January 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
A Bad Day
Yesterday was a bad day for me. My favorite columnist, Paul Krugman, posted a condescending essay claiming that our political system is incapable of fundamental change. He sat me on his knee and gently but firmly told me to forget about any elected leader accomplishing any significant shift in the American power structure. It was like, “No, Virginia, I’m sorry to tell you, but there is no Santa Claus.” He didn’t go so far as to conclude by endorsing Hillary Clinton but his message was crystal: If Bernie is elected, the result will be four years of deadlock without any meaningful improvement in the lives of working class Americans. Here is a link to that doleful message: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/how-change-happens.html
Some Literary Antecedents
The political system described by Krugman resembles Oceania, the imaginary country created by George Orwell in 1984. Just as mock political struggles occurred between the Inner Party, the Outer Party and The Brotherhood, all of whom were controlled by Big Brother, Krugman claims that the “centrists” actually govern America while naive and misguided “extremists” at both ends of the political spectrum flail away in pointless delusional exercises.
Krugman’s gloomy scenario reminded me of what an old friend of mine, now long dead, once described to me as “an old Commie joke”:
“There once was a society of mice. Once a year, they met and elected a leader for the ensuing year. They always elected a cat. And, during the cat’s term, he gorged himself on mice without mercy or restraint.
So, the next year, when the mice met, a spirited debate would occur. A mouse would declaim, ‘Last year we elected a black cat and he proved to be a terrible mistake. I propose that we never again elect a black cat.’ This was met with loud applause and the mice elected a white cat. And, during that cat’s term, the result was the same: Many mice were devoured without mercy.
This process continued, year after year. Brindle cats, brown cats, Persian cats – they were all tried without any improvement.
Finally, during an annual meeting, a skinny, scrawny ugly cat in the back row, stood up and yelled, “I’m tired of this. Why don’t we elect a mouse?” And all of the assembled mice rose in fury, turned on him and yelled, ‘Throw that Bolshevik out of here!'”
I have entitled this effort “Rip Van Krugman” because I believe his analysis is like Washington Irving’s story of the disgruntled New Yorker who fled from his unhappy home life and fell asleep on a hillside. There, with a musket rusting by his side, he slept through the Revolutionary War and awoke to find a world fundamentally changed. I believe Krugman has lived through multiple revolutions, apparently without noticing them.
The LGBT Revolution
Prevailing attitudes toward gay, lesbian and trans-gender sexuality has fundamentally changed and that change has been reflected in the political and legal system of our country.
The Tea Party Revolution
In January 2009, as the Obama presidency began, Rick Santelli’s rant sparked a grass roots rightwing revolution that ultimately led to a government shutdown and drove the Speaker of the House of Representatives out of office. Some say it has been “discredited”, but the rhetoric of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump seems hauntingly familiar to me. It seems to me that the growth of income and wealth inequality during the last seven years, while it did not start then, was protected and nurtured by the rhetoric of the Tea Party.
The Civil Rights Revolution
The social and legal status of African Americans has fundamentally changed during the past fifty years. Yes, there is still racism in America, but it has lost its political appeal. Racial equality now is part of our legal system and no major political party brags about its Jim Crow credentials or segregation policies any more.
The New Deal
One of the most astonishing features of Krugman’s essay is his dismissive assessment of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. He derides the establishment of Social Security because it failed to cover African Americans. He dismisses FDR’s political dominance because it relied on racist southern political organizations. In other words, he would rate the New Deal as nothing but incrementalism because it preceded the civil rights revolution.
I believe Rip Van Krugman does’t believe in political revolutions because he doesn’t recognize one when it happens. The TVA, the Wagner Act, Glass Steagall, the WPA, the NRA – These political accomplishments changed the role of government in the electric power industry; changed the relationship between labor and management and directly led to the creation of the CIO; restructured the American banking system; established the propriety of government direct intervention to rescue businesses from the casino fluctuations of unregulated capitalism – maybe these changes were not “revolutions” but they surely made some permanent changes in the balance of power between government and private enterprise capitalism. It’s true that the NRA did not survive an assault in the Supreme Court. That does not change the fact that the people’s elected representatives adopted it and made it part of a political revolution in the 1930’s.
I have not mentioned the adoption of the Twenty First Amendment, ending Prohibition, which changed forever the relationship between criminal justice and society.
I know it is fashionable to say that the New Deal didn’t really change anything until WWII caused a massive injection of money into the economy. That is true with respect to some aspects of wage rates and employment rates. It, however, does not explain or detract from the importance of the above-listed measures. They had nothing to do with WWII.
I don’t know who will be the opposing candidates for the presidency this year. Contrary to Paul Krugman, however, I believe there is a good chance that we have reached the kind of “paradigm shift” described by Thomas Kuhn in “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. Free market capitalism has been tried for decades since Ronald Reagan launched it in 1981. It has swept everything in its path like a political road grader. Our unions are impotent; our taxation system is rigged; our international trade policies accommodate the interests of the wealthy at the expense of the working class; economic inequality has created a new “Gilded Age”; the insurance and pharmaseutical industries have free reign to make health care a luxury beyond the reach of a large segment of our population – by any measure the time is ripe for a radical change.
Instead of Rip Van Krugman’s gloomy forecast, I prefer FDR’s grito from his first inaugural address: “First of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
We have halved the loaf so many times, there is nothing left except, as the Chicanos in South Texas say, “migajas de la mesa”.
January 19, 2016 § 2 Comments
Democrats are faced with a choice: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders. [I do not believe Martin O’Malley has a chance to be the nominee. I will ignore him in the following discussion.] I have discovered a resource online I believe provides significant information relevant to that choice. I urge my readers to review carefully the information posted there. Here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorsements_for_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Hillary_Clinton
This site consists of 10 or 15 pages of tightly packed lists of people who have formally endorsed Hillary Clinton. They are separated into labeled categories: Former Presidents (one listed); Governors and former Governors; Senators and Congressmen; State Legislators; Local Officials; Members of the DNC; Celebrities; Actors; Musicians; Writers; . . . . On and on and on and on….
This is a list of the status quo winners in all categories. It is indeed an impressive list. It obviously is the result of a major recruitment effort.
After you have been suitably impressed by Hillary’s supporters, you might be interested in Bernie Sanders’ list of endorsements. It is sparse and brief. Here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorsements_for_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Bernie_Sanders
My Reaction to The Endorsements
I believe this information is important because it suggests a basis for choosing between these two candidates. It seems obvious to me that those who have been winners in our present system of distributing and exercising political, social and economic power probably have limited enthusiasm for making fundamental changes in those arrangements. The terms “incrementalism” and “tweaking” seem appropriate to describe the policies they will likely find comfortable and satisfying. So, if you share those ideas of what the Democratic Party should seek for the next four or eight years, Hillary is your logical choice. If elected, she will become the “Tweaker in Chief”.
If, instead, you are dissatisfied with the status quo and want some significant changes in the balance or power between the powerful and the powerless – some re-defining of the proper role of government as a shield and a weapon against the impoverishment of workers and the enrichment of the rentier class – then you might be less impressed by the winners’ choices and might choose a candidate whose history and rhetoric is less attractive to the present winners. Bernie may be a little hazy about guns, but his intentions about the status quo are crystal. And the difference between him and Obama is that he will spend all his energy mobilizing the grass roots behind his policies. The campaign will never end for Bernie. His vision is of a movement, not a campaign tent show to be dismantled the day after election day.
But What About Electability?
I was born at night, but not last night. I suffered through the debacles of McGovern, Dukakis and Mondale. I have plenty of past political deals and compromises of which I am not proud. So I understand that some honorable liberals are thinking, “Sure, I like Bernie and he’s right, but I’m afraid he can’t win. Half a loaf is better than none.” I suggest that this is a situation in which, as the stock market disclaimer goes:
“Past performance is no guarantee of future success.” So, here is my pitch:
The previous failures occurred when two powerful political forces were active:
One, racism was rampant and powerful. Remember the GOP’s “Southern Strategy”?
Two, Democratic Party candidates were anti-war when wars were politically powerful issues. The “Communist Menace” and “Viet Nam”. Remember?
Today neither of those dogs will hunt. We have elected a black president and the demographics of America have changed and are changing. It is no longer smart politics to “play the race card”.
The only war politically relevant now is the war against ISIS. Obama has done a good job waging that war and the recent experience with GW’s war in Iraq has cured the public’s gullability about sending American troops to war. Also, “trickle down” economic policy has been tried and proved to be a fairy tale. The white people over 40 who have had the “American Dream” snatched from them will be hard to convince that rewarding the rich will be helping the “job creators”.
This may be the “tipping point” we have been waiting for and Bernie Sanders may be the “tipper” whose time has come.
But What About All Those Hillary Endorsers?
