Complexity, messiahs, and why we need to swap 'In God We Trust' for 'E Pluribus Unum'
Hint: because democracy belongs in the hands of adults
vol. 2 issue 40
Photo: Me among the astoundingly huge American boxwood trees on the Barboursville Winery Estate near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home in central Virginia. Credit: Blair Fishburn.
Many of you have written me privately via docu-mental or on Facebook or LinkedIn to share your fears that we won’t actually survive this administration, that all the dystopian fears we have are twinges of the reality to come. It’s certainly a distinct possibility, a clear and present danger, but there is still space for change, and the bridge across that gap is for us to build with our own actions.
Why should it be so fated that this is the end of America the Free? We still can vote. We still can protest. We still can speak our minds. We still can demand better leadership. If anything, this is the very moment the Constitution was created for: it’s up to us to exercise our right to protect it rather than outsource that to the rather awful-at-their “jobs” members of Congress to do it for us. Jobs goes in quotes because it’s not a job to be an elected official. It’s a privilege.
Despite the abjectly shocking level of corruption, hauteur, disdain, and divisive anger we Americans are stewing in currently, is a rare opportunity for either growth or despair, but the only way out is through. If we try to go around, under, or above this moment, we’re doomed, and I do mean “American carnage” the likes of which we can’t even imagine. If we have the tenacity and courage to face our collective darkness now staring us rabid-eyed in our face, however, I believe we can set in motion a renaissance of democracy; perhaps a Phoenix and not an eagle should be our bird.
I steadfastly maintain not optimism so much as a determination to keep moving forward. If you’re subscribing and reading along, then I trust you maintain that, too, or care to develop the strength to.
As we saw in the initial docu-mental podcast series Washington Remembers, the policies we set in motion now will shape what is to come, and will be based on our beliefs, which are based in our collective values. It’s essential to be clear on what those are. A national soul retrieval of sorts, the kind I am hoping to help achieve here, will aid doing that.
THE DOCU-MENTAL JOURNEY
In conversation I had with a farmer while I was on vacation, she said to me that once the dust settles after the upcoming presidential election, the “Magnificent Work” will begin. Isn’t that gorgeous?
Farmers are grounded. They are practical. They must work hard to survive and succeed. It was this woman’s farm on which we stayed for our vacation, so I got to know her a bit. I can aver she was no woo-woo escapist who spoke in glittering words without the understanding of the substance required to make it so. So, when she said what she did, I took it seriously and have thought about it ever since.
The policy legacies we have today largely favor hierarchy rather than equality, and reflect the cognitive dissonance of being told one thing is true when really something entirely else, usually the opposite, is true.
At the root of the cognitive dissonance is the idea that we are free when in fact we are not. Being told this while living something entirely different every day makes us crazy. Anxious. Depressed. We are not free because we are not all treated equally. We are not free because white, black, brown, purple-polka-dot, we are increasingly enslaved by a system where we are owned by those who know how to leverage our data, leverage our money away from us, and worst of all to my mind, by those who in bad faith try to tell us that extreme laissez-faire Capitalism is good for us and the federal government is not, when in fact both systems are neutral. What is bad for us is when either of them gets so big neither has to be accountable to those whose power it feeds on to sustain itself.
With a nod to the tiresome attacks I have sustained by the Foxy ones among us who claim I have been brainwashed and deluded by the Crazy Radical Left, I say conclude what you will. The proofs of my equations are right here on these pages of docu-mental. I did the long division and thought my logic out loud for all to see. My results are based on observational data mostly, but whatever I found out, I presented, none of it cherry picked, all of it lived by me and others I have reported on.
My original idea for this publication goes back to 2015 when I was a health sciences and policy reporter on Capitol Hill and saw clearly that our overwhelming, epidemic levels of anxiety and depression were beyond the scope of our resources to deal with them, and that we did not have policies nor enough policymakers enlightened enough to address this.
My thought was that anxiety and depression could be mitigated if we approached them with a public health policy similar to one intended to create herd immunity against infectious diseases (this was pre-COVID19, remember, so I had anticipated it being a successful model of containment). To do this, however, we would need to determine what might be the infectious agent, so to speak, and what then would be the vaccine. Whether or not this is actually good science, since infectious agents are considered biological in nature, I am not certain; yet, neither am I certain it is not good science. Either way, there is an identifiable logic to my approach.
