Are you sure you don't need a union?


Walking down Hudson Street in Tribeca, I passed a labor union office for the Communications Workers of America (CWA).  They had a big poster that said "Are you sure you don't need to join a union? Maybe you have a better way to deal with your boss."  Below was this photo:

In the Cloud of Unknowing


At the Hungarian Pastry Shop this morning, sitting at a table that looks out over St John's Cathedral, a tough-looking Italian guy with a shaved head is sitting at the table next to me.  I've seen him here a few times before. He's complaining that the food truck parked just about 10 feet in front of us is making a lot of noise - it's the truck's refrigeration unit.  "It's a Sunday morning.  They ought to park further away from where the people are sitting.  What are they thinking?"  The noise has stopped, but he's still complaining.  I agree with everything he's saying, but I also get the feeling he may be a difficult person.  Better to avoid conversation I'm thinking.

A few hours later I'm in my apartment and thinking about creativity.  A phrase pops into my mind: The Cloud of Unknowing. It's something Ira Progroff used to speak about.

Progoff was a psychologist who studied with Jung, and he wrote and spoke of the inner processes that  guide spiritual, artistic and other creative endeavors.  I remember Progoff speaking of a medieval mystic who said "I pray God to make me free of God." The mystic wanted to let go of his preconceived notions of God so that he could seek God with fresh eyes.

Nowadays, the mystic's preconceived notions might come from things he's been told, stories he heard as a child, paintings he's seen in a museum, films he's watched.  The depictions may have been meaningful and evocative but they cloud his vision.  Free me of God, says the mystic, so that I may know him.

So too of artistic and other creative work.  It is difficult to perceive something in a new way while we're perceiving it in an old way.   In our art, we strive to let go of habitual modes of perceiving and acting.  Part of playing a creative jazz improvisation is to stay out of habit mode, avoid the worn out "jazz licks", the musical cliche's that my fingers reflexively reach for.  Free me of my knowledge of jazz.

And it holds for everyday things.  The man sitting next to me at the Pastry Shop this morning evoked immediate impressions from the way he looked, the intonation of his voice, his complaints about the truck. My perceptions of him may have been accurate or not.  But if I can withhold judgments until I've had a chance to know him better, I can form a truer sense of who he is.  In fact I know that the man's going through chemo.  A few weeks ago at the Pastry Shop, his brother was sitting at the same table, telling me that he'd recently received news of his brother's medical condition and flew here from Italy the next day to be with him. There's more to the story. 

Maybe I'll leave aside, for a moment, an hour, a day, the things I "know" to be true.  I won't let go of them in order to examine my suppositions, as a philosopher might do, but to clear my mind of the certainties that lock me into my habitual ways of seeing things.

Trump's not honest, he's fearless


Listen to Trump supporters in focus groups and rallies and you'll hear a lot of the same thing: "He's honest.  He says what he thinks."  I don't believe that either of those statements is true, but I think I understand why he gives the impression of frankness and honesty.

First: Is Trump honest?

In the midst of his 2011 "Obama's-a-foreigner" campaign, he said that his investigators "cannot believe what they're finding".   He told a CNN reporter that he wouldn't say right now what his investigators found, but "at a certain point in time I'll be revealing some interesting things."    He never got around to it.  

Did he believe that his investigators were finding amazing dirt on Obama? I don't think he was being "honest" or "saying what he thinks". 

Undocumented immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” And yet even Rupert Murdoch points out that "Mexican immigrants, as with all immigrants, have much lower crime rate than native born."

Carly Fiorina, “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that?” He claims now that he was referring to her 'persona', not her ... uh ... 'face'. 

How is it that a relentlessly dishonest person gives the impression of being honest?

People mistake fearlessness for honesty.

Politicians, like other people, lie for various reasons. One of these reasons is to avoid social criticism.  Fear of offending is not a big motivator for Trump.  He has an amazingly thick skin.  This doesn't mean that he's honest.  But his dishonesty is not often motivated by caution.

He lies for advantage, as he did regarding Obama's past, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S., whether or not he said the things about women that Megyn Kelly mentioned during the debates.

Trump is perceived as honest because he is unafraid of saying things he knows will offend others. True, many of us are sick and tired of politicians who test and script every utterance that comes out of their mouths.  That kind of dishonesty is insulting.  It's a swindle.

But Trump's offensive comments are not the result of being "too honest". He says things for a purpose.  A willingness to offend does not mean that you are expressing your true beliefs.