the street, dog catchers, or anybody in short, but those who would actually know! Could it be that we're afraid that their answers might bring up aspects of our culture and ourselves we find unpleasant to examine?

For about five minutes after 911 there was an attempt on the part of common Americans, (as reflected on the internet), to ask the obvious question, "Why are they doing this?" But those who asked were quickly drowned out by the roar of the offended, and the self righteous. They were chastised by the "America is greatest country in the world" crowd, who seem to believe we never have to introspect, we never have to think, because we are Americans. And then, as always, the media re-affirmed our preconceptions, and so few of us ever heard the views of those actually responsible.

Personally, I find the restrictive fundamentalism, either Islamic, Christian, or any other stripe, abhorrent, but I also know that when we refuse to engage in a dialogue with those who oppose us, we will never see an end to wars and enmity. I also know that many people in the Middle East have a legitimate grievance over who profits from the wealth of their oil fields, because in most cases they themselves do not. This is to some extent a digression, but the point is, our persistent belief in our own inevitable rightness, and our refusal to engage in self-examination, will finally prove more dangerous to us than most of our supposed enemies will ever be. . .

So, we don't ask these kids why they're so desperately unhappy. Nevertheless, some of the reasons are transparent. These are, in no particular order, that many of these kids are rootless. Their families have often moved from place to place, and they haven't been able to establish permanent connections. Most Americans no longer have farms, own no land, have no animals to provide these kids companionship and allow them to learn empathy. They have no sense of place, or room to roam freely, no appropriate spaces to play with each other, and later, to safely congregate. In many modern tract housing developments today children don't even have a cursory strip of grassy yard in front of their house to play in. Their world is built for cars and for degraded adults, not for them.

We are continually told (by Republicans mostly), that more guns and more law enforcement will solve our problems, when all the evidence shows they have done the opposite. The more money we spend on added "security," and take away the things that comprise a civil society, like decent schools, the worse our problems become. The fact is by now obvious even to a sub-par intelligence that the "Reagan revolution," with all it's emphasis on selfishness, and on police and security, has all but destroyed the once great United States. And yet the lunatic liturgy goes on. . . Deregulation! More police! More "national security!" More guns!

We must face the truth, that everything about current American culture tells these kids we don't really value them. Even after so many school shootings there are a grossly insufficient number of qualified counselors in the schools, and counselors are the most important mechanism for preventing these attacks! Except for a tiny minority of the overprivileged, who get whatever they want without having to earn it, everything in these kids' world is now sub-par, starting with the condition of the schools they attend. We no longer build city parks for the great majority of American children, or athletic fields, or public swimming pools. They will have no jobs that pay a living wage when they graduate from high school. College is too expensive, and even college graduates are now lucky to find jobs that can support a family.

Many of these kids are also tormented daily, by peers allowed to vent their Darwinian instinct towards domination on them unrestrained. In many schools even teachers, and particularly athletic coaches, have encouraged this pecking order out of the very subconscious impulses that drive the schoolyard bullies themselves. When children are exposed to a value system like that, is it any wonder they sometimes lash out in rage? With boys this "hazing" is often looked upon as something positive, as "toughening them up." But children can learn physical toughness, and discipline, without being encouraged to torment and humiliate. It should be especially evident we need to do whatever is necessary to reform this simian social hierarchy when, with modern weaponry available to anyone determined to get it, this bullying behavior is increasingly getting the bullies themselves shot with high powered rifles.

Perhaps the reason we don't ask these kids why they're so angry is that we don't really want to know. If we did, we might have to confront the fact that it is we ourselves who must change, if we want them to change. If we really care about ending the school shooting tragedy we have to repudiate the outlook that gave rise to it. Partly that is the "Reagan revolution," which takes as it's first tenet the abdication of all social responsibility.

We need to care about something beyond the wealth of a few bankers and corporate executives, and show these kids that we actually do care about them, by taxing those bankers and executives and putting that money into the things these kids desperately need, starting with school counselors. For the price of one military contract boondoggle, like the obsolete-off-the-assembly-line B1 bomber, or the osprey aircraft that isn't safe at any speed, we could have built new high schools for just about every state in the union. And even those kids who don't know this can sense it. In their hearts they know exactly how much we really care about them.

If we want them to care we have to care about them - not just pay lip service to caring about them - while a few unconscionably greedy individuals cheat them of a life. Even more importantly, far more so in my judgement, we need to subdue our acquired cultural arrogance that prevents us from critically examining our culture, and ourselves - that prevents us from introspecting, and therefore from making any positive change, in any area of our society at all now for over 40 years. For if we continue down that road, even these school shootings will prove to be a drop in the bucket of the social chaos to come.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower
*Image, Washington State Psychological Association

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Cresting Tide

My mind at peace, I gaze upon the sea,
Its blue, unfathomed depths, epochal.
The cresting tide rushes in, as if alive,
And sounds an ancient chord inside me,
Some tone general to the orchestra of life.

Vast waves are thundering far out to sea,
Like the reverberation of primordial drums,
Or the fire of a thousand sea-borne guns,
Bringing to mind the cresting human tide;
Engulfing the earth in its onrushing flood.

On this Island, lost in earth's greatest sea,
Coconuts brown in the great beach palms.
And verdant uplands glow in riotous green.
Yet even this thriving nature lies imperiled,
By the seething tide of starving billions.

Before us rises the specter of annihilation,
And though the thought is scarcely bearable,
In mourning the loss of these living things,
We find detachment on the loss of our own life,
In that our death eases a burden on the earth.

And though species perished for me to live,
In this brief nova of a burgeoning mankind,
Sorrow and regret can only profane their loss,
So in homage to their passing, I will live for joy,
And forge my spirit in a metal worth the price.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower

Tuesday, May 29, 2018


As an infant what they saw reflected there was love,
That so beguiling aspect in their mother's eyes,
For what is there in a whelp, but the need for love?

And maybe it was love, of a sort, reflected there;
One couldn't be certain, for even when close up,
Her dark eyes maintained their cold inscrutability.

Though she might wear the mien of a caring mother,
In those deep-set eyes was something overweening.
One didn't come between her and a fresh carcass.

So, unsettled by the mysteriousness of her manner,
Her whelps were left to ponder the nature of love,
And whether any such thing existed under the sun.

And perhaps, it was then, they first chose to believe,
That love was what they saw in those distant eyes,
For if not, what could be the purpose of their being?

Though she might stand over a prize roebuck,
Smiling, satiated, over its engorged entrails,
Her teeth crimson from the kill, still they believed.

For the mirages on the littoral plain are desolate,
And there is little shelter from the summer sun.
In such a land one might turn anywhere for love.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower
*Image source unknown

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Eulogy For a Demigod

I'd like to preface this essay ( as I've often felt compelled to do ) with a disclaimer - in this case to say I believe that science is a valuable tool, and likewise modern technology, but with serious reservations. Firstly, we can only believe in them to the degree we can believe in the people who practice them, and, like the rest of humanity, some of these people are first rate, and some are dastards. Secondly, we can only believe in them with an awareness of their limitations as guiding forces in life. The reason I say this is that the Western World has, at the present moment, no cohesive worldview. That is, we have no worldview that incorporates reason and factual analysis with the spiritual and ethical aspects of life traditionally provided by religion.

It seems clear that to have a life worth living, our disintegrated outlook must give way to one that incorporates these differing aspects of human life into a whole. And I believe that through a number of modern insights ( particularly those provided by Darwin and Freud ), combined with Platonic philosophy, such an integrated view is now possible. But this latter question cannot be addressed in depth here.

