Conspiracies and Monsters Under the Bed

When I was a child my brother had a toy robot that would walk a few steps, its chest would fly open, laser machine guns would pop out, and lights would start flashing as it fired at you. After about five seconds the doors would close and the cycle would begin again. It was actually a pretty neat toy, especially for the early 1970s. At night I would have nightmares that Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows lived in our basement and would send that robot toy up the steps. When it fired at me I couldn’t move, and it would walk up to me, lift up its robot arms and grab my calves, inflicting excruciating pain. For those too young to remember, Barnabas Collins was a vampire on a daytime soap opera called Dark Shadows. I’m not aware of any Barnabas Collins conspiracy theories, but if Dark Shadows was on television today I am quite sure more than a few lunatics would think he was real and determined to influence the next presidential election through voter fraud.

Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins

As a younger child I believed there were monsters under the bed. My paternal grandmother always used to tell me “don’t let the bedbugs bite,” and since I had no idea what a bedbug was I was pretty sure they emerged from under the bed looking more or less like a lobster. The belief that monsters live under the bed is normal and age appropriate for healthy children, but if a person reached thirty years old and still was afraid to look under the bed that would indicate some serious issues that would require professional help. Imagination is wonderful as long as it is voluntary. If we find ourselves sliding into imagination and fantasy in an involuntary way it can become not very wonderful at all. In fact, it is one of the hallmarks of a delusional state and quite possibly serious mental illness. Imagination can be a very effective way to hide from reality, but that escape comes at a cost. When we find ourselves slipping into delusion involuntarily, we may be in deep trouble.

Over the last few decades, unscrupulous people in the media have sought to take advantage of those inclined to dwell in fantasy, whether voluntarily or not. Most of them have been discredited, but that doesn’t damage their credibility among their followers. To the paranoid, the fact that one of their icons has been discredited actually adds to their credibility. While these people believe their spokespeople are the victims, the real victims are their patsies and those who have been impacted by true tragedy and so are targeted by the Alex Joneses of the world. While to you and me these hucksters and their message are obviously false, to someone who yearns to feel wise and accepted or for whom the world as it is structured isn’t working out for them, the most outrageous nonsense seems an opportunity for them to finally know more than everyone around them. These people need the monsters under their beds to be real. While we might be tempted to reason with them, it won’t work – it will only reinforce their paranoid delusions.

I mention all this because we have a President who preys on these people as well. He is already attempting to lay doubt about the integrity of the upcoming election, despite the fact that the evidence is clear that his election was in part the result of interference from Russia. Of course, the people to whom he appeals will believe him, and won’t change their mind about him (or Sandy Hook) because he makes them feel wise and insightful. Our job isn’t to change people’s minds. That can’t be done because most people’s minds are shut. Our job is to vote anyone who would take advantage of others the way this President seeks to do out of office and to do our best to ensure people like him never find their way to public office again – no matter their party affiliation. That task is so crucial that the future of our republic depends on it.

Moving Beyond Fear

Fear isn’t a bad thing. In fact, when it pops up appropriately it serves an important function – it keeps us safe. When you are crossing the street and hear the sound of a bus bearing down on you, fear arises and helps kick your body into action to avoid becoming road kill. That’s good fear. When you are driving down the street and notice a flooded intersection, good fear tells you to turn around rather than try to drive through. False bravado encourages you to forge ahead into the intersection and the sink hole hidden under the water. Even if we could banish fear from our lives, it would be unwise. Many of us, however, experience fear that isn’t helpful. One of those is fear of the unknown.

We live in a time unlike any other in our lifetime, unless we happen to be over one hundred years old. Our lifestyles have been suspended by a world-wide pandemic. It seems like nothing about our lives is the same as it was just six months ago. We don’t know what life will be like once the corona virus is under control, but there is at least a chance that there will be a new normal. We have seen that Americans are poorly equipped to respond to this kind of a crisis. Our obsession with what we incorrectly assume is independence – it’s really selfishness – leads us to make awful choices because we don’t seem to realize we live in a society and selfishness is maladaptive. To cite but one example, people in other parts of the world have worn face masks for years. In those cultures they understand that not wearing a mask is rude and inconsiderate. In America some of us believe being rude and inconsiderate is something to wear like a badge of honor.

