Ben Sen's Blog

Politics, Culture and Religion Without Projections

Ben Sen

Ben Sen
New York, N.Y.,
December 31
I'd rather be judged on the basis of my posts than anything written in my bio. It's put down and gathered as a record of my experience and a response to what I see as the important issues in the world today. I don't pretend it's anything other than subjective. The purpose is to analyze, interpret, express opinions, challenge the status quo, open a few doors, and entertain. I heartily welcome ratings, comments and dialogue. That's what makes this media unique and valuable. It also keeps me honest and encouraged since I'm not getting paid. Take a risk and say something; it feels better. A "conversation" is essential for the growth of the individual and the collective. I have faith it extends beyond the confines of what is said here. "For it is necessary for awake people to be awake, or a breaking line may discourge us back to sleep, the signals we give--yes, no or maybe--should be clear: the darkness around us is deep." From A RITUAL TO READ TO EACH OTHER by William Stafford


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OCTOBER 21, 2011 3:45PM

A Top Ten List of Influential Folks and Why

Rate: 13 Flag

     Note:  This is not meant to be "objective."  I'm not going to name Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.  They've gotten enough press, and I'll leave it to the official historians.  These are the people in MY top ten and you can call me any manner of name you like as a result.

1)  Betty Friedan.  I met her one day on a parking lot in South Hampton with a couple of grandkids.  She had more wrinkles than a clam.  What I love about her is that she began what was definitely the most influencial ideological movement in my lifetime--feminism--and then at the end of her life denounced the ideologues and said they'd gone too far.  She liked those grandkids.  It's a matter of principle--you gotta luv Grandma Betty.

2) Robert Bly.  He's not only one of the great poets of our age, but a true "cultural" leader.  This is a seldom recognized yet highly esteemable contribution.  He gave men back their balls after some hard times.  My God, he took flack for it.  They bombed his book THE SIBLING SOCIETY, which offers the best critique I know for this sad spectacle, namely, that Americans are no longer growing up--whether they are left, right, or center.  He reminds us there's something that goes deeper than politics and it's called "culture."  They refuse to name him poet laureate while guys he can write circles around keep getting the job.  There is no justice.

3)  Mahatma Gandhi, the "great soul."  Yeah, I know he got plenty of press, but the man died for it, and today is in great disrepute with the very people he led.  The Indians and Pakistanis want to bomb each other to hell.  Without the idea of non-violence we are all lost.  There would have been no Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or anybody for that matter whose motto isn't "kill, kill, kill--revenge, revenge, revenge."  At least there is now an "alternative in the wind" that a few flakes like me can point too.

4)  Robert McNamara, another turncoat.  The man sent thousands to their death in Viet Nam as a "technocrat" doing what his bosses told him.  Then he fell silent for many years, had a burst of conscience, and had the courage to say he made a mistake at the end of his life.  I hated him when I was a kid, but you gotta respect that.  We all make mistakes, and self-rightousness has its limits.

5)  Tony Judt, the NYU professor who died in 2010 of ALS.  He was the Oxford educated son of immigrant Hungarian Jews.  His series of essays for THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS on his death bed were as moving as anything I've ever read.  He had the termidity at a very young age to see Israel had taken a wrong turn.  He recognized the national psyche was damaged, and it was mostly going to lead to trouble for Israel and the world and he stuck by those views under tremendous pressure from the establishment to renounce them.  I didn't know him personally, but I miss him.

6)  Buddha.  I'm of the opinion he actually lived, even if that wasn't his name.  What a piece of work.  He said it was okay to be "awake" when we open our eyes.  It's still a novel startling concept, if it is a concept at all.  And we have a responsibility when we are awake to help others wake the fuck up.  Hullo--hullo?

7)  Not Steve Jobs.  I've heard enough.  Especially all the techno-babble-shit.  More interesting is his humble beginnings, dislocation, and battle to have a decent personal life despite the disadvantage of all those billions.  A great case for a psychoanalytic interpretation, but don't expect me to read the "official" biography.  He probably wasn't a nice guy, but either am I.  Okay, Steve Jobs.

8)  Joseph Campbell, the "philosopher of myth and religion."  We're just at the beginning of understanding what he contributed.  While the collective is still busy fighting about the meaning of their various "books" Joe figured out it's all a matter of symbols and if you take them as "the final word" you are a fool--and he proved it.  Oh, they hate him.  They call him anti-all that is holy.  Only the geeks can understand a word he says, (and Bill Moyers) so call me a bloody geek, cause we've had enough time to see the literalists are full of shit.  (It's okay, we can say what we think; they sure do.)

9)  Bill Clinton.  I thought I'd throw in a poll.  A man with a weakness you can't write home about, but I fear the man didn't have much of a home to write home too--yet he passed every test, was a brilliant compromiser, orator, back room brawler, and balanced the bloody budget.  Where the hell does genius come from--even if the field is "politics?" And now he has made himself into a senior statesman to the world representing the best the nation has to offer.  What a guy.

