Tribalism: It’s not always pretty

When we were freshmen at Oberlin, four of our required 12 hours of social sciences could be met by taking Marcia Colish’s dread History 101, a class in which I routinely scribbled 10 pages of notes out of sheer desperation as she flung the story of Western civilization at us at warp speed.

She talked about how empires rise and fall. First, there would be tribalism, though she didn’t call it that.

No, she didn’t call it that because back then, we mistakenly thought that tribes only existed in “uncivilized” parts of the world, which didn’t even merit mention. Her course started with the fall of the Roman empire, but didn’t dwell on its causes. Instead we waved at the Patristic (dig that etymology) scholars and then sailed on to the Merovingians and Carolingians.

So the story back then began with warring dukes and wannabe kings and emperors. Back then, as Rome fell and Byzantium faded eastward, there was of course the “Holy Roman Empire.”

But what there really was, was tribalism. We just didn’t call it that. Still, Ms. Colish gave us the fundamental principle: Empires fall. They crumble into chaos and then – she taught us – nation-building starts. Nations arise and then they grow into empires, and then those empires fall and so in goes, on and on.

What we didn’t appreciate, because we didn’t see we were in the middle of it, is just how messy the fall of empires can be.

And we never studied what really happens when an empire crumbles. It doesn’t go right back into nations; now we see, it goes down to the bones. And the bones, because evolution is slow, are tribes.

So here we are now, in a global economy with 24/7/365 ¼ communications, working at the tribal level to get the world’s work accomplished every day and try to prevent incinerating ourselves in the meantime.

How’s that working for you?

Two good essays on Salon.com this morning tackle the subject as it’s manifesting itself right here in America. Never mind the lethal and tragic tribalism of street culture vs. the police; this morning’s essays look at why Trump voters can’t even admit to themselves that they might have  been wrong – because tribalism is such a deeply embedded survival mechanism:   http://www.salon.com/2017/06/21/watch-why-trump-fans-wont-dump-him-now/

And in an interestingly congruent essay, Lucian Truscott IV – he of the Jefferson family scandal and many trenchant  insights into our society – writes about “power without money” – about how you motivate scared human beings to go out an fight a war when there’s no  immediate reward in it for them and they are too many to punish … and how that is exactly what our nation’s underpaid, unloved but faithful government bureaucracy is, and how Trump hates those bureaucrats because he doesn’t understand the concept of power without money.

Or maybe, I am thinking, he understands it very well on an instinctive level. Instinctively, he knows these faceless functionaries are not of his tribe, and he is exerting all of his own power to dismantle and destroy them.

Just thinkin’ … read Truscott at http://www.salon.com/2017/06/21/power-in-the-absence-of-money/ …and hope that our justice system and those patient, faceless bureaucrats survive this bout of tribalism. But as Ms. Colish never quite pointed out, when empires crumble, nations are not what they crumble into. They crumble into tribes, and it is messy and dangerous. Like the Dark Ages.

Let us pray ..

The Coal Camp Series

If you  are anywhere within a 100-mile radius of Roanoke, Virginia — or even if you aren’t — you need to make a beeline for the Hollins University campus, just off I-81. There at the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum, you’ll find the very best of Lenny Lyons Bruno’s work. But you need to hurry — this is the last week.

Lenny was born to a coal-mining family. Her Coal Camp Series tells it like it was — and like it really, essentially, still is.  Her artworks are often made using old quilts as her canvases. Her sculptures employ found objects to viscerally evoke the life she and her siblings knew — going to school barefoot and threadbare, getting ridiculed because with all the transiency of the coal camps, they’d never learned to read, didn’t know the protocol of a classroom, and were shabby and grimy from the constant of their lives: coal dust,  King Coal, a shack if you were lucky, and the company store.

“Blackberry Winter” is the painting you see at the far end of the gallery as you walk in. It’s Lenny’s tribute to her mother — pregnant again, on the move, no food in the house except the blackberries they’d picked in the summer and put up.

The art is intriguing and evocative in and of itself. But it also speaks to just one of America’s big failings — and of the courage and grit one family found to get through it.

