“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2

Part 1 featured a whole bunch of disclaimers.  Here’s another:

1) I am not opposed to religion.  I have spent more years than I care to admit to studying the religions of the world.  I know that they hold value for those who subscribe to them and I very much understand how they can offer a framework that provides stability in the face of the unstable and hope in situations of hopelessness.

Emotionally, I understand the comfort in having something like that as a foundation to life.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of belief and comfort has not made me angry, or bitter, or lacking in something fundamentally human.   People are going to believe as they wish, and, provided that it does not interfere in any way with the rights and freedoms of their fellow human beings or our progression and evolution as we seek to further understand our universe, I say (cautiously), knock yourselves out.

Intellectually, I cannot believe in external, supernatural manifestations of good and evil.  That those two extremes exist in the world is an indicator of their presence within us.  We humans have an incredible capacity for beautiful acts of good and terrible depths of evil.  And, unfortunately, those impulses- standing alone or as a mix of the two (evil is frequently done with the best of intentions)- cause us to do terrible things in the name of belief.

When that happens, we have to root out the causes of such actions and work as a society to prevent them from happening again.

Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article attempts to do just that.

It is a first step- highlighting some of the challenges faced by immigrant families in a new, multicultural environment, separated from extended family and history and ‘the known’ and left to figure things out without enough community resources to facilitate their transition between cultures.

(My good friend, Farah, has done great work in this field.  Her perspective, experiences and huge store of knowledge on this subject is invaluable.)

Through her interviews, Reitman illustrates the ways in which people can hide their disconnection from the larger community, while seeming to be involved and engaged with those around them.  It shows that someone who appears well-adjusted can lose that sense of belonging when stability is threatened or removed completely.  And that people, when left without that stability, can be influenced by organizations or ideologies that, at base, are all about the search for power through destructive means.

I do have some issues with the article.  Primarily the fact that Reitman labels the subject of her article a ‘monster’.

Words have a great deal of impact and affect our reactions on a very basic level.  Rather than calling the accused to account for his actions, denying the humanity of the person in fact becomes a way of excusing the actions.  Monsters are monstrous because they are MONSTERS.

When people do horrible things there are reasons- however insignificant or incomprehensible or inexcusable.  There ARE reasons.  And getting to the source of those reasons can help us prevent future actions that may result from the same conditions.  Making perpetrators into monsters also abrogates our collective responsibility for the conditions that can lead to heinous acts.

Externalizing evil- making destructive thoughts/actions all about the Other– whether supernatural in origin or sourced in a different culture/religion/worldview suggests that there is nothing we can do about it.

(I’ve begun to examine the origins of this propensity to excuse ourselves from our tendencies toward doing evil hereherehere and here).

Of course there is something we can do about it.  We are pretty awesome at solving problems when we put our collective minds and resources together.

This blog is supposed to emphasize the best of humanity.

Sometimes we have to look at the worst- and figure our where it came from- so that those impulses to act against our fellow humans in such heinous ways can be eradicated.  This requires that we examine the causes of social anomie- including the reasons why a young man, seemingly well-adjusted and from a ‘nice neighbourhood,’ could do something like he did.

Taking one magazine to task for publishing an investigative story suggests that we should be holding our journalists to some standard of sensitivity and morality- one that takes feelings into account- and yet the media has become an hysterical free-for-all of opinion and sensationalism rather than a measured and well-researched exploration of facts, origins, conditions and resulting outcomes.  Post-9/11, media outlets and satirical commentators were silenced for doing what they do- delving into the story behind the obvious extremity and inhumaity of the act.

Although not always the case, there are generally complex issues at play- involving religion, society, myth, culture.

Our illustrious PM, in a turnabout of his expressed opinion that we should not ‘commit sociology’ (I ranted about that here), has changed his tune about searching for causality in a different circumstance.   The causes of one tragedy, but not the other, are, apparently, worth discovering.

