Hello to readers in New York City!
I have a lot of resistance to writing this week’s column, and not just because a pernicious astral wind blows through the week—a wind with the power to raise the hackles of those already poised for a fight, a wind with the power to polarize those at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, a wind with the power to dismantle what little remains of normal. I’m resistant because there’s just so much wrong with the world that I fear I won’t be able to find what’s right. And we need what’s right to bolster the heart’s hope and courage so that we can move forward with the work before us—to move forward with confidence in our fellow humans and in the goodness of our collective heart. At times like this, I miss the inspirational leaders who were able to delineate even the most complex situations with clarity and commitment. Recently, a friend expressed just how much he missed Bobby Kennedy. I replied that there are great leaders in the world today, leaders who think, speak and act in the syntax of the current moment. Maybe they haven’t yet reached critical mass because we’re still finding our way through these times.
I was stunned by the news about Al Franken, but also heartened that after the shock wave pulsed through the collective, several people started to make a distinction between a stupid act and premeditated abuse. I can’t defend Al Franken’s boob picture—it’s simply awful. But to vilify him is a mistake. I’ve seen a version of that picture a thousand times. And it would be really valuable if the people going after him would acknowledge that they’ve also seen that picture a thousand times too. I’ve known men—not just boys—my entire life who view breasts as mysterious dials, with the power to open a door to the magic kingdom—you grab them, and with a few twists dial up the secret code. And all the sex education and consciousness-raising in the world hasn’t erased that idea. I grew up in the music business, where women have always been (and maybe have only been) objects, so it’s completely disingenuous for people in the entertainment business to be judgmental about Al Franken. There have always been boob jokes and, yes, she was asleep and it is a terrible prank. But viewing breasts as a punch line isn’t the same as being a sexual predator, a distinction that’s important to keep in mind in the deluge triggered by the Weinstein Effect.
We live in a completely sexualized society that teaches men and women to see themselves as objects. In 2013, Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote, directed and starred in Don Jon, a movie about the objectification of women through porn as well as the objectification of men for material gain. When MTV killed the radio star back in the 1980s, music videos became increasingly sexual, and when you marry those images with the images of video games, you only amplify an already sexualized view of the world, and you train young minds, male and female, to see women in a certain way. Add Madonna’s instructions to an entire generation that sex is the most powerful currency, and you create a maelstrom of sexual confusion—and she’s just one of many who sent that message and continue to send that message.
Yes, the music business has always been sexual (and imagine…we haven’t even heard those stories of abuse, although as I am writing, some of those stories are starting to emerge). But our consumer society exploits young people to such an overwhelming degree—from every angle—that there is barely a chance for them to explore sexuality without being bombarded by a barrage of images, all of which direct them to see their bodies as an assemblage of parts that need to be attractive. Entire generations have grown up believing that being an object of desire should be more important than any other goal; they are taught to objectify themselves from their earliest moments. Women can try to break the glass ceiling, but they had better be able to pole-dance their way to the top.
And this is not a new problem. When movies became popular, D. H. Lawrence worried about what would happen to individual sexual expression. He thought that seeing a perfected kiss enlarged on the screen would make kissing a self-conscious act for those watching because we would always measure our technique against a larger-than-life image. While I’m aware there are feminists who categorize Lawrence as a misogynist, his take on the perfected image was and continues to be spot on.
However, rape, pedophilia and serial sexual predation are something else—they are all acts of violence expressed in a sexual context and these acts speak to societal issues that underlie sexual objectification. This past week we took a collective stand against the murder of elephants for trophies—thus, elephants have moved beyond the status of objects. Imagine what might happen if we took a stand for all sentient beings, if we refused to objectify anyone or anything—including ourselves. What if we valued children more than guns or the Earth more than money. If I can objectify you, I can exploit you, and so it goes…if I can turn you into an object because of the color of your skin, your religion, your age, or your gender, then I don’t have to treat you with respect; I don't have to value your life.
