we have met the conspirator and he is us

But as I traveled hither through the land,
I find the people strangely fantasized,
Possessed with rumors, full of idle dreams,
Not knowing what they fear, but full of fear.
       — Shakespeare, from King John

Shakespeare seems to be talking about the USA in 2017…

We too are “strangely fantasized” and “full of idle dreams”…

…despite the influence of The Enlightenment…

…despite the acceptance of scientific methodology…

…despite the expansion of public education.

We still embrace outlandish conspiracy theories.

What’s going on?  What does the conspiracy theory do for us?

Well, the conspiracy theory does add a sense of mystery to our world…

…and at the same time, lifts the cover of that mystery for us.  Everyone else is being fooled, but not us.  We know the secret truth.  The conspiracy theory can be a pump for the ego.

We’re in the know, yet relieved of the responsibility of acting on what we know.  After all, the forces at work in the world are beyond our control.  If you try to take action, “they” will crush you.*

The conspiracy theory says: the best you can do is be aware and do what you can to protect your own hide.

It’s ironic…

In our efforts to make sense of this absurd, convoluted world, we consult the convoluted, absurd conspiracy theory.

By escaping into its fanciful alternate reality, we can avoid certain painful truths of our current situation.  Thus, we’re willing to ignore the flaws in its logic and the absence of hard facts.

In Shakespeare’s time, ordinary folk were pretty much at the mercy of the winds of change…

…as are we, to be honest.  But certainly not to the same degree.  We have much greater freedom to act.

So, I’m disappointed when I see how we put ourselves into boxes made of conspiracy.  In so doing, we surrender so much of our power.

However, I take heart from some “non-conspiracy” messages I hear in our public discourse…

For instance, this quote from the comic strip Pogo by Walt Kelly:

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

That idea is so anti-conspiracy theory.  We’re telling ourselves where the real problem lies.  Not in some distant hidden chamber, but within the dark chambers of our own selves.  Yes, we should fear the conspirator—the conspirator within.

I meet that enemy every darn day.  He leaps into my thoughts; he leaps into my actions.  He leaps before I can catch him.  And when I see how he has leapt, I’m disappointed in myself once again.  Why do I subvert my better nature?  When given the choice between tall and small, why do I so often choose the later?

I feel so weak against that enemy.  However, by accepting responsibility for the state of my world, I actually gain in power.  Though the work be hard and slow and tedious, here’s something I can definitely change: myself.

Don’t get me wrong—I want to do more to change the larger world, the world outside my skin.  But I can do a much better job of making peace out there if I first make peace in here.

By rejecting conspiracy ideas, I lose the ego inflation…But oddly enough, wrestling with painful realities gives me an sense of satisfaction.  I feel like I’m doing some real work.   Building emotional muscle.

In doing that work, I explore the mystery of my dark depths, our dark depths.  I explore a true mystery—not the fabricated mystery of the conspiracy theory.

With all this in mind…

…I think we would do well to include the Kelly quote in our new mythology.

But perhaps we should add: having met the enemy, we can now make peace with ourselves.

(* A wise man (or woman) once said: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”  Point taken: there are some shady manipulators in this world.  But those who try to control can’t predict with certainty what the results of their actions will be.  So is anyone really in control?  Nobody here but us blind mice.)

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry

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the box rebellion

The last time I tried to create my own reality…

…I got my foot stuck in a toaster.

But seriously…

I think “creating your own reality” is a useful concept.  But maybe not for all of us.  Maybe not even for most.  For the unlucky majority of this world, the pre-existing reality may be too much to overcome.

For instance:

What if you grow up without the benefit of education…or even the benefit of food?…

What if you live under the constant threat of violence?

What if your country is invaded and occupied?

What if your government is savagely corrupt?  What if it controls its people with an iron fist?

What corporations poison your environment?  What if they destroy your way of life?  What if they control your government?

What if you know you’ll be crushed if you speak against such injustices?

Under such conditions, can we still create our own reality?

Well, actually we can, to a degree.  Even if I’m in a box, I have a degree of control over my reality.  If nothing else, I can control my response to being in a box.  I can say: no one can make me feel one way or the other—my emotions are my own.

In so doing, I’ll experience at least a small degree of power.

Yes, I’ll probably still be frustrated and angry.  But by owning these emotions, I can keep them from owning me—keep them from consuming me…

…from driving me to acts of destruction.  I’ll be the driver instead.

I can then use these emotions as a positive force—a positive motivating force…

…as I work to improve my world in whatever small way I can.  Actually, if I can realize this ideal just once a day, I will be improving our world.*

Those who are trying to create their own reality want to take control of their lives.  They want to feel a sense of personal power.  They’re saying: I’m going to realize my own version of “the good life”.

But often, due to circumstances beyond our control, that good life may denied to us.  Nonetheless, we can still live a great life.

