That Tree-Block Thing
by Tim Garvin | Essay
Donald Trump is currently President of the United States. I’m not a fan, but I’m not enthusiastic about the media that flails at him either. Here’s a concise poem describing their attitude:
Why is the media so ineffectual? For the same reason that you can win an argument and lose a friend. Anger and indignation inspire anger and indignation and can’t get to the problem, which is a lack of fellow feeling. In the universe, not just in Donald Trump. Or the media. The cry of the French revolution was liberty, equality, fraternity. Throughout history, when fraternity fails, equality (Democrats) goes to war with liberty (Republicans). Fraternity is another word for fellow feeling.
So what to do about the absence of fellow feeling and the resulting disagreements? Here’s a thought I prize: if any two people are determined to be honest and patient, they are compelled, by the nature of existence itself, to agree about everything. That might seem at first like an extreme claim, but it seems true to me because honesty is a kind of surrender, and genuine surrender, possible only with patience, leaves conjecture and opinion behind and passes into wonder. And there, eventually (we have heard anyway) we experience the effulgence of divinity. Still, all we get down here on earth is a ladder that’s lost in the clouds. It goes up, we feel, and so we climb, some on this ladder, some on that. Hopefully, we cheer each other on. Mostly, today anyway, we don’t. Mostly we deplore those other crappy ladders.
These lost-in-the-clouds ladders are another way of describing our political views, our philosophies of life, our theologies, etcetera. It makes sense today to deplore some of them, like the Aztecs cutting people’s hearts out, but it’s likely that the Aztecs would have been indignant at our outrage.
Their indignance—and our outrage—has all to do with the nature of existence itself. You and your friend are standing on a hill. You say, see that tree? He doesn’t. What, you can’t see that tree? It’s right there! Your friend squints. What tree? I don’t see a tree. Instead of wringing his neck, you begin to describe the tree with what you’re convinced is the highest and best intelligence. But your friend can’t see it, and finally you grasp that he’s not lying. He’s got the tree-block thing, whatever that is, and, if he is adroit, he can even merrily discuss tree-block issues with you. He has an experience (or belief) he cannot go behind. And about you, the tree-hallucinator, he will say the same thing. An insane man claimed to be dead. The doctor asked, do dead men bleed? No, said the man. The doctor pricked his finger and pressed out a drop of blood. I’ll be damned, said the man, dead men do bleed.
Belief is mostly immunized opinion—hands off, that’s what I believe!—and we use it not only to establish our large views but simply to get us through daily life. I swing my feet out of bed in the morning without fear because in my opinion/belief the floor will still be there, and no snakes, and I will be married to the same woman. Life rains questions, but not answers, so we get on with it.
Still, I’m convinced that honest and patient people, regardless of their starting-point beliefs, are compelled to agree. If people gaze honestly together and gaze long enough, they will eventually see the same tree. Given enough time, I think you could even get an Aztec to reconsider. The difficulty is that most of existence is invisible and so hard to see that the isms of belief give up and urge us to believe instead of look. Isms have little faith in our honesty and patience.
And how to get honesty and patience? That has always had to do with our fellow man, and so we are back to fellow feeling, the third leg of the wobbly stool of politics. Another term for fellow feeling is love.
How to get that then? That’s a long subject and a long journey too, but I’m fairly sure it begins with wanting it.