So many of our maladaptive behaviors emerge from fear. In uncertain times, fear lurks around every corner. It can help, when we feel fear arising, to ask ourselves about that fear. Is it present to alert us to danger, or is it the result of uncertainty? If it’s uncertainty that is the issue, can we recall other times when uncertainty arose and everything worked out well? Can we see that only rarely does uncertainty lead to problems that can’t be resolved? Even more importantly, can we see that quite often what lies beyond uncertainty is an opportunity for growth? The truth is that uncertainty and growth can help us to move beyond fear into opportunity. We may need that ability now more than ever.

Nothing is Ruined or Lost

I have been seeing articles lately, mostly aimed at millennials, declaring that this summer or this year is lost. I confess that I am mystified by this feeling, though I am not unfamiliar with it. In fact, I hear similar things from my thirty something daughter all the time. The summer is lost because the pools may not open, festivals are cancelled, concerts aren’t happening, and all manner of interruptions are taking place in an effort to mitigate the impact of the corona virus. In places where those precautions aren’t being taken the number of cases are rapidly rising, just as the experts predicted they would – imagine that!

We tend to confuse what is typical or what is normal with what is mandatory. Just because things most often play out in a certain way doesn’t mean that is the only way our lives can unfold. Most of us have likely seen a DVD of a popular movie that included alternate endings. Suppose that a movie was released to theaters with different endings that were randomly chosen. Would that mean that people who saw the second ending didn’t see that movie and had wasted their time and money going to the theater? Would it mean they had never seen the movie?

Life unfolds in ways that are often unpredictable. That’s what keeps it interesting. I once watched a movie with a friend who had seen that movie six times. For some reason they thought I would enjoy it if they continually told me what would happen next. They were like a talking, popcorn munching spoiler. I finally had to tell them to shut up or turn the movie off because knowing what would happen next took all the fun out of the movie! Life is the same way. Knowing what’s coming next may keep us safe from unpleasant surprises, but it keeps us safe from the pleasant ones, too!

Whatever happens this summer, trust that life will unfold just the way it is supposed to unfold, even if that is very different from previous years. Decide to enjoy the unusual rather than bemoan missing your thirty-fourth Phish concert. Think of the rest of this year as an adventure, because that is what it is. Celebrate the break from routine and look for the new and the positive. I promise you that what you look for is what you get. That means you ultimately decide whether this year is wasted or lost – and you are the only one you can blame for the outcome!

Who’s the Snowflake Now?

bomb shelterBack in the good old days when I was a child, back yard fallout shelters for the soon to be arriving nuclear winter were all the rage. Those in the know and with the means had them installed and stocked them with canned goods in a kind of pre-survivalist form of denial. Everything you needed to survive, the theory went, could be stocked in your underground hideaway. The fact that it would take hundreds to thousands of years for your neighborhood to be habitable above ground apparently wasn’t of concern. You would be just fine underground, killing your neighbors who tried to access your shelter before you could seal the door. There were countless movies made during this time that played out these scenarios ad nauseum. Funny, though, I don’t remember any fallout shelters including a toilet.

This all sounds great, right? Except that if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that the snowflakeskind of person who would have a backyard bomb shelter would never make it. It was the conservatives who were hawks when it came to war that wanted the shelters, and it’s the conservatives today who are crying about their rights being restricted after weeks (not decades) of staying at home in a decidedly half-ass sort of way. It’s the conservatives who don’t want to wear a mask to protect others and feel the need to strut around with their long guns at their side, something most definitely ill advised in the middle of a nuclear winter. It’s the conservatives who dismiss science in favor of their own opinion and feel the need to reopen the economy at the cost of thousands of lives. Clearly, they would feel the need to reopen the door of their fallout shelter against scientific advice as well. After all, they know their rights.

Nature really does abhor a vacuum, even if it is between the ears of a snowflake.

Freedom

All the brave protesters shouting "I am free,"
Spinning in their box for some pigeon feed.
Rage on their faces, rifles at their side,
"Don't mess with me because I know my rights!"

Convincing themselves much ado about nothing
So much better than a little blue pill.
Spending all your time compensating,
Still at the Statehouse you find time to kill.

A woman in charge simply will not stand,
At least not if you're an impotent he-man
So hide your face because you're brave
And play to the camera your freedom to save.