Investigating the process by which a young North American college student became a radicalized terrorist is perceived as somehow ‘glorifying’ the act and the actor, although both dangerous and short-sighted to an alarming degree, and is not viewed as being as important as punishing the perpetrator.

Investigating whether or not a terrible accident had its source in negligence or in the government-advocated cutting back of standards in operational procedures on the rails of our country?  THAT will be done, and ‘quickly’.

As I stated on my ‘About’ page, my studies of religion and humanity have taught me that sometimes we have to un-create our gods- or our closely-held ideologies- and create something better and more human. And humane.

Rolling Stone has always been associated with the liberal end of the politically ideological spectrum.  Interestingly, many of the retail corporations and celebrities that have loudly spoken out against the August cover article can be found at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Politicizing our reactions to tragic events is despicable, and is one of those things that we have to change.  It is one aspect of our political system(s), media, and society in general, that needs to be un-created and re-created in a way that takes into account something other than power/influence for its own sake.

Jann Wenner named his magazine after a 1950 Muddy Waters song.  The proverb (credited to Publilius Syrus in the 1st century BCE) that inspired that song “is often interpreted as referring to figurative nomads who avoid taking on responsibilities or cultivating or advancing their own knowledge, experience or culture” while “another interpretation equates moss to stagnation” (according to the Wikipedia).

Bob Dylan used the proverbial image as the basis for the extended piece of poetry that became his 1965 song Like A Rolling Stone.  It is a wonderfully complex song that explores the themes of resentment and revenge, as well as compassion, and the perceived freedom of being without ties:

When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose

You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to reveal

How does it feel?

To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a Rolling Stone

Because everything is connected (and because that’s the way my mind works) it’s hard not to see the correspondence of themes in Dylan’s song and the human condition of loneliness and disconnection that can lead to social anomie.

Don McLean’s American Pie (one of my all time fave tunes) has a nostalgic yearning for an era in which things were not stagnant- the time before the Day the Music Died.  Although he is famously elusive about discussing the meaning behind the song, McLean is citing a point in time that is associated with perceived innocence, but also with change and progress.

For the “10 years we’ve been on our own… moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that’s not how it used to be.”

That was 42 (!) years ago.

We have to keep rolling forward and let the moss of stagnation fall from us as we work together to solve the problems that lead people to the desperation and separation that can lead to acts of terror.  We should be ‘advancing our knowledge, experience and culture’ while refusing to be mired in the past or in created ideologies that prevent this progress.

That isn’t going to happen if we insist on silencing our writers for the sake of ‘sensibilities’ or due to the politically motivated obfuscation of invaluable research and social criticism.

How does it feel?

It’s an important question that needs to be answered.

10 comments on ““Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2

  1. Of all the deep things you’ve touched on, I’m stuck on the notion of blurred lines between famous/infamous. It seems to me that in “celebrity,” we are as polarized as in any other expression of our humanity. We “celebrate” the notorious as hero or monster — pick a side. There’s a whole long story here, but some news story or other (not this one, but I honestly can’t remember which, because I am as much a part of the collectively fleeting attention span as anyone) brought to mind Ellis Paul’s song “Who Killed John Lennon?” in which he points out that every time (“you,” the press) say the assassin’s name out loud, he kills him again, essentially by giving the assassin the notoriety he craved. It seems everyone is looking to be “famous” (often for nothing, in my opinion), from the blogger looking for more followers — because somehow that equates to being . . .I don’t know, a more worthy human? — to movie stars and “religious” radicals. I started out with a reasonable point, but now I can’t remember what my point is. I’ll probably be thinking about it for the rest of the day, though. 🙂

    • colemining says:

      HC- this is so true. It’s all about the dichotomy- forever and always. It makes me nutso. I don’t like the fact that we know the names of people who have committed atrocities- on whatever scale- and forget- if we ever even knew- the names of those who were impacted by said atrocities. It’s the reason I avoided mentioning the accused’s (now the convicted’s) name. I’d rather not have my thoughts on the matter come up in searches that people might do about the guy- not because I deem him as somehow less than human- but because I’m completely opposed to the sensationalism that causes people to focus on the wrong things.

