“…rather these question marks arise when the human condition is so improved and ameliorated that the inevitable mosquito bites of body and soul are found to be altogether too gruesome and gory, and in the poverty of their experience of actual pain, people will even take being troubled by ideas to be suffering of the highest order.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Joyous Science trans. R. Kevin Hill
This essay is a reflection on the current crises and my own proposed approach to handling them positively. I also attempt to offer some meaning to them while keeping within the tradition of American constitutional liberty. I also invite the reader into my own experiences.
If the reader is adverse to controversial ideas that challenge prevalent assumptions, then I suggest passing on this personal essay. I plan to shake assumptions concerning the direction of the United States and talk about things that matter and how our country and culture are reckoning with them.
Trump emerged as a Black Swan President in 2016, completely shattering liberal hopes of the first female president. Most of his supporters were white, seen as uneducated rednecks and put on display for ridicule. He was the anti-immigrant candidate, the one saying that “bad, bad hombres” were crossing the border. He told us that he could shoot someone on the street and his constituents would still love him, demonstrating a casual arrogance found in every other politician we have come to know. What makes him different?
President Trump is an arrogant man who has courted authoritarian regimes of various stripes including North Korea, India, and even the Russian government is pleased to have him in power. This could signal a global paradigm shift in power relations altogether. Trump is not the problem, but he is the response. By reflecting the face of Caliban back to our souls, he leads us to think on matters of importance.
After President Obama created the Syrian refugee crisis with the aid of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, what sort of leadership was needed to counteract the ensuing instability? Bernie Sanders suggested importing thousands of people as climate refugees and writing a blank check to cover expenses of an increasing welfare state. Even the controversial Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who this writer admires) suggests major changes in fiscal policy guided by Modern Monetary Theory. Infrastructure needs dire improvement as it crumbles. What better time to create something entirely new from the old patterns?
Let’s also talk about injustice. How we have treated others historically. How we continue to marginalize people. Why are we only now reckoning with our own hideous reality that we created?
Society needs a culture to help it identify itself. It requires art, both commercial and fine arts. It requires attitudes and stereotypes to fit our lazy thinking habits. It requires political economy, adjustments to government and its relations to industry. A country is a thing much larger than itself.
Nationalism, a word I have often despised, means what a country identifies as should be held at high value by its citizens. Pride in one’s country is not inherently exclusive. Critics of the United States on the left have offered a great number of reasons to reconsider our global supremacy. Post-globalization society will be much different; it will need to be strong and fit to survive, but it will require openness. It will need to be robust, but multicultural. Open criticism helps us adapt to growing cultural pressures.
July 4th, Independence Day, is a celebration of the penning of the Declaration of Independence which declared the 13 colonies of America separate from the tyranny of British monarchial rule. Later the founders were to establish a new government after coming short with the Articles of Confederation.
In creating a stronger central power capable of collecting revenue to pay the debts of the Revolutionary War, the United States engaged in a radically new political mode of being in the world. After centuries of European wars over religion, the Enlightenment sought to empower the individual and empirical science. The ideas of the Enlightenment from thinkers such as Rousseau, Locke, Voltaire, and others established a new precedent which emboldened culture and science.
The founders were familiar with these ideas. After rational debates concerning the new government, the United States Constitution as we know it was written. The ideals presented of rational discussion, free speech and assembly, not only founded this majestic country, but were the very staples of its founding. Free press was established to help circulate ideas. Common Sense by Thomas Paine was a leading factor in persuading the colonists so free press was also beneficial to the American Revolution. These ideals are something to make us exceptionally proud.
This writer is a left-libertarian when it comes to ideology, but we must look beyond ideas. The metamodernists convey that reality and text are different things, but not mutually exclusive. How we conceive ourselves matters. With Donald Trump in the White House, a man who has shady dealings in the past as everyone does, a political outsider whose rhetoric is extreme but powerfully honest, a reality TV host who admittedly has helped our culture decline into laziness, we have come to firmly reckon with not just our history but our present as well. There has never been more open, honest discussion in the public domain as now. I see people defying the conventions that have long held them down. Ideology is an enemy, a bad conscience. However, it is a necessary component to our being. It contextualizes and celebrates our caveats.
President Trump has put in front of us what so many past presidents have hidden in private. In doing so, he is caused us to think more deeply on our predilections. Broad cultural shifts are taking place that wouldn’t have without such an impetus. The mobilization against Trump is as powerful a catalyst as he is himself. Let’s not be dogged by ragged assumptions.
