Shock and awe and pushback

Shock and awe is the tac­tic of a bul­ly­ing invader who wants to demor­al­ize a coun­try into sur­ren­der­ing before a defense has been mount­ed. It a strat­e­gy you choose if you don’t think you can win in a long, drawn-out bat­tle.

Trump has sur­round­ed him­self by a pro­tec­tive scrum of advi­sors who spend much of their time keep­ing him steady and mas­sag­ing his ego to assure him the peo­ple are all behind him. I don’t think he knows how to deal with the size of the oppo­si­tion so far. He turns to con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry to try to con­vince him­self that what he wants to be true real­ly would be except for evil “dudes” out there — George Soros hir­ing actors to protest, mil­lions of undoc­u­ment­ed aliens vot­ing, etc., and of course the orig­i­nal Trump con­spir­a­cy that refused to think a black Amer­i­can could be a legit­i­mate pres­i­dent.

https://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​h​o​c​k​_​a​n​d​_​awe

Waking up to President Trump

Bar­ring a very improb­a­ble series of events we will more than like­ly be look­ing at Pres­i­dent Trump once the num­bers have been tal­lied overnight. And not just him but a rad­i­cal­ized Trumpian Con­gress, Sen­ate — and because of the suc­cess­ful stonewalling again­st Obama’s nom­i­na­tion — Supre­me Court. We’ve not just elect­ed an author­i­tar­i­an: we’ve also tak­en away the entire sys­tem of checks and bal­ances that might be able to hold him back. Add to that the expan­sion of the raw pow­er of the exec­u­tive branch in recent years and it’s the setup for a dystopi­an TV show.

We’ve seen seem­ing­ly sta­ble coun­tries fall apart under con­di­tions like this. We claim Amer­i­can excep­tion­al­ism but his­to­ry is lit­tered with the corpses of democ­ra­cies that didn’t make it. This will be the biggest test of our civic val­ues in our life­times. We might well expe­ri­ence things the Amer­i­can repub­lic has nev­er seen: the impris­on­ment of a los­ing oppo­si­tion lead­er, the rise of orga­nized hate crimes, whole­sale theft of incred­i­ble wealth by a new oli­garchy, the divy­ing up of the world back into empires… The mod­el of a kind of alt right soft dic­ta­tor­ship is well devel­oped by this point and Trump has been clear through­out both his career and his can­di­da­cy that it’s his vision.

We do not get to choose our era or the chal­lenges it throws at us. Only some­one with his­tor­i­cal amne­sia would say this is unprece­dent­ed in our his­to­ry. The enslave­ment of mil­lions and the geno­cide of mil­lions more are dark stains indeli­bly soaked into the very found­ing of the nation. But much will change, par­tic­u­lar­ly our naiv­i­ty and false opti­mism in an inevitable for­ward pro­gress of our nation­al sto­ry. We must respond with courage and grace. We’re going to get a lesson in what’s real­ly impor­tant. Time to engage.

The PTSD of the suburban drone warrior

Some­thing I’ve long won­dered a lot about, As Stress Dri­ves Off Drone Oper­a­tors, Air Force Must Cut Flights.:

What had seemed to be a ben­e­fit of the job, the nov­el way that the crews could fly Preda­tor and Reaper drones via satel­lite links while liv­ing safe­ly in the Unit­ed States with their fam­i­lies, has cre­at­ed new types of stress­es as they con­stant­ly shift back and forth between war and fam­i­ly activ­i­ties and become, in effect, per­pet­u­al­ly deployed.

I men­tion this toward the end of my review of The Bur­glary, the sto­ry of the 1971 anti­war activists, and it’s some­thing I’ve been try­ing to pull from poten­tial authors as we’ve put togeth­er an August Friends Jour­nal issue on war. Much of the day-to-day mechan­ics of war has changed dras­ti­cal­ly in the past 40 years — at least for Amer­i­can sol­diers.

We have sto­ries like this one from the NYTimes: drone oper­a­tors in sub­ur­ban U.S. cam­pus­es killing peo­ple on the oth­er side of the plan­et. But sol­diers in Bagh­dad have good cell phone cov­er­age, watch Net­flix, and live in air con­di­tioned bar­racks. The rise of con­trac­tors means that most of the grunt work of war — fix­ing trucks, peel­ing pota­toes — is done by near­ly invis­i­ble non-soldiers who are liv­ing in the­se war zones. It must be nice to have crea­ture com­forts but I’d imag­ine it could make for new prob­lems psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ing a war zone with nor­mal­cy.