The subject of this essay is, at least in part, Steven Hawking, the influential physicist who passed away just recently. Again, I have nothing against Steven Hawking personally, in fact I have great respect for his courage in facing a debilitating and terribly protracted disease. I hope people will see it's possible to criticize a person's views, or what they have come to represent, without criticizing them as human beings; but based on experience I wouldn't be surprised if, in spite of what I say, some people do take this essay as a personal attack. Be that as it may, as George Orwell said, I'll "write as I please." I don't think a writer who's afraid of controversy can say anything worth one's time. . .

Hawking had been held in very high esteem. So much so that for all intents and purposes he's been held out as an oracle, a sort of modern god. Yet to me, in many ways, he represented everything wrong with modern, technological society. His presentation always struck me as that of a disembodied brain, a mere mechanical utterance, empty of all emotion, of all passion, holding forth from some bloodless nether-world on the great questions of human life.

His voice seemed almost to be the very voice of modern technology itself. Nor, does it seem to me, did Hawking do or say anything to deny or deflect such an interpretation. Among other proclamations he held forth on how we should close all the philosophy departments in modern universities because they are antiquated, and have now been superseded by science. . . Because apparently, they have now been superseded by Hawking himself!

It did seem he was a perfect god for our times - one incapable of touching us, of moving us to any higher state of consciousness, or bringing us even the smallest drop of solace. In his sterile monotone he presided over a universe of neutered numbers. The answer is "String Theory," or "Dark Matter," or as Douglas Adams said so wryly in his novel, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, 42! Meanwhile children continue to go hungry, polar bears (along with tigers and too many other species to count) are forced every day closer to extinction, and the world strides on blithely one step closer to destruction. They are answers that answer nothing, that can change nothing, and that is why the corrupt established order, bend only on it's own wealth and self-aggrandizement, embraces them.

We are enthrall to our own self-destructive power, enslaved by the very forces we believe make us great. Let's look at the world today, one dominated by the scientific outlook, and ask ourselves, "Is it the kind of world we'd like our children grow up in?" I believe few of us could honestly say it is. Those who wholeheartedly support applied science and technology would argue that too many people have failed to adhere to that outlook. If only we all complied all would be well. The irrational and destructive elements in human nature are responsible for our decline, in spite of the civilizing influence of science - and there may be some truth in this view, but I believe it's mostly a comforting rationalization.

Firstly, it begs the question. For if science is to succeed as the guiding principle of civilization (and it certainly is put forward as such, whether scientists themselves say so or not) then it must command widespread compliance. Even a small minority of irrational people can wreak havoc with the smooth functioning of a social system based on science. So in this light the argument of insufficient compliance itself becomes evidence the scientific outlook can't meet the exceedingly high standard of a guiding worldview. For if science can't achieve the first prerequisite of its own success - namely, sufficient compliance, then it can't solve humanities problems.

Clearly some contrary aspect of human nature can't be persuaded, mitigated, educated, eradicated, or nullified, by science; and if practicality is the measure by which we judge a system that claims legitimacy through its superior practicality then, here again, we find evidence of failure. This isn't to say that some other existing paradigm is better, merely that science hasn't overcome this impediment any better than religion, or any other founding social principle to date. Yet their influence is so great they've acquired almost godlike status. Whenever people want to bestow upon something unquestioned legitimacy, from a brand of toothpaste to "channeling" alien beings from the Pleiades, they try to wrap the thing in an aura of scientific legitimacy. So if science is what we think it is, why are we teetering on the brink of destruction?

Twenty-five-hundred years ago Socrates said science couldn't answer the only questions he believed mattered to human beings. It wasn't that he didn't believe science could, for example, increase the grain harvest. It was that he saw that the meaning of life could not be determined by increasing the grain harvest. Of course it's good thing to increase the grain harvest (unless resulting increased populations merely become a precursor to greater disaster) but that the search for real meaning has nothing to do with such questions. Science may be able to increase the grain harvest but it can't explain the mystery of being, and it can't prevent some strong man from seizing all the grain for himself, regardless of whether he needs it or not. Science can simply do nothing about greed, prejudice, hatred, envy, narcissism, revenge, or the thousand other human flaws primarily responsible for the misery on this planet. We are the dominant spirits among the only known living organisms in the entire universe, and yet we really know little about the meaning or purpose of life.

Socrates said, "know thyself," and that "the unexamined life is not worth living." That wasn't an inconsequential abstraction. Without self-knowledge (that is introspection, a genuine search for the truth about our own natures, and the meaning of our consciousness) science and technology are useless, because they cannot save us from ourselves. Until we have control of our own psyches, and find a path that satisfies our spirits, we will be driven to acts of war and hatred, and forced to re-live the cycle of destruction and misery that has been our fate since time immemorial.

People demand more of a worldview than an instrument to explain the workings, and manipulate the essence, of purely material phenomena. They demand a means of hope, a means of fulfillment, and even a means of attaining exaltation. The real questions of life - the questions of human relationships, of love, of hate, of loyalty, of the spirit - these questions are not addressed by modern society, and so are now left to a hodgepodge of mostly charlatan spiritualists. And we wonder why there is an epidemic of loneliness, why we have so little real caring for one another, or the other living things on this planet.

In this hyper-technological society billions grope for a reason to live. Given our values we are making ourselves irrelevant. Computers will be able to do everything we now care about better than we can, and judged by these end results, the scientific outlook can be seen as actually insane. Life is worth living, or not living, according to what we believe - according to whether we love, or do not love, or we only love ourselves, or all we do is hate.

In our pursuit of mastery over the physical universe, to the exclusion of honor and spirituality, we've created a species of inverse human evolution worse than the Darwinian principle of survival, and the classical conception of human aspiration has been supplanted by one that elevates men like Dick Cheney and Karl Rove to the highest echelons of society, while so many people of courage, spirit and vitality - the natural leaders in any sane world - are made pariahs, or even hunted down like dogs.

This is no exaggeration. People of exceptional character and aptitude, from such diverse origins as Martin Luther King, Sitting Bull, Bernadette Devlin, Mohandas Ghandi, and Paul Robeson have all been outcasts, or even murdered precisely because they were too whole in mind and spirit to accomodate themselves to the truncated and vivisected condition of modern man. Yet someone like Steven Hawking is accorded the status of a deity! Why? Precisely because he doesn't threaten this inverse evolution that is enslaving modern man; he exemplifies it.

The meaning of life cannot be found in a mathematical formula - in some new technological "marvel," In our search for meaning, and the foundation of a society worth living in, materialistic philosophies fall short. The true seekers - those who stand facing eternity - know there's more here than "dark matter" and the next trip to the shopping mall. Those who've had the courage to truly live, who've stood up to the implacable soullessness of the age, have at best a mild contempt for the pronouncements of men like Steven Hawking. Likewise, the great masses of suffering humanity, who struggle daily with the real questions of survival, will never worship at the alter of science. They will never be satisfied by "string theory" or 42. They know better.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

It's Time to Consider Arming Special Education Students

Given the number of school shootings over the last several decades it seems time we considered innovative approaches. It's been suggested that we employ armed security guards in the schools, but given budget constraints I think that's inadvisable. Likewise, we could arm our teachers, but discipline problems have become serious enough ( due to those same budget constraints) that that might entail the possibility of students and/or teachers being shot on a fairly regular basis, so we probably don't want that. There is an approach, however, that could potentially solve these problems, and a number of other problems in our schools at the same time. That is arming our special education students.

