Against the Darkness

Sometimes it’s tricky figuring right from wrong, but maybe it’s a bit easier if we cast it in term of light and dark. Here’s a guy whose security camera kept alerting him because a neighbor kid on a bike looped through his driveway every evening. His response is awesome and humbling…

The lesson here goes beyond acceptance. He could have just ignored it, done nothing. Instead he embraced it — turned it into something joyful and engaging. A bit of light in the darkness that surrounds us these days.

I like how, in the description he says, “And then inspiration struck, in the form of my wife giving me this great idea.”

In the spirit of credit due, I saw this wonderful bit of light in a Jalopnik article, “Watch How A Neighbor Deals With A Little Kid Who Keeps Tearing Around His Driveway”. (Jalopnik is a fun online magazine if you like cars.)

§ §

Speaking of the rising dark (appropriately, the autumnal equinox approaches), former Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson has an opinion piece in Newsweek: “America’s cults of madness” that begins:

When on the debate stage during the Democratic presidential primary, I referred to the “dark psychic force of the collectivized hatred” that our president had unleashed among us. While I was mocked by nighttime talk show hosts and others for having said it, I’m not sure how anyone can look at phenomena such as the cult conspiracy theory QAnon and not consider that certain elements present in American politics today lie way beyond the purview of what anyone would consider normal.

She never stood a chance of being elected, but I had a lot of sympathy for her message. She’s not entirely wrong.

Her point is that a lot of what we’re seeing, “QAnon, Nazism and cult followings of a nationalistic leader” are essentially a form of mental illness — what she calls an unhealthy soul.

As with most good-hearted progressive people, she looks for change in society — a change of the collective mindset:

Only when we decide as a society to actively align our policies with the tenets of a healthy soul — putting kindness, love, mercy and compassion over cutthroat attitudes that put glorification of self over a commitment to the love that binds us as one, not only in our private behavior but in our political and economic behavior as well — will our wounded soul begin to heal itself.

Again, she’s not entirely wrong. Arguably not wrong at all in what she says. As always, the difficulty is getting people to change.

Or even work together. COVID-19 has shown that humans will resist that even at the cost of risking their own lives. Part of the darkness we have to fight is “crab-bucket” mentality.

She ends with:

Yet the symptoms alone are not the deeper problem. It is their cause — our idolization of the things of the world over the things of spirit, our deference to money before our deference to love, our lack of reverence and the de-sacralization of nature — that has compromised our immune system and now threatens to destroy us. Each of us has a role to play in the healing of our nation’s soul, from increasing our capacity for kindness, to committing to the collective and political changes that will realign our nation with the angels of our better nature. Until and unless we do so, the manifestations of collective fear will continue to grow and will possibly overwhelm us. The only real remedy is an awakening of the heart and the manifestations of collective love.

And I just can’t argue with that.

The CanyonChasers guy was playing an individual role in healing through kindness, and there was psychological reward all around.

The other morning on my walk, crossing at a green light, a guy in a pickup, going too fast and braking too late, ended up well into the crosswalk. Option #1: Just ignore. Walk around. Option #2: Give’m a look. “Hey, I’m walkin’ here!” Fighting natural inclinations, I went with Option #3: Goofy shrug and smile. He smiled back. I think we both felt better about the whole thing.

Every interaction is a pebble that makes a ripple in the social pond.

§ §

Speaking of morning walks, I’ve been listening to my music alphabetically by artist and the last week it was Simon & Garfunkle, which goes as deep into my pop musical past as possible.

I’d forgotten how good those albums are and found myself playing several of the tunes on them more than once. One of my all-time favorite tunes, by any artist, is “Bridge over Troubled Water”

Which, again, is a message about the light. We need to build bridges between us all. We can start simple — a chalk racetrack in your driveway to spread joy and light is perhaps a good start.

§ §

Keith Olbermann introduced me to a phrase he got from beloved English teacher Arthur Naething. I used it as a tag line here for a while. It’s never been more appropriate than now.

“Go forth and spread beauty and light.”

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

9 responses to “Against the Darkness

  • Wyrd Smythe

    For an example of the other sort of behavior, consider the example of the teen-aged girl who, recently on Twitter, asked about where math comes from and was mocked. In fact, her question is ancient and profound. It deserved a considered answer, not disdain and hostility.

    A good general rule of thumb is that an honestly asked question deserves a thoughtful answer. A sign in a college engineering room I spent much time in read: “It’s not a dumb question if you don’t know the answer.”

