Sunday, April 8, 2018

Regressing Toward Illusion

     Pluto? Let's start with Pluto. (The orb, not the animated dog or mythological figure.)
     Many of us were attached to it, and some may still be. There is a temptation to resist the ignominy of its change of status.  Twelve years have passed since that change in status, which was carefully considered for about a decade before making the conclusion that there were larger orbs that did not have planet status. Despite the evidence, there once was resistance and discomfort with the changes that were made. We are talking about planets after all, in many ways the very paradigm of permanence as we strive to define it on earth.
     There may have been a sense that the change in status was arbitrary and to an extent it was. A criterion that was not in use when Pluto was discovered and identified as a planet in 1930 had changed. I have no idea how arbitrary its addition was. Did Pluto have its turn merely because it happened to be where the astronomers were looking? There was more to it. Pluto has a significant presence that garnered the attention of astronomers about a century ago and on the strength of its impact on neighbouring planets it was sought, discovered, added to the pantheon and then demoted 76 years later.
     Ultimately whether we deigned Pluto a planet or a dwarf planet has literally no impact on our lives, unless we are in the business of maintaining museum dioramas. The attachment to the wrong definition that conferred planet status on the wee orb remains and the debate over the definition that demoted Pluto was contentious and may remain so. Two things remain evident from this layman's point of view: 1) this may have been an arbitrary decision and 2) it does not impact us that significantly (if at all.)

    We still have this attachment to the wrong because of the discomfort that adapting to correctness brings. Too many of us, when faced with clearer or new reality, strive to fend it off with a collective of like-minded. Reality is resistant to democratic assertion or the comfort of a subculture that wants to resist a little longer yet.

    Too many of us are resistant to self-evident truths about nature, humanity and equality, preferring to ensconce ourselves in flimsier absolutes about masculinity, white privilege or the planet's resilience and even its duty to us rather than reflecting on these assumptions and testing them to identify the flaws within these beliefs and recognizing the threats that are posed to all of us when we operate from the most self-serving of faux-universals. A simple test is how self-serving a supposed universal is. As much as we try to recalibrate our values and attitudes to make a more inclusive, tolerant and generous society, the attachment to the old wrong ways has proven to be taut rather than elastic.

The shift from the Obama-era opportunity to elevate tolerance and equality -- these self-evident truths -- to the irrationality, revisionism and entitlement that has defined the Trump era has been far to quick and violent a change to be described via the fluid, natural arc of a pendulum swing. It has been jarring, even violent, to see the collective vision for a nation's destiny and identity altered in favour of such a simplistic, venal view of the world and our place in it.

Much of what has been cast as the ideal under the Trump administration has been built on double-talk and prevarication. The rights that were extended to homosexuals and, more recently, transgendered in the United States over the last decade are under threat. The rule of law intended to protect minorities, the environment, order are all being undercut by abuses of power tolerated by people who want to hold on to their version of the natural order. These manipulations to essentially redistribute rights and privileges are repugnant efforts to defy an equality and a balance that we intuitively know ought to be. Clinging to denial and a binary or plastic version of how the world ought to be will ultimately expose a terribly flawed belief system and depose Trump and those who see him as their champion.  (I hope.)

The rigid, exclusionary version of perfection that so many are seeking solace and reassurance in will wane but it will not fade for good. We ought to know that by now. It remains deeply rooted in the mindsets of a large number of people and the changes that we are experiencing or even inviting at this time may prompt more and more people to latch onto even the false hope of a vanished and unrevivable status quo. And for the sake of keeping score, let me add that extending human rights to all and taking better care of the environment is something that will impact all of us and that it is not arbitrary.

At a time of extreme uncertainty, it is foolhardy to gravitate toward the flawed past, even if we believe that it is merely better rather than utopian. Regressing toward illusion will be certain consequence of rejecting reality because of the discomfort or disdain that it provokes. As Leonard Koren states in Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers,"it is important to know when to make choices, it is also important to know when not to make choices: to let things be." The efforts by Trump and his supports to resist the conditions that we had collectively moved toward prior to his election are best accepted. Striving for some societal revision because of the material gain and the existential comfort such changes may bring will divert us from other more productive endeavours. Meanwhile, nature and reality will remain ambivalent to the stubborn adolescent immaturity that we disguise with the finery of a perverted version of democracy.