I know at first this might not seem to be the most obvious solution, but let us consider the benefits: Firstly, arming students in special education programs could do wonders for their self esteem, and their feeling of empowerment. For example, in the past they may have tried to make themselves inconspicuous on the bus going to school, or shied away from encounters with other students, and so they might greatly benefit from such a show of trust on the part of their teachers and their communities. Moreover, the savings to the taxpayers would be considerable, and it would give us the opportunity to introduce more guns into the community, an asset for those who believe strongly in the Second Amendment. Furthermore, for those of strong faith, we should remember the words from the sermon on the mount... "The meek shall inherit the earth." An approach like this might just give them a fighting chance.

Arming our special education students could also prove a deterrent to bullying in the schools, so there could be savings on anti-bullying programs, that might even prove to be no longer necessary. These students should, I believe, be given plenty of firepower for the above reasons. This is not to mention, of course, that almost any potential shooter would be discouraged by the thought of 50 or 60 such students in every school armed, not only with Glock 9 mm pistols, but M16 rifles, M60 machine guns (with ten or twenty thousand rounds of ammunition) and for more serious situations, shoulder-fired stinger missiles.

The combined benefits of higher self-esteem, the reduced need for bullying programs, and a positive cost/benefit ratio achieved through not needing to hire added security (and of course the deterrent factor) are, however, only the most obvious benefits of such a program. At the same time we would also be training these kids to take a positive role in their communities after graduation. Such training could give them the experience necessary to join the very special forces, or work in our big city police departments, where recruits of this kind are clearly valued very highly. Beyond that, they could look forward to careers in the American intelligence community, in the CIA, or the NSA, and other agencies where such abilities are obviously much appreciated by their country.

When it comes to protecting our children, and honoring our tax cuts, by making solutions cost effective, while also protecting the second amendment, there are not that many options. I hope the Trump administration, Congress, and state and local governments can all get onboard and see the potential impact of such an approach.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

All the Talk About Sustainability is Horse Crap

Especially since the 2008 crash, when the economy was in danger of outright collapse, there has been endless talk of sustainability in America, and here in Hawaii is no exception. Yet even here - in one of the most progressive regions of one of America's most progressive states - that is exactly all it's been, nothing but talk. Even after decades of agitation, there still isn't even a rational recycling system in place, and comprehensive recycling is the cornerstone of a sustainable modern society. For awhile I knew of one place here in Hilo, reasonably close by, that would take all recyclable material. They no longer do so, of course. I has always been that way.

Just as you yourself get a system in place at home to sort your recycling (no minor task for those of us in apartments I assure you) than once again nobody within a reasonable distance will take it. You are expected to haul it yourself to the dump. (And what good does it do to go galavanting miles in your car, burning gasoline, to dispose of a single household's load of recycling?) It does no good whatsoever, and any reasonably intelligent person can apprehend that fact. It seems we are supposed to believe that a nation capable of (for whatever reason) landing astronauts on the moon, can't figure out how to institute curbside recycling! If sustainability had ever been the objective on the part of those who make the decisions in America the whole waste system would have been re-engeneered years ago, so that everyone could recycle in the most efficient, and effortless, manner possible. One can only conclude the powers that be oppose sustainability with every ounce of their being! Nothing less could account for the current situation.

These endless efforts on the part of right-minded people that achieve nothing, disillusion people people democracy, and clearly that's just fine with the powers that be because to all appearances doing away with democracy has long been their first priority! But in order to do away with democracy first you have to corrupt it, and the power of vested interests, i.e. the corporate structure, has been hammering away at exactly that for generations - to the point that now it's highly debatable whether we even any longer even have a democracy. That is even true here on Hawaii Island. Nothing of significance can ever change. Superficial changes are occasionally made, mainly just window dressing, but if the people were really in power, if their interests had really be taken into account we would have had sweeping reforms by now of practically every area of our society, from education to electrical power. Think about it. Has a single significant thing been done by our elected officials to alter the utterly rigged and unfair system under which we must all now live?

"Recycling. . . Duh, we don't know how to do that."

Or take the Hilo farmer's market, for example. For all the prattle about sustainability, state and local government's have done virtually nothing to support the Hilo farmer's market. Hilo should have a fabulous farmer's market! We should also have an arboretum that people the world over would pay to see. A local climate and soil that's the envy of the world should assure that! But what do we have? Both Hilo's farmer's market and arboretum are a pathetic farce. I swear, the only unhealthy trees in Hilo are at the Hilo arboretum! I don't know how they even manage it!

Or take KTA, the locally owned supermarket's "Mountain Apple brand" program, which they say features products from local farmers and businesses. Their orange juice is from Brazil! Is it even packed on the island? Well. . . no. So what the hell is local about it? They sell it locally, I suppose, that's what! It's an insult to both our values and intelligence.

What happened to the Hawaii Island Journal? It went the way of all independent and progressive news sources in America, it was bought out by a corporation. Why? Did the corporation see it as potentially profitable. No. As always, after a brief period when they launched a similar, half-assed, and less controversial paper to take it's place, they simply let that paper die. It isn't about money. It's about silencing opposition to endemic corruption. Corporate interests operate in tandem to protect corporate interest. That isn't conspiracy theory, it's simply recognizing the obvious. What happened to the 2% for the land fund, a program to dedicate 2% of tax revenues to purchasing recreational land for the general public on the island, a measure that Big Islanders approved by referendum. The county council voted to overturn it, in a manner that I highly doubt was even constitutional. I mean, who the hell are these people to overturn a bill voted on directly by the citizens?

On Iceland, an island with abundant hydroelectric and geothermal power, electric power is free to all citizens. Here we have those two sources of power to spare, but we have almost limitless solar and wind-turbine power as well - and our electric bills are sky high! Such high electric rates undermine the entire economy, and in particular, small business. Moreover, few people here take up farming, because most of the island lies fallow and unproductive, in the hands of new class of corporate royalty, and so available land is prohibitively expensive.

The true reason for all of this is obvious. Somebody makes money the way things are, so they have the money to make sure things stay that way. Corruption is now all but institutionalized in America, and a nation incapable of change is a nation well down the road toward destruction.

So what's the solution? First, I recently read an article predicting the fall of the Republican party in the next election. I could add that to the same prediction made by the mainstream media at about this time in the election cycle in every election year. Such an announcement serves two purposes. First, in de-energizes ordinary Americans, gives them the false impression that the election's in the bag, the system is working, and they don't have to get involved. The vested interests that own American media like that. Secondly, it frames the election in such a way that any improvement at all for Republicans in the polls (improvements they can always create with a timely infusion of cash) can be presented as w wholly unforeseen Republican resurgence,. That with a little lying, and electioneering will them stave of disaster for them, that will be held up as a Republican victory. When you've seen this game 50 times, it's hard to be surprised by it any more.

So, the upshot is overthrow the party of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, and likewise the multitudinous Democrats who are really just "Republican Lite." Find the candidates who are most likely to vote in the public interest in the next election and vote. Get politically involved in the upcoming elections as if your life depended on it, because it very well might.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The State of Art in Fort Worth

I came across the above sculpture in an art magazine from Fort Worth, Texas. How I came across an art magazine from Fort Worth I cannot fathom, or recall, but until that moment I'd never confronted the notion of artwork in Fort Worth. It was a terrible thing to ponder, and I must say the art in the Magazine generally served to confirm my worst fears, but of all the atrocious art featured, one piece stood out - the absolutely appalling 42 inch bronze sculpture, Harvest, by Seth Vandable. I must admit it has a certain power; in fact I was staggered at first sight of it! How in Gods name, I asked myself, could a single artwork embody so many "iconic motifs?"