    In point of fact, it’s asking questions that opposes dumbness.

  • Michael

    Good stuff, Wyrd. I was happy to see Marianne on the stage this year, though I felt as you did her chances were probably quite low. She is known in some circles for her work with a book called A Course in Miracles, which is a seminal work in my personal library, and while she is writing very generally in these pieces, she is definitely reaching into the universal themes of that work in her writing. I say universal because there is a great deal in the Course, setting aside some specific uses it maintains for some terminology, that is universal and common to a great many philosophies, including that of open-hearted common sense…

    Your encounter at the crosswalk would actually be described as a miracle in the context of the Course, because of what you chose to communicate–oneness, commonality, a sense of mutuality or understanding–as opposed to perceiving the act of ‘coming in hot’ as a threat or attack or cause of grievance. In the Course a miracle is communication, which is this recognition of what we share, and are together. A basic idea in the Course is that every attack we perceive is someone who is asking for our help without knowing how or having the wherewithal to do so otherwise. There are many things in there… But that is at least part of where Marianne is coming from.

    I think we took that one idea and applied it to our politics, it would potentially change quite a bit–more than we might realize…

    Love the driveway racetrack video, too. And yes, humbling…


    • Wyrd Smythe

      Thanks, Michael.

      Her run for President was my first time seeing Ms Williamson, and I liked her message quite a bit. I wish it resonated with more people; these days things like that are often mocked. I couldn’t help but remember a favorite line from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

      And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

      Then it goes on to say, “Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass, and so the idea was lost, seemingly for ever.” 😀

      We’re at the point where even just practicing honesty in politics would be good. I’ve been very concerned, for quite some time, about where society is headed. Modernism discarded religion as outmoded, and post-modernism deconstructed other social foundations. That continues hugely today with what’s going on in politics and law enforcement. Now we into post-empirical age and no longer agreeing on facts. We’re destroying things to believe in. Society is losing its foundations.

      (Ha, now I’m channeling lyrics from “Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back” from Bat of of Hell II: “It’s a never ending attack, everything’s a lie and that’s a fact; Life is a lemon and I want my money back”.)

      I suppose communicating these days is a kind of miracle. Cool idea about attacks as being from someone who needs help. I can see that in many cases, for sure. There may be other fish swimming in that sea, I think. People are weird and complex with many motivations. One of my life heuristics is that, with people, nothing is just one thing. (A classic example from my past: I’ve done some teaching, and I really enjoy it. I’ve asked myself where that joy comes from. Do I really just love passing on knowledge — seeing people’s eyes light up? Or is it an ego thing? I finally decided to just accept it was both. And so long as the good thing was really true, I could live with the flaw of my own ego (which, admittedly, is massive — people sometimes leave to make room for it).)

      That racetrack video was really the seed of the post. I had a link to the Marianne Williamson article I’d been looking to use, and had just been listening to the Bridge over Troubled Water album. (I used to play the title cut on the piano. Loved that piece; so rich and evocative.)

      When I saw the racetrack video, the whole post clicked into place!

      • Michael

        I can see you being a good teacher, Wyrd. For sure. I’ve never taught formally but I’ve tutored and helped others with homework sets in engineering school and the like, and always greatly enjoyed being able to help share something I knew or understood.

        As to there being other fish in the sea of people asking for help, it’s certainly the case at a particular level. In the language of the Course, one way that we confuse ourselves is by believing there is significant difference in two events by degree, when in fact they are fundamentally the same at a deeper level. This will get sort of spiritual for a moment in order for me to explain. But in Course terminology road rage and far more deviant sociopathic behaviors all stem from a common root: the absence in our awareness of the fundamental fact that Love exists, and we are part of it. It’s very Buddhist in the sense that a Buddhist might posit that all suffering comes from believing the perceptions that arise from an illusory vantage, and the Course would fundamentally agree with that. So all attacks are a plea for help in the sense that they are a plea for release from an illusory state. They are, in a sense, our “acting out” the belief that the perceptions returned by our illusory vantage are the ultimate reality and inescapable, when this is not the case.

        I agree wholeheartedly about society losing its foundations. It’s a madhouse right now in many respects. I remain hopeful the tide will turn but don’t ask me what it will take!


      • Wyrd Smythe

        Thanks! I’ve got a lot of teachers and preachers in my family tree, so it seems to be in my genes. (Figuratively speaking, since I’m adopted.)