God knows it isn't easy to be effete,
Another 'Murican gone down to defeat.
Screw the dog, kick the wife,
Nobody can tell you to get a life.

 

Three People and a Goat

COVID 19, aka the corona virus, seems to have brought the world to its knees – with some notably stupid exceptions. In the United States, we have seen increasingly restrictive twatbumpmeasures taken by state and local governments as they try to control the spread of a virus that we still aren’t completely sure of its method of transmission. Some of the measures taken seem sensible, others seem profoundly silly if not outright stupid. Among those is the elbow bump, which we are told is preferable to the handshake for limiting transmission of the virus despite the fact that two people need to stand significantly closer – twice as close, in fact – to bump elbows than they do to shake hands. Given that transmissions seems to be droplet transmission, moving in closer to the potential business end of an unexpected sneeze doesn’t seem advisable.

Meanwhile, as government officials are finding new and better ways to look foolish, Americans have been panic buying and hoarding any number of products from toilet 3andagoatpaper to hand sanitizer. Oddly enough for a flu virus, kleenex doesn’t seem to be the object of hoarding, which is only one of any number of things about this virus and our government’s response to it that makes very little sense. Public gatherings were restricted first in a general sort of way, then to groups smaller than fifty, then to groups smaller than ten. Tomorrow I would expect the restriction will be groups no larger than three people and a goat. Meanwhile the twenty-four hour news cycle rolls on, and people are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by seemingly endless and endlessly changing information.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, I have some suggestions. The first would be to limit your news intake to thirty minutes a day. You can break that up however you like, but once origamiyou hit your thirty minutes you are done with any news source until the next day. The second thing is to decide what you can control. You cannot control the spread of the virus, but you can control your own activity and behavior. If you really don’t want to contract the virus, stay in your house and don’t have guests over. Between Amazon, services like Door Dash, and other delivery services, we can now have everything delivered. Choose “no contact” deliveries so you don’t have to expose yourself to the delivery person. The virus can’t get in your house unless it is riding in someone who has it. Finally, distract yourself. Read a book, watch a TV show or a movie on Netflix, go for a walk, bake a cake, take up origami, perfect the paper airplane. This will not last forever, and some perspective mixed with distraction will make the time pass much more comfortably.

Coronavirus and Corona Beer

…are not the same thing. In fact, they are not linked in any way other than sharing a name. You do not get coronavirus from drinking corona beer. Depending on which coronavirussurvey you believe, between sixteen and thirty-eight percent of Americans believe there is a connection. Claims that Corona stock has fallen are not true, and Corona claims sales are not down, but give it time. Splitting the difference between surveys, we can surmise that one quarter of Americans are profoundly stupid. There is no gentle way to say it. They should, even as adults, be riding the shorty bus to work and wearing hockey helmets for their own protection. That is astounding.

Then again, intelligence – like every naturally occurring phenomena – is distributed IQcurveacross a bell curve. If you are familiar with bell curves, that means you know that half of Americans are of below average intelligence. One of the implications of that is that half of the voting populace are of below average intelligence. That goes a long way to explaining much of our problem. Odds are, those same people heading home after voting will not be stopping for a Corona beer. It seems to me that is something the good people at Corona should be jumping on in their next advertising campaign. “Corona: not for idiots!” You can just send me a check for the idea, Corona.

Places That Frighten Us

When I was a freshman in college I worked at Marshall Field’s here in Milwaukee. It was a department store chain based in Chicago. I heard stories from my managers about the SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESmain store in Chicago on State Street. The store had a basement, a floor that in many old school department stores held what today we would call clearance or overstock items. There were bargains to be had in the basement floor of every major department store – so much so that many department stores would open separate buildings that they called their basement store. I still remember visiting Filene’s basement store in Boston when I lived there.

Anyway, the main store of Marshall Field’s in Chicago also had sub-basements. These levels weren’t open to the general public. They housed the kind of massive shipping, receiving, and stockrooms that the old eight to twelve story department stores required.

mandelldept
The Subbasement of Mandel Bros. Dept. Store

From what the managers at my store told me, the further you descended the sub-basement levels, the stranger things got. Maybe the stories were retail versions of ghost stories, but I suspect not. Just as there are people who feel more than comfortable in subterranean environment there are people who feel called to work at night while the rest of us sleep. Just as likely is that some of these people choose to work at night because they would rather not interact with us.