If we expand to the limits of our captivity, how can anyone say we’ve lived anything less?

(* Right now, that’s probably my rate: once a day.)

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry

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to a future generation from a pessimistic optimist

This message is addressed to a future generation…

…the generation that will clean up our mess after we’re gone.

Dear Future Generation...

Right now, you may be asking yourself, “What were my ancestors thinking?  Didn’t they see that was bad was only going to get worse, much worse?  Why didn’t they change their ways?”

Well, we were thinking and we did see.  Despite appearances to the contrary, we did try to change.

But change is so very difficult—I’m speaking from my own experience.

Change is hard, even when I clearly see how I need to change.

Even when I have the tools to help me, change is hard.  Even when I have outside support.  Even when I have access to the best minds, past and present.  Even when I believe in myself—in my inner strength, my will.  Even when change is my deepest desire…

…it’s incredibly hard!

So…if change is difficult for a single individual under optimal conditions…

…imagine how hard it would be for an entire world of people to change under less-than-optimal conditions.

Change is scary.  Change, to a greater or lesser degree, feels like death.

Well, it is death—death to an old way of life.

Eventually, we were willing to undergo such a death…

…when the change we feared seemed less of a threat than the danger of remaining the same.

Of course, by then it was too late.

Ironically, many died because of our fear of death.

Nonetheless, you should not lose hope in what humans can do…

Again and again, I witnessed people rising above their fear.  Communities too—even nations.  I achieved a few personal triumphs myself.

No, we didn’t rise enough.  But I believe you can, Future Generation.  After all, you have this added motivation: while we could see what might happen to the human race, you can see what did happen…

And what could happen again, if human beings don’t drastically change their ways.

I believe, stubborn as we humans are, we’ll keep working at it, until one day, we finally achieve some semblance of the dream.

It’s up to you.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry blog

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the hope of an pessimistic optimist

All successful civilizations follow a pattern of behavior that leads to collapse…

…according to William Ophuls, author of Immoderate Greatness.

Here’s the gist of Ophuls’ argument:

As a civilization grows and prospers, it naturally becomes more and more complex.  This complexity, of course, creates complex problems.

Inevitably, we try to solve these new problems by doing as we did in the past.  But what worked in the past won’t work in the present.  The situation has changed.  Yet we persist in our old ways.  After all, those old ways made us great.

Thus, we fail to adapt.  Once we realize change is necessary, it’s usually too late.

In light of this historical pattern, our future looks shaky.  Ophuls says to avoid that trap would require a major shift in human consciousness.  I believe such a shift will happen…

…but probably not until after our collapse.

I believe we’ll then see the need to shift, because that collapse will be especially dire.  Today, we no longer have regional civilizations, we have a world civilization.  So we’ll have a world collapse.

Nonetheless, I try to be optimistic about the next few decades.

Simply stated: optimism feels better than pessimism.  Hope feels better than conceding defeat in advance.

But optimism without action gets us nowhere…

So what I do?

As I see it, for the time being, I need to keep working to shift myself—shift my own little slice of our consciousness.  It’s the only slice of consciousness I truly control.

I believe I have been successfully shifting over the years—little by little.  I am resolving the complex conflict within—little by little.  Tedious, yes, but in my experience, that’s the nature of true change: slow…slow…slow.

This effort often seems so miniscule, so paltry!  But I know I must shift some more before I can expand my scope.

I try to ease my frustration and give myself hope by witnessing how other folks have shifted.  By seeing how—as individuals, as communities, as nations—we do indeed solve complex problems.

But of course, our dismal failures often overshadow all the hopeful signs…

At such times, I take some small encouragement from this idea:

Any collapse, no matter how severe, would not bring an end to the human race.  As Clyde Finlayson tells us in The Humans Who Became Extinct, we won’t completely die out, because there’s just too many of us.

I believe those who remain will realize the need to do things differently. They will try to learn from our failures…

But also from our successes: from the words and actions of those who worked consciously, trying to make the necessary shift.

It’s a hope—a little extra incentive as I continue the difficult work of trying to change myself.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry blog

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grieve for the horse, grieve for ourselves

I say: take the general, but leave the horse.

I’m referring to the horse beneath Robert E. Lee on the controversial statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I believe Lee himself would agree to having his likeness removed.  In the years following the Civil War, he wrote against creating such monuments to honor leaders of the Confederacy.  He said the South needed to move forward.

Over one hundred-fifty years later, we’re still trying to move on.  Still trying to heal.  Lee was right: putting men like him on high pedestals hasn’t helped us in this struggle.  But I believe honoring his horse might.

No, the horse isn’t a hero.  But neither is it guilty.  The horse was only doing what horses do.  Or rather, what we force them to do. T he horse didn’t choose that war.  The horse didn’t divide the nation.  The horse is innocent.