So far as concerns the Wall Street tycoons who have endorsed Hillary, Bernie will never get their support if he is the nominee. Most of the rest of those Hillary supporters, however, will fall in line, led by Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, to support Bernie for president. And if the GOP is suicidal enough to nominate Trump or Cruz, Bernie will look like the epitome of rationality to both Democrats and independents.
Well, that’s my argument. If I turn out to be right, it may prove the old East Texas saying that “Even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes.” My record for picking winners is abysmal but maybe this is my year.
December 20, 2015 § 1 Comment
My Misinformed Fear and Anger
In the past I have often expressed my frustration at the apparent domination of our political system by a dwindling number of wealthy individuals. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision granting constitutional protection to unlimited campaign contributions enabled that process.
I recently learned that a second set of oligarchs, more powerful than the billionaires who evoked my fears, have been stifling our democracy far more effectively than the billionaires. And they have been doing it so cleverly that our vaunted First Amendment protected press failed to expose their mischief
Our democracy has not become dysfunctional merely because political candidates, especially “down ballot” candidates in congressional and state and local races, are dependent on the approval of a handful of rich donors. No. The true reason our democratic government no longer works is much simpler and more sinister.
The Majority of the Majority
I subscribe to a monthly newsletter edited by Lou Dubose, The Washington Spectator. Lou has been a careful, honest and avid observer of our political system for several decades. He makes no apology for his liberal beliefs, but his reporting is meticulously accurate. He expresses opinions, but he reports facts.
In the latest issue of the Spectator, Lou exposes the way about twenty-five extreme right-wing Republican members of the House of Representatives exercise veto power over all congressional legislation. Here’s how they do it.
Denny Hastert – The Father of Legislative Chaos
Denny Hastert was Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007. From modest beginnings in Illinois, he rose from school teacher, wrestling coach, and scout master to a term or two in the Illinois Legislature followed by several terms as a Congressman before becoming Speaker.
He was a multimillionaire when he retired from the House to become a lobbyist. He was indicted for federal bank fraud and pled guilty based on a plea agreement. His offense consisted of making a series of cash withdrawals from a bank account in amounts slightly less than $10,000, an obvious attempt to avoid the necessity of reporting the reason for them, required for withdrawals for $10,000 or more.
His reticence to report the withdrawals became obvious when it was disclosed that he was paying blackmail money to a person who threatened to expose Hastert’s sexual abuse of young boys when he was a school teacher in Illinois and on other occasions. He was never prosecuted for those offenses because, when they were discovered, limitations barred prosecutions.
His legacy of ruinous governmental policy has long outlived and survived the disgrace of his private life in the form of a toxic corruption of democratic government known as the “Hastert Rule”.
The Hastert Rule
Like many of you, I have often seen references to the “Hastert Rule”. It is usually described as a requirement that, in order for a bill to be placed on the agenda for action in the House of Representatives, it must be supported by a “majority of the majority”.
Now, at this point, I must confess that, despite having made my living writing and speaking the English language, I misunderstood that phrase. I thought it meant that at least half plus one of the members of the majority political party represented in the House had to support a bill.
Lou Dubose explained to me in his Spectator article: The “Hastert Rule” means that a majority of the entire House of Representatives must be composed of members of the political party that comprises a majority of the House of Representatives before a bill can be voted on. I know this sounds like Bill Clinton’s exposition on the word “is”, but stay with me. This is important.
In the phrase “majority of the majority”, the word “of” means “composed of”. It does not mean that a bill must have the support of a majority “of” the majority party members. It means that the majority party members must at least equal a majority “of”the entire membership of the House of Representatives.
This is like a fourth grade “story problem” in math. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives. So, to pass, a bill must have at least 218 votes (1/2+1). So, to satisfy the Hastert Rule, at least 218 Republicans must support the bill. The present House is composed of 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats. So, the Hastert Rule requires that at least 218 of those 246 Republicans support a bill in order for the House to get a chance to vote on it.
And, boys and girls, that means that 39 Republicans decide whether the United States Congress can enact any law. And – wait for it! The Republican members of the House have figured this out. So, they have created a “Freedom Caucus” composed of a sometimes fluctuating group of rightwing ideologues. It doesn’t matter what the Senate , the President, a majority of the American people, or the Speaker of the House of Representatives decides about American government policy. If it doesn’t suit this little “Freedom Caucus”, it goes nowhere.
Once upon a time there was a sexual predator named Denny Hastert. He got himself chosen to be the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He and his cronies were unhappy because, in order to impose their rightwing ideology, they had to negotiate and compromise with elected officials that did not agree with all of their ideas. In other words, they found democracy to be too messy and frustrating. So, they devised a way to convert it into an oligarchy. And, most satisfying of all, their design chose themselves as the oligarchs! Now that was really exhilarating.
They established the “Hastert Rule”. It rendered the Democrats in the House absolutely impotent. It also enabled the Republican Party to ignore the power of the presidency. Sure, President Obama could make speeches and Senators could fulminate about the “do nothing Congress” but the members of the “Freedom Caucus” come from districts carefully created to be safe havens for the privileged class who fully approve of the policies of the “Freedom Caucus”.
These oligarchs flexed their muscles during the past three or four years when pitiful John Boehner flailed around trying to pacify them without looking like a puppet or a punching bag. He finally surrendered and not only resigned as Speaker, he resigned from his seat in the House. Now Paul Ryan has taken his place. It remains to be seen how he will fare as lion tamer. I would not make any large bet on his success unless he embraces the Freedom Caucus’s agenda.
December 19, 2015 § 4 Comments
Hillary Clinton, whether she realizes it or not, is faced with what St. John of the Cross, writing in the 16th Century, poetically called “the dark night of the soul”: A moral flexion point or experience when one must choose between good and bad, just and unjust, moral and immoral. F. Scott Fitzgerald, several centuries later, wrote, “In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning”.
The mystic poet couched this as an opportunity to seek a relationship with God. I am neither religious nor learned enough to analyze that level of his teaching. I have, however, spent significant parts of my life involved in the desperate and stressful combat of political campaigns. I understand how often those contests confront participants with moral choices. I bear the scars of many of them. Some I think of with satisfaction. Many I remember with regret and shame. “The guilt of human action” expressed in the quotation posted in the sidebar of this blog comforts me.
I think, in tonight’s debate, Hillary should distance herself from the unjust decision by the DNC to suspend Bernie Sanders’ campaign. It was a blatant overreach and Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s repeated TV appearances justifying it by slandering the Sanders campaign have been an outrageous attack completely inappropriate for the DNC chair.
This episode could have been handled quietly and swiftly by the DNC without attacking Bernie Sanders. The phony claptrap by DWS that she “admires Senator Sanders” while accusing him of stealing is nauseating.
Hillary has two choices: She can stand by while DWS wages an unjust attack on her rival for the nomination. That is the obvious one. “Don’t blame me. I’m not the one saying you are a thief. It’s your problem.” Or she can say, “I have some policy disagreements with Senator Sanders. I think I should become the nominee of the Democratic Party. But, I don’t believe it was fair or right for the DNC to suspend his campaign. He has assured me that his campaign did not retain any information about my campaign and I believe him. The firewall has been repaired. That should end it. Senator Sanders has been in public life for many years. He has a well earned reputation for courage and integrity. I intend to win this race, but I want to win it based on the issues that affect Americans, not because of unfounded efforts to attack Senator Sanders. That is the kind of politics characteristic of the GOP, as we have all seen during the past few weeks. It has no place in the Democratic Party.”
If she chooses the second alternative, she will erase the perception that she is a “anything to win” politician who can’t be trusted. It will be good politics because it is the right thing to do.
December 8, 2015 § 1 Comment
I have a treasured granddaughter who occasionally shares with me an item she finds that appeals to her rich and adventurous intellectual life. A few weeks ago, she sent me a copy of an essay entitled Women of Wisdom which I found interesting. I tried to post a link to it on my Facebook page but, for some reason, the link didn’t work. This represents a second try at offering these ideas to the meagre audience for my musings.
This essay probably will not appeal to some. It’s like tequila and tamales, an acquired taste. This is not a required course. But, for those of you who might enjoy these ideas, here is the essay:
Women of Wisdom
Linda S. Smith February 2002
When I was 13 years old, my family moved from rural Michigan to inner city Detroit. It was the middle of the school year, I was in the seventh grade and it was 1950. I was immediately identified as a “hick,” I wore hightop boots instead of saddle shoes and, unlike the other kids, I had never ridden on a streetcar or swum in a swimming pool. The kids teased about everything from the way I talked to my wild, curly hair. I was relieved when school let out for the summer and determined to learn how to be a city kid. I managed to make friends with a few girls in my neighborhood and near the end of the summer three of us decided to form a gang. When school started again, four other girls and I had become the WW Gang. The meaning of WW—one of the many secrets shared by members only—was Women of Wisdom. As the school year progressed our little group grew to about nine girls and we got tougher and more daring. By the ninth grade WW was very popular and we even had a few “rumbles” with girl gangs from other neighborhoods.