My hypothesis was shaky at first, I admit, but ultimately I solidified it and remain committed to it: our national infection is actually cognitive dissonance; depression and anxiety are merely symptoms. In 2018, I registered “docu-mental: mapping the american states of mind” and “Creating herd immunity to anxiety and depression” with the US Patent Office and began publicly exploring my hypothesis. Since then, I won a Substack Independent Publisher Grant to continue my work, but rely mostly on contributions from a growing list of patron subscribers.
The more I write, the more my belief grows that the “vaccine” to our ills is to move past the reductionism to which we currently cling and search for meaning and mattering in our lives instead.
The most effective place to start, in my observation, is at the intersection of democracy, mental health/mindset, and freedom.
One important way is to put citizenship over consumerism and creating policies that reflect this order of priorities instead of the reverse, as our current laws surrounding competition and other aspects of the marketplace currently do. This is only one of my “findings”, however.
I have discovered there are many agents of our diseased national state of cognitive dissonance, ranging from propaganda, to greed, to immaturity. The more of these agents I find while mapping the american states of mind, the more my confidence grows in my understanding first that we need to heal, and second, that we have the power already in our hands to do so.
The current video series I am working on is therefore dedicated to healing the american states of mind. I downstyle the word “american” when referring to our mindset not because I am grammatically challenged, nor because I am flagrantly waving a red rag to the bulls for whom being American is vaunted, but because I think we need to de-emphasize such a forthright claim on what is “american” until we explore it further.
If you’re new to docu-mental, you can search the archives on the site to chart my progress from start to now. Even if I didn’t overtly state things as an if/then study; the questions surrounding why a sizeable portion of our population seems to be deranged in some way always animates my thoughts. (The data are all over the place in terms of how many of us experience mental illness, distress, etc., depending upon how one defines these terms; yet another avenue of exploration on these pages).
To follow my explorations, I suggest you will get the most depth by searching for entries on monopolies, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, POTUS, Big Data, the American Dream, pharmaceutical companies, psychiatry, hierarchies, bullying, choice in healthcare, “deconstructing the news”, and of course, where it all started here at docu-mental, with “creating herd immunity to anxiety and depression ™”.
Personally, the turning point in understanding that our economic policies reflect the viral shedding of our infected state, was when I interviewed London-based economist, author, and columnist Grace Blakeley about her recent book, Stolen. While Blakeley is an avowed Socialist, I am not; but what she did for me was help rip away the last of the pretense that extreme Capitalism was working out for me, a person who should have been well-served by the Capitalist story, when in fact it was making me and too many of the others I wrote about suffer from the cognitive dissonance of being made to heel to a code of beliefs as codified in the American Dream, that is patently untrue, at least today. That interview gave me the armature to hang my observations upon and construct a new world view, one that now frames my search for meaning and mattering.
I began this publication as a Gen X, college educated white woman whose career largely has been spent writing about the “cold, hard facts” of clinical medicine and health policy, who lives in an upper middle class (read: mostly white and well-to-do) community, and who was of the opinion that racism was not something that affected me because I didn’t engage in it. Typically, I voted Republican because I believed, falsely, that the party generally supported my fiscally conservative but socially neutral attitudes. That was until the cold-blooded murder of Trayvon Martin by self-styled hero George Zimmerman, an event that gave me pause about what kind of society would “need” that kind of hero, much less make a person think such a hero was necessary.
Even then, I did not connect it to myself. I did not see that even my resigned acceptance of a hierarchical system I did not create and did not like meant I was still responsible for holding it in place. It wasn’t until my abiding curiosity over what it was that was making americans so mentally out of whack, and taking the time to examine what I previously thought was true and why, that I was able to wake up to my role in claiming and protecting democracy. I concluded that after generations of being told we are all equal when we are not, our collective and individual dignity has been stolen in order to keep that lie in place and that this soul wounding is the primary injury, and the mental derangement flows from there.
Within this context, I have been thinking of the Magnificent Work.
What should guide us?
E PLURIBUS UNUM
If we’re to build a new nation after our current calamity, we will need a guiding ethos, a mission statement if you will.
I am more a casual historian than I am a scholar, but my understanding is that although our nation’s foundational documents might reference God, the founding fathers themselves ranged widely when it came to their understanding of and belief in God. As I view it, since it was impossible to prove God’s role in anything, the prevailing attitude of the Age of Enlightenment in which our Constitution was written, was that there is a progressive spirit – perhaps God – already in our human machinery, so we might as well just get on with running the operations of things instead of milling about waiting for God to take care of business for us instead.