Many innocent horses died in our Civil War battles.  They endured hunger and the thirst of long marches.  They charged into the line of fire, though their good horse sense told them: don’t!

So I say, leave the Civil War horse on its pedestal.  Not only does it deserve some respect…

…but seeing it could remind us of the painful ugly truth of that war.

Perhaps then, we’ll grieve a great tragedy—and its long aftermath—instead of celebrating a false nobility.  We’ll grieve for what the entire nation lost.  A loss continuing.

It’s been said that removing the statue of Lee “is merely a symbolic gesture.”  In other words: it doesn’t change much in our society.  However, we’ve seen how powerful symbols can be.  Maybe the horse statue could be a potent symbol.  Maybe it could actually help us heal.  I don’t know.  But of this, I’m sure: you won’t heal if you don’t grieve.  So let’s keep the horse.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry blog

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basic understanding

This year, I became frustrated with media narratives…

…and wondered how I could better understand our news.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t reject media narratives.  I don’t reject those one-line, two-line explanations of complex situations, presented by our major news sources.

They’re truthful.  In part.  But “part” is not enough.  Unfortunately, that part usually overshadows the other parts…

Once the main narrative becomes established, the media often ignores other key factors, other causes, other valid narratives.

Of course, we could dig for those facts ourselves…

But who has the time?  Every day we’re bombarded with news of complex situations.

Nonetheless, we try to understand.  We want to see.  And not just the surface.  I think many, if not most of us, want a deep basic understanding.

Considering this state of affairs, a thought occurred to me:

Maybe I could arrive at a basic understanding of any complex situation simply by asking some basic questions…

I could cut through all the bric-a-brac and get down to the basic truth.

I decided my test case should be an event we’re still struggling to understand: the Trump victory…

In trying to explain his win, our media has debuted various narratives.  One narrative seemed poised to become the main narrative.  But we couldn’t quite ignore all those other pieces to the puzzle.

To fit all of them together would take a book.  But I wouldn’t want to read that book.  I want to understand—now!

So I asked myself…

What type of nation would elect such an angry man?

An angry nation.

But why are we so angry?

Life isn’t supposed to be this way—or so we believe.  We feel threatened.

Voila!  By asking just a couple of basic questions, I’d found my basic narrative: a fearful nation is an angry nation; an angry nation will elect an angry man.  A simple equation.  A truth based on my own experience as a human being.

But some will surely say: your equation is inaccurate, is unfair.  It includes Hillary supporters, as well as the 47% of registered voters who weren’t concerned enough to vote.

To that I say: sorry, but I think it’s best if we all share responsibility.  That way, each individual can reclaim some degree of power for him or herself.  I can’t stop my president from acting like a fraidy cat, but I can stop myself.

Yes—by uncovering the basic narrative, I’d also found the best way to respond.

So I felt pretty pleased with myself…

…until I realized:

Most of our problems could probably be reduced to some version of that equation.  That is: when we dug down deep into a problem, we’d likely find “fear” to be the root cause.

Nonetheless, I still think we should dig.  So we won’t forget.  So we won’t forget what truth lies beneath our many media narratives.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
sky rope poetry

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to dream the possible dream

Good group, wrong name.

Recently, while doing an online search, I found a listing for “The Quixote Foundation”…

Their stated mission is: “to see free people in fair societies on a healthy planet.”

I praise their ambition.  I just wish they’d chosen another name.

In the novel by Cervantes, Don Quixote believes himself to be a knight-errant on a quest—a fantasy that continually collides with reality.

When Quixote comes upon a row of windmills, he perceives them as hostile giants and attacks.  Though he suffers mightily for this mistake, Quixote refuses to wake from his cherished dream.

His stubborn blindness is not unlike the delusion of many modern-day Quixotes.  When confronted with a field of giant wind turbines, these Quixotes may perceive a hostile threat…

…a threat to an old way of life, an old way of doing things.

Like the man of La Mancha, these contemporary Quixotes dream the impossible dream: they believe we can continue to do as we’ve done in the past, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Ironically, these Quixotes often see others as quixotic.  If you’re trying to solve a new problem using a new way, you’re quixotic, they say.  Out of touch with reality.

I say: anyone trying to see the reality of a developing situation and respond appropriately—sanely—is not delusional.  Such a person is a realist.  A dreamer—but of possible dreams.  Necessary dreams.  Yes, our possible dreams often face what seem to be impossible obstacles.  But if our survival depends on such dreams, we will eventually find ways to make them real.

So, don’t call these dreamers and their dreams “quixotic”.  For that matter, don’t call the Quixote Foundation quixotic.

“Quixotic” would better describe those who wish to impose an imagined past on our present—and our future.

Like Don Quixote, they will eventually give up the fight and accept reality—but only after doing much blind damage.

© 2017, Michael R. Patton
Survival: a poetry book

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