The secret decoder ring for Red and Blue states

Some­thing that fas­ci­nates me is the sur­pris­ing glimpses of Quak­er influ­ence in the wider world. Back in the Spring I drew out the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a Quak­er con­nec­tion in Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s so-called “evo­lu­tion” on LGBTQ mat­ters.

This week the New York Times Opin­ion­a­tor blog argues a Quak­er con­nec­tion in the geog­ra­phy of “Red” and “Blue” states – those lean­ing Repub­li­can and Demo­c­ra­t­ic in gen­er­al elec­tions. The sec­ond half of Steven Pinker’s “Why Are States So Red and Blue?” leans on David Hack­ett Fischer’s awe­some 1989 book Albion’s Seed. Sub­ti­tled “Four British Folk­ways in Amer­i­ca” it’s a kind of secret decoder ring for Amer­i­can cul­ture and pol­i­tics.

Fis­cher argued that there were four very dif­fer­ent set­tle­ments in the Eng­lish colonies in the Amer­i­c­as and that each put a defin­i­tive and last­ing stamp on the pop­u­la­tions that fol­lowed. I think he’s a bit over-deterministic but it’s still great fun and the the­sis does explain a lot. For exam­ple, the Scot-Irish lived in law­less region along the English-Scottish bor­der, where peo­ple had to defend them­selves; when they crossed the ocean they quick­ly went inland and their cul­tur­al descen­dants like law and order, guns and a judg­men­tal God. Quak­ers from the British mid­lands were anoth­er one of the four groups, coöper­a­tive and peace-loving, the nat­u­ral pre­cur­sors to Blue states.

Now step back a bit and you real­ize this is incred­i­bly over-simplistic. Many Friends in the Delaware Val­ley and beyond have his­tor­i­cal­ly been Repub­li­can, and many con­tin­ue as such (though they keep qui­et among politically-liberal East Coast Friends). And the cur­rent Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dent per­son­al­ly approves U.S. assas­si­na­tion lists.

You will be for­given if you’ve clicked to Pinker’s blog post and can’t find Quak­ers. For some bizarre rea­son, he’s stripped reli­gion from Fischer’s argu­ment. Why? Polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness? Sim­plic­i­ty of argu­ment. Friends are summed up with the phrase “the North was large­ly set­tled by Eng­lish farm­ers.” Strange.

But despite the­se caveats, Fis­cher is fas­ci­nat­ing and Pinker’s extrap­o­la­tion to today’s polit­i­cal map is well worth a read, even if our con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the Amer­i­can map goes un-cited.

We Quakers should be cooler than the Sweat Lodge

I have just come back from a “Meeting for Listening for Sweat Lodge Concerns,” described as “an opportunity for persons to express their feelings in a worshipful manner about the cancellation of the FGC Gathering sweat lodge workshop this year.” Non-Quakers reading this blog might be surprised to hear that Friends General Conference holds sweat lodges, but it has and they’ve been increasingly controversial. This year’s workshop was cancelled after FGC received a very strongly worded complaint from the Wampanoag Native American tribe. Today’s meeting intended to listen to the feelings and concerns of all FGC Friends involved and was clerked by the very-able Arthur Larrabee. There was powerful ministry, some predictable “ministry” and one stunning message from a white Friend who dismissed the very existance of racism in the world (it’s just a illusion, the people responsible for it are those who perceive it).

I’ve had my own run-in’s with the sweat lodge, most unforgettably when I was the co-planning clerk of the 2002 Adult Young Friends program at FGC (a few of us thought it was inappropriate to transfer a portion of the rather small AYF budget to the sweat lodge workshop, a request made with the argument that so many high-school and twenty-something Friends were attending it). But I find myself increasingly unconcerned about the lodge. It’s clear to me now that it part of another tradition than I am. It is not the kind of Quaker I am. The question remaining is whether an organization that will sponsor it is a different tradition.

How did Liberal Friends get to the place where most our our younger members consider the sweat lodge ceremony to be the high point of their Quaker experience? The sweat lodge has given a generation of younger Friends an opportunity to commune with the divine in a way that their meetings do not. It has given them mentorship and leadership experiences which they do not receive from the older Friends establishment. It has given them a sense of identity and purpose which they don’t get from their meeting “community.”