This is reflected brilliantly in the official motto they chose in 1782 for our fledgling country, a motto I consider our original mission statement: E pluribus unum. Out of many, One. This left open the door to future Americans fixing what the founding fathers admitted was even for them problematic: that not all men and no women were able to enjoy the freedoms promised in such a system.
The motto, “In God We Trust” supplanted our founding fathers’ original motto after a Congressional spasm in 1956, triggered by a specious need to emphasize that Americans loved God while the Communist Soviets most certainly did not, led President Eisenhower to lawfully assign trusting in God as our new mission statement.
And you thought off-shoring key functions of American organizations began in the 90s!
Under this motto, democracy is ill-served. It tinkers with the founding ethos – a profoundly empowered one – of there already being a God within us, and that to honor that, we are the ones responsible for our actions and their consequences. Aside from unlocking and flinging wide open the door to breaches of the Constitutional separation of church and state, this act outsources our power and gets us off the hook for being accountable for pretty much anything we do.
Poor God. Now he’s to blame.
A democracy is the sum of all its parts, the parts being the many different people who comprise it. If God is in them already and they recognize that about themselves, great. But, the way the original plan was constituted for this land, an awareness of God was not a prerequisite for democracy to function. By shifting the focus outside of ourselves, as the new motto did, democracy is nullified and we are left with the cognitive dissonance of being told we are Constitutionally free to choose the conditions of our lives when in reality, we are now powerless.
How are we supposed to be free if we have no power?
The democracy our founding fathers envisioned depended upon the complexity inherent to “out of many, one”. Without complexity, what do we have? A simplistic hot mess run by the children of God, rather than a complex, functioning country run by beings who may or may not have an awareness of the God ostensibly inside of them.
Out of many, One.
If it was good enough for the framers of the Constitution, it just might be good enough for those of us who thought we were supposed to be living in a democracy, and who might want to get back on track.
So, let’s deconstruct it.
COMPLEXITY IN ACTION
Here’s an example of how it works. Recently in my home, our vacuum went kaplooie. My husband unscrewed the plate over the mechanism, took apart the motor and inspected all the pieces. He decided it wasn’t something he could fix, but he made that decision after he had a gander at all the pieces one by one before putting them back together again. He had no bias against any of them, nor did he conclude one was more important than another. He just observed. One inescapable conclusion was that not a single one of the pieces in our vacuum’s motor is extraneous. All of them are required for it to work. Separately, they can’t make the machine work. Together they can. Out of many, One.
But one of them was busted. The machine broke down.
Whether we are talking about a machine or a democracy, it takes time, observation, precision to disassemble and then reassemble all the pieces so that we are aware of what the whole is capable of.
Without an understanding of the role of complexity and our need to work with it, no wonder we flounder in the face of such complex issues such as solving the need for access to healthcare, clean air and potable water, poverty, and hunger. Since God is in charge, we cling to the pretty stories we are told by his (we’re sure he’s only masculine, right?) elected “officials” and others who want our power, the ones who keep the cognitive dissonance in place leaving us confused and very angry.
Complexity insists upon the equal importance of many different parts. Another way to say that is that complexity requires diversity. There is no hierarchy. The fan belt in a motor is as essential as the spark that powers it. By this logic, then, black lives don’t just matter, they are essential to the whole of our nation. It’s the correct logic per the founding documents.
Now, consider that with our treatment of the indigenous people of the continent, slavery, Manifest Destiny, extreme Capitalism, and the lies told to perpetuate the American Dream and white male supremacy, we have not come even close to fulfilling our mission statement.
It’s so much easier to just say, “In God We Trust” and then roll right through, not considering the way our democracy is destined to break down if all the parts are not seen as essential to the whole. E pluribus unum be damned. No one speaks Latin anymore anyway.
COMPLEXITY V. DELIVERANCE
There are 94 million evangelical Christian Americans, many of whom believe our nation’s future rests with the return of a messiah. I don’t know what is in the hearts of these people, so to say they are wrong would be presumptuous and disrespectful, but I can say that my understanding of born again Christianity is that it contravenes democracy because it picks winners and losers. That is not complexity, it’s hierarchy. Hierarchies are simple: there can only be one group at the top. The further away from the top, the more power is diminished. There is no integrating anything for the sake of creating the national whole reflected in “Out of many, one.” I only mention this because 94 million is a lot of people who claim to believe in democracy while adhering to a system that is antithetical to it. It just seems important to note.
