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Dueling Mantras

by on June 18, 2022

Dueling Mantras

by Marco M. Pardi

The first key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning…for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” Peter Abelard, Sic et non.

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he’s the one who asks the right questions.” Claude Levi-Strauss, Le Cru et le cuit.

All comments are welcome and will receive a reply. All previous posts are open for comment.

In the last few years, and right up to the moments you are reading this Americans have undergone a blizzard of stressors. Some of us, going back further than others, recall periods overshadowed by one or only a few worrisome developments or seeming possibilities. With air raid sirens wailing outside we “ducked and covered” beneath our school desks until one day we started feeling, “Oh, it’s only a drill.” The stressor changed from a falling bomb to a descending ruler wielded by a nun intent on saving us from our foolishness. So, duck and cover indeed.

Then we were horrified to learn that communists and homosexuals had infiltrated our institutions, from beloved movie studios to the hallowed halls of Congress and beyond. Okay, the hollowed halls of Congress. What might these “godless commie-homos” do, we wondered, dress us all alike and bugger us? But we were assured our magic presidential campaign lapel buttons would save us. The Eisenhower campaign ran on ubiquitous I Like Ike buttons, which for some were probably more a linguistic convenience than a declaration of ideology. I Like Ike rolls off the tongue more easily than I Like Katzenjammer or whoever else might try for a turn in the barrel.

Ardently seeking his turn, Barry Goldwater, Republican Senator from Arizona and strong advocate of nuclear force against North Vietnam and anyone else, lost his 1964 Presidential bid largely from the Democratic television ad showing a three year old girl picking petals from a daisy while a mushroom cloud erupted in the background. The ad ran only once but was burned completely into the American psyche. Interestingly, it could be said to foreshadow Cheech & Chong’s somewhat later mega-hit film, Up in Smoke.

Speaking of partnerships, the 20th century Don Quijote y Sancho Panza burst onto the scene incarnated as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. Timothy Leary, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Harvard, gave us the mantra, “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out”. His associate, Richard Alpert, Ph.D. , also Professor of Psychology at Harvard, gave us the mantra, “Be Here Now”. Dr. Alpert, an avid student of Hindu mysticism, went to India and adopted the name Baba Ram Das, meaning Servant of Ram. Both of them lost their positions at Harvard after conducting LSD experiments with graduate students. But the “drop acid – free love” era exploded, following unknowingly on the heels of joint CIA and Army experiments with aerosolizing LSD as a battlefield “love gas” to render enemy combatants blissful. Among the “morning after” effects of the free love movement was the emergence of a highly contagious STD for which there is still no cure: Herpes II. Thought by many to have been named after an obscure Egyptian Pharaoh, it remains with us to this day (and night). A caution against unprotected sex with mummies.

Currently we are living in what reminds me of winter blizzards so severe we called them “white outs”; a person approaching within a few feet of you appeared to materialize out of nowhere, floating in a field of white with no borders in any direction. In such a situation how are we to orient ourselves? Wishing to follow Leary and drop out, where do we drop out from, and to where? Or choosing Alpert’s advice to be here now, where’s here? During our Mountain SERE course the instructors took us to an open meadow. They strongly cautioned us that should we parachute into a heavy snowstorm we should not try to walk out. To demonstrate, they blindfolded six volunteers and told them to walk across the meadow. In only a few yards each of them broke into a circle, tramping paths on which the instructors said they would likely die.

The flurries swirling about us have names: rising prices, inflation, value reduction of investments, shortages of essentials, daily mass shootings, new and emerging virus variants, continuing exposure of corrupt politicians, warfare in Europe, growing military threats in the East, widening wildfires, rapidly worsening weather threats, wildlife extinctions, entire regions in drought, human migration swamping borders around the world, and a few other pesky issues.

Apparently many Americans are continuing the time honored practice of disengagement. During the Presidential election of 2016 several people with whom I spoke said they could not vote for Clinton. Asked why, they could only say “I don’t like her, and Trump can’t possibly win anyway.” Several voted on other candidates but left the Presidential vote blank. We got.

A recent poll, cited above, suggests the degree to which Americans are involving themselves in the political framework upon which so many of the snowflakes mentioned above find something to which to cling. But before the armchair social scientists moan in rhetorical distress over sampling, question construction, and interviewer credentials I will offer that other indicators lend support to the conclusion that the voter base is disengaged or at least distracted. One chronic and undeniable indicator is the fact that, among world democracies the United States consistently has among the lowest turn-out of eligible voters. And taking advantage of that is one particular political party which is pouring fantastic sums of money and effort into every State’s elections at every level.

The outcome of this effort would be far larger than simply placing an incompetent rabble-rouser and his grifter entourage in the White House. Forming a majority consortium of dominated States this party could legally call for a Constitutional Convention to vacate the United States Constitution and replace it with one of their own making. As of this writing, 108 Republican candidates who adhere to Trump’s lies about election fraud have won primary elections for State and Federal positions.

The take-away from the survey noted above seems to be that, while the hearings are providing further detail, voters have made up their minds and are watching – or not – only to confirm their conclusions.

