Hiatus

Every once in a while it feels like my life is a word-a-day calendar writ large and realized. All the definitions of one particular word are eating at me today.

For my purposes, blogging has lost much of its gloss relevance. Despite the community of wonderful people that colemining has brought into my life, in this current-world-reality I feel like I’m simultaneously shouting in the wilderness and preaching to the choir, while the credulous, disingenuous and banally evil (and you know I use that word with caution) types run amok, spreading lies and hatred and ignorance as far as the reach of their followers permits.

I can’t rightly remember (without going back and checking) the last time I wrote something to share. There was, for a time, some continuity here. In the few lines I’ve written already, I hear echoes of past posts – reinforcing the idea that I’m ad nauseam-ing myself – and anyone who stops in for a visit – with the same old-same old.

An ever-deepening societal lack of attention span and the rise of vlogging and podcasting have made my long-winded comprehensive discussions even more obsolete than they were when I started using the blog-as-platform, way back in the dark ages of the internet. Since the ‘long read’ remains my go-to for hashing out thoughts and commentary, it’s been hard to justify the time and energy spent writing in an environment that seems geared to those who favour sound-bites and unsupported (unsupportable?) generalities as a means of communication.

So: 1. a break or interruption in the continuity of a work, series, action, etc.

Much of my academic career involved working with literary documents – and their historical development – from Late Antiquity. My Master’s research focused on a theoretical ‘document’ – Quelle or ‘Q-Source’ –  posited to be the origin of the ‘authentic’ sayings of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. My Doctoral dissertation was about a gnostic apocalypse from Nag Hammadi – most of which is the opposite of ‘extant’. I spent a whole lot of time in my early adulthood filling in blanks and making things up, albeit in a reasoned, educated way.

From that perspective, it is fair to say that my years in higher education were spent dealing in hypotheticals – a fact that engages and irritates me all at the same time. I enjoy puzzles – and finding and assembling information in a manner that follows the rules of logic and rationality has always been one of the great joys of my life. Still, it was always at the back of my mind that we, as historians of ancient and biblical religions, were making up a lot of stuff and perpetuating foci on stories and histories that should, perhaps, be set aside in favour of study of those things that directly impact the world-as-it-is, rather than the world-as-it-was millennia ago.

That trend of thought has caused some existential angst. I love that stuff – and appreciate that I was privileged enough to study and teach it for as long as I did. I will continue to insist on its value for those who have the interest and wherewithal to investigate the ultimate origins of stuff that people still use as guideposts to living in the world – and the search for human meaning that lies at the heart of those guideposts.

But, if we’re really honest, and if living our lives in the glare of constant media – social and otherwise – has taught us anything, it’s that there aren’t many people who are interested in examining history and literature as means of understanding the world around them. Don’t get me wrong – lots of people love citing literature that dates back to Bronze Age nomadic desert peoples, but there is a complete lack of awareness that such pre/proscriptions for living are anachronistic in the 21st century.

The failure of education and critical examination that has brought us to this place in history is a symptom of the fact that we aren’t interested in learning about our recent history and taking warning from its messages. We, in the West, tend to insist in the rightness of ‘our way’ without having first-clue about the path that got us to this supposed-cohesion of social practices and policies.

I am an historian, but I have discovered lacunae in my own awareness of modern history as I witness the events and movements unfolding around us. I am attempting to rectify this, currently, by reading about the rise of Nazism and other totalitarian regimes, experiential Holocaust literature, Jim Crow laws and their application, and the history of the destruction of indigenous cultures around the world – including those that happened (and persist) in my own backyard.

2. a missing part; lacuna.

But even with my self-assigned syllabus of compulsory readings, figuring out where I fit in the discussions we need to be having about the social and cultural anomie that is the epidemic causality of the rise of the alt-right and a generalized shift to rampant ‘othering’ has been difficult for me. I don’t like the shouting. The abuse, and the trolls, and the cognitive dissonance that make up the majority of the ‘discourse’ that’s happening right now leave me feeling disconnected and voiceless.

Chris Stedman, an American atheist whose work I’ve come to know through his Twitter feed, has written an important reflection on his place in the noisome and fraught discussions, and issued a call to arms, of sorts, to those seeking more moderate and humanistic approaches to addressing the myriad issues that come at us all, from all angles, on any given day.