It took me a long time to grow out of the notion that my leaders needed to be perfect. Fortunately, I finally embraced the idea that my leaders have feet of clay because all humans have feet of clay. I wanted my heroes to be gods—or at least god-like. Now I want my heroes to have a brain, a heart and some courage—and if they’ve petitioned the Great Oz to get those qualities, that’s fine with me. I also want them to have common sense. I want them to have grown past their narcissistic tendencies so they can consider the greater good in each situation. Included in growing-past-narcissism—something we all should do—is the realization of our shared humanity with all its awful imperfections—that’s part of what makes good leaders. It’s why we identify with and love our good leaders—we feel the truth of their experience; they’ve learned the hard lessons of life through their successes as well as their failures.
Mr. Trump is not such a leader, but he is nonetheless a potent force for change because he embodies both the disease and the cure. His blatant misogyny is a kind of homeopathic remedy that has precipitated a profound healing process. His proud abuse of women has triggered a massive healing crisis, and as many know, during a true healing crisis we often experience previous symptoms as they move through and out of the system. Mr. Trump is the Predator-in Chief. He is unrepentant, and for the moment impervious to punishment. But the force of women’s refusal to tolerate that behavior any longer—anywhere—is one way of understanding the Weinstein Effect. But again, it’s disingenuous for people in the entertainment industry to be surprised by the extent of Harvey Weinstein’s abusive behavior. For many people in that business, that kind of behavior is just the way it is—and you just put up with it.
It’s never a good idea to put up with any form of abuse—and perhaps that’s what we need to learn most from Mr. Trump and his cohort of hungry ghosts, all of whom are intent upon abusing their power as much as possible. It’s as if they know their time is coming to an end so they are destroying as much as they can for selfish gain, oblivious to the consequences of their actions. But we have a choice: We can put up with it and tell ourselves that’s just the way it is. Or we can demand something more.
Many of us, especially readers of this column, are demanding more. But we need to keep our wits about us because those hungry ghosts are driven by insatiable appetites for power and they will try to take down every good leader we have, especially if that good leader has feet of clay. Don’t fool yourself by lumping everyone into the same category because you’re mad as hell that a madman is running the world. This is an opportunity to find sincere leaders and support them. Al Franken got into politics because he cares about the world. He’s not interested in pillaging the planet for personal gain. He has a heart and a brain and the courage to confront power. Rather than be disappointed because he isn’t a saint, let’s acknowledge the deeper roots of this problem. It’s not just a male/female dilemma—it’s a human problem.
So many challenges have risen to the surface of daily life since Mr. Trump took office—all of them human problems and none of them new—that sometimes it feels as if we’re being called into service whether or not we want to participate. The hardest part of this process is finding middle ground—the human ground we all share—without relinquishing principles that most of us recognize as guiding lights. It’s completely possible to have compassion for a pedophile, but that doesn’t mean condoning compulsive sexual behavior that harms children, and it is important for all of us to learn the difference. Compassion says, I am that too, but it doesn’t simultaneously agree with the harm being done. Compassion requires a discerning mind.
We are still in the aftermath of those seven exact Uranus/Pluto squares that occurred from 2012-2015. Those squares surfaced issues of social justice. Social justice is love at the collective dimension of our shared experience. It means we acknowledge our interconnectedness, even if it means—and obviously, it does—acknowledging the shadows that unite us, and then doing something about transforming those shadows. This week, as the tension tightens among Mars, Pluto and Uranus, it will be more than necessary to remember our shared humanity—our common ground—because the tension of those three planets is going to irritate the resonance of those exact squares. Some may even feel transported in time. But don’t let that shake you from holding onto your internal center.
Most of us know the difference between right and wrong, cruelty and compassion, and ruthlessness and kindness. It’s time to increase the application of compassion and couple it with common sense everywhere we find ourselves polarized beyond compromise, polarized beyond our shared common ground. Ultimately, we are insignificant in the vast mystery we call the universe. But for some reason, while we’re here on Planet Earth, we exist in an ongoing paradox: While we are only dust in the wind, each of us also has the unique power of co-creation, a power that makes every thought, word, and deed matter. It is a human superpower--use it wisely.