Robert Kuttner, co-founder and co-editor of The American Prospect, and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School, is the author of The Stakes: 2020 and the Survival of American Democracy and Going Big. He writes for the Prospect, HuffPost, The Boston Globe, and The New York Review of Books. In Going Big, he makes the case that the stakes are now much larger now. Referring to the choice between a Roosevelt like New Deal versus the return of the open Fascism of 1920’s and 1930’s America, he states: “Joe Biden’s presidency will be either a historic pivot back to New Deal economics and forward to energized democracy, or heartbreaking interregnum between two bouts of deepening American fascism.” Pointedly, the last chapter of the book is titled “America’s Last Chance.”

Wittgenstein said, “How hard I find it to see what is right in front of my eyes.” Apparently so.Which mantra appeals to you, Turn on, tune in, drop out or Be Here Now? Mental health demands a balance. But survival of the United States as a Democratic society may need for us to, at least temporarily, tip the scales.

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  1. Well-written, and well-thought out, not to mention entertaining, as ever, Marco. And, lest I fail to mention, oh-so-true. To answer your final query, I’m more of a “Be Here Now” person myself. I even have a desk “ornament” from a work-related seminar years ago extolling that very quote. I keep it where I can see it every time I walk through the room, lest I get distracted by past woes or future worries.


  2. Thank you, Marcia. I’m thinking that seminar must have been a rare one, one that had you feeling it was very worth attending. Of course, NOW being illusory, it leaves us wondering what we think we are anchored in. But you put past woes and future worries where they belong.

    Speaking of past, I just now found and commented on your poem Parasites. I don’t know what happened to the comment. Maybe it will appear at some point in the future – when it is NOW.


  3. Dana permalink

    “Forming a majority consortium of dominated States this party could legally call for a Constitutional Convention to vacate the United States Constitution and replace it with one of their own making.”

    This is a chilling statement that gave me goosebumps. Admittedly I find myself in the whiteout. And I was trapped in a sudden, unexpected Saskatchewan blizzard on my way to school in the sixth grade. The one in which I find myself today is equally as frightening. Perhaps more. The childhood blizzards always ended, but the current one in this country continues to worsen.

    Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if returning to Canada is the answer for me, but the process is so complex. Perhaps I would be crazy not to consider it.

    Ask me in five years………….


    • Thank you, Dana. My first reaction was to encourage you to save up whatever it takes to get to Canada and do so as soon as you can. You are really fortunate to have that option.

      Then, I remembered that the blizzard analogy serves us here. The United States is still the ranking super-power on the planet, and that is expressed in numerous ways. A severe event in the U.S. has cascading consequences throughout the world. Just look at what is happening to a fundamental staple (wheat) as the Russians blockade Ukrainian wheat from being exported throughout the world. If the United States descends even further into the Circle of Hell of Fascism the effects on democracies throughout the world will be immense, and often fatal.

      So, yes, in the short term you will undoubtedly benefit from a return to Canada. But the world will pay a heavy price for the loss of what we have always known as the United States. Save yourself if you can.


  4. With each post, it seems to take longer to format a response to the information carried within its interesting and terrifying words. Your offering is, as usual, full of cause for thought. It takes me back to a past which had me convinced that there was no future. Each day I search for a way to survive the present, often finding myself lost in your perfect metaphor, the whiteout. The past, even the recent past, leaves us without a path to follow when searching for a viable future. I am numb from the mind down. I can’t tell you how often I think “just light a match and take the dog for a walk”. It’s all I can do to not give up on this country, the world, and all the people in it. I won’t, of course, it’s far too important a battle to surrender without a fight.

    I’m tired of being numb. I’m tired of feeling helpless. What terrifies me the most is knowing that if “they” win and the Constitution is dropped (as it was when the Articles of Confederation were dropped in favor of our current Constitution), everything we have worked for long and so hard will be gone, replaced with what? Fascism? A theocracy? Something even worse? Nearly every day I see signs touting Trump 24, and I don’t think this world will survive another round of what he and his ilk will do with this country.

    I’m sorry, I am making no sense. I spend my days “watching my mouth” and doing what I can. Life has become a constant battle, and I struggle to maintain a straight path while working my way out of the whiteout blizzard that our future has become. Let’s hope we make it to safety before it is too late.


    • Rose, your comments express our situation far better than my posts ever do. Yes, we are cleverly offered ways to drop out, to not vote, to lose ourselves in video games or drugs, and I think that is part of the great diversion. Sharing ideas will again become dangerous as there are increasing ways of surveillance. But I hope that as one small act of defiance people will act on my request to forward this site, and its conversations, to others. As you know, I am certainly aware of the enhanced risks to myself, but you also know I am well prepared.


  5. Marco, I posted the above just prior to reading the “long but worth it” article you shared earlier. I don’t know whether to be encouraged or worried to know that others think and feel as I do about what this country has become. It is a George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Atwood kind of fully dystopian reality in which we now find ourselves. We no longer have the luxury of waiting for others to help us, we have to begin now to help ourselves. Rose


    • Rose, you have touched upon the central point of distress: Is awareness of shared social dismay a good thing or is it a worrisome thing. Of course, you are absolutely correct. We must struggle our way through this. We must not “drop out”; we must “be here now”.


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