Don’t look now but minds are changing. We’ve grown accustomed to that as a rarity, and now, seemingly from out of nowhere, we’ve got a reversal of what had long been chiseled in stone. Me, I think liminality had a lot to do with it. While this is a new word for a familiar process, it’s one I’ve been exploring for awhile now as my personal astrology reveals a marked period of transition. If you haven’t yet subscribed to receive Eric’s weeklies, then let me describe liminality as the process of shifting from one phase to another. That’s the brief take; Wikipedia provides a fuller description:
In anthropology, liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of rituals, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the ritual is complete. During a ritual’s liminal stage, participants “stand at the threshold” between their previous way of structuring their identity, time, or community, and a new way, which the ritual establishes.
The concept of liminality was first developed in the early 20th century by anthropologist Arnold van Gennep and later taken up by Victor Turner. More recently, usage of the term has broadened to describe political and cultural change as well as rituals. During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt. The dissolution of order during liminality creates a fluid, malleable situation that enables new institutions and customs to become established.
While we often think of change as coming out of the blue, a thunderbolt thrown by Zeus to complicate our little mortal lives, change is more often a result of pressure from within, the consequence of internal dissatisfactions that grow into rebellions or rejections. Change happens when the old is outgrown, when the consequences of worn-out patterns are no longer valued or required, when being stuck becomes a liability we can no longer live with — and everyone has a different breaking point.
The liberal personality is less frightened across the board, more at ease with social risk, and less defensive. The conservative personality is more easily threatened, more concerned with what will be lost than gained in any exchange, and quick to defend. While we’re each a mix of both, it’s fair to say that the conservative folks despise the liberal open society, which they refuse to join, while the liberal folk despair at the conservative closed society, in which they feel neither welcome nor comfortable.
But something had to give, we couldn’t remain at loggerheads forever, and that lock on doing nothing is beginning to slip. Perhaps we’ve finally come to that place where we’re bridging into the next thing — everybody a bit jumpy and unsatisfied — as defined by liminality.
Amazingly, for example, there will be no shut down of government this year. Congress, dysfunctional as it is, passed a budget bill so that the American pocketbook can remain open until March of 2017. The bill is touted in some circles as Boehner’s parting gift to the Democrats, a spit in the eye of the Freedom Caucus, and a sell-out to Establishment politics. Progressives are calling it a “survival” compromise, while regressives are furious at their leadership for caving to big government. Evidently big government includes struggling seniors who received no Social Security cost of living raise this year, while the ‘entitlement’ programs elders depend on are still first in the cross-hairs for concessions to any forward movement.
This week China changed its decades old one-child policy to include one more. Perhaps now daughters can be as valuable as sons, and the Chinese can begin to solve their problem with too many males, some 30 million of them with no mates in sight. Talk about out of balance! Still, because there is always a tit for the tat, this policy will not make the Zero Population people happy nor comfort the xenophobes who already see their numbers dwindling, and their ‘enemies’ reduced to dangerous and uncivilized breeders of hordes. Not to mention what the environmentalist will say about more energy demand by more Chinese babies.
The President announced that he’s sending a small number of special forces into Syria to assist the Kurds and a coalition of moderate rebels in combating ISIS. The White House does not call this boots on the ground, but truly, that’s splitting hairs, isn’t it? As much as Obama wanted everything drawn down, this call — along with the five thousand plus warriors left in Afghanistan — constitutes a sea change in military deployment. Much as I’d like to see all the nations sitting around the table, sharing a beer and planning better days, I suspect there will always be somebody quick to throw a shoe. Unless the military-industrial complex is dealt with — much like the big banks, big pharma, and the oil industry — we can’t really pull our foot — ummm — boot out, altogether. That’s not the play of one president or even one political party. Such a move can only come at the consensus of a nation.