Then there are the followers of the Q-Anon conspiracy who actually believe their messiah is here and his name is Trump. We’ll come back to that. And if we’ve not invested our faith in God or a messiah, we almost certainly have taken to soothing ourselves with an addiction to blaming “the other camp” (MAGA haters, I am talking to you, too) for things not working out the way we they have been promised to us by all those ones on Capitol Hill trusting in God.
This is compounded by our addiction to complaining. Oh, how we like to complain, myself included, especially by proxy through the cable infotainment channels. Complaining is an addiction, I have decided, in that it is a compulsive behavior that erodes our power to act while amplifying our craving to blame others for whatever we don’t want to integrate or take responsibility.
What might those components needing integration be? Well, there are the injustices our nation has allowed, such as racism, systemic misogyny, corruption, and so much more. We figure we had nothing to do with these bad things, so why do we need to take responsibility? We’d rather just focus on avoiding being run over by the system ourselves.
But all of these proxies for our own capacity to act, whether God, a messiah, or an addiction, keep us from carrying out our founding fathers’ original mission statement. This is problematic, since they thought the original motto was a pretty nifty summation of what our democracy was supposed to be.
The painful consequence of waiting for deliverance rather than engaging with complexity is not just cognitive dissonance, however, it’s an inability to cope with crisis.
With each decade, we have been whammied with one crisis after another, until we have become overwhelmed. The events of 9-11. The financial crash of 2008. Now this, what is happening today. Need I describe it?
So many of us, already beaten down by the propaganda of years upon years of being told we are and have the opportunity to grow in peace, happiness, and prosperity, while access to the means for this so-called dream have shrunk or evaporated, are incapable of complexity, don’t even realize we need it. It’s too much to ask us to think with discernment and wisdom. We just want to stop the pain. The God story over the People one is so much sweeter, and so much simpler, and therefore, so much easier.
Or, so we think.
The lack of complexity led to our insistence upon, or at the very least, our acceptance that everything is rigidly one thing or the other, black or white, Liberal or Conservative, Christian or everyone else. That lack of diversity and the nuanced complexity it is built upon is what is making the current toddler-in-chief so able to roll what we heretofore thought of as a democracy downhill like a snowball collecting all the dirt and grime between here and Hell. No one wants to inject complexity into the situation because then they’d have to cross the line that’s between drawn between Us and Them.
If we truly want democracy, clinging to the God story and its messianic assumptions dooms us to remain infantile because there it strips us of the democratic powers our nation’s creators intended. The only way out is through, People. Unless we commit to the hard task of pulling apart the pieces and really having a look at how they all fit together, we can’t have democracy. We can have a dictator, but not both. It is impossible. We have to accept it’s not up to God, nor a messiah, nor our addicted selves to create and run one for us. We can’t possibly have a democracy by proxy.
Either we’re in it or we’re not.
VICTIMHOOD IS NOT HEROIC
When I first heard about Q-Anon, I was so mystified, I thought that the reporting on it was itself made up. But no, it’s a thing. If you’re unfamiliar with it, in brief it goes like this: Trump is the messiah sent to clear the nation of the Deep State perverts who are running a pedophilia sex trade ring from secret locations like the basement of a neighborhood pizza shop down the street from here where I live. That, and there is a satanic cult that secretly rules the world. There’s more, but even as I type it, I find myself so annoyed, I can’t give it more space. The sloppy, self-serving heart of this conspiracy offends me. It’s as anti-democratic as authoritarianism.
None of us can prove -- or even disprove -- any of what this fantastical theory of the world claims, but focusing on it can pull our attention away from the fact that justice is what helps victims (like enslaved under-aged sex workers in pizza shop basements, I guess), but justice is impossible without democracy. For those waiting for a political messiah, I suggest their concern is not with democracy, or else they wouldn’t indulge in the laziness that equates with relying on a messiah to do their thinking and acting for them. It seems more to me that what this gang is about is the same kind of self-styled brand of heroics that Zimmerman thought he was entitled to claim. But when you choose your own adventure with you as the persecuted hero, you are not saving anyone but yourself.