The sculpture (depicted above) is of a bald, heavily (one might say over-muscled man) leaping into the air, as though he were light as a feather, with a sort of ecstatic gusto, like a ballerina. Yet, not only can he leap like a ballet dancer he can harvest wheat at the same time! For over his shoulder rests that great symbol of rustic virility, the grain scythe. In spite of the balletic overtones, this gives the sculpture a decidedly masculine air. Yet again, there's something more about the thing with the scythe. There's a bit of a hip, racy, perhaps even slightly communist aspect to it, which gives the whole thing that bit of necessary controversy, that bit of essential cachet.

Oh, wow! I get it! He's not just a bald, body-building, ballet dancer, who can dance while harvesting grain with rustic implements, he's also a political activist! (As everyone is in America today, and probably nobody will be again tomorrow, or whenever they feel that that's what's expected of them). Well, probably he's not an actual communist (this is Texas after all,) but maybe a little inclined towards politically correctness of some kind or another. Whatever.

At all events, the artist has really covered some ground here! A bald, virile, ballet dancing, body building, rural rustic, sod-buster, with a political edge! Who'd have thought it possible? But wait, there's more. He's also, apparently, trying to nurse a baby! Wow, this guy can really do it all. He's a bald, virile, ballet dancing, body building, rural rustic, sod buster, with a political edge, who's also trying to nurse a baby! Now this is a man for our times, a real multi-tasker! And I bet he does it all for $7. 50 per hour. This is Texas after all.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Who The Hell Are These People?

In seeking out what's responsible for the degeneration of American culture over the last 70 years, one finds many culprits to choose from. Pro wrestling, Joe McCarthy, cage fighting, Richard Nixon, Ayn Rand, country music, Milton Friedman, Texas, charter schools, Donald Trump, punk rock, Henry Kissinger, a congress of anti-social misfits, Clint Eastwood, Richard Nixon, and Dick Cheney all come readily to mind, among many other things! But of all the insults of an essentially injurious age, perhaps the worst, from the standpoint of pure nausea, is our vast array of "TV personalities."

Like many people I only use television to watch movies now, and have for decades. The reason is primarily these supposed human beings who are thrust on us by television networks night and day, week after week, year after year - people who in a sane world could only appear before the public in mug-shots, or in the case notes of baffled psychiatrists. Yet they are, to a very great degree, the people who set the tone of the era. American culture used to be created by the people themselves, but in our media obsessed age, through their incessant domination of communication, TV personalities largely create our culture - if you could still call it a culture.

I'll start with a single example, Joan Rivers! How in God's name did such an obnoxious, caterwauling, pea-brained, tattling, twit find her way onto national television? Did her agent make some station manager an offer he couldn't refuse?

It would be one thing, of course, if she was an exception, but just FORGETABOUTIT!!!

Let's have a look at a few of the wonderful people who've graced our public stage over the last half century. (I'm in my mid-fifties now, so some of these luminaries may be unfamiliar to younger people. If so, they should be deeply grateful!

Let's take another, Willard Scott! Where in hell did they find this simpering, jello-brained, hayseed? Or the film, and theater, critic Gene Shalit! Who lifted the rock? I guess they thought his absurd mutton-chop mustache and his mangrove swamp of hair made him resemble a circus clown, but without the charisma, and that that was a good thing! I can't see any other explanation, because he knew less about film, or any other art form for that matter, than Pavlov's dog! He wasn't a film critic. Like that other odious cream puff, Roger Ebert, he was a cheerleader! Neither of them ever saw a movie they didn't like!

JACKASS 14. . . "A stellar cast give scintillating performances in this never to be forgotten Hollywood classic, blah, blah, blah. . ."

Or take that vain, preening, beetle brained, closet Nazi, Geraldo Rivera. How could he have been hired to clean the bathrooms of television stations, much less to host his own show? And what kind of a society are we likely to have if we let people like that have a national podium from which to confound us with their addled babble? Then there's Regis Philbin, who should have been named, Egregious Filbin, it would have been so much more appropriate!

Even a partial list of such people would be shocking - and no, you can't tell me that someone like Geraldo Rivera is there because of insatiable public demand! I'm not buying it. He's there to facilitate a collective American IQ drop of another five points, because an educated public isn't in the interests of the ultra-rich, who now own this country.

So just for the hell of it let's go ahead and have a look at that partial list: Joan Rivers, Geraldo Rivera, Regis Philbin, Gene Shalit, Willard Scott, Pat Boone, Kaitie Couric, Bob Barker, Ed McMahon, Laurence Welk, Matt Lauer, Maury Povitch, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Al Roker, Andy Williams, Anita Bryant, Kim Kardashian, Howard Stern, Bill O’Reilly, Jay Leno, Barbara Walters, Martha Stewart, Paris Hilton, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Roger Ebert, Jerry Springer, Rush Limbaugh, Pat Sajak. . .

You'd have to hunt far and wide to find people who could cast such a blight on the intelligence and sensibilities of the public! And of course we all know this, we all complain about it. It's a truism. Yet for all the uproarious farce, it's not funny. These people, combined with a relentless attack on public education, have contributed greatly to the decline of American intelligence and moral character in our lifetime. Why do we tolerate it? The excuse, of course, is ratings, and by extension that holy of hollies, profits. But I'm sorry, there simply is no excuse. There is no excuse for allowing such people to turn us into a nation of morons. If we continue to give clowns the podium, they will eventually turn us all into clowns.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Friday, March 23, 2018

Lucy, The Dog

We got Lucy unexpectedly, when the director of the mental health clinic where my wife worked went crazy, as they all seemed to do eventually. She (the director of the clinic) had to leave the island to go back where she came from, and one of the things she turned to my wife and I for was to take her dog, which was a year-old, and had been left alone in the house most of the time since birth. I was hesitant to take Lucy. We have a small apartment, and I'd never had a small-breed dog before. In my experience they were yappy little things, high strung, not really worthy of the noble title "Dog."

Well, I was wrong. Lucy, who was with us for 12 years, turned out to be truly amazing! I know that it's trite, and perhaps even a touch unseemly, to go bragging on your own little dog. But if anything in life has buttressed my belief in some essential goodness in the cosmic scheme of things, it has been Lucy. Two things about her became immediately obvious. One, that like a lot of dogs she was absolutely loyal, and two, she had tremendous intelligence. Yet there was more to it than that. She was half Lasha Apso. These were the dogs that guarded the interiors of Tibetan monasteries, and according to Tibetan lore the souls of Buddhist monks reside in Lasha Apsos, awaiting their entrance into Nirvana, and coming to fully discover Lucy's temperament I found the thought a little disconcerting. It was simply too appropriate.

There's a spirit in some dogs that, lets face it, puts we human beings to shame. They are courageous, forbearing of our faults, and endlessly loving. Unless sick or wounded they are ever optimistic; their spirits never falter. I've heard people put this down to stupidity, but Lucy knew well the sadder aspects of life. She had been unwittingly abandoned for her first year, and had been desperately alone. No, her good nature wasn't due to stupidity. I'm convinced it was due to gratitude, and moreover, to wisdom.

I once heard the facetious prayer, "God, please help me to be the man that my dog thinks I am." That seems to be something towards which we all should aspire, to live up to our dog's good opinion of us. They never give up on us, no matter how far we fall short of their hopes and expectations. No matter how shabby our behavior, they always believe we can do better!

