Swatting at the Noose of Cynicism

Wednesday, July 10th, 2024

By Robert C. Koehler

As hard as I try, in the privacy of my own being, not to get caught up in the scathing absurdities of the moment — e.g., the presidential election, America’ looming fascism, our love of money and war (to name a few) — yikes, here I am, caught up in it all.

And all I can do is reach for a larger truth . . . peace will prevail, the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. And it so quickly feels like a cliché. Welcome to cynicism!

I swat at it, push it away, but it’s always there. So calm down, I tell myself. I’m doing so right now. In the context of a Biden blank stare and a looming Trump presidency, here I am, reaching for a sense of hope and transcendence — a sense of belief, a sense of joy, that humanity is evolving, that the present is just a necessary flicker in our becoming.

I invite you to join me as I reach for a larger context in which to put this flickering moment. I begin by quoting Peter Bloom, addressing the looming presidential farce: “Increasingly, elections have become competitions between the ambitions and personalities of individual ‘great men’ rather than contests of ideas or visions for society.

“This phenomenon reflects a contemporary belief in the outsized power of elite individuals—whether CEOs, celebrities, or political leaders—to drive change and shape the world around them. . . .

“This personalization of politics serves to obscure the deeper structural issues facing American democracy and society. By focusing on the qualities of individual leaders, we lose sight of the systemic problems that no single person, no matter how talented or well-intentioned, can solve alone.”

Hmmm . . . This opens up a line of thought oh so easily disparaged and dismissed, at least by the corporate media (“the bouncers,” as I call them), whose job is to keep complexity out of our collective national consciousness and reduce politics — national and even global — to a simplistic, win-lose game. This, of course, maintains the present two-party system: evil vs. lesser evil. And those who challenge it, attempting to transcend spectator democracy by participating directly and complexly in the process, are nothing but “spoilers.”

What a joke, eh? Thinking we can build a political system based on the concept that we’re all in this together.

In contrast, let me snatch a quote from Rupert Ross’s great book on Restorative Justice, Returning to the Teachings. Ross quotes Anne Fausto-Sterling: “Modern textbooks still like to talk of cutthroat competition, of the survival of the fittest, as the overriding force that drives evolution. . . . Yet research in the past two decades shows that cooperation among species plays at least as big a role as violent struggle. … And suddenly, it seems, you can find cooperation in plants and animals wherever you look — suggesting a whole new view of evolution and interdependence among all forms of life.”

Working together? Building society as a collaborative effort? Yeah, it’s nice-sounding claptrap and a necessary part of human existence — families have to get along, drivers have to stop at stop signs, etc., etc. — but, come on! America is about winning and losing. The Super Bowl isn’t a focus on politeness. We have a trillion-dollar annual “defense” budget and several thousand nuclear weapons, not just stockpiled but “actively deployed.” So does Russia! What kind of idiot sings “kumbaya” and says we all just need to get along?

This is the noose of cynicism from which we need both personal and collective escape. And the escape isn’t a kick in the bad guy’s kneecaps (whoever the bad guy is). The escape from cynicism is, ahem, loving.

Here’s another quote from Ross’s book, which he calls the first of the Twelve Teachings of the Sacred Tree, that is to say, an expression of indigenous awareness of the nature of the universe: “All things are interrelated. Everything in the universe is part of a single whole. Everything is connected in some way to everything else. It is therefore possible to understand something only if we can understand how it is connected to everything else.”

The world is not simply ours to extract and exploit, to divide into categories, to dump into the trash bin? Bad guys and good guys both matter, even in a presidential race? All I can do is quote a poem I wrote a few years ago. It’s called “The Cardinal”:

I thank you God
if that’s your name
for the beauty and the trash,
the spill, the vomit, the love and
exhaust smoke of
this new most
amazing day.
Outside my window
a cardinal shocking
as a nosebleed
pecks the raw winter
ground beneath its feet.
I thank you for its
food and mine,
for my coffee and for these
words, these malleable
playthings of awareness,
which still birth
all I think and know.
Let them stroke
the trembling potential
of what I see and what’s
to come.
The cardinal lifts.
I salute it with
my cup
and swallow.

I know, I know. This solves nothing. This answers nothing. The presidential race and raw hell are still looming and human-created climate change has ahold of the planet. I’m lost. Perhaps we all are, as we stare wide-eyed at the cynical noose dangling from the headlines. Oh Lord, kumbaya.

But look! The cardinal’s coming back.