With this said, I plan to vote for Libertarian Party candidate Jo Jorgensen to make a point that I want to preserve the ideas of liberty, independence, and freedom of thought. I cannot empower the left or the right in my vote with reasoned conscience. Identity politics has triumphed as a reaction to racism, sexism, and the various evil isms setting one’s “identity” as political collateral in a battle against history. This leftist dogma does not suit me, and I cannot empower it by voting to uphold it and its culture.
I respect Trump and admire some of his accomplishments. I have discussed them in writing. However, I cannot vote to uphold Trumpism either. With writers such as Anis Shivani I believe Trump is a man of the people, although his responses to coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement are tepid. A recent NPR (National Public Radio) article discussed by FEE (Foundation for Economic Education) suggested that experts have failed to properly address an issue yet again, and making comparisons to the expertise that lead to the Iraq War. Government authority clearly is human, and not divine.
I was an atheist after hearing Bad Religion for the first time at age 13. Raised strict Catholic, I merged my traditional and revolutionary tendencies into Christian humanist anarchism, my own variety of metamodernism.
My mother, also an atheist, lost her mother to a drunk driver at age eighteen when I was a toddler. She and my father separated. Courts ordered my father to pay child support for which he never took responsibility. Custody was granted to my grandmother and aunt. Court documents from the Chancery Court of Monticello, Mississippi I dug up a few years ago reveal that my grandmother was given custody because she would raise me in a “Christian atmosphere suitable to the court.” She raised me exceptionally well, but held strong patriotic tendencies and for many years I despised her politics. She read Ann Coulter as she was passing away and I selfishly argued with her. Independence Day was always cause for argument over American Empire.
She had a heart of gold. She had an intellect that the world did not fully glimpse, and I only understood in retrospect. An independent woman can take many forms.
My father hates liberals so I grew into one, naturally. Now I renounce the left as a sworn leftist. I will not stand for attacks on free expression. I will not passively watch our country slide into extremes. I will not, I cannot, let this happen now. I will pray for my own redress. The world needs God. I need God.
It is often said that the founders did not like religion. This is only partially true. Jefferson’s own writings mock the clergy. However, Madison was a devout Anglican. Washington was a Mason. Even the radical democrat Jefferson praised religious tolerance as the means to spread truth, thus the creation of separation of church and state.
Is it time to separate church and hate? Enough of the religious supremacy. It turns people away. Embrace the shifting world. One can be strong in faith and reasonable in heart.
It is time that we celebrate independence of thought, free discussion, and individual liberty again. These ideals must be vindicated. The Enlightenment emboldened science, elevating it to a cause of its own. However, it did not leave a strong legacy of criticism of science. Science, however, offers criticism of itself. As it creates its own church with dogmatic expertise in the name of consensus, we sometimes forget that it’s mind is human.
I released a poetry collection called Salt and Sorrow several years ago. I even boldly sent a copy to the White House as a gift to the new president, asking him to end the longest federal shutdown in American history. The book’s basic idea was to restore Western values to their Platonic Idealism. After reading an introduction to Plato’s Collected Dialogues that notes how these values have saved Western civilization over centuries when it was at its most crucial moments, I thought to add some Christian humanist Idealism to our culture. The book was well received. The President sent me a thank you card which he signed personally. I have it hanging on my bedroom wall. The book is an easy but thoughtful read and worth discussing.
I announced to the Cosmic Poets Society that I had sent the gift to the president, and the day after the tracking number showed it was received the shutdown ended. Many people suggested I may have persuaded the president, although I humbly doubt it.
In the aftermath of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing battle against all forms of bigotry, lightning struck the Washington Monument. The monument stands as one of the world’s tallest structures in memorial to the United States’ first president, General George Washington of the Continental Army.
For years, I prayed justice would come to halt the world. I know God knows what He is doing as He has been doing it for an eternity and will continue to do it. The world stands.
Perhaps the astounding loneliness penetrating my soul and the soul of humanity found a course for its reckoning.
Again, all ideas have their faults and we should be willing to critique them. Ideals are important especially in the United States where slaveowners boldly declared independence from tyranny. Words are powerful. Over the course of American history, movements have developed to challenge bigotry and discrimination. When we fail to honor “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and forget that “all men are created equal” (even the language is a tad sexist, though the idea is powerful), we relinquish our ideals to the dustbin. The founders were imperfect, and they were trapped in world history with all its faults.
We can discuss slavery in 1776, and forget that sex slavery still exists in this country. Children are sold and trafficked across the border. We can continue reckoning with our history, and forget that its spectre still haunts us in myriad shapes. It is important that we shape our identity to suit the growing multicultural globalism before us.
Liberal democracy is a faith. It has proved to help us ascertain the human condition and address it assertively. Ideals are to be cherished; they guide us. Independence is not to be relinquished.
Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post.
Originally published in Borderless Journal