Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Of Justice and Rainbows, of Suffering and Compassion: A New Year's Letter to Bill Huston

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee

December 30th, 2014. 

Dear Bill:

I have reflected a good deal on your recent observations about justice and compassion:


Indeed, these last days of 2014's December have afforded me much opportunity to think about the reality (or, as you insist, the illusion) of justice, and the relationship between it and compassion. As I pen these words, I am doing everything I can to provide comfort and compassion to an animal I love immensely--an elderly iguana for whom I have cared the best I could for nearly 15 years, who is dying, and for whom justice would have been a life in the tropical forests of his species. I would gladly--however painfully--have given up Mr. Luv Lizard to that more natural life could it have been possible. It was not--so I offered him all I had to give--fresh greens and fruit, scratches behind his gills, a big habitat with ladders and branches, company and compassion--and this is manifestly not enough.

These things matter--greatly.

What I have to tell you is simple--and I will offer to my strong claims argument and example:

First, you are wrong about the reality of justice. 

You say this:

Huston: In my world, justice isn't real. It's illusive, like rainbows. Justice is an IDEA ONLY. It's mind stuff. Story-realm. It does not exist in the real, observable world.
Justice and rainbows--and suffering and compassion are quite real. Rainbows are the manifestation of physical phenomena--no "metaphysical forces" need to be "at work," and that science can demystify and explain their causes makes them more radiant and beautiful, not less. Nonetheless, justice and compassion are in some ways even more real than rainbows.  These are not merely feelings, sentiments, or dispositions. Feelings we simply have; justice and compassion are principled drivers to action. They are realized imperfectly to be sure--but that does not detract from their reality; it instantiates it. 

The reality of my compassion is registered in Mr. Luv Lizard's eyes when I sing to him. The gross injustice of the condition that brought him to me 15 years ago is as systemic as that which governs the factory farms, the shale fields, the GMOs, the prison system, the global exploitation of indigenous peoples, and our endless thirst for war. That gross injustice manifests itself in the commodification of living things--indeed all things--for the sake of profits and power. It makes of life an object to be marketed and sold--abandoned at obsolescence, rebranded for "price points." 

Injustice is appallingly real. 

 If justice is by contrast mere illusion, we ought to greet the new year with suicide. 

Second, your claim that justice is "illusive" is hypocrisy in at least two ways:

(a) what you say--that justice is an illusion--is manifestly not what you do--you would not be as committed in tangible action as you are to ending the injustice of carbon extraction did you think it merely "illusive."

(b) what you do--make judgments about the actions of others committed to justice--not only illustrates that you believe in its reality, but that you take yourself to be authoritative--however contradictory--about it and about those who'd undertake risk to see justice come to fruition--something over which the Buddhist in you would surely quake. 

You tell me this:

Huston: I can see you are an academic and an intellectual. That's all head stuff.

Such claims are arrogant and dismissive; they presuppose that you are in a position to make that judgment and that "head stuff" is inferior to your claims to justice as "illusion." What grounds have you to make such a claim other than that you take yourself to be a rational judge? How is that not about the reality of justice? In truth you desire to make of justice just what it needs to be to privilege you as judge--and that is hypocrisy.

You say that this "head stuff" is "your tendency also," as if acknowledging familiarity ameliorates the sting of your dismissive observation. It does not. In fact, it reasserts it since you go on to  claim that through "many years of studying Yoga, meditation, NVC, etc. and doing body-work" you're "realizing that the head often gets in the way of happiness." If so, then you've no judgment to make about anything or anyone--that requires you use your head. If you really believe this, you'd be better off to retreat to the cheery silence of your own council.  But instead you reserve the righteous audacity to tell me what I ought to believe about reality, that my education is inferior to your meditative insight, that happiness is a state of mind disconnected from the world--avoiding the longing for "illusions" like justice--and that you hope you have been "helpful."

This is not helpful, Bill--not to me, not to all of our friends and allies who have worked so diligently to end at least one form of injustice--the carbon extraction that poisons our air and water and promises our children a future in the remake of Mad Max. It'd be an easy thing to simply ask you why you think yourself to be my father, and be done with it--but the facts are that you speak for too many who'd follow you to this smug and vaguely  cadaverous resignation--masquerading as spiritual enlightenment.

Third, it is rank hypocrisy to laud the New York governor's decision to ban High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) on the basis of the science and then insist that what is now required is a two-week protest "truce" with companies like Crestwood--whose plans to construct a gas storage facility on lake Seneca threaten the health and welfare of every citizen in the Finger Lakes--because "metaphysical forces" are at work.