If you check out the website https://www.hollins.edu/museum/index.shtml, that first picture in the slide show is one of Lenny’s, and it is probably my favorite: “Fold Inward,” it speaks of the pattern of their survival; of hope and tragedy and transcendence. The background, as it happens, is a variation on the American flag.

Lenny’s work deserves a permanent place in a museum of its own. If you can’t get to Roanoke, this ferociously long URL may do the trick. Just mend the breaks and you’re in business. Or just Google Lenny Lyons Bruno. I promise you won’t be disappointed:

https://www.google.com/search?q=lenny+lyons+bruno&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjO_5Ck7p_SAhXIOyYKHSyBAgYQsAQITw&biw=1150&bih=635

“From heres” and “come heres” ~ Rockbridge County ctd.

 

Do I know you?

The way her eyes narrow says it all. She’s walking toward me as I drive across Myers Street and raise my hand in the customary (hereabouts) greeting-in-passing.

Her face bears the stamp of our mountain country: weathered skin, strong bones, creases at the corners of those pale blue eyes that traveled across the North Atlantic a couple of centuries ago, the creases proof of years of outdoor work.

Her gray hair is neat and nondescript and she is wearing a purple sweatsuit, a nice one.  She is clearly not someone who steps out for a trip to the post office or a walk around the block without some forethought.

What’s it to you,  I hear her thinking as I put my hand back on the wheel. Not for her this Johnny-come-lately habit of waving at strangers. Back in the day, you only greeted people you actually knew, from church or school or perhaps the grocery store, and that’s good enough for her. None of this raising a hand or doing the two-finger waggle now popular on our narrow county roads as two vehicles weave past each other.

I stand reproved. She is right. I’m not from here, even though I was born in this very town more than sixty years ago. I am not a “from-here.” My family were outlanders, “come heres,” and from the North to boot, which sometimes still matters here.

She is not. She is from here, and these mountains are truly her home, their shifting patterns of light and shadow ingrained in her being from so far before birth that she has to stop and count the generations. And count them she can. They are buried in a family cemetery somewhere in the county, or in old church cemeteries with names like Ebenezer or New Providence.

I want to protest. I grew  up here. I too know the light and the shadow, and I see – or rather hear, coming back from the flatlands where I spent most of my adulthood – how in the mountains, the sound only travels from one end of the hollow to the other. It does not travel miles, the way it does over flat land, so that you might hear the noise of a highway five miles distant if the wind is blowing your way.

Not here. Here, you will only hear what the mountains let you hear. You will not hear the dog or the child or the highway from the other side of the ridge line.

And I want to tell her that I too see how their colors change, these mountains, how right now they wait for fall’s flaming brilliance but will soon  lie brown and sleeping in the winter sun. How the spines of their leafless trees stand up like prickly fur. How they will turn pale green in spring, darker in summer, flame bright again in autumn. How we can walk their trails and listen to the birds call.

But we won’t have that conversation, she and I. There are many divisions besides ridgelines in these mountains. She is of the tribe J.D. Vance calls his “hill people,” and I know it is a term of hard-earned and well-deserved respect. But we won’t have that conversation either. Her purple sweatsuit recedes in my rearview mirror, and we go on into our respective days.

Photo caption:  Looking across Rockbridge County to the Blue Ridge from the top of the road where I live … this is her ancestral land. I’m just a “come here,” but it is my land too.

John Lewis is my hero

 

And he has been for a long time. Today’s New Yorker article by David Remnick testifies to some of the reasons why.

The link above should take you to Remnick’s essay. Meanwhile:

John Lewis came to the military college in my small hometown here almost two years ago to accept a civil rights award. Many of us townsfolk went to Virginia Military Institute’s big sports arena to witness the event, so proud that even in this Southern mountain town, we have come a ways.

Not far enough yet, as Lewis himself has made clear. But on Saturday, about 700 people marched peacefully through our town in memory of Martin Luther King’s message to the nation, and in an expression of  community and inclusiveness. It was that, and more. The next evening — last night — several hundred of us were privileged to hear Diane Nash give the MLK Day address at our other college, Washington & Lee University.