His article echoes the concerns I’ve been feeling as an ‘out’ atheist who uses, however occasionally, various internet forums to express thoughts and passing insights. I have been attacked by supporters of a particular UofT psychology professor, been told that my Twitter feed is ‘unbearably smug’ (or was it ‘insufferable’? either way…) by white males whose ad hominem  ‘arguments’ I choose to ignore, had followers of any number of religions and/or ideologies predict my ultimate fate – both in this world and the one they see as coming…

I don’t feed trolls. If people are willing to engage in informed dialectic, I’m all for discussing the truth or falsehood of opinions. Abuse will not be dignified with any sort of response. That’s why the ‘block’ function was created – and why irrational, raging comments should be deleted. Sorting the chaff from the potential wheat is usually time-consuming and soul-crushing, and is viewed, by some, as ignoring ‘both sides’ of a given subject.  I defend my refusal to strike back at – or acknowledge – the rantings of the confirmation-biased as being an exercise in futility. I’m done trying to fix stupid unexamined bigotry.

But Stedman’s summary point, ‘the difficult truth spotlighted by both Spencer’s atheism and the silence of other atheists is that, despite the late Christopher Hitchens’s infamous proclamation that “religion poisons everything,” religion was never the problem. It was always something more complicated. Something uglier, more primal, more deeply human. Something the internet, with all the good it can foster, often facilitates. Until atheists and humanists confront this Something head on, we will continue to struggle with people like Spencer who embody an atheism that got rid of the gods but put white men in their place’, speaks to our current social and political reality, and is strongly resonant with the direction of my own thoughts, lately.

I have spent my adult life studying religions – and the people who create those religions and use them to further social and political ideologies. That they are caught up – inextricably – in anachronistic, misogynistic, racist, separatist (I could continue listing ‘ists’ indefinitely) narratives is tautology. Which doesn’t mean that dismissive, offensive name-calling, by ‘young white men in particular—who feel disconnected, marginalized, and misunderstood (and are seeking) a sense of identity, belonging, and purpose’, should be getting all the ‘atheist airtime’.

It is trying, to say the least, to find a place – as a woman, an atheist, an academic – in an environment that is increasingly hostile to all of those things.

But middle grounds – that examine history and apply its lessons to the progressive and evolved ideals that people are standing for (in movements like #MeToo, #TimesUp, #NeverAgain… the list grows, daily) are finding voices and filling in the spaces between the extremes that divide and conquer us.

3. any gap or opening.

Stedman’s renewed commitment to activism – from a starting point that, in many ways, mirrors my own – has suggested an opening – and, perhaps, a new direction. As frustrating as demoralizing as it is to scream into the (seeming) abyss of ignorance and self-serving rhetoric, the answer to our systemic issues cannot lie in the hiatus of history. We have permitted constructed lacunae – repeated by our elected leaders (and those who weren’t, actually, elected), the media, and by anyone/everyone with access to the internet – to drive our collective narratives for too long.

It is not enough to push unthinkingly for change. As Stedman notes, we need to be asking difficult questions about the cultures of our movements, eradicating dogmatism and anger-driven reactionary messaging that adds fuel to the fires of intentionally-conceived divisions. In doing so, we all – atheist and otherwise – ‘have the chance to offer a robust, humanistic alternative… that affirms the worth and dignity of all people to an increasingly secular generation.’ 

Those are gaps worth bridging.

 

 

 

12 comments on “Hiatus

  1. I am in the same place. Mostly because other things in my life need my attention — just trying harder to be still and really “be” with the people I love. For what it’s worth, I always appreciate reading your impassioned but reasoned take on things. Thankfully I can still get my fix on twitter! xxoo

  2. quiall says:

    Whew! Well said. We should be celebrating each other but instead we are forcing each other into another’s mold.