How we came up with the name Women of Wisdom is a mystery and why we called ourselves “women,” is beyond me. In my study of Jungian psychology and the Goddess, I came upon one possible explanation for this strange name for a girl gang.
According to Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes, a model of the ancient goddesses exists in the collective unconscious and can be activated in the consciousness of individuals. I suspect the Goddess of Wisdom inserted herself into my consciousness years ago and whispered the name “Women of Wisdom.” And I believe she has been guiding my life for a long time now as well as the lives of many other women. I am pleased to see so many women joining the W.W. club in the past decade. This year the 9th Annual Women of Wisdom Conference in Women’s Spirituality is being held in Seattle. i
According to Christian theologian Beatrice Bruteau “The presence of the Goddess herself has never departed from her holy place in our consciousness, and now as we enter what many feel to be a “new age,” we sense that the Goddess is
© Linda Smith 2008. All rights reserved.
somehow making her way back to us. But in just what guise is so far unclear.” ii And Merlin Stone, author of When God Was A Woman, agrees:
There is no question in my mind that the Goddess is reawakening. And as she rises, we learn more and more about what it is to be women. We have reclaimed role models of women as wise, courageous, creative at the highest levels, as healers and physicians, as architects and builders, as the inventors of written language and so much more. The ancient images of the Goddess have allowed us to reconstruct core concepts of the feminine principle that would not have been possible without knowing of them. …This interest has grown primarily from within the women’s movement, as women began to question what kept us from doing what we really wanted to do. iii
Jungian psychology offers a useful map for exploring what is meant by the “return of the Goddess” and what this has to do with the developmental process of the female psyche today. One of Carl Jung’s greatest contributions is the notion of the collective unconscious and the continual evolution of human consciousness. According to Jung, none of our personal experiences cease to exist. Those experiences that do not make it into the conscious level or are forgotten or repressed, for whatever reason, are stored in the personal unconscious. However, in addition to the personal unconscious there is a portion of the human psyche, which is not dependent upon personal experience at all. The individual is linked, not only with the past events of this lifetime, through her personal unconscious but also with the past of the species and before that with the whole of the organic and conscious evolution, through the collective unconscious. iv
The contents of the collective unconscious are called archetypes. The word ‘archetype’ means an original model after which other similar things are patterned. According to Jung, “There are as many archetypes as there are typical situations in life. Endless repetition has engraved these experiences into our psychic constitution, not in the forms of images filled with content, but at first only as forms without content, representing merely the possibility of a certain type of perception and action.”v
It is very important for a correct understanding of Jung’s theory of archetypes that archetypes are not to be regarded as fully developed pictures in the mind. They
are more like outlines or patterns that need filling in. “A primordial image is determined as to its content only when it becomes conscious and is therefore filled out with the material of conscious experience.” vi
The archetypes are inherent patterns or predispositions in the human psyche. The difference between archetypal patterns and activated archetypes may be compared to “blueprints” in seeds. Growth from seeds depends on the conditions of the soil and the climate, the presence or absence of certain nutrients and loving care or neglect of a gardener. Under optimal conditions, the full potential in the seed is realized.
The Goddess or the feminine principle vii exists as an archetype in the collective unconscious. It can be activated in individual women and when enough of us grow into our full potential, the feminine consciousness of the collective will awaken. This is what is meant by the return of the Goddess. The question is, how is this archetype to be activated? How can we as women activate that guiding pattern at the core of our being?
The Feminine Principle
The stories that make up the myths of the ancient world contain the patterns of human becoming. All of the world mythologies are rich in stories of goddesses but in order to understand their relevance to our lives today we need to read these stories by shifting levels, from the letter of the word to the inner meaning. The pattern and structure of the feminine psyche or soul is revealed through an esoteric understanding of the ancient goddesses. Once we learn to recognize the patterns of our own developmental process we become more conscious of the potentials within us — potentials that, once tapped, are sources of spirituality, wisdom, compassion, and action. Activating archetypes long abandoned to the collective unconscious can energize us and give us a sense of meaning and authenticity. viii
When the goddesses and their attributes were assimilated, trivialized, and demonized, at the beginning of the patriarchal era, women had nothing to identify with. In order to participate in the return of the Goddess and fully embody the
wisewoman archetype we need, according to Jean Bolen, “to usher in another round of consciousness-raising, this time to challenge negative stereotypes of older women and understand the relationship between the fate of goddesses and the treatment of women, the effect of the absence of a sacred feminine on women’s spirituality, and the theological basis of patriarchy.“ix
The Great Goddess in all her many aspects was once part of myth and religion. She literally embodied the Feminine Principle. The Great Goddess was not an abstraction but was visible in the world of nature and the lives of individual women. With the development of patriarchal culture, the climate was no longer suitable for the continued growth and maturation of the Goddess in this world and she withdrew into the background. In Jungian terms, the feminine archetypes became less conscious, less active, and became latent patterns in the collective unconscious. These latent patterns are waiting to be reimagined and made a conscious part of ourselves.
Archetypes are like riverbeds, which dry up when the water deserts them, but which it can find again at any time. An archetype is like an old watercourse along which the water of life flowed for centuries, digging a deep channel for itself. The longer it has flowed in this channel the more likely it is that sooner or later the water will return to its old bed. x
The feminine principle has been recognized by humanity in various aspects. In ancient times she was the source of life, the sustainer, the healer, the enlightener, the one who receives us in death, and the giver of immortality. She has been sought after as the inspiration of love, the image of beauty, and the object of desire. She has been subordinated to male divinities, relegated to a position of helpmate, the relative and supporting role appropriate to a secondary and derived being. In this guise she easily became the scapegoat for the ills and evils of humanity, the personification of temptation, sensuality, and sin. Her essence has even been reduced to passivity, irrationality, and darkness. And then redeemed by a positive appreciation of the dark, the irrational, and the unconscious which is said to be a necessary complement to the light, the rational, and the conscious. xi
These descriptions, characterizations, and projections do not get to the
underlying meaning of the feminine principle. As the archetype makes it way into consciousness it is colored and shaped by the experiences of the culture in which the conscious individual lives. But the archetype itself is timeless. The root meaning or the identifying quality of the feminine or femininity is not a set of characteristics, qualities, or behaviors but a process of transformation or initiation.
Long before Christian theologians articulated the divine as the holy trinity of father, son, and holy spirit, many Western cultures worshipped the Great Goddess in triple form usually designated as Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Although there are similarities in these two triune expressions of the divine, unlike the Christian trinity, the triple goddess functions as a symbol of the divine that reflects women’s experience in a way that the father-son-holy spirit triad emphatically does not. xii
The world’s mythologies are filled with triple goddess images, but perhaps the most familiar in the West is the story of Demeter and Persephone. This myth served as the basis for initiation rites of Eleusis. Well established by the seventh or sixth century BCE, the Eleusianian Mysteries were for a thousand years the center of inner religious life. xiii
Although this story about the separation and reunion of Mother and daughter that forms the basis for the mysteries is said to date back to Neolithic times xiv it was first put into alphabetic writing by Homer in the seventh century BCE, well into the patriarchal era. According to Homer’s version, Persephone is out gathering flowers with her companions when Hades appears and carries her off to the Underworld. Persephone screams but the only one to hear her is Hekate. Persephone’s Mother, Demeter, who is responsible for the fruitfulness of the earth, is filled with grief and stops being fruitful. When Demeter learns that Persephone has been abducted by Hades, her grief turns to anger. She leaves Olympus and wanders in disguise among people seeking her daughter. The crops fail and earth becomes barren. Eventually Demeter turns to Hekate who consoles Demeter and advises her to seek the truth. Demeter goes to the Sun who tells her that Persephone is in the Underworld. Hekate
helps her find the “way down” to that realm where Demeter visits her daughter who is called Kore in the Underworld. As Demeter and Persephone make their way home their passage is lit by the torch of Hekate. Since Kore has eaten a seed of the pomegranate (fruit of the Underworld), she is forced by cosmic law to return to the Underworld for a third portion of each year. While Kore dwells in the Underworld, Demeter decrees that nothing on earth can thrive.
Persephone does not return the same as when she went, a young girl gathering flowers, she returns as a Queen laden with the riches of the Underworld. Hekate greets Persephone/Kore with much affection. In Homer’s account, this part of the story ends with the rather mysterious statement, “And from that day on that lady (Hekate) precedes and follows Persephone.”
Some feminist scholars xv suggest that there was very likely an earlier, pre- patriarchal version of this myth in which Persephone chooses of her own volition to enter the Underworld rather than being abducted by Hades. This allows for an analysis of the Goddess archetype as it functions independently of patriarchal interpretations. Whether the Underworld journey is undertaken as a result of abduction or personal choice, the myth can serve a healing function for women who have either ventured of their own accord to the deepest recesses of their own consciousness or to the darkest realm of society, or who have been traumatically transported to that condition through acts of violence or abuse condoned by patriarchy. xvi
Interpretations of this ancient story as descriptive of the development of the feminine psyche and the initiation into feminine mysteries usually focus on three aspects of the Goddess archetype: the Maiden (Kore), Mother (Demeter), and Crone (Hekate). But what happened to the girl gathering flowers with her “companions”?