        “But in Course terminology road rage and far more deviant sociopathic behaviors all stem from a common root:”

        When you introduced the help plea idea I did see how it could apply to lots of situations. That said, I’m inclined more towards holistic or systemic approaches than reductive approaches. I worry that important nuance is sometimes lost in reduction.

        That said, it’s amazing how effective some simple approaches can be. A woman I almost dated told me about Re-evaluation Counseling (RC) which, as I understood it, largely involved giving people a chance to be heard. It involved trained listeners — neutral listeners, essentially.

        Kind of a cool idea because I think people do have a need to be heard by someone. Most have family or friends (or online friends) who will listen, but some don’t. (A lot of infidelity comes from running into someone who actually listens.) Per your Course, that might translate as not experiencing love therefore not believing it possible.

        What does the Course say about attacks that stem from greed (“I want what’s yours”) or attacks that stem from perceived ideological differences (“Your way of life is evil and must be destroyed”)?

        The latter case seems sometimes even justified if it’s an attack against slavers or tyranny, of righting a wrong? (Morality is really complicated! Hence my discomfort with reduction. Deontology, Consequentialism, Value Ethics, they all have their limits — situations they don’t quite account for.)

        Speaking of, did you see the TV show The Good Place? I highly recommend it, if not.

        “I remain hopeful the tide will turn but don’t ask me what it will take!”

        It’s deeply disturbing to me that the coming election has any doubt about the outcome. That’s on top of the whole increasingly deeply disturbing trend in politics, which is the reaping of the disturbing things in politics for a few decades now. The Republicans, especially, trained their electorate in noise and nonsense, and then a master of noise and nonsense stole the party and made it a cult. Nationalism is on the rise world-wide, and racism in American has become overt and naked.

        Deeply disturbing doesn’t begin to describe it. Fucking doomed is more like it. I’m seeing the Great American Experiment fail before my eyes. Two-hundred years it was strong, but our greed and materialism and distraction and self-involvement weakened it to the point it’s collapsing.

        In a sense we’re seeing the same arc of a successful and powerful society slide into a narcissistic decadence that destroys it from within. The great civilizations of the Middle and Far East. Rome. Now, perhaps, modern global culture. We may be confined to a saw-tooth pattern of rising from the dark ages of ignorance to a point where our own cleverness turns inward and defeats us, and boom, down we go to the dark ages again. We’re headed there now. It’s utterly terrifying.

        My hope is that the saw-tooth pattern rises over time. I think the world slowly gets better. There are set-backs, but we progress inch-by-painful-inch. Slavery is no longer openly practice throughout most of the world. Education is increasingly available (but a long way to go there). We struggle with human and civil rights, but we’re trying and slowly finding our way. I think we have a hell of a lot of potential, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near achieving it.

        (You don’t know me, but I’m a raging misanthrope. As I like to put it, on my bad days, if there was a button I could push to wipe out all of humanity, you’d have to kill me to stop me from finding it and pressing it. OTOH, I also love humanity and find them fascinating. My own Yin-Yang paradox. I think it boils down to knowing we could be so much better than we usually are.)

      • Michael

        It’s interesting to me that my description of all misperceptions having a common route struck you as a reductive approach rather than holistic, because I would have viewed it as a holistic one. So I’m curious about that. I think I can see and understand your take on this: to take something as complex and multi-faceted as human behavior and try to explain it with a simple statement seems an over-simplification. There is a level on which I completely agree, Wyrd.

        So I think I need to give some more background to try and explain. Please note I’m not trying to convince, but make clear here at least what is being said. The Course suggests that human minds have one of two basic thought systems: either we identify with the body to the exclusion of the spirit, which results in the experience of oneself as separate from others and God, vulnerable, and needy. There is a core axiom at the root of this thought system and it is described in the Course as the ego, or body-identification, or separateness from the Whole (or God). Now once we adopt this view, everything else follows from it. The Course calls what comes next “level confusion” because having identified with the body we think the lack of access to food and water is going to be the end of our existence forever. We have elevated, in other words, the level of our physical existence to the ultimate level, and created all sorts of confusions and problems as a result. So yes, each individual’s difficulties are profoundly nuanced, and the path to healing is also unique to each. I wish I could find the quote, but the Course basically says that each person’s route to healing the separation is profoundly unique and personal. But then what is ultimately happening is that we are all, in a myriad of unique and nuanced ways, accomplishing the same thing.

