Thursday, April 7, 2016

Just some thoughts: On Pie Fights and Politics




I have to be really honest here, since coming into contact with Bahá’í in the mid-70-s; I have never really understood, or bought for that matter, the whole disconnectedness from politics vibe. I remember being so excited by conversations about Central America (having returned from pioneering in Guatemala during the civil nightmare) in the 80’s, and how dismayed I was when the dialogue was shut down by Bahá'í Adminstration. 

So like a few other rules, I just ignored it. OK, confession is a no no as well in the Bahá’í Faith, but what the hell, I have had my rights removed for marrying the one I love, (marriage rules are one more weird Bahá’í mystery to me as well) and there is no way they will ever ask us to return to the Faith anyway. So, as I watch the political system in both my countries enter a very, very, very scary melt down, I am actually coming to see the wisdom of not engaging in this whole clown-party-pie-fighting partisan politics thing. I can hear the gasps, and the visualize the clutching of pearls by both of my dedicated readers of this blog…

OK, so I don’t really understand this allegiance to a particular party, its like a sports team thing (GO Giants!) though I confess that I can never ever be a republican, after they went after and continue to go after the GLBTQ community. I lean towards a very, very, very socialist democrat paradigm… and I do have a very hard time keeping civil around my Fox TV tea party evangelical bible thump’n family of mine. This is where my Buddhist work really came in handy recently, and where Bahá’í just didn’t… my last two trips went pretty well, and I didn’t throw one pie, even ducking a few hurled at me by my Fox Media-lov’n relatives. 

Ommmm... breathe in, breathe out...

Here in Brasil, while watching the impeachment proceedings (about as dignified as a Three Stooges episode) and watching and listening to those around me blame the media or the politicians for the problem, and not asking if just possibly our leaders could take a modicum of responsibility for their actions. At the same time, watching from afar the terrifying fascist-Cruz/Trump phenomenon ramp-up in the states… I am beginning to see the wisdom in it. Perhaps.

I confess a fascination of, and support for Sanders, and an outright fear of and disgust for Trump. But that being said, I have moved to an “independent” status USA-wise, and will probably change to it after this next round of primaries is over – I still vote as an ex-pat here in Brasil. I am not yet a Brazilian citizen, and as permanent resident – because of marriage, I am exempt here from voting, which is obligatory. Once I become a citizen, I’ll have to vote. And that’s a good thing.

My husband and most of his family detest the obligation part. Brazilians, don't like being required to do anything, as one easily sees in their driving habits.  I rather think obligatory voting is good. You must vote here if you are a public servant (we are federal employees), or if you want to travel abroad, obtain a passport, get the (not so good but free) healthcare, when they leave the country, immigration checks to see if they have voted, in the last 5 elections, if not you are fined. Simply put it forces most people to pay attention, something not required of in the States. 

Elections are pretty straightforward here… 100% electronic (when 90% of the population who can vote 16 to 18 if you want, 18 to 65 obligatory, and then it has to be on a Sunday and electronic). The bars are closed from around sunset Saturday to Sunday evenings, after the polls close (that to me is really why people hate the obligatory aspect, but I digress). You know who won the election an hour after the polls close, there are maybe 70 political parties and one national primary and a month later those candidates that didn’t get a 51% majority have a run off.  Every night during voting season there is an hour of free ads, I think they are interesting as does my husband… some very well made and very professional… others very home made “vote for me… I like horses!”  The ridiculously long, painful and horrifyingly expensive process of primaries in the USA that in the end only go to make people angry and cynical to just get delegates to a convention and the whole electoral college stuff is just backwards, and Brazilians ask me over and over to explain it. I can’t very well.

So on that one: obligatory, electronic and quick and fast… Brasil is a model.

Where it is not a model, except if you regard perhaps winning at corruption, is the overall attitude of the “rules don’t apply to me”. It is why they are terrible drivers, but again I digress. This has led us to the current crisis here, that threatens to run us like a party of hungry lemmings or a buffalo stampede, over a cliff (hmm... there are no lemmings or buffalo to my mind in South America, imagine a flock of hysterical and panicked emus). The corruption here is oh so spectacular! As I said somewhere else I cannot to my mind understand how anyone can move from point A to point B in this country and not acknowledge the suffering.  But, to be fair, there is corruption in the States, and in fact part of the reason for the impeachment hearings here are because the President is being accused of using funds taken from PETROBRAS (the state owned energy company) for her re-election. The party mud slinging here, has caused the government to grind to a halt, just when we have a major outbreak of deadly mosquito born diseases, the Olympics and an economic meltdown to attend to. The sense that we are all going to get zika and dengue and the world will laugh at our inability to hold an Olympics is palpable and well, warranted.