The Nymph. Persephone’s companions are often referred to as “Nymphs” or nature spirits. Persephone herself is the daughter of earth and thus is a nature spirit. The Nymph could be considered the first stage in the human evolution of
spirit into matter—the Nymph is the “soul’s chrysalis of flesh and matter.” xvii Interestingly, the term ‘Nymph’ also refers to the young of an insect undergoing metamorphosis. xviii Persephone is a Nymph ready for the metamorphic journey to the
Underworld and back.
If we look at this story as a map of the process of feminine psychic
development, Persephone as Nymph is the first stage in the process. Today we might say she is our psychic or spiritual “inner child.” She is an instinctual creature, playful and sensual. As a psychic structure, the Nymph bridges this life and what came before – in the same way the Nymph phase of the insects’ metamorphic process is the bridge between two different biological structures. She is the structure, which gives us access to information gathered by our ancestors useful to our basic functioning in this lifetime. Just as the Goddess is both immanent and transcendent, the Nymph belongs to the world of spirit and also is a creature of Earth. This aspect of our psyches gives us the possibility of profound union with nature. As spirits of nature, the “Nymphs” were believed to embed their souls forever in certain parts of the natural world: there were water Nymphs, tree Nymphs, mountain Nymphs, and Nymphs who dwelt in the earth, the sea, or Fairyland. xix The activation of this aspect of the Goddess archetype may be part of the impetus for ecological feminism.
The Maiden. When Persephone, the Nymph, is separated from her mother and enters the Underworld, which is also called Hades, she is called Kore. The word Kore in Greek means “Maiden” and ‘Hades’ comes from a Greek root means “hidden,” “unseen,” or “unknown.” Two important psychic processes are a work here. First there is the separation and reunion of Mother and daughter. Secondly there is the trip into a hidden and unknown world.
The separation of Mother and daughter and their reunion is a cosmic or collective event, not only a personal experience. In the myth the separation creates the change of seasons – prior to Persephone’s journey there was only growth and renewal. This cosmic event signals a collective shift in consciousness much like the story of the Garden of Eden.
In ancient times becoming a Maiden is an initiation into the “Blood Mysteries.” The Nymph becomes a Maiden when she has her first menstrual period. The Blood Mysteries are part of a world still deeply in touch with nature, a correspondence between phases of the moon and the Nymph, Maiden, Mother, and Crone can also be made. In modern times we tend to focus more on the emotional and
mental aspects of this developmental phase we call adolescence although the physical level can never be ignored. This correspondence between our biology and our consciousness does not limit what we can do physically or how well we think, but it does gives us the potential for a profound relationship with nature and the cosmos.
The Nymph comes into life and separates from the Mother, the Great Goddess, the source of all life. Now, as an independent agent, she is a Maiden, on her own in an unknown world. In modern terms, the Maiden aspect of our psyche emerges when we began to differentiate, become individuals, make boundaries, and learn to focus our attention.
In psychological language the Underworld refers to the collective unconscious, “The living matrix of all our unconscious and conscious functionings, the essential structural basis of all our psychic life.”xx It is here we first meet Wisdom. The journey to the Underworld is a journey into the collective wisdom of humanity. This is represented in the myth by the treasures Kore brings with her when she returns and is reunited with Demeter, her own Mother aspect. What was once hidden is brought to the light of consciousness and integrated. When Demeter and Persephone are reunited they act as one Goddess. In many representations of them, it is difficult to tell them apart. Demeter and Persephone represent aspects of a single divinity and phases in the developmental process of individual women. After the Maiden returns from the Underworld it is said that now “Hekate precedes and follows her.” By going into the Underworld, the collective unconscious, the individual gains access to the wisdom which came before and which will guide her from now on. By integrating the three aspects of Nymph, Maiden, and Mother, the Crone or wisewoman archetype is activated.
Mother. In the context of the Blood Mysteries, the Mother aspect is the giver of biological life. As an aspect of the Goddess archetype, it is the potential for mental and spiritual creativity as well as biological creation. The Mother aspect is about relationship and connection – empathy, caring, and creativity. The Mother Goddess is also the love Goddess and the Goddess of the erotic.
The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane; it is a source of power and information within our lives. As women, we have been taught by the
male world to distrust that power which arises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. xxi
This is the “Mother” aspect in her fullest sense – our most profoundly creative source. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama. xxii
Crone. In the Blood Mysteries, the Crone is the postmenopausal woman. It was once thought that when a woman was pregnant she retained her blood within her body to make a baby and when she ceased menstruation she retained her blood to make wisdom. xxiii The Crone is the wisewoman archetype. In the story of Demeter and Persephone, Hekate gives advice and lights the way. The Crone is not often seen or personified except in the old woman but is always the way-shower and mid-wife for the developing feminine consciousness. Although the activation of the wisewoman archetype is usually associated with the postmenopausal years of a women’s life, her wisdom is always available. Jean Bolen reports that some children who were neglected or suffered abuse drew solace and wisdom from an inner source. “As a result, they did not identify with their oppressors and so did not grow up to become like the adults who neglected or abused them. Drawing from wisdom beyond their years, they could survive such childhoods without a loss of soul.” xxiv
Becoming a wisewoman or a Crone is not something that just happens to a woman when she reaches a certain age. As we have seen, the feminine principle is not a static quality or essence but a process of growth and integration. According to Ken Wilber, the developmental process is always one of becoming increasingly more whole. The psyche – like the cosmos at large – is many-layered, composed of successively “higher-order” wholes. Our growth, from infancy to adulthood, is a miniature version of cosmic evolution. Psychological growth or development in humans is simply a microcosmic reflection of universal growth on the whole, and has the same goal: the unfolding of ever more inclusive unities and integrations. “Very like the geological formation of the earth, psychological development proceeds, stratum-by-stratum, level-by-level, state by stage, with each successive level
superimposed upon its predecessor in such a way that it includes but transcends it.” xxv
Although the feminine developmental process is one of increasing wholeness and integration, it is not always so linear and neat. A woman, for example, could develop her Mother aspect at a young age before she has fully activated her Maiden aspect. Perhaps she took on responsibilities for her younger siblings when her own Mother died and didn’t have the opportunity to become an independent “Maiden” until much later in life. Many of us have lost contact with our Nymph aspect, our “inner child,” our ability to play and our connection to the natural world, but it is never too late to find her. We each develop and integrate in our own way.
The Crone aspect is always available to us and is itself always aiding in the integration process. The fully activated Crone archetype shows itself in the wisewoman’s ability to access her Nymph, Maiden, and Mother aspects at will – she can be playful and independent and can access tremendous creative energies. A woman doesn’t automatically become a Crone when she reaches a certain age. Becoming Crone is a conscious process and it is up to each woman when she enters her Croning.
The myth of Demeter and Persephone provides us with an outline of the process of individuation or coming to wholeness in an individual woman and the “return” of the feminine principle in the collective. On the individual level there are many journeys to the Underworld and back. We face many challenges in our life, and when we make it through, we grow in depth and wisdom. The real meaning of the return of the feminine principle to the collective will be accomplished when enough women enter into the process of integration and wholeness. And when the generations unite bringing the energy of the feminine process into every aspect of the modern world. This means that in addition to electing women to positions of political power and putting women in leadership roles, the process of government, business, family, and all institutions must take into account the feminine principle in all decisions and
activities and include feminine wisdom in all of its aspects.
Jean Bolen suggests that the way to channel women’s wisdom into the culture
is by activating the archetype of the circle of wisewoman. “This circle is both a sacred dimension and embodies the collective wisdom of its members. …When older women meet together in a wisewoman circle, they are reenacting what was lost when indigenous and goddess-worshiping cultures were conquered, and yet each circle is a new creation with unique possibilities.” xxvi Wisewomen circles are central to what Bolen calls “Spiritual Feminism,” the third wave of feminism, which she says is “gathering now in women’s psyches. Its first visible sign is the growing number of grass-roots women’s circles that have a sacred dimension.”xxvii The next wave of feminism has to do with bringing women’s wisdom and spirituality into the world.
I believe that in order to bring wisdom and spirituality into the world, old and young women must come together. The separation of the generations is antithetical to feminine becoming. It is part of the kinship pattern of patriarchy, and reflects the pattern of generations of fathers and sons – power is passed from father to son either through a system of nepotism or revolution. Historically, sons join together and revolt against the fathers in power and then their sons revolt against them and so on. We don’t want to imitate this pattern. The emerging feminine consciousness will not be brought about by the separation of generations of women — young women activists on the one hand and older women meeting in wisewomen circles on the other. It requires a reunion of mother and daughter, both within our own individual psyches and in the world.