        Which brings me to the second thought system, which has as its core axiom (it’s not an intellectual thing by the way, I’m just using that term to stand in for the idea that is the foundation or cornerstone of all that follows), the notion of unity. In contrast to the thought system above, our primary identity is with the spirit, which is hard to explain, but is an identify that we all share in, Wyrd, and uniquely differentiate to express. So, we are all like shoots of the same root being. But that root is eternal, spiritual, and indestructible, and we are aware that our physical experiences are ephemeral, fleeting, and are an opportunity to learn and/or to express/extend who we are. When we have this understanding, we are freed from interpreting the physical level of reality as the ultimate one, and by doing so our experiences in the physical reality change accordingly. There’s obviously a lot to it.

        But rather than do a poor job of review it all, I’d just say that for me the view is holistic because it understands how all of the nuances cohere to the root of a particular thought system. So, that’s a long way of saying I think both notions are true: the path of every individual is truly unique, and yet the outcome of the journey is in a very deep sense the same.

        Morality is really complicated! Hence my discomfort with reduction. Deontology, Consequentialism, Value Ethics, they all have their limits — situations they don’t quite account for.

        Agreed. This is a real rabbit hole in the Course, Wyrd, and a hard thing for many to accept/consider, but no system of ethics created by a mind in the thought system of separation is going to work out. That’s because the starting point is inconsistent with the nature of reality in the first place (in the context of the Course, not trying to assert this is the only way to view things). A moral system based on the notion that who we are is ultimately bodies will quickly be bogged down in unanswerable questions. It’s good for lots of things, but as you point out, there are always sticky situations.

        The Course doesn’t have any real prescriptive approaches to the situations like you describe. But it does say that alleviating immediate suffering by meeting the body’s needs shouldn’t be eschewed for some spiritual approach that isn’t appropriate in the moment. If someone is being whipped as a slave, trying to effect a spiritual solution in that moment is potentially ludicrous. But the Course suggests that in the grand scheme, forgiveness and healing (of our fundamental misperceptions) will place us in a reality that is peaceful and beautiful, etc. Hence my wondering about the MWI and our shifting of timelines, etc.

        But let me just say, that I think the Course would probably be in favor of helping the meek and the powerless right now. That said, there’s a real paradox. Viewed through the thought system of separation, time spent enslaved is irrevocably bad. Viewed through the thought system of unity, the experience may be altogether different, and certainly is forgivable, at minimum. So the game of setting up moral chess games to figure out how we “should” react in any moment is not something I think the Course would suggest we be doing. I think it would suggest we respond to each moment on its own terms, with Love and compassion, in the manner we see fit based on the moment itself.


      • Wyrd Smythe

        “So I’m curious about that. I think I can see and understand your take on this:”

        Exactly so. At the same time, I agree that root cause makes the approach holistic. And quite nuanced, per your descriptions.

        “The Course suggests that human minds have one of two basic thought systems:”

        I’m certainly a fan of Yin-Yang analysis; I think it’s a fundamental aspect of reality. That said, I often view such pairs, not as opposing, but as two orthogonal axes of a two-dimensional space. (See: Vector Thinking #1 or Expanding the Middle. The latter is more recent; I wrote the former back in 2011 when I started this blog.)

        In this context I would more inclined to think there is both a body component and a unity component. We are individual beings, but we are also capable of unity, would be how I’d tend to see it. I’m not sure one necessarily excludes the other.

        In any event, I certainly approve of any philosophy or approach that is not just very intentional but based on principles of unity and love. It connects with my Second Observation about how we live our life matters — that requires intentionality and a grounded moral view. It requires finding a path up the mountain.

        “Viewed through the thought system of separation, time spent enslaved is irrevocably bad. Viewed through the thought system of unity, the experience may be altogether different, and certainly is forgivable, at minimum.”

        This is where, I think, the 2D view, for me, kicks in. I do see our individual journey as meaningful, so alleviating suffering seems like a good thing (I’d want mine alleviated). I think it’s true that suffering can be “good for the soul” on some level, but I’m pretty clear on that not being grounds for standing by if I can help.

        Not that clarity in that regard particularly helps thread moral conundrums!

        “I think it would suggest we respond to each moment on its own terms, with Love and compassion, in the manner we see fit based on the moment itself.”

        That’s essentially value ethics, which I find the most robust approach. Trust our moral sense (which implies developing it in the first place).

        I least like the deontological approach. Consequentialism seems risky and brittle to me, although I like it better than deontology. (I’m just not a rules guy. 😀 )

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