Fractal Cat is a Baltimore band that I’ve been fortunate enough to watch come together over the years. (I played and read at both the Carriage House open mic series where Miles Gannett and Keith Jones first met, and at the Side Streets open mic where they came together again.) The title track from their new CD, The Tower, is based on Tarot imagery. And it has a sing-along refrain; “I believe in you.”
As I was dancing and singing along at a recent show, I had a small epiphany: we’ve forgotten how to believe in each other, and without that democracy cannot survive.
Democracy is not merely majority rule. It is the belief that our fellow citizens should be trusted and treated as equally sovereign, even if they disagree with us about some issues.
Certainly on the right there has been an element of believing in the inequality of man, going to the origins of “the right” as the aristocrats and royalists who sat to the right of the king.
But the nominal left has had an anti-democratic strain since the days when an authoritarian strain of progressivism brought us Prohibition and eugenics. In the 1970s, Democrats dropped the white working class, especially white ethnics and Catholics, in favor of putting the (mostly white and middle to upper class) college-educated class of professionals — academic intellectuals and “experts”, the technocrats — in charge along with a coalition of feminists (mostly white and middle to upper class) and African-Americans.
So our two great tribes sit around call each other “libtards” and “deplorables”, “elitists” and “racists”, each believing that the other is irredeemable. Blue Tribe thinks Red Tribe voted for Trump because they’re all racists, and so any outreach or attempt to find common ground is useless. Red Tribe thinks Blue Tribe voted for Clinton because they’re all duped by identity politics, so any attempt to discuss issues is useless.We’ve given up on each other.
We can’t go on like this.
So in the new year, despite the sins of both Blue Tribe and Red Tribe, I resolve to believe in their fundamental Buddha nature. The clouds may hide the moon, yet the moon is still there.
If we’re going to get out of this mess, we won’t do it with fear and distrust.
In Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums, he gives a sort of Mahayana Buddhist / Beat prayer that he wrote:
“I sit down and say, and I run all my friends and relatives and enemies one by one in this, without entertaining any angers or gratitudes or anything, and I say, like ‘Japhy Ryder, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha,’ then I run on, say to ‘David O. Selznick, equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha’ though I don’t use names like David O. Selznick, just people I know because when I say the words ‘equally a coming Buddha’ I want to be thinking of their eyes, like you take Morley, his blue eyes behind those glasses, when you think ‘equally a coming Buddha’ you think of those eyes and you really do suddenly see the true secret serenity and the truth of his coming Buddhahood. Then you think of your enemy’s eyes.”
I believe in you. You are equally empty, equally to be loved, equally a coming Buddha. That’s my 2018 resolution, politically and spiritually.