Our spiritual activism can be the product of “myth-making” circles in which we identify the pattern of our lives by understanding life events in terms of universal archetypal patterns. We can use the developmental model described above and identify the functioning of the Nymph, Maiden, Mother and Crone in our own lives but we need to be open to the possibility of uncovering new patterns. These phases are based on a story told originally thousands of years ago, which may provide guidelines for the telling of our own stories but human consciousness has evolved through a patriarchal era and the structure of our consciousness has evolved from the time of the Goddess. The most important thing is for us to tell our own stories and
uncover our own patterns. It’s likely that each woman’s pattern has some of the elements of the story of Demeter and Persephone but there will be many variations and novelties. We each come to wholeness in our own way and as we do we bring our wisdom and spirituality into the world. Once we learn to recognize the patterns of our own developmental process we become more conscious of our sources of spirituality, wisdom, compassion, and action.
Blavatsky, H.P. The Voice of Silence. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1992.
Bolen, Jean Shinoda. Goddesses In Older Women. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.
Gadon, Elinor. The Once and Future Goddess. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989.
Hall, Calvin S., and Vernon J. Nordby. A Primer of Jungian Psychology. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.
Jung, Carl. Civilization in Transition. Edited by Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, and Gerhard Adler; translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964.
________. Two Essays in Analytical Psychology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press, 1984.
Nicholson, Shirley, comp. The Goddess Re-Awakening: The Feminine Principle
Today. Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1989. Von Franz, Marie-Louise. Number and Time. Evanston: Northwestern University
Walker, Barbara. The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.
Weinstein, Victoria. Persephone’s Underworld Journey: Reclaiming A Resurrection Narrative for Women. Presented at the Conference on Female Spirituality, York University, Ontario, March 4, 1996. Available on-line, http://www.w7.com/infovill/crone/index.htm
Wilber, Ken. The Atman Project. Wheaton: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980.
i Presented by the Women of Wisdom Foundation of Seattle Washington, available on line at http//www.womenofwisdom.org; Internet.
ii Beatrice Bruteau, “The Unknown Goddess,” in The Goddess Re-Awakening:The Feminine Principle Today (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 68.
iii Merlin Stone, introduction to The Goddess Re-Awakenimg: The Feminine Principle Today by Shirley Nicholson (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 1.
iv Calvin Hall and Vernon J. Norby, A Primer of Jungian Psychology (New York: Penguin
Books, 1999), 39.
v Carl G. Jung, Collected Works Volume 91, page 48, quoted in Calvin Hall and Vernon J.Norby, A
Primer of Jungian Psychology (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 42.
vi Calvin Hall and Vernon J. Norby, A Primer of Jungian Psychology (New York: Penguin
Books, 1999), 42.
vii I use this term cautiously. By a ‘principle’ I do not mean something static or fixed and ‘feminine’
does not refer to a list of qualities supposed to be exhibited by female persons. Rather, I
hope to show that the feminine principle refers to a developmental process.
viii Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddesses In Older Women (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), ix.
ix Ibid. , 5.
x Carl G. Jung, Civilization in Transition, edited by Sir Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, and Gerhard
Adler; translated by R. F. C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964), 1.
xi Beatrice Bruteau, “The Unknown Goddess,” in The Goddess Re-Awakening:The Feminine Principle
Today (Wheaton, Illinois: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1989), 68.
xii Victoria Weinstein, Persephone’s Underworld Journey: Reclaiming A Resurrection Narrative for Women (Presented at the Conference on Female Spirituality, York University, Ontario, March, 1996), available at http://www.w7.com/inovill/crone/index.htm; Internet.
xiii Elinor Gadon, The Once and Future Goddess (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1989), 143.
xiv Perhaps as long ago as 5000 BCE.
xv See Charlene Spretnak, Lost Goddesses of Early Greece (Boston: Beacon Press, 1984), 98-101, and
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild
Woman Archetype (New York: Ballantine Books, 1992), 412-13.
xvi Victoria Weinstein, Persephone’s Underworld Journey: Reclaiming A Resurrection Narrative for
Women (Presented at the Conference on Female Spirituality, York University, Ontario,
March, 1996), available from http://www.w7.com/inovill/crone/index.htm; Internet.
xvii H.P. Blavatsky, The Voice of Silence (Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1992), 3
xviii The Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopedic Dictionary (1966), s.v. “nymph.”
xix Barbara Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (San Francisco: Harper and Row,
xx Marie-Louise von Franz, Number and Time (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1974), 14. xxi Audre Lorde, “Uses of The Erotic: The Erotic as Power,” in Sister Outsider (Freedom, CA:
Crossing Press, 1984), 59. xxii Ibid.
xxiii Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddesses In Older Women (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), xi xxiv Ibid., 3-4
xxv Ken Wilber, The Atman Project (Weaton: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1980), 2.
xxvi Jean Shinoda Bolen, Goddesses In Older Women (NewYork: HarperCollins, 2001), 179. xxvii Ibid., 187.
December 1, 2015 § Leave a comment
A Preliminary Cofession
This is my reaction to “Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman” by James Gleick. Despite Gleick’s valiant effort to present the principles of physics in terms understandable to laymen, I begin this essay with a confession: I found the description of Feynman’s life, his personality, his relationships and the unique characteristics of his life style to be fascinating. But, after reading and re-reading several parts of Gleick’s book , I still d0 not comprehend major portions of his description of the principles of physics.
I do not attribute this failure to any fault of Gleick’s. Since Junior High School I have assiduously avoided education in the fields of math and physical science and, as a result, deprived myself of ability to appreciate the interesting story of the technology that has shaped our culture for the past seventy or eighty years. The field known as quantum electrodynamics has transformed not only our views of the universe of which we are a part, but also the nature of every iota of matter in our planet, including we humans and the other animals who inhabit it.
The Time Frame
Richard Feynman was born in New York in 1918. He died in 1978. 1919 was the year that Einstein’s general theory of relativity was proven: An eclipse of the sun allowed a photographer on earth to establish, just as Einstein had predicted, that a light ray from a distant star was deflected by the sun’s gravitational force to bend slightly as it hurtled toward the earth, thus causing a tiny edge of the emitting star to remain visible on earth instead of being blocked by the sun. Einstein’s incite attracted the attention of talented analysts from around the world and elevated physics to a prominent place in colleges and universities.
Feynman, while he was a public school boy, became interested in radio electronics and began asking his teachers the “why ?” questions that would structure his life. For example, he asked, “Why does a ball in the bed of a wagon roll backward when the wagon is drawn forward?” The response, based on the laws of inertia, did not satisfy him. It described, but did not provide a reason. The ultimate response, “We don’t know” was similarly unsatisfying.
Feynman asked one of his high school teachers, “How do sharp things stay sharp all the time if their atoms are always jiggling?” He got no answer.
Decades later, as a student at MIT, Feynman was still asking the same kinds of questions. He asked, “Why does a mirror seem to invert left and right, but not top and bottom?” “Why are mirrored words backwards, but not upside down?” After baffling his fraternity brothers, he would then explain: “‘Imagine yourself standing before a mirror’, he suggested, ‘with one hand pointing east and the other west. Wave the east hand. The mirror image waves its east hand. Its head is up. Its west hand lies to the west. Its feet are down. Everything’s really all right.’ Feynman said. ‘The problem is on the axis running through the mirror. Your nose and the back of your head are reversed: if your nose points north, your double’s nose points south. The problem now is psychological. We think of our image as another person. We cannot imagine ourselves “squashed” back to front, so we imagine ourselves turned left and right, as if we had walked around a pane of glass to face the other way. It is in this psychological turnabout that left and right are switched. It is the same with the book. If the letters are reversed left and right, it is because we turned the book about a vertical axis to face the mirror. We could just as easily turn the book from bottom to top instead, in which case the letters will appear upside down.'” (p.331)
This obsession with hidden or obscure items and processes sometimes caused problems for Feynman. For example, he delighted in figuring out how to open locks and safes, a skill at which he became adept. During J. Edgar Hoover’s reign at the FBI, Hoover targeted Feynman, claiming he had access to the safes containing classified material related to the U.S. nuclear program and used his access to route copies to the USSR. This nonsense was never proved and Feynman’s coleagues successfully defended him. Nevertheless, Gleick notes that Feynman’s FBI file was over a thousand pages long.
Risking The End of the World to End a War
Between 1940 and 1945, Robert Oppenheimer, the mercurial director of the Manhattan Project, organized a collaborative group of physicists. Their task: to create a nuclear weapon. His team is described in Gleick’s book as “. . . the most eccentric, temperamental, insecure, volatile assortment of thinkers and calculators ever squeezed together in one place.” Feynman was a major component of this collective effort. Oppenheimer recruited him from Princeton, where Feynman, a graduate student, had already distinguished himself as a member of a cadre of young creators of the emerging field of quantum physics.