      Since I wrote this, there’s been a whole lot more discussion about ‘home-grown’ radicals in light of all the things going on with that Islamic State group- yet the dialogue about why such people make the choices they do is as stilted and discouraged now as it has ever been. ‘Leaders’ don’t care to know why- they just want to punish (our PM is the choirmaster of that particular way of ‘thinking’)- since punitive reactions attract more attention and feed our need for vengeance.

      I have no sympathy/empathy for people who act violently against their fellow humans- especially when those actions are done in the name of ‘ideas’ or ‘concepts’ that are based in mythology- rather than evidence. But that certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t, collectively, learn something from discovering why some people see violence and destruction as an acceptable response to the ills of society- whether those ills are real or perceived. Call it ‘preventative maintenance’ if you will. Sussing out the origins of discontent can keep it from developing into actions that belie anything that can be labelled ‘human’.

      Thank you for the visit- and the comment. It’s always reassuring to hear that people like you are out there thinking about these things. Makes me feel far less lonely! xo

  2. I read this the other day, Cole but hate to hit like when I’ve no time to comment. And I wanted to comment. So many things to comment on. But one main one for me.
    In a court of law (if functioning as it should) reasons and mitigating circumstances are taken account of when determining guilt/innocence and sentencing reflects (or is supposed to) all the facts.
    Sheesh, even in school, where minor incidences occur, its incumbent on teachers to look at all sides of the problem or we’d have parents and all sorts of flak coming at us for not looking at the circumstances surrounding each incident. Patterns emerge sometimes and that’s when we might detect bullying/worries/abuse etc.
    We can’t afford not to look at the possible reasons underlying.
    It does seem negligent then that those who should wish to understand, in efforts to avert dire results, should seek to subvert understanding. It’s too easy to dismiss little things as nothing.
    I’ve been guilty of it myself in my family.
    One of my daughters – now 22 – had a habit, as a child, of mooching about at night after she should have been in bed, offering up ‘I’m thirsty, can’t sleep’ excuses until it eventually dawned on me that she needed to talk. Something or other would be on her mind and that was her way of expressing her need without actually saying it. Once you asked, right enough, she couldn’t shut up! Don’t know where she gets that. :/
    But it does beg the question that perhaps if we just asked, ‘Is there something wrong, do you need to talk?’ etc we might actually find reasons that, while not to our liking, go some way to explaining the reasons behind behaviour.
    If we can do it with our kids, in school, in courts, with our partners, we should be able to allow the same in the wider sphere. (Although, thinking about that statement, makes me realise that we don’t always do that with our nearest and dearest even while it’s desirable for growth and understanding.)
    As always, Cole, your thoughts question the heart of the matter. A little heart and mind needs to be brought to bear in understanding the world around us and the diverse, sometimes confused, reasons behind the odd.
    Human nature isn’t so complicated, (hmmm, maybe,) that we can’t use the combined psychology of wonderful minds and some common sense to appreciate, at least, that ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’. For whatever reasons. We can’t afford not to understand.
    And this is why I sometimes don’t ‘like’ till later! :/ Like mother, like daughter. 😉

    • colemining says:

      Lol- I hear you on all points, A-M. I’ve been negligent with comments lately- which doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading, just that I’m trying to focus on a couple of things (as opposed to the constant chatter that holds court in my brain, usually), and I’m often hesitant to just hit that ‘like’ button without expressing the reasons why I like something so very much. Balance is hard… 😉

      I have a tendency to do that as well (yet another reason we get along so well)- I hem and haw and make myself present without actually articulating concerns, until someone gets fed up enough to drag it out of me. Not sure why that is, but I have no doubt that it likely drove my parents (and everyone else close to me) crazy over the years.