Lucy was a beautiful dog. Her hair was of gold, copper, and platinum - the platinum mostly on top of her head. Several people ask me if we dyed it that color. This caught me off guard. I'm not the type of person to dye my dog's hair. When we walked her downtown people would stop and say, "Oh my God, what a beautiful dog!" Kids would beg us to let them pet her, and after awhile total strangers called out with great enthusiasm as she passed, "Hey, there's Lucy!" This also caught me off guard. As far as I recall nobody's ever made such a fuss over me, personally. I can't remember anyone calling out as I passed by, Hey, there's that Hightower Guy!" It was an experience to which I'm not accustomed.

But all of that was, at least to me, not very important - though it did serve to make me aware of how very important external beauty is to some people, and I don't even mean that as criticism, really. The darned dog was just that adorable.

In 2005, I came down with a serious and mysterious illness, and lucy took it upon herself to became my nurse. She always knew which of the sores (that are one of the worst aspects of this illness) needed treatment most, and she whined at me until I did it. She chose to spend countless hours cheering me up, even though she really just wanted to go to the park.

She never barked without a good reason, and had an instinct to seek out high places from which she could view everything going on, and report back to us if anything was amiss. She was an omnivorous food critic, with very selective tastes. Thai red curry was one of her favorite dishes, but we couldn't let her eat it because dogs aren't supposed to eat Thai red curry. She didn't know that.

There was a time she was with my wife at the park and a woman was walking two rotweillers that slipped the leash, so lucy (all ten pounds of her) ran right at them and stood them off until the woman got control of them again. She didn't hesitated for an instant, and it was lucky she wasn't bitten in two.

In the days when I occasionally drank hard liquor she once took a sip from my glass of scotch on the rocks. She savored it a moment, looked at me a little patronizingly and never touched it again. That was just one of many ways in which she was smarter than I am.

When she got older, and sick herself, she couldn't jump up on our bed anymore, so I had to lift her up. I called this the advent of Pooh, because one of her many nicknames was Luscious Pooh. (Her most official nickname being Luscious P. Codwagon, I don't know why.) She felt awkward, and touchingly, a little embarrassed about needing help to get up on the bed. So often, before I picked her up, she'd stick her head over the top of the mattress, judging the distance, to decide if she could jump, then her head would go down again. Then up again, then down again. I never saw anything as cute as that little head going up and down, like a little periscope.

Whenever I decided to leave the house, just as I would make the decision, even before I stirred from my chair, Lucy would come running and stand by the door, boyant, expectant. "Can I come too dad?" her whole being seemed to say. She knew, almost before I did. How is that even possible? They say the eyes are the windows of the soul. What do we see in Lucy's eyes? Gentleness, patience, loyalty, love, hope and a very keen awareness. I wish that's what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Goodbye Lucy.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Ode to Belladonna, Chapter Twelve

In the palace of Constantine, not much more than a stone’s throw from the house where she was born, Theodora perched on her golden throne, while members of her entourage bustled quickly in and out, the sound of their movements amplified in the vast chamber into a constant, sweeping murmur. Empress in all but name now, awaiting only the imminent death of the august, diseased, and addled Emperor Justin, her figure was of such grave command it was as if her presence there was a simple consummation of fate – the mere culmination of the inevitable.
The former Empress, Euphemia, the deceased wife of Justin and the daughter of some minor official in the provinces (whom because of her given name Lupecina Theodora referred to as "that old bitch") still had enough of the old Roman hauteur to refuse her nephew Sabbatus' marriage to a courtesan, and when she had spoken of Theodora at all had chosen words far less dignified than "courtesan." Yet Euphemia never occupied the throne with a fraction of the possession of Theodora, and an awareness of this gave Theodora much satisfaction. When Euphemia had been alive, Theodora hated her with a red-hot passion, praying daily that God might find some plausible excuse for her swift ascension to heaven – and Theodora's prayers had been answered with alacrity – a sign to her of the strength of her faith, and of her favor with Grace.
This reflection on Euphemia was just one in a endless succession of thoughts and visions, schemes and prayers that passed through her mind then. Another was to contrive some plan to save the Monophysites from persecution – for when she had been in the Levant trying through marriage to escape her fate onstage (as well as the then unwelcome attentions of Sabbatius) she had reached through them a final, unshakeable, vision of Jesus that gave her the confidence and audacity to carve her way through the world.
This understanding was not of Him as God as Man (for she could never accept any mortal man as a God!) but as God Ascendant, as a man who became God only through leaving the world, and she relished the day that He would fall upon the earth to scour it with fire, cleansing the soul of man that it might be fit for paradise!
As for Euphemia, she had never been anything but a tiresome, prattling, old idiot; only slightly less foolish than her husband, and even less attractive ... but still Theodora had chafed under her insults and contempt. More than anything Theodora wanted to discard the vestiges of stigma from those years of humiliation hidden so adroitly, even from her sisters – humiliation disguised as acquiescence, jubilation, or simple revelry, but remembered keenly with rage and shame. Immediately upon her return to Constantinople, armed with her newfound understanding of Jesus, she had opened her campaign for power and revenge upon her enemies through the conquest of that peculiar, pathetic, and sad genius/half-wit, Sabbatius. It was to be a campaign against all who looked down on her, who had spat on her, who had humiliated her. She would rise now like a phoenix from the ashes and burn them in her flame.
There were many other questions paramount in her mind then too – the rise of Benedict (a monastic in Italy who she saw as a threat) and then, above all, the question of that old lecher, Asterius, who had hounded her family for so long.
As she thought of him the cavernous throne room brought back memories of her cave near the seawall, a cave that was home to her then even as her home became the home of Asterius while he "courted" her mother and his entourage drank and laughed. Now, having cast off her journey through the world, Theodora was content to sit in that great room so much like her cave, and sink into its dim light, its coolness, its oblivion of translucent stone, where her skin grew pale, akin to stone against her dark hair and eyes so lustrous, even more so now with the aid of belladonna. From the past her mind wound slowly to the future, the present being only a hinge, a mechanism, to shape the world according to her desires. And what were these desires of Theodora's, reclining on her gilded throne? Out of what usury and bitterness and pain had sprung these desires that she left the seam of her imperial gown slightly parted, allowing vistas deadly to even the most influential supplicant were they to let their eyes stray for there for even a moment? If the wicked game of sexual usury and cruelty had been played upon her, then she would raise the stakes.
Thus her mind spanned the future and the past, returning again and again to her bower by the sea to observe the pelicans in their mesmerizing dance, and to the caves where she had played with the bear cubs that would be torn apart, or to her mother’s house where Asterius had forced himself on them each and every one in turn.
Her mind revolved round and round these things until she could never stop thinking of them, and into these incarnations of things past came again the day he refused their petition in the Circus Maximus, the vision of his face turning away from them as from so much garbage and as she sat she swayed slightly from side to side as if impelled by a nonexistent wind, or in the hypnotizing throes of opium, or the unconscious impulse of a soldier swaying towards mortality, and a single tear rolled down her cheek. For to Theodora the vision of the world was rendered dark, and only through illusion within illusions could she hope to win the battle with a world turned against her. Only in a break from reality, an acceptance of illusion could she deprive the world of its sting and its losses the power to break her – and so transformed she would master its treacherous game – turn shame to power and power to vindication.
Roll on you goddamned godforsaken world, she thought, and I will roll with you – not in fatality but in judgment of those who have judged me – and I will stand before God in truth and say I only did what I had to do to survive – for I did not make the world but merely found myself in it with such a damned excess of life in me that I cannot bring it to an end... but I hate it here!

