A woman I know sent me a note the other day. I was surprised, but happy to hear from her as we don’t know each other well.
In the note, she explained that she had woken up last Monday morning to the news of the Las Vegas shootings. While preparing lunches for her boys to take to school, she wondered whether to tell them what had happened before they started their day. She decided to tell them — better to hear it from her than in the school hallways.
Her note touched me, in part because she'd written to let me know that a talk I'd given the Friday before, called "Finding Otherness," sponsored by the East Side Institute, helped her to navigate through the madness and alienation that we all experience so frequently these days.
But more than that, her note was touching because it made me think of the millions of mothers and fathers who woke up with the same questions and had to give their children some way to cope with the irrational.
With our TV's and other gizmos on in the background, politicians, talking heads and experts chattered on and on about bump stocks, gun control, and motives for the murders. Did anyone find that comforting or enlightening?
More and more, that's what families are called upon to do — make sense of the senseless — whether in Las Vegas or Charleston or Dallas, in refugee camps, in post-hurricane wreckage, in an undeclared war, or in the centuries-old aftershocks of slavery or colonial exploitation.
The day I got this note, I was to speak at an evening event, the 17th Annual Anti-Corruption Awards, sponsored by the New York City Independence Clubs. One woman honored at the event had just returned from Puerto Rico, where she had buried her father in the days before the hurricane and then almost lost her sister as the furious waters rushed through their island home.
At the ceremony, she stood on stage, crying without reserve, telling this story. So many others suffered through similar trauma. It was heartbreaking.
Also heartbreaking, as the water receded, was the reality of the gross inadequacy of Puerto Rico's road and communications infrastructure, the federal government’s neglect, and the economic pain inflicted by its debt crisis.
On the TV, back on the mainland, I watched the president on his visit to San Juan throwing rolls of paper towels to a crowd, as if he were tossing grain biscuits to hungry goats in a pen. I wondered what public relations genius had put those paper towels on the makeshift dais in the first place.
I also listened to local leaders in New York explain that Puerto Rico's commonwealth status has crippled the island's growth and must be replaced either by statehood or by nationhood. I agree, but I wonder how, exactly, can that be achieved? How can any kind of popular will toward independence — in whatever form — be enacted, given how tenaciously those in power hold on to it by controlling the rules of the political game?
At this moment in New York, such remarks about political self-determination seem utterly empty. The mayoral election is already over before it has taken place. The dominance of the Democrats and the closed primary system guaranteed that.
Meantime, the political class of both parties is closing ranks to defeat a ballot measure that would give voters the chance to amend the state constitution and to transfer some modicum of power from special interests and the political parties to the voters. The Democrats and the unions are beating the drum for a "no" vote.
“Too much democracy is a bad thing,” they argue. "The people are too stupid to self-govern.” This from the so-called progressives.
It’s hard to tell which is worse: A president who throws paper towels at hurricane victims, or a progressive who will deny people the right to democratically change the rules of the political game.
The political class is able to provide so little by way of leadership in the face of mounting local and global crisis. For my money, the NFL players — some who took a knee, and some who didn't, but together made their statement that they could lock arms with their differences — provided more moral and political leadership to the country on one Sunday than the politicians of both parties have done in a month of Sundays.
Also, I must give some credit to basketball star and Golden Warriors Point Guard Steph Curry (I'm generally a LeBron James fan) for speaking out about Sports Illustrated's decision to leave Colin Kaepernick off of its pro-protest cover. Thanks, Steph, for reminding the public that when history is being made, it's typically the outliers who lay the ground and who pay the price.
And while we're on the subject of professional sports, I have to object to the recent feminist furor around Cam Newton, quarterback for the Carolina Panthers. He was patronizing to a female sports reporter, this is true. But how exactly did this become a cause célèbre for feminism? Count me out on that one.
And is bad behavior — even very bad behavior by a Hollywood mogul — news to any woman, especially to women in the industry?
If you're interested in a serious treatment of sexual politics, get yourself a ticket to see The Castillo Theatre’s new production of The Store, One Block East of Jerome, written by Fred Newman and directed by Imani. It's a painful and politically incorrect drama about class, stripping, and the sexual humiliation of women that is hardwired into our culture.
To me, this is a developmental conversation to be having, rather than hand-wringing over whether Newton should acknowledge that women understand NFL play-running strategies, or that the proverbial casting couch hasn’t gone out of style.
Okay. All of my musings may seem disconnected, and maybe they are. A philosopher friend and mentor of mine used to polemicize against "connectedness.” Even some giants in Silicon Valley now acknowledge that its vaunted "connectivity" simply reinforces the dominant culture, and does not act to transform it.
Still, if there's no need to connect things because they are already connected, even in a chaotic and incoherent world, I would simply say this: The only way to make sense of a senseless world is to create a new one.