      I think we tend to be so focused on ourselves, sometimes- maybe most of the time, that we internalize things so as to not overtly bug people with them. We project that self-involvement onto others- thinking that they have concerns of their own (which, of course, they do)- and are, therefore, hesitant to impose our dilemmas unless we are asked. (It’s also, in my case, a Canadian thing, I think. Our national politesse tends to make us reluctant to rock the boat or complain about things too loudly- it’s one of the few things that frustrates me about my fellow Canucks- yet I’m as guilty of it, at times, as the next hoser).

      As a society we are all about the talking and not so great with the listening- we criticize and condemn after the fact because doing so is easier than admitting that we had opportunities to stop and listen and perhaps prevent things from having happened, if we’d been paying attention to something other than our own, immediate, environment.

      I read an article the other day about how many of the converts/recruits that have headed to the Islamic State are getting some reality checks when they see, first-hand, the human rights depravities that are being done in the name of this ridiculous ideology (in particular, the enslavement and genocide of the Yazidi). If we can get over ourselves for long enough to take things like that on board, we might realize that the motivations of these young people- as they look for a ‘place’- isn’t sourced in any desire to do ‘evil’ or to rob others of their freedoms, but because they feel as though they have no place in the society in which they were raised.

      That example is, perhaps, more facile than is acceptable in the larger dialogue, but it got me thinking/re-thinking about this issue of rooting out causality- and how important it is to figure out why these right-wing, fundamentalist, apocalyptic/destructive worldviews are at all attractive to people who should, by most accounts, know better.

      It’s long past time that we stop reacting- often by resorting to anachronistic and culturally/humanely irrelevant Iron Age soundbites of our own- and actually talk to one another. Our collective heads are so far up our own arses that we only snap out of the self-involvement when we feel personally threatened. And by that point, usually, it’s too late to forestall the slippery slope of consequences arising out the actions of desperate people who feel the need to shout- in horrifying and deplorable ways- to make themselves heard. ‘After the fact’ is too late.

      Acknowledging that is in no way a justification of said actions. But it is the first step in taking action to prevent such things happening again. We are not fighting some monstrous ‘other’. The divisiveness has to stop and we have to stop drawing human-created lines- whether those lines are on a map or other constructs that lead to separation- religion, race, sexual- and gender-identity. We created those divisions and, as I said in the piece, we need to un-create them tout de suite. There is no other option.

      Thanks for the visit- and for thinking about it all and taking the time to comment. xo

  3. bethbyrnes says:

    I agree with all of this and there is not much I can add that would be constructive or useful. Other than to say, if we would stop, listen, pay attention, think before we act and speak, then do so with purpose, clear intent, a solid base of knowledge and that very politesse sometimes, the gears of society would function more smoothly. Sorry for this run-on sentence. I am writing as I hear Hillary Clinton’s roll-out and I must say, I am a bit emotional.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, Beth. I can’t stand the divisiveness any more. Especially the fact that too many people don’t seem to realize that those dividing lines are wholly created by us- us HUMANS- and, as such, are constructs that can be re-imagined, given the wealth of knowledge we have worked to discover and collect.

      I listened to part of her announcement on the 6pm news this evening. I’m quite excited for all of us- as citizens of this planet. I sincerely hope that people see reason and realize that she may well be the voice we need to bring purpose, clear intent, knowledge and decorum back to our politics. What a positive step toward the restoration of some semblance of humanity that might be…

      Hope you enjoyed the weekend! xo

  4. Understanding is the key to determine the “why” of actions as you so intelligently and sensitively remind us. We are all deficient in “listening” as well. Everyone is so intent on jabbering that they don’t take the time to just listen to what people are really saying and the reasons for it. Applause for your brilliant blog.

    • colemining says:

      Thank you, Lady Professor. Your kind words mean a great deal. I do hope that we can stop the din-creation and start listening more. Thank you for visiting!

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