So through some strange set of miracles – the miracle of her mother and of her mother’s mirror, the miracle of the pelicans and of the broad flat sea, and of the leopards and bears she tended that found their way into her dance; she had become mistress of illusions, until finally mastering that greatest of all illusions, the illusion of life itself. She traversed its mystery without recoil even as she herself was lost, for had it not been God who made that test?
Even as a child Theodora had thus begun to reason, and as the woman who had been that child did this reason wax and resonate. Fortified by the bishops of the Levant in the mechanism of the present moment which was her soul, an act of God – she forged the fire of her mind that would revenge herself or die.
As she sat, her fingers (long and just touched now with the olive hue of the Levant) played an eager tattoo upon the dual, lion headed arms of the throne, and finally stirring, she called for her most trusted minister, and presently the eunuch, Narces ...stocky, bald and saturnine yet exuding some elusive power, came before her. Being of consummate skill in everything he undertook, from espionage to the raising of captive orchids, he was the head of her already detested secret police – the person she called upon for anything of either exceptional delicacy or exceptional cruelty.
From his large earlobes dangled golden earrings heavy with lustrous yellow gemstones that swayed ponderously when he walked, and beside him came the almost equally trusted old man whom one might have recognized as the old peddler from the hippodrome who Theodora had cheated the ruby from so long before, and whom she had come to respect for the knowledge he had gathered in his long journeys over the world. As she promised she had repaid him ten-fold and more in lifting him to minister.
“My dear Narces,” Theodora murmured, “I've heard Asterious’ wedding is tomorrow, is this true?"
“It is my lady.”
“What a glorious time of year for a wedding, and to think they chose the season of my upcoming wedding to hold their own! Do you think they meant to honor me?”
“I think, mistress, that they were hoping you wouldn’t hear of their wedding at all.”
“How charming!” Theodora exclaimed. “And they say he has made a very auspicious match. I am told that although her family is provincial, it's of highest rank.”
“That's what I gather, Mistress.”
“And is it also true that his former wife, the one he's kept locked away in his country estate recently passed on after falling from a balcony on their estate?
“Yes, mistress, I am sorry to say It is true.”
“How convenient for him. Well I think it's time that Aste-rious and I had a little heart-to-heart talk. Why not bring him around at, say, four this afternoon?” I’ve been looking forward our chat for some time now.”
“Yes ...he will be easy enough to find, I think, the day before his wedding.”
“I’ll want you on hand.”
“Of course, Mistress.”

That afternoon fifty imperial guards were seen trudging up a quiet street near the Forum of Theodosus to a villa with a spacious yard, lined with wisteria bushes, and as they passed, bystanders faded away through backstreets and alleys. These guards looked nothing like the soldiers of Caesar’s day with their light armament and leather tunics, but instead were draped in heavy chain-mail from head to knees, and heavily armed, with broadsword, shield, bow and arrow, pikes, and darts. They veritably bristled with weapons.
A loud party of several hundred men was taking place within, and the guard formed up quietly without to take them unaware. Almost before their presence had been noted, they splintered the door with a ram and rushed in, emerging with the screaming Asterius in their midst, not one of whose party had either the presence of mind or the loyalty to resist.

That afternoon Theodora retreated to her suite in the palace with stained glass windows, peaked in the gothic style, depicting scenes from the saints that let in a muted, colored, light. Sitting at her ebony vanity, flanked by vast armoires filled with the finest clothes from three continents, she arranged her make-up, and rather than dressing in any of these, instead she wore the costume she had often worn in her former life onstage, revealing her breasts and everything between the thighs and waist. Over this she draped a red-silk gown, tying its delicate sash. Then with a strange, inscrutable expression, she called for her personal guard – four of the most dangerous men in Constantinople – who escorted her through the labyrinth of the upper-palace, down numerous flights of stairs, through several heavily pad-locked doors, into yet another labyrinth of corridors, until finally arriving at a massive oak door. After a knock and a password the door opened to a great, dark chamber, lit by torches, and out of the recession into that dim-lit vastness came the grinding of steel and ringing of chains, the sound of subdued groaning and crying, and that of soft, almost whispered, pleading.
Familiar with this place Theodora made her way straight to the place where Asterious depended from the wall – each of his limbs chained to four heavy pins set in the massive stones.
“Theodora,” he said as she entered, “please ...”
Before he could say anything more she let her gown fall, revealing the costume of her life onstage. The expression of terror on his face gradually transformed as he looked at her to confusion, and slowly then into a slight smirk of triumph and sheer animal pride.
Theodora then took up a tambourine, her body beginning to sway from her head downwards into her broad hips like waves on the ocean. Asterious was fixated, and as the dance progressed she came closer to him, touching him with her breasts and her swaying hips, while all the while staring into his eyes; and as the dance progressed so did his state of arousal, until he was breathing heavily and making small moans of desire.
At that moment Narces stepped forward with a short, silver blade, and in one swift motion severed Asterius’s sexual organs, followed immediately by another man with a red-hot iron and cotton gauze, who over the screams of Asterious, cauterized the wound to staunch the bleeding. Then Narces poured a dose of some bubbling, heavy opiate down his throat.
So swift and effective was this dose at arresting the shock, that Asterious remained lucid while Theodora instructed him in his new duties as one of the palace eunuchs, first among which was as a sexual concubine to barbarian delegations.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower

Saturday, March 3, 2018


Darkness is closing in on the periphery of things;
The life-giving sun itself descends - not westward,
But outward, into the distance, towards oblivion.

We are on the brink of some great departure;
It can be felt in the restlessness of our feet,
In the unseasonable declination of the light.

Behold! Over the water a blood moon is rising;
From afar may be heard the long clarion blast,
And the wind is consumed in charcoal and ash.

Somewhere awakens an all-consuming Nemesis,
It's breath stale with the reek of blood,
Its eyes alight with the fever of the hunt.

You, who read the bloody portent of the runes,
Who hear the banshee keening in the night,
You, who know surging rivers, and the tidal flood,

Onward, through the impenetrable darkness!
Through the shriek and howl of the Moirai!
You, torch bearers, the path lies before you!

You, who with eyes open see the shadow,
Who have the courage to face the darkness,
You who bear the lamp alone, may find Elysium

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower
* Image source unknown

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Seventy Years War

There's been much talk in America over the years about war. Aside from the unjustified, and unforgivable, wars the American right has instigated against so many essentially innocent foreign nations since World War II, we've also had a war on drugs, a war on crime, etc. Even in the use of such terminology we see the inherently aggressive thrust of American policy in our era. It seems we're willing to declare war on anything, real or imaginary, living or dead! But one war that's been going on throughout my lifetime, and even long before, that's never been declared or acknowledged, is the war on education - and on the educated.

This war was spawned, in it's most modern incarnation, by The House Un-American Activities Committee (the creator of which was shortly thereafter imprisoned for corruption) leaving the field open for those men who went so far to destroy America as a nation respected and respectable - Joseph McCarthy, and Richard Nixon. The purging of liberally educated people from government, and from so many prominent areas of public life during the Mccarthy era, in the guise of expelling communists, left a dearth of qualified people in important positions. And this in turn led to the incalculable waste of excess military spending on the cold war, the grievously mistaken foray into Vietnam, and a hundred other horrible decisions made by the the stupid, and the corrupt, who were left in place once so many of the idealistic and intelligent were purged from prominent positions in American life.

It's a little, if ever, acknowledged fact, that though the McCarthy purges were not as murderous as Mao's cultural revolution, the purging of the most educated from positions of leadership and influence produced similar results as it did in Mao's China. America was set back generations; judging from the perspective of Donald Trump's America, one feels it not an exaggeration to say centuries! America's long long slide over the last seventy years from a great nation, to a mediocre nation, and finally to the butt of jokes and international derision, has been a sickening spectacle, and that fall lies squarely at the door of the McCarthy followers, and those who elected so many of his fellow travelers.

