When the first stories were told, perhaps they were gestured as in charades. Maybe the stories were danced. At some point, the listeners or audience began to create pictures in response to the gestures, dances or words. From the start, it would have been vital to differentiate the possible from the real, the imaginary from the what really happened, what was desired from what occurred.

I expect those folks that had difficulty telling the imaginary from the sense-based world did not often live to procreate. The transition to a gesture or oral language that was grounded in a fertile imagination was no doubt difficult for many. Imagine a civilization of two- and three-year-olds.

In high school gym class, the boys attending the swimming unit at New Trier were all required to swim laps naked. We showered before class, jumped into the pool with no suits and proceeded to paddle back and forth with no clothes on. The school didn’t have to pay for suits and laundry. It was humiliating. It was what it was.

Mr. Robertson was the swim coach and the tyrant of the New Trier pool. Mr. Wolf was his assistant. Their barked commands echoed around the cement, glass-and-tile cavern. I was skinny and almost always shivering. Back and forth across the pool kept me warm.

A whistle alerted me to something different in the routine. Pausing, I noted every boy being commanded to line up by the wall. There was murmuring. We were yelled at to be quiet.

Almost forty naked boys standing, then sitting, were assaulted with a furious Mr. Robertson, screaming about the turd at the bottom of the pool near the diving board drain. The perpetrator was commanded to step forward or we all would suffer the consequences. Mr. Robertson was going off the deep end. I’d never seen an adult this upset that wasn’t on TV.

I watched an Obama speech yesterday on Youtube. It was the speech he gave during the Rev. Wright blowup. Crying, I experienced myself deeply moved. This politician was giving a speech and I was being moved. I’m not a big Obama supporter. As a Leftist, this was an anomalous event. Speeches have never influenced my opinions.

Still, Obama lied. Hearing the lie, I let it lie, until thinking about it later. It being later, I’m trying to let the lie make sense.

Obama’s speech was unusual in that it sought to tell the truth by creating connections. He offered a historical arc that lined up a succession of influences over time while he described how separated groups in our society had integral issues in common. It was an astonishing display of nonmagical thinking–a rarity among politicians–where we were offered a vision of the world that unfolded in exactly the way that we as individuals compel it to unfold. Obama treated his listeners like responsible adults.

Yet, he said that Israel, the policies of Israel and the U.S. support of Israel had little to do with the radicalizing of Muslims in the Middle East.

There is wishful thinking and there is lying. The line between the two can be very thin. Our ancestors had to wrestle with the impact of having imagination. We are still grappling with our ability to make things up and then know when we have done so. Not being able to tell the difference can result in death. Not being able to tell the difference–or lying–can result in wars.

The shit in the deep end of the pool offers revelation. A completely transparent environment offers immediate repercussions. Imagine if our government and economy were designed to reveal inappropriate behaviors when they occurred. Granted, people would get upset. But it prevents people from swimming in their own, and other people’s, shit.

The shit in the pool of world affairs is the occupation of Palestine and the Israeli government policy toward Palestinians. Our politicians and media engage in magical thinking, convincing themselves that the Israeli government is almost always right. Obama has proved to me that he does not naturally engage in magical thinking.

An ability to follow long-term historical narrative arcs while noting the connections between the many competing and complimenting forces in the here-and-now demands transparency, or we are engaged in storytelling and in lies. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, enough of us survived to tell a story. It is now necessary that we learn to tell the truth.


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