Years ago, when I was doing house repair work for Helen Bishop, she used to make a great tea and tell scary WWII/Nazi stories. I asked her, what were people supposed to do when the Nazis took over, she shared many thoughts and tales, but I remember that she personally traveled around and took all the Bahá’í books and randomly put them on the shelves of the libraries, completely out of order – the Reich loving order so much that they never really noticed books out of order in their uber-libraries.  She had dozens of creative things the Baha’i’s who were eventually completely obliterated did. Some were very brave and scary to me. She was the ambassador to the League of Nations for the Bahá’í Community so with her great beauty, intellect, her big hat and a pair of annoying Pekinese dogs, she traveled around Nazi territory and visited with both sides and the Baha’i’s.

That being said, and so I wonder if, Baha’i’s might not be a little more aggressive, a little bit more creative, a little bit more engaged in the outward community, in encouraging a positive focus on the data, on the problem, on the solution. In the end we might all be vaporized, but at least we will be for doing something! Just being passive, disconnected, uninformed, anti-politic, or not participating at all, to me is part of the problem, and offers no solution, and will eventually get you vaporized as well anyway. That is what I saw when I lived in Guatemala.

Some Persian pioneers who worked with a Highland Maya Bahá’í community hours from the capital when I lived there shared a story of how in that region the guerillas would wipe out villages aligned with the right-wing US supported dictatorship, and the government would wipe out communities of those supporting the guerillas. One particular community, survived, as an island of tranquility in a stormy chaotic sea. The Baha’i’s built a modest Bahá’í center. When the Catholics and Evangelicals saw this they wanted one too, so, the Baha’i’s let them use it! One day the community council observed that after the earthquake a good 10 years before, the government hadn’t repaired their water system, so they elected a young man to go to the capital to learn how to build one. Lesson learned for me, focus on the problem, focus on the data, find a way to solve the problem and you don’t owe any one any favors. As far as I know, the village managed to survive the war, and got its own water system.

So what do I suggest?

On the large stage, I suggest we focus on the data (I am a pie loving math professor after all) and the problem, a part from often dramatic and manipulative personalities and parties. Doing the right thing, being task oriented – not easy in this often very dramatic and charmingly chaotic environment even when things are going well here. Focusing on the data, asking our leaders what they will do about the “data” and/or the problem… seems one thing I can and will do. Doing so as kindly as possible, not being angry or arrogant, and with manners (breathe Orey, you can do this!) or as I am known for saying “with sensible shoes” seems entirely possible.

Trying to understand the other side (take a deep breath and try, Prof Orey, try and understand why they are doing xyz… is my mantra) and I see that it’s about fear. And do something to help allay the fear… last trip to the States, my Dad & I went for burgers and beers at a new brewpub downtown in our little town in S. Oregon. He began lamenting about how the whole world was going to hell in hand basket, and I stopped him, and said, “Dad look, things are serious, but its not the end of anything… look at the cool stuff… my gawd, I am here having an amazing beer or two with my dad and a amazing buffalo-emu –goat burger, and there are trains going by (when I was a kid they stopped running) and we are served by a beautiful Afro-American lesbian”. Just then, she walked by and said “thank you!” and we laughed…  and then he told me that, that all of this trendy new development is because of pot money you know… again we laughed.

This fear, is what is common to both sides… “I am afraid that my community is being engulfed by uncreative corrupt crazy people and drug running gangs”, I hear it a lot when I go back to the States, OK… Some form of positive action is needed, as I submit much of the anxiety around me here in Brasil is linked to a sense of helplessness, and fear of what might happen as well.

Many of the people around me are used to having someone take care of things for them (gads that makes me sound like a tea partier) but when I show by example, how I deal with it by simple acts of kindness, I noticed people react positively:  giving up a seat on the bus, smiling, greeting everyone, picking up a little bit of litter, etc.… the little things, that I still have control over. It seems naïve, I know, and I admit, I live in a lovely small town high in the mountains of Minas Gerais, and morning walks are every bit as charming as the opening of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, you know: "Good morning baker! Good morning smiling flower lady! Good morning Professor Orey!" It's true!

My mentor and Brazilian ethnomathematics guru Ubiratan D’Ambrosio talks about “glocalization” – very much like "think globally and act locally". Being kind, by gracefully raising awareness in our students and neighbors and colleagues about the seriousness and the moral consequences of our actions.

Its all we really can do anyway, now isn’t it? 

Odd, I have a strange desire for pie… alas I live in country that only throws them metaphorically, and does not make them. Just my luck.