One feature of the modern war on education, and on the educated, is that so many of the original perpetrators of that war (such as Henry Ford, and Prescott Bush: George W. Bush's Grandfather) had active ties to Hitler's Nazi Party. This is readily verifiable fact - a simple google search will find innumerable valid sources of documentation - but though amply documented, it somehow remains an open secret. Even today the vast majority of Americans either don't know, or don't want to know, that many of our most prominent industrialists supported Nazi Germany. *1

The driving motive for the ultra-right's war on education should be obvious, but if the point needs elucidation, it is that education, ideally at least, leads to critical thinking, and thus to an understanding of the true nature of the state, and whether the state is run with the interests of the individual at heart. Since the ultra-right is inherently dictatorial in goals and outlook, it is not interested in the welfare of the individual, but only of the few, and therefore inherently opposed a quality education for the majority of citizens.

The latest among these seemingly limitless efforts to undermine people's ability to reason is the much trumpeted (by Donald Trump) notion of "fake news." Yes, fake news exists, in the guise of Fox News, and many other spurious sources. But these false media sources were mostly created by the wealthy vested interests who seek to undermine democracy by undermining people's ability to reason. Now, in order to muddy the waters further, and hopefully render their already deluded followers even more so, they use the existence of the false media they created to discredit what remains of genuine news media, by referring to it as "fake news!" Though the end is to destroy critical thought, the means are often very clever indeed!

Those who believe that public education is failing because it is in itself deficient, need only look back at America in the 1950s, when our public education was the best system of education in the world. It can't be said that human beings themselves have changed so essentially in the intervening years that what was possible in the 1950's is no longer possible today. No... It is precisely because our system of education was so good that the amalgamated forces of plutocracy and of aspiring oligarchy set about undermining it.

The end result is that our democracy has succumbed to oligarchy, and we are scarcely a skeleton of what we were 70 years ago. The great corporate leaders who instigated all this believed (and apparently still believe) that they were acting in their own interests. It is as if they believed they were living in some kind of vacuum, completely insulated from the destruction they've wrought on society, like some kind of mad doctor who believes he can destroy the body to improve the mind, forgetting that the mind and the body are mere aspects of the same organism. That is what Socrates meant when he said that we can't blindly follow the interests of the strong, because they may not be intelligent enough, wise enough, or good enough, even to know what's in their own best interests, much less in the interests of anyone else!

In all of this it's the triumph of private interest over public representation that's the essential mechanism, and so a referendum to end private financing of elections must be the single, overriding, goal of all reformers until it's achieved. For until that is achieved nothing can be achieved of lasting value or significance. Beyond this, we need to again set the goal of achieving the world's highest quality public education and to acquire a strong liberal arts education for ourselves. It's not just students and technocrats who need an education, and education is not just a pre-requisite for a job. It's a matter of survival. It is the only way to prevent the stupid from instituting policies, the far-reaching ramifications of which they themselves are not smart enough to understand, a situation that will, ultimately, result in our destruction.

Democracy has proven itself to be an enduring, even a great system of government, but it can only save us if we are willing to recommit to it. We must disregard the ubiquitous slogan, the false assertion, that government is bad and that all things provided by government (such as education, or healthcare) are bad, when the facts bear out just the opposite. Social security, medicare and medicaid are excellent systems, far better than the for-profit monstrosities some swindler created to get rich insinuating themselves between you and the services you need, while adding nothing of real and tangible value themselves.

Democratic government is not bad. The corruption of democratic government is bad. It is the corruption of our democracy, if left unabated, that will destroy us. So let us look again to the figures of that past who came forward when democracy was threatened with extinction - those figures like Franklin Roosevelt, whom we have to thank for that excellent government program, social security, and like Winston Churchill, who for a brief period stood almost literally alone against the Nazi terror. Let us finally rise in righteous anger against the dark forces ensnaring us.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018, Brent Hightower

1. I intend shortly to write an essay on this subject, including the most monumentally covered-up story of the 20th century, the attempted military coup against Franklin Roosevelt's administration by American industrialists, one foiled by an unsung and now almost forgotten American hero, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history, Major Gen. Smedly Butler, U.S. Marine Corps.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Understanding the Game

A central thing we do as human beings, in our interaction with one another, is learn to block out psychic pain; and the degree to which we're able to, or even want to do so, constitutes a great distinction among us. Some people block out such pain quite well, while others feel more acutely emotions like empathy, and love, that so often go in tandem with pain. This distinction affects a great deal in our lives, and I'd like to touch upon a few of those things in this essay, but because writing is of particular interest to me, let me start with its effect on our ability to write creatively.

I'll take poetry here to represent creative writing, and creativity in general, because it's the most intensely creative form of writing. Clearly, in order to write poetry, one must apprehend and experience life as it is, free from the blinders most of us develop to insulate us from the more painful aspects of life. I'll talk more about these blinders shortly, but my first point is that all artists need to apprehend life, notwithstanding its coldness and indifference to the individual, to derive any meaningful insight to communicate.

(Once, in a failed attempt to learn to draw, I studied a book entitled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. In essence, what it imparted was that when we begin to draw, most of us don't draw what we really see. Instead, we draw a representation of what we see - a representation created by our mind - a sort of symbol for what we see. When children first draw, for example, a tree, they don't draw what they really see before them, but a symbol of what they see. Not a tree, but the symbol of a tree. And most of us, when we attempt to draw, unless trained otherwise, continue to do this to a greater or lesser degree throughout our lives. A similar phenomenon takes place with writing; yet it's even more involved, and thus harder to overcome, because we are dealing with symbols that have deeper psychic roots than the symbols we create merely to understand the physical world.)

We create these symbols (or more accurately in this case, thought patterns) to hide ourselves from the painful aspects of reality. If, for example, a child realizes that his or her mother doesn't really love them, they create fictions to account for that behavior on her part. "She's just so busy. . ." or, "she can't express her true feelings," etc. Over time, these fictions and justifications become established facts in the child's mind, and often, encouraged by the withholder, established facts in the minds of others affected by the situation as well.

Thus, when a person writes about what they know best, or think they know best, their own life experience, they don't write the unvarnished truth, but, unwittingly, the sanitized version of the truth that exists in their mind - a symbol of reality like that of the neophyte artist. In order to shield ourselves we create comfortable illusions, but these illusions lack the fire of unadulterated vision. To write, especially to write poetry, is to suffer. A prime example of this truism would be the French poet, Baudelaire, whose sensitivity to the world was so acute it bordered on masochism. But with poetry (as with so much in this world of duality and paradox), we find a great contradiction regarding this question of sensitivity: one that partly accounts for there being so few great poets in any language.

John Keats (who was himself the most sensitive of human beings) said of his evolution as a poet, essentially, that the poet must gain detachment to be great; and, contrary to the above assertion that it's necessary for poets to retain their sensitivity, what Keats said was also true, and seems true of the creative process as a whole. One must gain detachment to present their vision in a manner that others (and not just they themselves) can appreciate, and yet one must retain their openness to be a poet - retain their capacity for passion, and compassion. They must not kill those things in themselves in exchange for the numbness that shields them from pain, but is also akin to death.