  3. This could have been written for me, Cole. Or by me. I opened my phone earlier and scrolled through notifications, doing what I’ve been doing for a while and ignoring those that that made me go, ‘meh’.
    I just can’t engage with some things just now for what’s going on. But I saw yours and immediately opened to read, knowing, somehow, that you would say something to validate what I’ve been thinking and feeling.
    And you did.
    So much so that I immediately picked up pen and paper to write today’s post. They’ve been few and far between. Almost like, what’s the point? It feels like everything is falling apart and avenues for correction/repair closing off. I don’t know when I felt so hopeless or helpless about the state of the world.
    So many of the points you make here – right down to Twitter – are exactly where I’m at.
    I almost lost it with a friend of forty years, a few weeks ago, when she started talking like aliens had taken over her mind. ‘I do not even know who you are any more,’ I ended up saying to her.
    We’ve saved our friendship because there is still too much we value about each other despite these new – to me – differences in our political/social perspectives.
    This is a girl I knew who, at seventeen, wanted to save the world. Now wants to close it off from scary foreigners and abhors the EU and all it stands for, citing subversion of UK sovereignty. Jeez, she even said she only voted for Scottish independence in the hope that we would not be in the EU.
    Now, I can go different opinions. I can even go entrenched opinions. What I cannot accept is arguments based on scaremongering and, when information to the contrary is given, it being dismissed as ‘elitist’ and ‘socialist propaganda’.
    I’d be the first to put my hand up to being ‘socialist’ if, by my own definition, it means caring about the wider society, including all people from all places of whatever creed, colour or nationality. But ‘elitist’? Jesus wept! Me? ‘Elitist’?
    Apparently, now, that definition is applied to anyone who uses reason to argue. And there I was thinking that ‘elitist’ meant the Jacob Rees-Mogg’s of this world who use their money, power and influence to get what they want and to hell with the rest.
    Your post, Cole, reminded me that I am not spitting in the wind. I don’t know where all this is heading (though I have my theories) but I’ll be damned if name-calling will prevent me fighting for the future of my children. All children. For my feckin’ future! I would really like to have one in a country that isn’t lost to reason or has embraced a right-wing ideology as an answer to social injustice and fear.
    And I’m still fighting for Scottish independence. Not as an isolationist policy but as a forward-looking country that knows what it feels like to be shat on from a great height and seeks to be a progressive, environmentally-conscious nation that embraces difference and builds upon it by having the means to make our own choices.
    Blogging has taken a back seat to life’s other challenges. Still working away, trying to encourage young minds to be free thinkers and give them the tools to do so. Hopefully.
    Still busy with family.
    Still reading and listening.
    Still thinking.
    Still looking forward to meeting again.
    Love you, missus.
    Thanks for this post. And apologies for going off on one! 😊 xxx

    • colemining says:

      Once again demonstrating we were separated at birth… way to make me cry, A-M. When I read your poem, I thought ‘there it is again. Same brain’, but didn’t have time to write more than a quick comment.

      Hope is hard to come by, these days. While cleaning the other day I came across the ‘Definitely Aye’ postcard I picked up while visiting, and thought of you and your renewed struggle. The situation is untenable – and yes, not about isolationism, but its opposite.

      I’m growing concerned here, as we head into a provincial election race – which features a Premier who people love to hate (irrationally, IMHO) and the brother of the idiot who ran this city into the ground for four long years – an inexperienced demagogue who takes it as a compliment to be compared to the IMPOTUS. The conservative bullshit pile is deepening by the day. He just announced today that there will be no media trains/buses following his campaign stops… mis/using the media is becoming ever more dangerous.

      I’m so glad that we have educators like you. Parents like you. Readers and listeners like you. Thinkers like you. Your presence here – and this latest evidence of kindred spirit-hood – is my little piece of hope for the day. And the thing that will keep me from over-drowning the existential sorrows this evening (although a dram or two won’t hurt, right?).

      Playing with the idea of early October for a trip… depending on my concert schedule. I’ve gone a bit overboard with buying tickets to see ALL the bands over the next while, so that needs to be taken into consideration. We will see where we land. If it happens, Glasgow is definitely on the itinerary. Love to you and the fam. xo

  4. Another Ford? There was scandal as well as incompetence around him, as I recall, from my earliest blogging days. What is it with some families thinking they’re born to lead? Even if completely unsuitable. And the inability of people to notice when someone is actually doing a good job of it under difficult circumstances? Nicola Sturgeon has been one of the best here and she never gets a fair hearing in the media. The press here are atrocious in what they are ignoring. The lack of any proper investigation is marked; merely recounting statements given. I find out more about what’s going on here from foreign press than I do from the BBC et al. As for what our so-called leaders are getting away with without press accountability! And folk just going, ‘aw well’.
    Just have to keep plodding and probing, Cole, and doing our best. It’s what our parents taught us. What we believe to be the right thing. A simple test of what’s right ought to be the question of who and how many would be hurt under any given system. And, right now, all over, it seems, the Right would hurt badly. Closed mindset and ideologically harsh. I can’t even think about it without shivering for what it would mean in its most extreme. And extremism appears to be the order of the day.
    Keep at it, lass, and I’ll look forward to meeting and chatting with you again in person. That will call for a few haufs!
    Love to you and yours.xxx

    • colemining says:

      This Ford has been around at least as long as the other one, A-M. He’s not a drug addict (although was a drug dealer, when younger), but his rhetoric is all the more dangerous, since he is less an obvious blow-hard than was his ‘little’ bro. I will say no more lest I speak more ill of the dead – except to assert that having a Ford lead the province is a recipe for certain disaster. If people need precedent then need look no farther than the damage done to my hometown over the course of that family’s ridiculous tenure at City Hall.