The race for creating a nuclear bomb had begun in 1940, led by Oppenheimer, Hans Bethe and other physicists. They were aware of a parallel effort by Nazi Germany. The attack on Pearl Horbour December 7, 1941 spiked the effort’s urgency. Separate but coordinated groups were enlisted to work in Chicago, Oak Ridge Tennessee and a New Mexico desert outpost called Los Alamos.
This feverish work culminated at an isolated barren location, the Jornado del Muerto (Journey of Death), at 5:29:45 A.M, a few minutes before dawn on July 16, 1945, when the earth’s first mushroom cloud heralded the advent of its first nuclear explosion. The effort had succeeded. Man, for the first time, gained access to weapons technology capable of destroying the earth as a habitat for human beings.
Nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki soon thereafter ended World War II and elevated physics to new level in laboratories throughout the world.
The Trajectory of a Genius
Feynman’s Friends and Colleagues
Richard Feynman, to me, seemed to move though his adult life like someone with the appearance of an ordinary person but with mental ability that was not merely greater than his contemporary colleagues. It was different from theirs. Gleick describes multiple instances when Feynman was collaborating with one or more colleagues, seeking a solution to some analytical puzzle. The others laboriously worked with mathematical models and equations, moving step by step toward a solution. At some point, sometimes near the beginning of the process, Feynman would produce the solution based on a technique unrelated to the work done by others.
As I have stated earlier, I was unable to follow Gleick’s description of these episodes. My limited comprehension was: Feynman was able to craft solutions graphically, like pictures, in his brain without working through the mathematical equations otherwise necessary to arrive at the solution. This phenomenon, unsurprisingly, led to conflicts between Feynman and his fellow physicists. These men were, after all, not lacking in talent. Some of them were renown scholars with published research admired by and studied by other respected physicists. This conflict was exaccerbated by the fact that, early in his career, he was significantly younger than those with whom he worked.
Hostility toward him was also stoked by his own brash bluntness in expressing his disagreement with others. Unlike the Corinthians whom St. Paul reproached and mocked, Feynman did not suffer fools gladly. [2 Corinthians 11:19] Finally, however,when one after another of his arguments proved valid, his co-workers’ skepticism gave way to admiration and tolerance for his peculiar personality. This conversion was facilitated by the fact that Feynman’s arguments were always directed toward the reasoning of others; never toward them. He had a sharp wit and was a good companion at a picnic or a party.
As a young man, Feynman was shy with girls. As a teenager in Far Rockaway, New York, he dated girls but had no serious romantic relationship with any of them.
One day, at the beach, he saw Arline Greenbaum and became attracted to her. After he finished public school and entered college, he dated her when he come home on holiday. In his junior year at college, they became engaged. They postponed marriage because he continued his education as a graduate student rather than seeking a job and the ability to support a family.
While Feynman was working on his PhD, Arline contracted tuberculosis. In 1942, despite objections by their parents, they were married. After the ceremony Arline returned to the hospital where she was being treated. She and Feynman had a devoted and romantic relationship, featuring a constant exchange of letters, although they were never able to live together, until her death in 1945. The description of their doomed love reads like Verdi’s libretto account of Alfredo’s love for Violetta in La Traviata, the operatic version of La dame aux Camellias.
In 1952, Feynman married Mary Louise Bell. That marriage was a total failure. Feynman was repeatedly unfaithful and his wife was endlessly critical of his behavior and habits when he was at home. In her divorce petition she complained, among other things, of his lying in bed “doing calculus in his head”. He did not contest the divorce, granted slightly less than four years after their marriage.
He married Gwyneth Howarth February 24, 1960. She was from Great Britain. He arranged for her to immigrate to America to become his housemaid. After she arrived and moved into his home, they were married. They had a son and a daughter. Their marriage ended February 15, 1988, when Feynman died. Either because of Ms. Howarth’s tolerance or Feynman’s late developing maturity, or both, their marriage was a successful one.
Feynman in Wonderland
There seems to be recurring time lag sequence between fantasy fiction and scientific reality. Apple has produced Dick Tracy’s wrist radio. Flash Gordon’s interplanetary tales seem less astounding after a depot for rocket launches was established near Cape Canaveral in Florida. Even Zeus’s thunderbolts have become weapons wielded by laser armed cops. Modern medical research now involves consideration of ethical issues when human life is created in a petri dish or a test tube. The monster crafted by Dr. Frankenstein, in other words, is no longer the fantasy of a novelist. It is a problem, and possible future project, for modern medicine.
I thought about these ideas as I read about quantum physics. The nucleus of an atom is the field and location where this subject is studied. It cannot be magnified to a size assessable to a human eye. Its contents can leave trails on photographic plates that can be studied, but no one has ever seen a proton, an electron, a neutrino, a positron, a quark, a meson or any other particle residing in this nucleus. Yet a few generations of scientists have acquired knowledge about atomic nuclei that have enabled them to facilitate much of our modern technology.
How? The best description I have seen of the process is this: It is like studying the inner workings of a fine watch without being able to open the case. This kind of study is now essential to every field of science. Why? Here is Feynman’s answer: “If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms —little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.” (pp. 358-359)
James Gleick has described the combined efforts of the small army of physicists who have devoted their talent and endless hours of creative research to describing and learning how to manipulate and create new substances and forms of energy in ways that have both enhanced and threatened our lives. Richard Feynman was a leader in every phase of this process during his lifetime. Gleick’s book has a bibliography of Feynman’s published books and articles. It is six pages of closely spaced micro type. One of his books is entitled, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!”
Feynman won many prestigious awards including, in 1965, the Nobel Prize for “. . . fundamental work in quantum electrodynamics with deep ploughing consequences for the physics of elementary particles.” He shared the prize with Schwinger and Tomonaga.
I was not able to comprehend much of Gleick’s description of the processes that enabled the exploration that disclosed our knowledge of an atomic nucleus. I did understand that studying the behavior of various substances at different temperatures was part of the process. Tubes several miles long in which precisely controlled particles could be propelled at other particles enable observers to intuit information about the nuclei of the atoms involved.
Because the particles inside the nuclei are always in motion, the math involved in studying them involves calculating their velocity and path based on very complicated probability equations, the results of which are then compared with the observable behavior of the matter being studied. When the math becomes predictive of the behavior, it is accepted as accurately describing some aspect of the nucleus being studied. Variables are, as earlier noted, temperature , the nature of the physical substance in which the nuclei are located and the size of the environment in which the observation is made.
Some of the conclusions that have been reached through these methods do not conform to our common sense observations. For example, one conclusion that seems to have been accepted is that one of the particles whirling around in the nucleus, at some point, whirls backward in time. This is an acceptable conclusion, as I understand it, because the particles within the nuclei are moving at or near the speed of light and, at those speeds, space and time relationships change.
It took me some time to absorb this latter information. It seems that our mundane perception of the world is radically different from the reality of the atoms of which our world is constructed and this is true whether or not it “makes sense”. This is the reason that the brain tracks I acquired in law school did not equip me to understand physics.
The NASA Disaster
July 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger was launched into space at Cape Canaveral Florida. Seventy-one seconds later it exploded and its seven passengers were killed. President Reagan appointed a committee to investigate and discover the reason for the tragedy. Feynman was invited to participate.
Feynman was sixty-eight years old, suffering from terminal cancer. He responded to the request knowing that he had a short time to live. He began by educating himself about the history and engineering involved in the space program and the construction of Challenger. It finally became clear that the source of the explosion was the seals holding the sections of the rocket boosters together. The seals were secured with arrangements of pins inserted unto the metal coverings through rubber washers, called O-rings.
The night before the launch, the weather at Cape Canaveral was below freezing and ice collected around the shuttle. The launch was delayed briefly but the engineers determined that the temperature had moderated sufficiently to allow a safe launch.
Representatives of the companies who were involved in the construction and launching of the shuttle testified at hearings of the investigating committee. They used terms like “anomaly” to describe the explosion. Lawrence Mulloy, project manager for solid rockets, testified that the O-rings were capable of maintaining a safe seal at termperatures ranging from minus 30 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Feynman, took a taxi and found a hardware store. He bought some rubber washers the same size and material as the O-rings. He also bought a pair of pliers. He conducted his own test, using these items. Based on his findings, he returned to the committee hearing and questioned project manager Mulloy. Here is a quote from the transcript.
“Chairman Rogers: Dr. Feynman has one or two comments he would like to make. Dr. Feynman.
Dr. Feynman: This is a comment for Mulloy. I took this stuff that I got out of your seal and I put it in ice water, and I discovered that when you put some pressure on it for awhile and then undo it it doesn’t stretch back. It stays the same dimension. In other words, for a few seconds at least and more seconds than that, there is no resiliance in this particular material when it is at a temperature of 32 degrees.
I believe that has some significance for our problem.”
This exchange occurred one week after Feynman had arrived in Washington, where the investigation was being conducted. The investigation continued for four months, but Feynman had identified the cause of the disaster with a simple demonstration.