For that is the great price we pay for blocking out pain. With it we block out sensation, and sensation, in its broadest sense, is not just the meat of the writer, it is the essence of life. Our most meaningful communion with other living things is inextricably woven with sensation, and such communion is, finally, the only thing that really matters. No degree of luxury can make for a pleasant solitary confinement. On our deathbeds few of us will find ourselves wishing that we'd had a better car. It's relationships alone, with people and other beings, that have ultimate meaning. So just as the artist cannot allow themselves to be too sheltered, so people in general should seek to avoid the devil's bargain in order to remain, as fully as possible, alive. For, again, to completely block out the feelings that leave us most vulnerable to pain, is to effectively kill genuine communion, and thus in the process to gradually kill one's own spirit.

So, contrarily, the poet must be like a surgeon and stand aloof from their individual view of the world in order to reach the highest plane of communication, and through these two antipodes, the intensely personal and the universal, potentially reach those moments of transcendence that all artists should aspire to. And if the difficulties of embodying these contrary aspects of human nature at the same time, that of intense sensitivity and universal objectivity, seem insurmountable, that's because they virtually are, and that's why this level of artistry's so rare.

Shakespeare embodied these contrary aspects of the poet perhaps more clearly than anyone. Though he perceived the human condition all too clearly, in all its attendant injustice and tragedy, he was yet able to present that vision with unparalleled objectivity, as if he himself didn't exist. We see Shakespeare the man almost nowhere in his work - part of the reason, I think, that people seem eternally puzzled about who wrote his works. We know who wrote them. William Shakespeare wrote them. Yet having read them we still know nothing about Shakespeare the man, and so we remain curious.

This question of our respective abilities to block out pain has implications, however, much more fundamental, and urgent, than those of its affect upon the creative process. In our world today there are many advantages for those unable, or unwilling, to feel - and particularly for those who don't allow themselves to feel empathy. They can move through life relatively free of the pain of betrayal, rejection, and the other thousand shocks that flesh is heir to. Further, those who block their feelings have the potential to exert great power over those who retain more of their spiritual totality, through the exercise of various means of cruelty and manipulation. The reason for this is, at least partly, that others simply don't want to perceive the yawning depth of lovelessness in those who exhibit this characteristic in its acute forms.

This phenomenon of emotional deadening is complex, and something virtually all of us do to one degree or another. In some people it may arise from intense feelings of insecurity, from being too sensitive to absorb the assault on the self-esteem that everyone living encounters, in one form or another. In some it is innate. Those with personality disorders, such as narcissistic or anti-social personality disorder (conditions unfortunately more prevalent than most of us know)) lack something in their genetic makeup enabling them to bond with others. In my experience, to many such people, the realization follows that such a state of being has great advantages.

Those who deaden their emotions often find it brings them power, and power is addictive. There is something deeper here than readily meets the eye, something of universal importance. In this process some people become addicted to the thrill of power and substitute it for the finer aspects of themselves that have been deadened, or don't exist. This dichotomy, in many cases this choice, of whether to be or not to be, also seems connected to the conflict of the higher and lower forces that interact in the world, defining our reality.

The most subtle, and yet perhaps greatest, power of this deadened emotional receptiveness, may be achieved through simply withholding love and approval. Parents, for example, can exert a cleverly concealed tyranny over their children, simply by universally withholding love and approval, until their victims bow to their will. Such people may also resort to more egregious forms of subterfuge and intimidation, for the hollow, egotistical, thrill they find in getting their own way. Against people whose spectrum of emotional responses are intact, such withholding can prove to be an especially ruthless weapon. It has driven many people to suicide, and rarely does anyone confront the perpetrator. It can be a kind of hidden murder.

Such people seek to assert their will ruthlessly, though it may be arbitrary, irrational, or even perverted. Destroying their own spirits, they come to thrive on hollow substitutes, such as the thrill of self-righteousness, cruelty, and manipulation. It is this deadening of the higher sensibilities, such as love, associated with spiritual transcendence, that, left unchanged, will present humanity with its inevitable downfall. It is a mindset akin to that of a pack of hyenas fighting over a carcass, and a mindset that has become celebrated in our culture. Many people now, unabashedly even, see this mindset as the defining credo of America. This is much of the explanation for America's startlingly rapid decline since 1945.

Many who read this may be saying to themselves - he exaggerates! But a mere glance at the state of human society today should be enough to demonstrate that I do not. At this juncture anyone can see something is deeply wrong with society, and that it's hidden. Clearly it is there! We know it is! But what is it, where is it?

Here is where it is.

These qualities of sensitivity, or deadness to sensation, exist on a spectrum. We rarely find a single person who embodies one or the other entirely. We all must live in a world governed, at least partially, by Darwinian survival of the fittest, and we must all somehow adapt to the nature of that cold reality. Yet it is also true that the lack of sensitivity can and does become a recognized pathology, and that the key significance of these pathologies has just lately been fully recognized.

At any rate, such coercion through negation often goes completely unnoticed, and so it is a chief weapon of those who want to impose their will on others. It isn't socially acceptable (again, for example) for parents to openly demand that their daughter stay home and take care of them until they die. So instead they may withhold love and approval, and shame her for having a normal sexual interest. Thus a person who has emotionally detached acquires the power to dominate others, exerting a malevolent influence over those who have retained their capacity for love and the higher aspects of being.

This is true in society as well as in family. How can the abused point to nothing, to negation, as the source of their abuse? When in fact, negation itself is often the most significant aspect of how we are abused? How can we say that it's what our parents don't ever say that wounds us most? How can we say it's how our employers never respond, no matter how hard we work, that wounds us most? How can we say it's how we're never rewarded for our actions, no matter how loyal or altruistic they are, that wounds us most? It may very well be (and often is in an era in which evasion of responsibility has become elevated to a Dark Art), that no matter how abused we are, we can't ever point a finger at our abusers because the method used to abuse us is hidden.

In this, it seems to me, lies the consummate evil of the corporate structure, which seeks to codify the deadening of all feeling, of all impulses of love, and compassion, toward all people, and all living things, into an unassailable and all-powerful institution. This is, from my perspective, evil incarnate, and it is destroying the world. Yet the point is, and we all need to understand this: it is not the corporation itself that is evil. it is that aspect of ourselves described above, that has created the corporation in its own image, that is evil. It is the capacity in us to deaden all human feeling in order to achieve power that is evil.

From the corporate boardroom, to the halls of Congress, to the dysfunctional family, to the bully in the schoolyard, the world is filled with those who've traded their spiritual wholeness for a deadness in life that brings earthly power, and people need to recognize this clearly if they choose to oppose evil in our families and institutions.

It's very understandable that people want to shield themselves from pain, but it's well to see that in this seemingly understandable and forgivable tendency lies the root of evil itself. The world can bring us misfortunes, but only human beings can bring us evil. In my experience, those who block their feelings utterly, often come to see themselves as superior to those who cannot, or will not, do so. And this feeling of superiority in turn justifies ever higher degrees of selfishness and callousness over time. They see others who don't want to deaden themselves to the higher sensations and experiences in life, as weak, or stupid, and as being "an easy mark."

Thus the higher human feelings, such as love, compassion, and artistic creativity, often become a liability in the Darwinian jungle such people reduce us to, to suit their own lower natures, and the very higher aspects of ourselves that might enable us to advance as a species become liabilities, and chains, that tie us to evil masters. Such de-humanized people have an advantage because it's always easier to tear down and destroy than to build and create. So the first priority of civilized society is to see that those who have retained their higher human attributes remain those who direct the course of that society and shape the future. In the world today humanity is failing this test. Thus the world is made topsy turvy, and all too commonly, in too many walks of life, the worst of us come to dominate the best.

Brent Hightower
Copyright 2018 Brent Hightower
*Image from University of Worcester