In his original Facebook post, Bill says this (quoted in total, without alteration):

Friends-- I am so lucky to know amazing leaders of great wisdom. My 3x top advisors are all saying Two Week Truce, followed by gobs of gratitude, praise, and adoration. 
I am hearing much disagreement to this strategy. Understandable, considering how many of our communities are being destroyed by various fracking infrastructure (Waste, Storage, Pipelines, Compressors, etc) 
But I beg you to consider the possible lasting effects of the two different paths. After days of deliberation and introspection, I have come to agree with this.
Friends, let's put down our swords and shields for a minute and let's have a little victory party! And use positive feedback to affirm behaviors we are requesting. This is not the time to make demands. Unless you want to not be heard,... forever. Unless you want to push away an adversary. The other framing is to welcome and reward a friend with praise. This is extremely important to consider. One is the way of Grace and Compassion. The other way is of hatred and separation. Which is the position of greater power? 
There are metaphysical forces at work here. This framing and naming is more important than many realize. What we think and say really comes true! This knowledge carries a great responsibility and duty of nonviolence and service, and the wishing for wellness of all beings.

 The truce refers to the ongoing action at Lake Seneca where Crestwood plans to construct the gas storage facility. That there's disagreement is hardly surprising:

(a) there's no such thing as calling a truce with an enemy who at the first sign of weakness will roll its big trucks right over you. Crestwood will see this as capitulation--just like they've no doubt been hoping would be provided to them by the cold.

(b) throwing gobs of "gratitude, praise, and adoration" at Governor Cuomo is misplaced. Had he deserved that, he'd have converted the moratorium into a ban years ago. Thank him for listening to the science--finally. Recognize that the science is precisely what's relevant to Crestwood's endangering of Lake Seneca, and get on with the protest. 

(c) to appeal to "metaphysical forces" has no more credibility than, say, the claims of a Gilbert Ross of the bogus American Council on Science and Health who claims that he "will debunk the sorry, lame excuses offered by NY State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and his so-called report on fracking"(http://marcellusdrilling.com/2014/12/ny-landowners-fight-back-against-cuomo-frack-ban-rally-on-jan-5/). 

Both rely on premises that provide no empirical support, and both are driven by ideological agendas. That "metaphysical forces" alludes to the supernatural, and Ross' reference to "so-called report" is pro-drilling is irrelevant--both assume their conclusions in advance of their claims, and hence neither are open to facts, especially disconfirming ones.

The response I offered to Bill--the one that solicited his denial that there is such a thing as justice and the smug shot at my being an "intellectual" as if that were a crime--was this:

I respect Bill greatly, but NO NO. First, these two ways pose a false dichotomy. Resistance to injustice is not hatred. It is righteous anger.

 And compassion without justice is arrogant and can do great harm.

 This is absolutely the time to make demands.

 We must demand that fracking end. End everywhere.

 Indeed, I think it would be the height of the worse sort of NIMBY myopathy to allow to languish the momentum from the NY ban.

 These are not metaphysical forces at work here. They're perfectly comprehensible and we know them. They are the manifestations of unfettered greed combined with systemic privilege actualized via technological advance.

 It's one thing to wish for the wellness of all beings. It's quite another to actively work for the justice of condition that makes that possible. To do anything other than get clearer about the message that all things fracking must be banned, and then to redouble our efforts...nonviolent but aggressive and unyielding....is to forfeit the well being of those who look to us for aid and assurance. If we squander this momentum, we are effectively abandoning a responsibility we willingly assumed.

 I will not. I cannot.

 I will gladly forfeit the thin gruel of grace for the far heartier and more satisfying stew of justice. We'll have plenty of time for that grace after we have won the war for water and air. But if we lose, the tiny few who have the luxury of that meditation do so at the expense of a planet despoiled. On that planet "all beings" amount to the few who can wrap themselves in platitudes while the rest of us burn.

And there you have it. In effect, Bill is calling the pursuit of justice "the way of hatred." And--in utter contradiction--he is calling a truce we can surely know will collapse our momentum and scatter our reserves--justice. It's a bizarre sort of justice that would squander the most empowering decision we have to date: New York's Fracking Ban.