A Personal Speculation
In this essay I have repeatedly confessed my inability to comprehend quantum physics. I did, however, enjoy reading this book. although it took more time than I anticipated. It caused me to reconsider some ideas that I have pondered most of my adult life. It seems obvious that, in some ways, the reality we perceive is created in our brains. I don’t mean that we are living in a dream. Nor do I mean that, on a hot day, my brain can create a glass of cold lemonade. Contrary to what some philosophers have argued, I believe that reality is “really there” ; that it is not an illusion. That is different from the question of our perception of reality.
Gestalt theory teaches that our minds seek to find patterns, that is, some degree of regularity, from chaos. I assume that, like the rest of our bodies, our minds are the result of thousands of years of evolution. And that includes the types of patterns our minds add or construct to effect some kind of order to our perceptions.
Carl Jung taught that, contrary to Freud’s theory, our minds include not only a conscious and a subconscious component, but also a collective unconscious. He studied mythology across cultures and found unmistakable similarities in the stories our prehistoric ancestors told themselves and passed along to us – similarities that could not be explained by person to person communication. In other words, Jung taught that, just as our brains arrive with the necessary wiring to operate our bodies, they also arrive with the results of thousands of years of story telling in ancient cultures; and there were commonalities in those stories regardless of the absence of actual interactions between those cultures.
He proposed four categories of these archetypes: The Shadow (the part of our nature we keep hidden); the Animus (the male part of our nature); the Anima (the female part of our nature) and the Self (the combined mixture of the other categories determining who we, as individuals, are or become).
Within these categories, Jung identified a large number of personalities with names like “Wise Woman”, “The Trickster”, “Magician”. He found these as recurring figures in the myths he studied.
A a psychiatrist named Julian Jaynes proposed a different, but related set of ideas based on Jung’s collective unconscious theory. Jaynes wrote a book, “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” in which he argued that our brains became separated into “left brain” and “right brain” only a few thousand years ago. He claimed that the Greeks and Romans who wrote about a panoply of gods and goddesses who interacted with them were not writing fiction. He claimed their brains had not yet separated in right and left parts; one part perceiving logic and the other part capable of conceiving events and characters created by imagination. That is, they were writing about what, to them, were actual events and interactions between humans and gods and goddesses.
A significant number of people, including mental health professionals, agree with Jaynes. He is also regarded as a crackpot by others. I am skeptical. I have sampled, but not actually absorbed his book. His ideas are interesting, whether or not they’re true.
Now, why am I including this speculation in this essay about physics? Well, when I read about scientists creating an entire field of learning based on the activities of particles no one has ever seen, using their mental ability to arrive at precise descriptions of those particles and precise predictions of their behavior, it seemed to me to be a “quantum leap” (excuse this frivolity) between the reasoning of math-based science and the speculations of psychology and philosophy.
And, finally, I am not alone in this frame of mind. A physicist, Fritjof Capra has written a very interesting book, “The Tao of Physics” [“Tao” is pronounced “Dow”]. He compares quantum physics to Taoism, a Chinese religion that preceded and is related to Buddhism.
I became an admirer of Taoism in the late 50’s. It regards human activity as a shifting balance between Yang and Yin, seeking harmony and valuing peace instead of discord. One text related to Taoism is the I Ching [pronounced Eee Jing]. The I Ching is a kind of guide in which a sage offers advice about everything based on the random results of groups of sticks [originally yarrow sticks – I use kitchen matches] separated into successively smaller bunches until a number of sticks remain which identify specific paragraphs in the book. Those paragraphs disclose the Sage’s advice.
Capra does not use the I Ching in his book but Carl Jung wrote a preface for the edition of the English language version of the I Ching I use.
If you have accompanied me this far, you have probably concluded I am a kookoo bird, an old lawyer who spent his life engaged in combat in court rooms and political conventions, while dabbling in oriental philosophy teaching harmony and peace. I know this is inconsistent. I also cannot blame it on old age because it began when I was in my 20’s. I have no excuse.
October 18, 2015 § 1 Comment
Unarmed Victims of Police Violence: The Constitution and Our Criminal Justice System
This week we learned of two new episodes relevant to the present national conversation about our criminal justice system and, especially, the nature of the relationship between citizens and police. Both episodes are evidence that fundamental changes are necessary, not only in our laws,but also in our cultural attitude toward this subject.
A Polceman Shoots A Child Armed With a Toy Gun
In Cleveland, Ohio, a police officer shot and killed a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun in a public park. The officer responded to a 911 call from a person who reported a person brandishing what appeared to be a gun. The caller stated that the “gunman” appeared to be a juvenile and that the gun might be a toy. This information was not conveyed to the police officer. The officer drove to the park, claimed he saw the child make a “move toward his waistband” and opened fire. As shown by the camera that recorded the incident, the shots came 2 seconds after the police car arrived at the scene, obviously not enough time for the officer to do more than aim his pistol at the kid.
The Cleveland police department launched an investigation into the event. The investigation, for reasons neither apparent nor disclosed, went on for eleven months. Yesterday, reports written by two men described by the District Attorney as “experts”, were released. Both concluded the officer was justified in shooting the child. Both “experts” had expressed their opinions earlier during interviews after the shooting. Both had defended the officer’s conduct and judgment. The District Attorney said both reports would be presented to the grand jury considering whether or not to indict the officer for wrongfully killing the child.
The District Attorney insisted that he would neither approve nor disapprove the conclusions reached in the reports. The parents of the child have asked that a special prosecutor be appointed to handle the grand jury presentation of the case.
Here is a link to an ABC News account of the shooting: http://abcnews.go.com/US/cleveland-cops-recklessly-shot-boy-12-toy-gun/story?id=27402837
Eaton County Michigan Deputy Sheriff Tasers and Shoots 7 Bullets Into Unarmed 17-year-old Boy After Stopping Him For Flashing Headlights At Oncoming Car
On June 17, 2015, Deputy Sheriff Jonathon Frost stopped Deven Guilford, a teenage boy, for flashing his car’s headlights at the Deputy’s oncoming car because the Deputy car’s headlights were unusually bright. This, according to one (disputed) interpretation of a local ordinance, was a traffic violation for which a ticket could be issued. The boy did not have his drivers’ license with him. Instead of admitting that he didn’t have his license with him, the boy argued with the officer and refused to comply with his instructions. After repeatedly ordering the boy to comply, the officer told him to get out of his car. The boy at first refused, but finally got out of the car. The officer ordered him to lie down on the ground and he did so, but tried to make a phone call on his mobil phone instead of putting his hands behind his back. The officer grabbed the phone and kicked it away. The boy objected and appears to have gotten to his feet, at which point, the deputy tasered him. [There seems to be some dispute about the tasering. One account is that the taser did not actually work.] A scuffle ensued and the officer was struck by the boy multiple times and sustained minor cuts and bruises to his face. The officer drew his pistol and shot the boy seven times, killing him.
The County Prosecutor declined to file any charges against the officer and returned him to active duty.
Here is a link to one account of the incident: http://www.copblock.org/129681/mi-cop-kills-unarmed-teen-during-traffic-stop-for-flashing-lights-no-charges/
Here is a link to several pictures of the officer’s bruised face: http://interactives.wlns.com/photomojo/gallery/20157/361569/officer-frost-injuries/officer-frost-injuries-march-1/
Criminal Justice In America: The Constitution, The Cops and Our Culture
The proper beginning point in this or any discussion about the boundary between individual liberty and government power is the Bill of Rights.
The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states:
“Article the sixth… The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” [emphasis added]
The Civil War settled the boundary lines limiting the sovereignty of states to abuse or violate the right of citizens. It did so by adding amendments to to the Constitution, among them, the Fourteenth Amendment:
Passed by Congress June 13, 1866. Ratified July 9,
All born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [emphasis added]
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When Does a Law Enforcement Officer Have a Right to Kill?
In Tennessee v. Garner, a Supreme Court decision rendered in 1968, the Court stated the limits on a police officer’s right to kill a person. That case involved a fifteen-year-old child who had stollen $10 from a home. When the policeman arrived, the woman who lived there was outside complaining about the theft. The boy was on the porch and, disregarding the officer’s shout to stop, began running away. As he started to climb over a fence and escape, the officer shot and killed him. The officer acknowledged that he did not believe the boy was armed, but defended his decision to kill him as the only means of apprehending him.
The Supreme Court ruled that the interest in making an arrest when there was no apparent risk that the suspect posed a risk of killing either the officer or anyone else was not reasonable and, therefore, violated the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution. Tennessee had a law that authorized the use of deadly force to effect an arrest when the suspect was thought to be guilty of a felony. The Court held that law to be unconstitutional.
