I was in physical pain on November 9th. Ten minutes after I heard the US election results, I still could not draw a full breath. A big part of me absolutely could not grasp what happened.
Neither Bugs nor Barney could look directly at this thing.
Now that the consternation, confusion, and terror have receded somewhat, I have found some space to contemplate what has happened. I have found some comfort in the reminder, from Rev. William J. Barber, that the vicious backlash this election represents is but the latest in a long history. As we have struggled, over the centuries, to forge a more perfect union – as the psychic wound of slavery and segregation has been torn open again and again – there have been those heroic individuals who have stood up and called out for decency and humanity, sometimes even when standing as a minority of one.
“[O]ur foreparents were up against more with less. And they taught us that a dying mule always kicks the hardest.”
I have written again and again in this blog about our limitations as a thinking, feeling species. About “subjective backward referral” and “inattentional blindness.” About the strong tie between our emotions and the way we pay attention. About how closed systems of reliance on outside authority and rote behaviors lead to a pinched, punitive, domineering world-view that causes suffering.
Now, in casting around to try to come to grips with what has happened, I like another metaphor. This article compares our immune system with closed-off belief systems. Where our system is open to the outside world, we are armed with white blood-cells to protect us against bacterial infection. Where our system is closed, as it is in our cerebro-spinal fluid, when bacteria get in there they create devastation immediately.
Closed belief-systems are like the spinal system. There is no protection, in a closed belief system, from propaganda, lies, scapegoating. “If bad information gets in . . . it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. . . . Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in short time.”
But, as memoirist Mary Karr writes, “anybody maladroit at apology or changing her mind just isn’t bent for the fluid psychological state that makes truth discoverable . . . . The human ego is a stealthy, low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle.”
So, with the current state of affairs has come a determination in me to stay open to counter-evidence that what I sincerely believe may not be true after all.
Take, for instance, my long-held conviction that the diet I feed my cats is good for them. Even so, though – as long ago as July 17, 2012 – I was trying to formulate a means of assessing why it was that Bugs has suffered from chronic dietary upset, urinary problems, and skin sensitivities.
All this came to a head around this election. Bugs could not hold down a meal. After a day and a half of regurgitation, I took him to the vet. Naturally in this crisis our regular vet was out of town, so we went to a new one close by. Bugs was in such a bad way that the new vet hospitalized him over two days to treat him with antihistamine injections and IV-infused fluids.
Barney remains calm.
Her opinion was that Bugs was allergic to my blue-ribbon home-made diet.
Oh no. Why didn’t we think of that sooner?
Well we’re thinking of it now. I have given up my belief that with my blue-ribbon home-made diet, nothing could go wrong. To rephrase: My belief-system has now opened up to admit inconvenient counter-evidence. My blue-ribbon diet has been making Bugs sick for years.
Barney takes the elevated view.
“You did the best you could,” he says.
I have given up striving to create Bugs’s food. I have now resorted to Primal frozen raw. Bugs is doing much better. Even his clicker-learned acceptance of the crate has survived, though I feared it might be poisoned by the vet experience. No worries. Bugs is back to throwing in the crate behavior all the time to get his hypo-allergenic treat.
Gratitude has returned.
I was hoping it would. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the time when I rejoice. Bugs came to me on Thanksgiving in 2009, and every year I have reiterated rejoicing on this day for that reason among others.
This year, I could not see how I could rejoice.
I still can. Gratitude’s back.