There’s irony here — Robert E. Lee is buried on the W&L campus — but we want to get past that. Ms. Nash — who as a college sophomore decades ago was a chief organizer of the Freedom Rides — spoke about her life,  about Dr. King and her association with him, and about how the civil rights movement in her view was created and carried out by people who refused to accept oppression. She spoke of “agapic energy,” the energy that enables you to get past hating your opponent and to target the institutions and beliefs that keep oppression in place.

This was just one day after both  the CARE Initiative march honoring King and the by now customary showing of Confederate flags were captured by the New York Times in a video — https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/us/parades-lexington-virginia-martin-luther-king-jr-robert-e-lee.html. That didn’t faze Ms. Nash, who is entirely equal to facing down a flag and much more.  But for us who remain behind, it was a reminder that we’re not in that “place just right”  — not just yet.

And so, John Lewis. Once again this man who has walked so many miles for freedom and justice — who has walked with the wind and against it and has never faltered — once again this man, in the fullness of his years, is talking with his feet. He is not attending the inauguration of a man who has mocked the disabled, women, and people of all races other than his own.

Here’s an excerpt from Remnick, quoting Lewis:

Testifying at Sessions’s confirmation hearing, Lewis said, “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’s call for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.”

“We’ve made progress, but we are not there yet,” he continued. “There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Philip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington, in 1963, often said, ‘Maybe our forefathers and our foremothers all came to this great land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.’ It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up and speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who are being discriminated against.”

So we still have work to do.  And Ms. Nash has the recipe, which she shared last night with students, professors and townspeople: Investigate. Make your plan. Hit the streets. Keep at it.   And love your enemy, because the energy of love is the most powerful and the only reliable force we have going for us. Agapic energy. Onward.

 

 

 

1 January 2017

Ah,  the power. The power and constraint of a New Year,  a convention laid upon us — smack in the middle of sun and moon cycles, the natural measures of our time on Earth — by the arbitrary forces of empire. First the Romans, their calendar hopelessly convoluted. Then the church, whose holy and secular empires superimposed religious holidays over all the old pagan ones. Finally, as European powers began to conquer the world, a kind of proto-bureaucratic realignment that sought a return to reality. Earthly reality, that is — the original calendar of the Earth’s circuit around the sun, the moon’s orbit around earth. Proto-bureaucratic because the purely human and artificial solution was to lop off a quarter of a day three years of every four, and add a day in the fourth. Ooh la la.

And so we start another year — however that lands for you and me and everyone else on the planet — regardless of what your religion, nationality, persuasion or reality might be. Just the outward and visible sign of the manifold inward conflicts we carry with us — and which burst forth in the ugliest and most unexpected ways, even as we sail forth into this New Year. Where will the next outbreak explode? Who will guide us through it? We are so weary of these questions already and the year is not yet one day old.

But for some — I have a friend who is one — this is actually a birthday, a real one. That is not insignificant.

And so I gather up my hopes, I say my prayers, I set my course. Let this be the first day of the rest of my life. Let me spend it well and make a difference for the good. Let me take care of the earthly vehicle that is my body, and make time to appreciate the beauty of the world around me. Let my spirit grow and rejoice, with laughter and in tranquillity, with friends and in solitude, in harmony with the soul of our planet and the truth and unity of our humanity. There will be an answer.  Let it be.

Food for thought: Balancing Act

One of the enduring ideas about how to achieve and maintain good health is the acid-alkaline balance theory. Nutrition researchers have lots to say about that balance, and I must add, when you look at where so many of our common foods fall on their scale, it makes sense.

Briefly, the typical American diet is too acidic. Alkaline is what we’re looking for. “Acidosis” is blamed for inflammation, arthritis, and everything from fatigue to immune dysfunction.