Here is the essence of the Court’s reasoning:
“The use of deadly force to prevent the escape of all felony suspects, whatever the circumstances, is constitutionally unreasonable. It is not better that all felony suspects die than that they escape. Where the suspect poses no immediate threat to the officer and no threat to others, the harm resulting from failing to apprehend him does not justify the use of deadly force to do so. It is no doubt unfortunate when a suspect who is in sight escapes, but the fact that the police arrive a little late or are a little slower afoot does not always justify killing the suspect. A police officer may not seize an unarmed, nondangerous suspect by shooting him dead.”
The key thing to understand, based on this ruling is: The question is NOT what the officer THOUGHT or BELIEVED when he pulled the trigger. The issue is what a reasonably prudent adult policeman would have thought and how a reasonably prudent policeman would have behaved. In the Tennessee case, the officer thought, based on the Tennessee law, that he was entitled to kill the boy. The Court ruled that he was mistaken and that he had violated the Constitutional rights of the boy.
How These Ideas Should Shape the Analysis of the Two Killings of Unarmed Boys
The Twelve-Year-Old With a Toy Gun
It seems to me that a “reasonably prudent man” would have chosen more than a 2-second reflection before deciding that the scene in the Cleveland park required that he kill someone. If he wanted to be “prudent” perhaps he should have stopped the patrol car far enough away to observe, safely and carefully, what was happening there before parking close enough to be in danger. He was warned that a person in the park had a weapon. He heard no shots being fired and had no reason to believe anyone was in danger. Why didn’t he take some precaution against placing himself in a position where he might have to kill somebody? Finally, if he was close enough to see, as he claimed, during those crucial two seconds, that the boy was “reaching for his waistband” in a threatening way, how did it not escape his notice that the “gunman” was twelve years old? I don’t suggest that cops need to be adept at guessing the age of children but, unless this kid was a very unusual boy with some sort of glandular disorder, he surely had not reached the size and appearance of an adult.
Surely the officer knew that it was not unusual for young boys to play with toy guns. The problem is that the Cleveland officer took no time to discover anything about the boy or the relevant circumstances. He just pulled his car up, aimed and fired, with no more care or deliberation than he would have used to deal with a rabid dog. There was no indication that he regarded the event with the seriousness that taking the life of a child deserved.
I know the standard response to these complaints: “You weren’t there. You can’t know what was in the officer’s mind. He says he was scared and who are we to say otherwise?”
I think that idea is unacceptable for several reasons. First, it makes every police officer immune from prosecution for murder. All they have to say is, “I thought I was in danger of being killed.” “Bingo! You can go!” “If you say so, that’s good enough for me!”
Our law does not afford police officers that kind of blanket immunity. The test is NOT what Officer trigger-happy or Officer panic-button thought. It’s what a “reasonably prudent adult who chose to become a police officer and subject himself to dangerous situations and was properly trained to react to them with mature judgment and appropriate concern for the Bill of Rights would have thought under all the circumstances.” THAT’S THE TEST.
Second, it adds a death penalty offense to our criminal justice system. Scaring a police officer warrants a death penalty without any appeal and without the involvement of any judge or jury. That may not bother middle-aged white folks who lead uneventful lives. It is, however, an issue that threatens the stability and security of a large swath of citizens in our country.
The Death Penalty Headlight Violation
Finally we come to Deputy Johnathan Frost’s escalation of a traffic stop for a headlight ordinance violation to a violent confrontation with a teenage boy. After dragging the boy out of his car, wrestling him to the ground and kicking his cell phone out of his hand, Deputy Frost engaged in a fistfight which left him with some cuts and bruises. Despite those wounds, the Deputy won the fight by using a taser and a pistol to kill the boy with seven shots fired at close range.
The cuts and bruises proved to be a lucky break for the Deputy because they apparently convinced law enforcement agents of Eaton County Michigan that they fully justified his killing of the unarmed boy. No charges were filed; no grand jury action was considered and the Deputy wasn’t even temporarily suspended from performing his role as as a respected Michigan peace officer. Everybody expressed regret about the “tragedy” but nobody thought Deputy Frost bore any blame for it. In Eaton County, it’s not safe to say “No” to a Deputy Sheriff.
Except for its final 10 or 15 seconds, this episode is fully recorded on camera. The Deputy demands a drivers’ license from the boy. The boy refuses. The demand and the refusal are repeated seven times. Finally the boy admits that he does not have his drivers’ license with him. The Deputy then orders him out of the car to be arrested. The boy resists and continues to argue with the Deputy. The Deputy gets him out of the car and lying prone on the ground. Then the picture blurs, but we can see the boy’s cell phone skidding away from him on the pavement. We can hear him moaning and he rises from the ground. Then we hear a series of shots fired. The boy is dead.
In my opinion the Deputy caused and provoked this outcome with some very bad judgment calls. When the boy confessed that he did not have his license with him, the Deputy could have stopped to think: “I now have a right to handcuff this kid, take him to jail and, maybe get charged with resisting an officer, a felony. But, should I do it? After all, his offense is flashing his headlights at me, not exactly a serious matter. Why should I try to do something that might wreck his young life because he is arguing with me? I’m an adult. He obviously doesn’t have the maturity or judgment to understand the possible serious consequences of how he’s acting. Should I take advantage of his bad judgment or should I use my own good judgment? He is not a threat to me or to anyone. It was understandable for him to flash his headlights. I’ve already ticketed two other motorists for the same thing. The new headlights on this patrol car are unusually bright, even on low-beam.”
“After thinking it over, I’ll use the license plates on his car to identify his parents. I’ll call them, maybe go by and talk to his dad. Tell them to protect their son by giving him some stern advice about arguing with cops who carry firearms. That’s what I would hope a cop would do with a child of mine. So what if I forego a chance to make an arrest. That’s not what I’m hired to do. I’m hired to enforce the law with judgment and common sense, not to gratuitously injure kids who make mistakes.”
If Deputy Frost had reacted this way, the boy would be alive, Frost would not have gotten bruised and some grateful parents would have appreciated a law enforcement officer going out of his way to help them raise a son.
I think the above alternative behavior is what a reasonably prudent adult peace officer would have done. Even if this expects too much from Deputy Frost, the question still remains: Why was it necessary for him to kill an unarmed teenage boy? Did he really believe that the kid was going to beat him to death? Was he completely helpless to defend himself?
He claims he was afraid that the boy would get his pistol and kill him with it. How likely is that? Merely because it is theoretically possible does not mean that he was reasonable to expect it to happen. After all, Deputy Frost was not disabled. If he thought he could not handle the boy, he could have retreated instead of drawing his pistol and firing seven bullets into the boy. Is there some unwritten but cast iron rule that cops must never retreat? If so, maybe it should be revised. The notion that a peace officer must, at all times and regardless of the measures required, be in control of everyone in his purview, is a stupid and dangerous rule. It is unfair to law enforcement officers and dangerous to innocent citizens. It does not appear in the Constitution. Only in the movies are cops expected to be invulnerable and invincible.
Deputy Frost made the exact mistake that the officer in Tennessee v. Garner made: Acting as if he had unlimited authority to arrest Devin Guilford, even it required him to kill him. The Supreme Court ruled otherwise almost fifty years ago. Instead of pulling his pistol and pumping seven bullets into the boy, Deputy Frost should have backed off and let him go. The death penalty was not appropriate for a headlight violation.
I am not naive. After over 50 years of trial practice as a lawyer in Texas I have no illusions about the contempt with which my above-stated ideas would be met by law enforcement agencies and their supporters. I am convinced, nevertheless, that, unless police are trained and taught to be helpers peacemakers, and facilitators instead of armed and dangerous bullies, we will continue to have the needless killings and hostility toward police that are now like a plague in our country.
Here is the tough part: The initiative must come from the police. It will not come from their victims, mostly black and brown. The key is establishing trust. Trust is necessary before fear can be replaced with cooperation. When armed police now confront black and brown citizens, they do so with acute awareness of the hatred and distrust that results from 300 years of abuse, discrimination and brutality. That history is stitched into the fabric of our culture and it can be erased only by demonstrable changes in the behavior and ethos of our law enforcement community.
It expects too much to require the peacemaking and trust from the victims. The trust and acceptance must be earned by the creation of a new history of fairness and willingness to abandon the “cops are always right” mentality. Changes will not come without costs. Some innocent officers will pay a price for hesitating before resorting to lethal force. I mourn in advance those costs just as I am repelled by the senseless killings chronicled here. But the reward for building trust and confidence in our law enforcement agents will be a reduction in crime and a more peaceable community, priceless goals.
Finally, and here again, I know how politically un-correct this is: The only way to initiate the kind of cultural change I am writing about is to have a few, well publicized convictions of peace officers who behave like the Cleveland officer who gunned down a twelve-year-old and Officer Frost who escalated a confrontation that ended with the bullet-riddled body of a teenager. That, more than anything else, will motivate law enforcement agencies to change their attitudes and practices. Nothing changes when there are no consequences for leaving things as they are.
I dream of a nobel effort. It will require brave leadership and wisdom. It is possible if well intentioned intelligent and courageous men and women are determined and steadfast.