That is not democracy. It’s not even heroic. It’s just solipsistic victimhood. And it’s immature.
The battle over America right now is not really what our fractious identity politics make it seem to be. It is not a fight over who should have access to which resources based on a hierarchical view of who is more deserving. That is all just the hollerin’ that happens when God’s in charge instead of us. If we were living out the actual democracy promised to us, then we wouldn’t need civil rights, equal rights, universal healthcare, and on and on and on. We’d already have all that sorted out.
The real fight in this nation is over whether or not we want to grow up. It’s a fight over the mission statement. One of them – the supercilious one imposed by posturing white Congressmen – is already predisposed to the hierarchical dictatorship many of us fear; it fundamentally created this situation by assigning us the role of helpless children and the authority to a God outside of us.
The other one, the original one created by white men who admitted their flawed thinking but did not impose it in their logic, is as yet in this nation only theoretical, having been only partially adopted before being officially shelved. That mission depends on you and me. Just us, two equal, but not the same human beings perhaps with God inside, whether or not we choose to recognize it as such.
That is why I see the Magnificent Work as the continuance of the original Spirit of 1776. Soul and spirit go together: soul is one’s highest potential, spirit is the positive, forward acting principal that materializes that potential. In all my formative church-going years, and my college and professional education in psychological theories, it is on this that my understanding converges.
If this kind of soulful, spirit-infused Magnificent Work is what we want, then it is up to us to embrace complexity. We will need to be choose to put our childish ways behind us, the ones which insist on a version of America that is literally dumb; too dumb to be trusted with governing a democracy that is One made of many parts.
AND AS FOR THE MESSIAH…
If you think that voting out the current occupant of the White House and bringing in another will set our nation right, you are wrong. That is still simplistic thinking. No one person is going to be “the answer to our prayers”. Hello. The Magnificent Work doesn’t begin or end with any one of us. If we are to resist anything, it is messianic thinking. If we do this right, if we are to heal our national essence and truly move forward freely and democratically, it will be a feat generations in the making.
This presidential election is to secure the opportunity to start that work, not return us to the former status quo. The past is over. That the current Democratic nominee for president comes from our past is, I hope, merely a bridge to the future, not a secret wish fulfillment to return to what was.
As for the notion that the Rapture is right around the corner, I have been thinking about that, too. Evangelizing is an industry. Isn’t it weird to think that you can’t be let into heaven unless you bring a bunch of other people with you? Sounds fishy to me, like a pyramid scheme. And yes, I actually do know what the Bible says about the criteria for entering heaven, but the Bible says all kinds of stuff, which is why I think our founding fathers’ idea of democracy is so damned savvy. It avoids translating the Bible or any other religious text, while offering us the flexible complexity — when its power is applied to the fullest — to let us each love God if and as we wish, to love our country, to love our neighbor, to love ourselves, and to love one another by choice and to the best of our ability.
In return, it asks us to pay attention, to care, and to act with discernment, all possible only when we are present, in the moment, and willing to be responsible. In short, all it asks of us is to grow up.
If, as our Constitution’s framers implied is possible — even likely — that God is within each of us, then if we participate in our democracy as intended, then the God in our hearts will necessarily find his, her, or its way into our democracy.
That’s the part that to me is actually not so complicated, even if it is complex. It’s also what makes me suspicious of the insistence on legislating where we place our trust.
Wanting to exert such a controlling grip on God and our attention on him (!) seems to belie more of a lack of faith than it does a faith that God is there.
It reminds me of a control tactic by a child afraid of the dark who wants to keep spinning reasons for Daddy or Mommy not to walk away and leave him on his own to deal with the unknown, to enter the kind of place where decisions have to be made and solutions created and generated as necessary, not met with pre-ordained templates, which are the antitheses of creativity and diversity. But I repeat myself…
In any case, if there is to be a Rapture, what if it isn’t literal, but still very much real? What if it’s akin to the rising of the sun in our very own chest so that we can each of us know God’s power and peace? Then we’d be in the light, not the dark, and we’d be assured of our place in a divine world that is larger than us, but very much a part of who we are. We’d feel confident in our capacity to act and love, because we’d be at home in the complexity within and without, and there’d be no need to legislate our attention in any direction. And we wouldn’t feel threatened that others didn’t feel it, too, because we would know it was real without someone else having to validate it for us. That would be Magnificent Work indeed.