There is no truce to call unless we are prepared to turn our backs on a Pennsylvania family who received this letter just this November from Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE) (I have left the names redacted to protect the family from their leased neighbors):

November 24th, 2014 

Pennsylvania General Energy is planning the drilling of one or more oil and/or gas wells of your property in  Roulette Township, Potter County... Due to the proximity of your properties to our oil and gas well(s), the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") regulations require that we test your residential water supply(ies) (all sources). We have therefore enclosed the following for your review:

a. A Two page form asking your sampling preferences that, when signed by you, gives the laboratory permission to sample your water supply.

b A two page questionnaire asking some specific questions about your water supply.

c. A one page description of the water sampling process.

d. The DEP's standardized notification of the Surface landowner/Water Purveyor of Well Drilling Operation or Alteration. The letter informs you of certain rights you have under Pennsylvania law.

We request that you answer the questions on the two forms, sign them in the space provided, and send them to us within ten days of your receipt of this letter in the enclosed postage-paid envelope...
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me toll free...

The proposed well pad is 1008 ft. from the family's house. One Thousand and Eight Feet. With permission, here's the Google Map:


This is a typical letter from a typical story that illustrates the very real injustice faced by very real Pennsylvania families every single damn day. Note carefully that this family isn't being offered any choice at all about whether the drilling is going to transpire or where--1008 ft from their home

And this family isn't likely dickering around with metaphysical indulgences about whether justice is real--they know that injustice is being drilled right into the backyard of the neighbor who leased his land within the earshot, odor range, and visual eyesore of their drinking water well.

They're not likely to extend a hand to PGE.

They're moving.

What on earth gives us the right to declare a truce with an industry that does this to families?

What on earth sanctions us with the luxury of asking the newly minted Gas Wolf Governor of Pennsylvania--Tom Wolf--to not frack our state parks--all the while we gladly sacrifice this family to the carbon extractors? 

Who do we think we are spouting metaphysical platitudes about the unreality of justice when people, their animals, their water, and their lands are being fucked over?

My message to those who speak of "truce," to those who'd advocate for "regulation," to those who insist that "tolerance" means acceding to every perspective as equal even when it paralyzes action, to those who think a "moratorium" to wait for the science now that the science is in makes any sense is this:

You are as responsible for harm to this family as is the industry. 

Your pitch to "compassion" is naught but an excuse to avoid risk. Your tacit concession to the notion that justice depends on opinion is capitulation to injustice of the worst sort, namely, that injustice which could have been prevented if we were less worried about "everyone getting along," and about "playing nice" than we are about seeing to it that this family is not destroyed.

A last word on forces:

It is precisely the same forces at work who'd disrupt and despoil this family's life that made of my now elderly iguana an object for sale as a baby lizard. 

These forces have nothing about them of the metaphysical. They are as real as is justice--and injustice. They are as real as the greed that converts the living into the commodity, the conditions of the future into a cost/benefit analysis for the expedient present, and the once beautiful planet into a toilet for those whose money buys them the power to turn the rest of us into disposable shit.

It is no time for truce.

It is time for the insurgence of those who live their commitments to justice.

On to 2015.

 Wendy Lynne Lee

2,518 words.


marcellusmadman said...

Thank you for writing this Wendy Lee. I have had enough of the judgements of the "non-judgemental". Had enough of pseudo spiritual self-delusion presented as an alternative to reason, and had more than enough of an aesthetic preference for non-confrontation dressed up as noble courage. Oppression and injustice whither and gain no ground when people stand up and say "NO". Lizard knew grave injustice when he was robbed of his birth right and he knew a lifetime of compassion when you found him abandoned like a forgotten toy. These things are real, only those lost in a mystical fog would deny their existence.

marcellusmadman said...

One more in defense of reason and "head stuff" - not only is compassion without justice arrogance, compassion without intellect is reckless. In my professional career there have been several instances of "compassionate" people caught releasing invasive species into the wild as part of a ceremonial expression of their religious or mystical beliefs. Not factored into their compassion equation is the untold suffering of millions of organisms as the resulting ecological havoc engulfs them. The rejection of reason as a tool for understanding the universe has a name - it is called stupidity.

motoclown said...

Truce.... over my dead, lifeless body. I have no time for your Victory Party, somewhere tonight a Well is getting fracked: Lawrence County, PA. Join the movement to ban fracking or step aside.

Cathy McNulty said...

The only mistake I see Bill making is looking for consensus in this movement, at this time. Every one should say as exactly as they can what they feel and think. And a good cameraman is a powerful witness and truthteller.

Michael J. Fitzgerald said...

Powerful stuff Wendy. Powerful. Without getting into the depth that you did, let me just say a truce requires that both sides (or many sides) put down their arms and agree to not advance in any way for a specified length of time. Crestwood is not going to do any such thing.