The Parable of the Struggle

Jun 04 2015 Published by under Logos, Pathos, Ethos, Race Matters

Once upon a time, there was a digital garden eastward in Eden. There a group diverse in academic background, gender, and religion (though not so much in race or ethnicity or class) were put, to dress it and keep it. They gave names to all that had been previously unspoken, and were a helpmeet unto each other. And every one among them did speak, the tenured and the grad students, the men and the women, and they were not ashamed. Of the Tree of Life they ate and of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil they did nosh, even of the humorous branches of both, without fear that they would be trolled.

But within this Garden of Eden grew a third tree, the Tree of Inciting the Spirit of Judgment and Fighting, which did harbor a serpent more subtle than any beast the rightwing nutjobs had made. And it came to pass one day that someone did mention yoga, and someone else offered up a transparent pun about downward dog, and others did virtually laugh. And the serpent saw its opportunity and didst strike. The serpent said unto the one most under siege IRL “eat thereof, and your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, judging all before ye.” And she did eat, and her eyes were opened, and she did judge that white privilege and cultural appropriation and disrespect for a thousands-year old religious practice were on display before her. And fighting did commence. And the Tree of Inciting the Spirit of Judgment and Fighting flourished and grew large, and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil did succumb to blight and cankers, and the Tree of Life also sickened.

And lo, it came to pass many years later that on Fresh Air, Terry Gross did interview Michelle Goldberg about her recent book The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West. Wherein: a Russian woman reads a self-help book written by an American about Indian wisdom; travels to India to study yoga under a yogi sponsored by a progressive nationalist intent on uniting “the best of the East and the best of the West”; the yogi develops his own system incorporating elements that he felt captured the “animal” energy of 8 to 10 year old boys, which we today know as vinyasa; and this system is brought back to the West by the Russian woman with the new definition of “self” not to be obliterated, but to be developed to have greater efficacy in the world. The moral of the story being: your sun salutation has no connection to ancient texts; stop worrying about authenticity; embrace the modern mashup, and adapt it for your own needs. Maybe take your non-authentic yoga mat outdoors, for example to the Morris Arboretum for ten weeks of vinyasa this summer. Just stay away from the serpents in the trees.

A very wise woman of long acquaintance recently advised me that “part of being part of a professional community is the need to be extremely careful not to criticize anyone, which – to say the least – isn’t consistent with scholarly objectivity.” That plum came from the cultivar 'Life Knowledge'. Here's another: "If you don't open your mouth, no one will know you are wrong." The sagacious Dr. Richard Gallagher, now professor emeritus of electrical engineering at Kansas State University, fed me that one.

Members of oppressed groups are injured in many ways, including the silencing of their voices about those injuries. To break that silence one must open the mouth. And then comes the serpent to offer up the succulent, sweet, instant gratification fruit of Judgment and Fighting. There is a bliss in the certainty of the high, though it be short-lived and followed by a headache. And when our better natures call unto us and say, where art thou? Who told thee that thou art persecuted? we reply I heard their voices in the garden, and I was angry and ashamed, and I felt silenced, and the serpent beguiled me.

The flaming sword now turns every way. Eden is protected. Behold, we are become as one of them.

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