The third Republican debate was also a game changer, finally showing Trump and Carson vulnerable on the actual logistics of leadership, which left the slickest politico in the pack, Marco Rubio, to step into the void. It’s interesting how Trump cut into a vein in what is considered politically incorrect on the left, while Carson routinely runs over political correctness with hobnails on the right. Donald mentioned Carson’s religion — Seventh Day Adventist — as an ‘unknown’ and caused a shit storm of PC commentary on the right about how questioning a candidate’s religion is un-American. This is absurd, considering that 60+ percent of Republicans polled consider Obama a covert Muslim, punishable by impeachment, and Mr. Carson himself finds a Muslim candidate unacceptable.
I personally find the tenets of Carson’s religion, with a six-day creation story and literal Bible interpretation — which Carson stands by, proud and unquestioning — far too inflexible in a presidential candidate. But even should the evangelical voters change their minds about Trump or Carson, it’s likely those votes will fall to Ted Cruz, so theocracy will still win the day with the base, who take their marching orders from the pulpit. That would be the same base who hate Iran because of theocracy. Yet, because things have changed, it remains true that they will hold their nose and elect a lukewarm Presbyterian if it looks like Trump can rebound to win the day.
JEB! — the Establishment candidate — did himself little good in a sharp exchange with Rubio in this debate, his less than impressive performance causing some of his donors to exit, stage right. Rumors of his demise are premature, though. He continues to hang in, despite a real lack of charisma and/or supporters, trying to wait out the process as the mainstream guy. Without an Establishment candidate to go up against (presumably) Hillary, the Foggy Bottom Boys don’t think they’ll have a chance. Considering how little Jeb is bringing to this game, I wonder if they realize how conflicted their line-up seems to be, and — because everything is in flux — perhaps it won’t be Hillary they’ll have to battle, or the Establishment types at all.
Meanwhile, Charles Koch told the Wall Street Journal that he’s just disgusted with the political conditions on the right, with its “coarsened discourse, lack of substance and civility.” No, this isn’t a real change of direction, it’s more a PR campaign.This is an exercise in ‘crying wolf,’ considering that he and his brother David spent more than three decades financing a political movement that could force big government to stay out of their affairs. If it morphed into the Tea Party — dead set on skewing reality, slapping a religious face on cynical secularism and killing off any government oversight that might interfere with profit and loss — then why should the Kochs complain? These are the very patriots who allow the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to ride roughshod over state programs and policies, giving Koch Industries easy access wherever it goes.
Ultimately, the big loser at the third debate was the media, who took it in the shorts from candidates and the public alike. While everybody is happy to take a poke at media, which rarely does its job any more, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the one quizzing Republican candidates from the reality side of the spectrum. FOX News is better at that than the rest of us: they made up most of the facts in question, so they’re the most able to walk the razor’s edge of right-wing truthiness.
As suspected, Paul Ryan was the only candidate with sufficient votes to take the speaker’s gavel, despite his insistence that he get weekends off with the family. This precludes the traditional courtship and hobnobbing duties demanded by big donors and lobbyists, the lounge lizard portion of the job at which John Boehner displayed genuine talent. Someone will have to step up for that part, if the party is to keep its mojo.
Paul gave a speech about uniting the party under one big happy new tent, while the various factions leaned in, purring like Cheshire cats and biding their time. The Tea Party has nothing to lose by continuing to obstruct: their rural constituents are happy when they plant their feet and say silly things, and when government doesn’t work they get closer to their goal of permanently drowning it in the bathtub. It’s hard to believe Ryan thinks he can herd these hard-headed critters — his long delay in decision told us he’s not so sure — but something sweetened the pot that allowed him to say yes.
If it’s liminality at work these days, it’s working just fine, isn’t it? Baby steps will do, a little willingness to make a change. What used to be absolute is now open to interpretation. People are changing attitudes because their lives have taken a turn, and their experience demands something more authentic than rhetoric. This is a good time for a dialogue, a good time to take cookies to the neighbor and start a conversation, a good time to ask questions about why someone feels the way they do, about what they need. This is a good time to listen.
The shift to the next thing is on us, the energy building to move us toward new options and discoveries. As long as our minds stay alert and our hearts open, our second thought about something important may take us farther than we suspect, while allowing someone else their second thought is guaranteed to change everything.