Take it for what it’s worth, but as you might suspect, villains include refined carbs and sugar, alcohol, and most highly processed foods. Likewise foods high in protein, including meat and dairy … while a thumbs-up goes to fresh fruits and veggies, of course. Surprisingly, things like rice, beans, and chicken and fish – which I think of as innocuous, at least – are also deemed mildly acid forming.

So what to do? In general (as everyone’s been telling us), eat more fresh produce. Grains, not so much, though quinoa gets high marks. Beans are just so-so, ditto white rice, but brown rice is better, wild rice very good, and lentils are highly recommended. So are beets (not a fave for me), including borscht.

Nutritionist Susan E. Brown (THE ACID-ALKALINE FOOD GUIDE) offers these tips:

  • Start the day with juice of a half lemon or lime in 8 oz. water.
  • Make lentils, winter squash, and root crops including sweet potatoes into staples.
  • Eat a cup of greens daily. Endive and crucifers (all cabbage family members including kale, mustard greens, collards and turnip greens) are good.
  • Add miso and seaweeds judiciously to soups and stews.
  • Best grains are quinoa, wild rice, and organic oats.
  • Fresh-squeezed fruit and veggie juices are good; ditto spring water and mineral waters.
  • Eat high-protein foods sparingly.

Fave recipe:

Rice-Lentil salad

This can be a main dish, served with a baked winter squash and a simple green salad.

2 c. cooked lentils (cook with several peppercorns, chopped garlic; add 1 T. tamari near end of cooking)

2 c. cooked rice (look in the supermarket for a mix of wild, brown, red and white rice)

½ medium carrot, julienned

¼ c. chopped green and red peppers

¼ c, chopped onion if desired

¼ c. chopped walnuts or pecans

¼ c. olive oil

2 T. balsamic vinegar

Pinch cayenne if desired

Tamari to taste if needed

Allow rice and lentils to cool to room temperature after cooking. Combine ingredients. Makes 4-6 servings.

NOTE: I bake an acorn or butternut squash whole at 350 degrees, after puncturing the skin to release steam, for about a half hour. Then split and clean it, brush with butter or oil, dust with cinnamon, and put it under the broiler for five minutes.

Salad: Mix up the greens, including kale or shredded cabbage with lettuce or mesclun. Include spinach, radicchio, endive, escarole, whatever suits you. Sprinkle with dried cranberries and roasted sesame seed if desired, but keep it simple. Just plain greens are fine. Dress with good quality olive oil, and lemon juice.

FOR ALL DISHES, add salt or tamari sparingly to taste. Ditto pepper.

And about West Virginia …

OK, I promise this is the last time you’ll hear from me about the severe disconnect in this country, at least until after Nov. 8.

I voted for President Obama twice and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I hope he goes down in history as the smart, courageous, compassionate human being he is, and for all he has accomplished.

It turns out, in the latest New Yorker, that a big chunk of West Virginia voted for him too. That was a surprise, to me at least.

But this time they’re voting for Trump. And “Trump Country” explains why. An excerpt:

Trump seemed … to treat West Virginia like family, and he had noticed that many West Virginians in return treated Trump like family, brushing off the things he said that sounded nuts or that they didn’t agree with. “In Iraq, I listened to David Petraeus speak every day about how we had to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure and protect it,” Richard Ojeda says. “But, if we’re going to go to trillions of dollars in debt over Iraq, why can’t we go billions of dollars in debt and make every single coal-producing plant clean in West Virginia? Don’t we deserve a hand? We built this country with the steel that came out of our coal, and we protected this country with our soldiers, and nobody cares. We’re more willing to give millions of dollars to people in other countries who’d just as soon put a bullet in the back of our heads. That’s why West Virginia is going to vote for Trump.”

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter whether we agree with, like, or admire each other at this point. If we don’t resolve our differences in some way, we’re pretty much doomed. Of course that includes differences with people we may have been taught to disregard, disrespect, even despise. My sister says the core Trump constituency is made up of people who know they’ve pretty much been written off, personally and economically. I think she’s right.

I’m seeking to start with understanding, hoping for discourse.

The link: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/10/10/in-the-heart-of-trump-country