J u s t T h i n k i n g
Some days you’re just thinking along and something gels. Here are some of those moments for me.
Power and Premise
Where You're Standing
Some afternoons I drive to particular beauties and stand, or walk, or sit. I see things. Most by now are familiar, welcome because they sit next to the day before, unstartled. The breeze may not be the same, isn’t of course at all. Nor the sky, now ’all in a rush with richness’. Things familiar are always strangers in fact. But we cluster them, entreating them to behave as we need if peace is what we need and we do.
Even this one heart, this one insignificant heart, calls out for, beats hard for peace please where none is, where souls walk on stilts to see light. Even this one small and fairly old heart stares out into the calmest possible moment where nothing at all aches or dies, and longs for power to shake love back into the fragments of lives that used to be whole but now are fleeing or falling or pinned in one long unhushable cry. You know what I mean. We are all there in some importunate part of our knowing these days.
But these walks, this sitting, this standing I do must also be allowed. I must be allowed. To see right here the sweet unpredictable simply perfect only-once things in the distance as if they had been choreographed, rehearsed, placed just so, eager for me to arrive, to gasp, to give thanks, to lean on the fence and worship.
 From ‘Spring’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Power and Premise
I should be writing about Ukraine. But I can’t.
Thousands are, of course. And I am glad, if exhausted – wringing horror from each piece and sluicing it through my heart.
But they aren’t saying what I would say if I could.
They, especially Ezra Klein, who is an intellectual symphony and whose podcast I love, are rummaging around in Putin’s war trying to find something to explain the butcher’s butchery.
They’ve found things like humiliation, the kind that sucks on the tail of hubris and then eats up the world.
They’ve found a woo woo ‘Russianness’, expressed only as empire.
They’ve found maniacal narcissism and its crazed ‘history-has-chosen-me-so-I-can-with-impunity-make-stuff-up-to-tell-my-people’.
They’ve found 1000 years of fear of invasion and its theory of ‘historical realism’ which has nothing to do with being realistic, but rather with the strategic self-interest of competitive powers.
And when you tilt your head just so and gird your non-binary loins, you can get a bit fascinated by these theories applied to this entirely non-theoretical, empty-eyed man.
And you can recognise that inside Putin’s pathology there is a premise and a concomitant pristine logic driving his actions. All irrational acts are rational inside the premise of the actor. Understand the logic of the illogical and you have a way to negotiate. So understanding Putin’s premise that ‘transcendent Russianness requires empire’ may help us make a truce in the end. Glory be if so.
But no one in Kyiv or Bucha or Borodyanka, Mariupol or Odesa is scratching their heads to figure out the fine points of Putin’s internal logic or egomania or delusions of mythical Russianness or concocted threat of invasion or structural fulfilment of historical realism.
They die. They flee. They stay. They weep. They fight.
So I cannot write about Ukraine. It is too big, too much a thing of unspeakable suffering.
I can pray and send light to whoever can move this genocidist into a face-saving ‘I’ve-won-so we’ll-leave-now’ goodbye.
I can hold a reasonable, hopeful breath as Ukraine’s mission-style, individual-initiative, think-for-yourself approach to fighting outwits and befuddles Russia’s command-and-control, don’t-think, indoctrinated fighters so consistently that Russia is now losing, unimaginable even three weeks ago. And I can give thanks for the allied giving.
But most of all I can write fervourously about the unarguable gravity of an inaccurate premise. War, I assert, begins there.
So before war even murmurs, we can mine for, sweep for, probe and palpate for, find, confront and replace inaccurate premises in leaders, especially those yet to be crowned. We can nurture independent thinking, universally. That may take more intellectual and emotional maturity and stamina than anyone with any power to make it happen can summon. It may be, in fact, that the wholly self-serving nature of the consequences of large-scale political inaccurate premises precludes any such search, and certainly any such ultimate abandonment of them.
But if humans can think afresh, and I know that we can; and if, therefore, humans can move from intractable positions, and I know that we can, it is not half-witted to work for ‘premise literacy’ as a way to prevent war, to advance civilization.
But that is not all. We will need simultaneously to raze childhood humiliation so that false-premise-promoter monsters can’t emerge. A big job. Too big most would say.
It is also, I realise, unpopular during right-now torture to call for some-day change. But the notion that right-now suffering warrants only right-now strategy is dangerous. Even as we supply drones and grenade launchers, Stingers and Javelins with their equally valuable CLUs, even as we send resuscitators, sterile needles and cannulas, even as we harbour refugees, we can also turn our fine minds to facing and intercepting the inaccurate premises and their humiliated, hubristic prey who walk among us.
We can herald a future age of independent thinking that can spot an inaccurate premise before it advances an inch.
We owe both to the magnificence that is Ukraine, that is humanity.
There is a problem, she said.
What’s that? he asked.
No problem, she said.
How can no problem be a problem? he asked.
Because of chocolates, she said. Freddie gave me four. That felt good. So I said, ‘Thank you.’ And he said, ‘No problem.’ Suddenly it didn’t feel good any more. How could giving someone four chocolates ever have been a problem?
I agree, he said. Everyone says ‘no problem’ now. Or ‘no worries’. No one says ‘You’re welcome’ or ‘Pleasure’. So we feel bad about trying to make them feel good.
That’s it! she said. Thank you.
Pleasure, he said.