I don’t care about banning the workshop. That doesn’t address the real problems. I want to get to the point where younger Friends look at the sweat and wonder why they’d want to spend a week with some  white Quaker guy who wonders aloud in public whether he’s “a Quaker or an Indian” (could we have a third choice?). I’ve always thought this was just rather embarrassing.  I want the sweat lodge to wither away in recognition of it’s inherent ridiculousness. I want younger Friends to get a taste of the divine love and charity that Friends have found for 350 years. We’re simply cooler than the sweat lodge.

* * * *

And what really is the sweat lodge all about? I don’t really buy the cultural appropriation critique (the official party line for canceling it argues that it’s racist). Read founder George Price’s Friends Journal article on the sweat lodge and you’ll see that he’s part of a long-standing tradition. For two hundred years, Native Americans have been used as mythic cover for thinly disguised European-American philosophies. The Boston protesters who staged the famous tea party all dressed up as Indians, playing out an emerging mythology of the American rebels as spiritual heirs to Indians (long driven out of the Boston area by that time). In 1826, James Fenimore Cooper turned that myth into one of the first pieces of classic American literature with a story about the “Last” of the Mohicans. At the turn of the twentieth century, the new boy scout movement claimed that their fitness and socialization system was really a re-application of Native American training and initiation rites. Quakers got into the game too: the South Jersey and Bucks County summer camps they founded in the nineteen-teens were full of Native American motifs, with cabins and lakes named after different tribes and the children encouraged to play along.

Set in this context, George Price is clearly just the latest white guy to claim that only the spirit of purer Native Americans will save us from our Old World European stodginess. Yes, it’s appropriation I guess, but it’s so transparent and classically American that our favorite song “Yankee Doodle” is a British wartime send-up of the impulse. We’ve been sticking feathers in our caps since forever.

In the Friends Journal article, it’s clear the Quaker sweat lodge owes more to the European psychotherapy of Karl Jung than Chief Ockanickon. It’s all about “liminality” and initiation into mythic archetypes, featuring cribbed language from Victor Turner, the anthropologist who was very popular circa 1974. Price is clear but never explicit about his work: his sweat lodge is Jungian psychology overlaid onto the outward form of a Native American sweatlodge. In retrospect it’s no surprise that a birthright Philadelphia Friend in a tired yearly meeting would try to combine trendy European pop psychology with Quaker summer camp theming. What is a surprise (or should be a surprise) is that Friends would sponsor and publish articles about a “Quaker Sweat Lodges” without challenging the author to spell out the Quaker contribution to a programmed ritual conducted in a consecrated teepee steeplehouse.

(Push the influences a little more, and you’ll find that Victor Turner’s anthropological findings among obscure African tribes arguably owes as much to his Catholicism than it does the facts on the ground. More than one Quaker wit has compared the sweat lodge to Catholic mass; well: Turner’s your missing philosophical link.)

* * * *

Yesterday I had some good conversation about generational issues in Quakerism. I’m certainly not the only thirty-something that feels invisible in the bulldozer of baby boomer assumptions about our spirituality. I’m also not the only one getting to the point where we’re just going to be Quaker despite the Quaker institutions and culture. I think the question we’re all grappling with now is how we relate to the institutions that ignore us and dismiss our cries of alarm for what we Friends have become.

U.S. throwing out Al Qaeda trial

Updat­ing a sto­ry we brought you back in July , the U.S. Jus­tice Depart­ment wants to drop the charges again­st the only per­son charged in an Amer­i­can court over the Sep­tem­ber 11 attacks two years ago. The Jus­tice Depart­ment doesn’t want to allow Zacari­as Mous­saoui or his defense team to inter­view oth­er sus­pect­ed ter­ror­ists.

What does Mous­saoui know? What do his poten­tial defense wit­ness­es know? And why doesn’t U.S. Attor­ney Gen­er­al John Ashcroft want the­se peo­ple to speak in an open tri­al? Mous­saoui has admit­ted being a mem­ber of Al Qaeda but any infor­ma­tion he or his wit­ness­es know is at least two years old. Why is a tri­al so wor­ri­some that the U.S. would throw away a tri­al over it?