Holy Shit, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Great

In June Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, identifying as a Democratic Socialist, won a Democratic primary in New York City against a sure-thing incumbent. It was a total come-from-behind victory; when people complained the media hadn’t paid enough attention to her I thought to myself “You guys are missing what makes an underdog story an underdog story,” but whatever.

In the weeks since she’s been getting a lot of love, but I’ve maintained my usual irritating skepticism (which has been tempered from the thinly veiled cynicism I used to hold to something closer to the true “I do not know” freedom from judgment to which I aspire). Ocasio-Cortez was a bartender a year ago; not at all a disqualifying thing, but she has no record or history as a legislator or even a major activist. To make any judgment seemed, to me, to be premature.

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Kindness Is Subversive

Lately I’ve been getting very into kindness. I used to think kindness was something that you deployed on occasion, like an umbrella. Then I thought kindness was something you used like a weapon, a cudgel with which you could smite your enemies, leaving them bloodied with your superiority.

In the past year my thoughts on kindness have changed. I think kindness can be constant and invisible, like radiation coming from a pellet of plutonium (maybe I can come up with a more positive version of that simile at some point). Kindness is something you not only project but that you also apply to yourself. And kindness, I believe, is the most radical and subversive thing in the world today.

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A Little White Privilege In The Morning

I experienced a little white privilege today.

I have this new used car, and there is only one door lock. It is broken. I can’t get into the car. So I had to climb in through the trunk, push down the back seat and unlock the car from within.

Doing this told the car that it was being stolen. The alarm rang like crazy. The only way to stop it would be to put the key in the lock and open the door, but the lock is broken. So the alarm blares and blares and I’m standing there next to the car with a blank look on my face. The alarm quits after ten solid blaring minutes.

I leave the door unlocked all night, because I’m taking the car to the mechanic this morning. But when I open the door, the alarm goes off again. At 8:30 in the morning. On a quiet residential street.

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You’re Not Allowed To Change

There was an extraordinary confluence in space-time this week. Zadie Smith, brilliant author of White Teeth, published a short story about James Gunn being fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 days before the event happened. Smith, like all geniuses, must be tapped into the workings of the universe, and as such her story “Now More Than Ever” foretold what happened to Gunn.

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What To Do With Such Times

Today I went downtown to the huge – 70,000 strong, early reports say – protest against Trump’s concentration camps for kids. It was my second protest this month related to this topic; I went to a small but energetic emergency march the day after those initial reports came through.

I return from the protest energized and hopeful. I have been cynical of late, thinking that Twitter and the internet give people the dopamine rush of being activists without actually engaging in any activism (love David Simon, but yelling curse words at trolls isn’t making any real difference in the world, except as entertainment. Which, hey, we also need). I have seen so many people tweeting variations on “Why aren’t people in the streets?” and I always think: “Aren’t you people? Get in the streets.”

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Save Yourself With Service

Another heavy day. They come one after another, not letting us catch our breath. They are huge, cataclysmic. They overwhelm. You look at the scope of the problems hitting us, hour after hour, and it seems like there’s no way to fix it, like there’s no hope. You’re staring at a tsunami wave and simply waiting to be consumed.

That’s how I felt when I woke up this morning and saw a news alert on my phone about the Supreme Court upholding the President’s racist Muslim ban. I had only just opened my eyes and the first thing I learned about the world today is that our system of checks and balances is unbalanced and unchecked. What could I, an unemployed disgraced former film critic, do in the face of such wrongness?

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Your Obedient Servant, or, The Sham of Civility

One of the songs in Hamilton that always gets a chuckle out of me is “Your Obedient Servant,” which happens late in Act Two. Hamilton and Burr, once friends and now simmering enemies, exchange a series of increasingly heated letters back and forth that culminate in the two agreeing to a duel. Based on real letters, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song has the two men getting more and more aggressive with each missive but closing out every letter with a return to civility – they sign as “your obedient servant,” and the music switches from a driving beat to chipper and polite strings. The disparity between the anger and the sign-offs gets me every time.

This is civility, and it’s bullshit. The two men, despite all their well-learned politesse, end up in a fatal shoot-out. They adhere to the rules of good taste, and yet one man still bleeds to death when it’s all said and done.

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Don’t Look For Helpers – Be The Helpers

These are difficult days. The sense of injustice and horror is overwhelming. Some days I think this must be what it’s like to be in a falling elevator – weightless, terrified, aware of the inevitable conclusion of the journey. Hopelessness can seem like the only reasonable reaction.

Thomas Merton, Catholic monk and great thinker, wrote this about hell:

Hell is where nobody has anything in common with anybody else except the fact that they all hate one another and cannot get away from one another and themselves.

They are thrown together in their fire and each one tries to thrust the others away from him with a huge, impotent hatred. And the reasons why they want to be free of one another is not so much that they hate what they see in others, as that they know others hate what they see in them: and all recognize in one another what they detest in themselves, selfishness and impotence, agony, terror and despair.

The tree is known by its fruits. If you want to understand the social and political history of modern man, study hell.

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We Must Fix Our Hearts Or Die

Something is wrong. You can see it manifesting in a million different ways, in your immediate life as well as in the state of the world. No one is unaffected by the current wrongness; it hangs over our lives like a miasmic cloud of toxins. Even the people who have things good feel uneasy and off, and for the people who have things bad this has been a catastrophic addition to their problems.

We can see the symptoms of the wrongness all around us. We see it in the big stuff, like the bizarre way we just ignore climate change as someone afraid of the doctor ignores a lump. We see it in the cruel policies of the US government and in the ways supporters of that government seem unfazed by the suffering of others – no, more than unfazed, they seem encouraged by the suffering of others. We see it in the rise of angry, hate-filled racist politics. We see it on Twitter, where the righteous destroy other human beings in order to get the thrill of dominance from purity, turning the platform into a kind of democratized Spanish Inquisition in which anyone can take on the role of Inquisitor and prove their moral high ground by crushing others. We see it in our friends and ourselves as sadness and isolation become the norm, as everybody we know is in a funk of some sort and so many seem to be struggling just to get through the day.

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