      They appeal to the same ill-educated base as the US IMPOTUS – those who think that privileged, white, blowhards are somehow ‘just regular guys’. They offer up peanuts and the ‘blue collar folk’ (seriously – ‘folk’ is this one’s tag-line. Like ‘stop the gravy train’ was the other one’s) lap them up, thinking that they’re sticking it to us ‘Toronto Elites’. Our un-mourned former mayor was a creature of this one – his older brother – who is definitely the more dangerous. He, at least, has a couple of brain cells to rub together.

      I quite love your Nicola – I’ve applauded more than a few of the things she’s had to say. Not afraid to call out idiocy when she sees it, that one.

      We’ve swung too far away from understanding community – and how isolation and self-interest is terrible idea – certain to end badly for all concerned. With ‘leaders’ like we’re seeing the world over… ‘shivering’ is the right sentiment.

      Lovely to ‘catch up’ a little. Hope to do more of the same, soon. xo

  5. Ste J says:

    I’m amazed how little people bother to fact check or look into where they get their opinions from. It is frustrating, I have been to one blog three times, provided sources and statistics to back up my arguments when only blanket statements come my way, only to be told I will never understand. That was the first thing we agreed upon and I am glad I will never understand the mindset there. The worrying thing was other people agreeing blindly with it all, some of who I know.

    The debate is important but these days people don’t want to change their opinion or even go away and check conflicting sources. You have been away too long! We have missed your words!

    • colemining says:

      Steve – debate is one way to go about it, but I maintain that we need to approach these issues from rational perspectives, which is more about dialectic than debate. Thanks for stopping by! I’m loving reading about all your new wonderful adventures! I’ll try to check in more frequently. I’ve missed you all, too! xo

      • Ste J says:

        Before that we need to teach people how to reason and to take their turn, and listen. This is especially needed in the universities these days.

  6. bethbyrnes says:

    Where do I begin?

    I too almost completely lost interest in my blog and I know the timing was the inexplicable election of the creature you brilliantly call IMPOTUS. An imposter, grifter, snake oil saleman (failed), con-man, sociopath that the very stupid people in this country put in charge of the world. I will never refer to that pretender as anything but Drumpf.

    My ability to interact with the 40 percent of this benighted country who think he is helping them has shut off a great deal of socializing, most of all with my in-laws who used to be Reaganites (bad enough) and are now on the T-Train. They horrify me in their adamant ignorance and immorality. It is immoral to support the evil that that creature represents. I just can’t mince words.

    Meanwhile, I did the only thing I could do to keep my sanity in a click-bait world, I started a new certificate program that will take me three more years to finish in the mental health field so I can be a scientific writer and continue to work from home. Going back to school, despite all my degrees and extra coursework and certificates, keeps me connected to academia and scholarship.

    I refuse to debase my attention and focus on even hipster trivia, the product of the only group that even come close to reflecting the interests I grew up with.

    Had I not gone into child psychology and behavioral science, I would have been a medieval history researcher or I would have focused on the 1930s, on which I have dozens and dozens if not hundreds of books. The latter and our current times are so analogous that it frightens me.

    There is plenty of ageless wisdom to be found in ancient texts. When did Socrates/Plato/Heraclitus/Lao Tzu/Confucius, etc. etc. and even Jesus himself live? Their writings hold truths about human existence and the absolute requirement that we become aware before we can do anything else of any value. When we are asleep, all our work and behavior will reflect the darkness and misguidance of slumber. My number one task is trying to wake up and I will pursue it to the end. There is an incredible book by Robert Bierstedt, The Making of Society, that proves there is immeasurable value in studying the wisdom of past geniuses, even if we disagree with the zeitgeist of their times and their ideologies. Religions are the problem, not the idea of man’s spiritual nature. No religion should be followed, but some masters shine tiny beacons of light that endure.

    Anyway, that is my humble view of all this. I will blog from time to time, but I see another 6.5 years of insanity unfolding here and that means I will have to retreat into a world that makes sense to me, until it is over. There is no other way to survive this.

    Don’t go away Cole!

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