Bumps_in_the_nightWhatever our reasons for moving into the night or underground might be, we all would benefit from understanding the primal fear that exists for some of us in those places. It would help us to understand the irrational aspects of our fear that likely are rooted in early human history when going out into the dark exposed caveman to some serious predators. I believe that all of our seemly irrational fears are linked to the desire for self preservation. If we find ourselves feeling uncomfortable but can’t identify the reason, our answer might be hiding in the dark reaches of humanity’s past. Shining a light on those connections may move us past them!

Who Are We to Be?

I confess that, watching the political discourse over the last few years I have become increasingly discouraged. I have watched American politics, not as an obsession but as a citizen interested in public discourse, since the late Johnson administration. To my more smart assed younger friends, I should specify that I mean the Lyndon, and not the Andrew Johnson administration. What I have noticed, at every level and in every party, is a loss of any sense of value or integrity. People just seem to feel fine about dishing bald faced lies to the American public if doing so advances their cause, career, or (more likely) lines their pockets.

If we are honest, these are the kind of people we wouldn’t want to invite into our homes for dinner for fear they would steal the silverware. Like a drug addicted child, we would have to exert so much energy monitoring their behavior while they were visiting that we couldn’t possibly enjoy the visit. If we are honest, we don’t have to stretch our imagination too much to imagine a current politician or one of their employees searching through our bank records while ostensibly on a trip to the bathroom.

As someone who has spent the vast majority of his adult like studying and working in the fields of spirituality, religion, and psychology, it is clear to me that a significant segment of our population has come worship power and money above all else. Values such as integrity, truth, loyalty, and dependability take a back seat in these belief systems. Perhaps even more telling is the truth that the worship of power and money arise in a person who is profoundly fearful and lacks a way to understand and process that fear. They become a starving man in front of a tray of food, who takes it and eats it without regard because he knows he must do so to survive – except that most of these people have more than enough to survive. Their starvation is a starvation of soul, and the result is an ego run amok. The result of their strategy is a life chasing something they will never catch.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, a Buddhist, a Jew, a Moslem, or a follower of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You might be a Jungian, a Freudian, or a follower of Fritz Perls. Maybe Elkhart Tolle helps you make sense of your world, and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday makes all right in your world. Whatever it is, the human psyche needs a way to make sense of its world and to find in it something bigger than itself. It doesn’t need to be complicated. The Dalai Lama reminds us the his religion is kindness. Each of us must find a way to care about something other than ourselves at least some of the time. If we can’t do that, we are likely to find ourselves trying to lie, cheat, and steal our way to happiness – and pondering a run for political office.

Guns, Schools, and Selfishness

At a certain developmental stage, young children are appropriately concerned only about themselves and what they want. At that stage, that behavior is appropriate and we would be wrong (and ineffective) if we tried to hurry them out of that stage. We would interfere with their normal, healthy development, and they would suffer consequences at they moved into adulthood.

When we are adults, living in society, and presumably capable of understanding the world in a much broader way than a three year old does, we come to realize that some of the things we might want to do that we cannot do out of concern for the greater good. For example, we might want to drive through a school zone at seventy-five miles per hour, but children might be hurt. We pass laws to make such things illegal, and no reasonable person objects to those laws.

You might think that same logic would apply to questions of gun control given that high number of gun incidents in school zones. You might expect that reasonable people, seeing the danger inherent in the regularity with which shootings and near-shootings* occur at schools in America, would be willing to change our laws to restrict access to firearms even if such changes impacted their perceived right to own as large an arsenal as they might like. You would be wrong, however.

America is well past the point where there is any reasonable argument in favor of the status quo in gun control. What we have isn’t working. Any politician who argues against stricter gun laws is likely in the back pocket of the NRA and is corrupt and needs to be removed from office. Even the most rudimentary understanding of any of the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions tells us that nothing is more important than the health and safety of a child.

The truth is that when we encounter someone who believes that their need to own a gun is more important that a child’s need to life, we have encountered a moral midget who needs to be ignored. If we are to live in a civilized society, we have to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children. If you feel you need to hunt, I’d suggest you buy a bow and arrow.