10)  Mom.  How can a man not write about his mother when he's been as blessed as I have?  She was abused as a child, her father was a tyrant, yet she forgave him and never faltered to lead us to the promise land of Northern Michigan, and show us what it is to get old, ornery, and real.  I luv u Moms today and always.

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Insightful list. I can agree with most of it - hadn't thought about Robert Bly, and will have to think about that one, but still, as influence goes . . . yeah, I can see it.
#1 on my list would probably be Epicurus, who is known to be one of the first people to conceptualize natural origins of humans.
Oh those Greeks, if only they'd work for a living and get off the dole.
How about Enrico Dandolo, the doge of Venice who led the 4th Crusade, which spelled doom for the Byzantine Empire, hastened its ultimate fall to the Turks, which in turn led western Europeans to look for alternate trade routes to the East, hence Columbus's discovery of America?

You're more educated than me. I like doge pick-ups.
When Joseph Campbell spoke, his bliss was contagious. I agree with much of your list, especially those who have revised themselves at some point in their lives. That takes courage. But Campbell reigns supreme. His words were powerful on paper, but he was captivating live. His voice and personal intensity maginified his teaching.
I was amazed to see someone else knows Robert Bly. I was so happy to see him in the list, but "mom" was the absolute best (and dare i say #1?)
"These are the people in MY top ten and you can call me any manner of name you like as a result."

Ooooh I love when people say I can berate them with a comment style lambast! Thank you for the opportunity to spray the shit hose in your face! Just promise you'll respect me in the morning. If you don't promise me that... well you're a slug beneath the rotten wood of a Southern porch. You should put a tire around your neck, douse it with gasoline, set it on fire. BURN mofo! Or tie each of your limbs to four separate horses, then get your neighbors to beat the ass of each beast. KA-SPLIT-ISKY! suck on that you $#%$^$&! No PAIN no GAIN bro!

Great list man. Some I'd not heard of and I do appreciate the new found knowledge! It's not what my list would be and of course mine wouldn't be the same as yours. I'm not YOU. You are you're own rockstar adding good sonic oxygen to the planet composed of generous gratitude via a list of your 10 greats! You're helping to shrink the ozone layer. BRAVO. Do it To it.
Well done.
While these would not all make my personal list (Ghandi, Bhudda and Bill Clinton would) they certainly make sense for you. Thanks for this interesting look at your priorities.
While these would not all make my personal list (Ghandi, Bhudda and Bill Clinton would) they certainly make sense for you. Thanks for this interesting look at your priorities.
Ben, I truly enjoyed reading your "list," although I wouldn't classify it as humor. It seemed pretty straightforward to me sprinkled with your trademark wisdom and cynicism. I love reading what you write. P.S. I sure hope my four sons and my two daughters feel the same way about me as you do about your Mom! :)
A good list, Ben. And good to read you again.
I had the great good pleasure to spend time with two of the folks from your list: I spent several days attending a poetry symposium with Robert Bly, and three weeks climbing pyramids throughout Central America with Joseph Cambell. Both men were way smarter than me and both had a profound impact on my young life.

Of course, you'd never know it now.

Great post. Thanks for sharing.
I mostly agree, I was educated and moved (what more can you ask for in a book) by Bly's Iron John, tho I confess the so-called "men's movement" leaves me a bit uncomfortable.

Gandhi and Joseph Campbell? Definitely. Politicians? I'll take Harry Truman, warts and all, over anyone since. I think you might have avoided giving Steve Jobs the backhand and instead included Jonas Salk.
To You:

Wow. as of today, ten "stars" over 250 "views" and 13 witty comments--without an EP or PM to friends. I'm delighted. Maybe, it's true-- what goes around comes around==just when I was giving up on OS as a hopeless cause.

And to all those who didn't take the risk to make themselves seen and heard, I bid you goodnight.
Hi Ben:

I enjoyed this so much I read it twice. Too bad I can only rate it once.
I'm a Bly fan, too. Thanks for listing him. If you're listing McNamara -- how about George Wallace, who admitted he was wrong about segregation?

Good point, but it isn't just that my picks made a mea culpa that attracts me. Let me know if you put up some of yours.
Learn to check the spelling of names such as FRANKLIN. It will improve your writing and make you look less amateurish.

Thank you for your copy editing. The sarcasm is duly noted and understood.
Hoo Boy. I'm learning a lot from all of you. [Well, at this particular moment it doesn't feel like "a lot"; it feels pretty ?"lean" ... because the "a lot" I'm learning from all of you more and more confirms what I keep trying to avoid having to admit having learned. See my next blog if or when I manage one....]

Thanks, Ben Sen, for your list and sorry to be chiming in so late. Thanks also for keeping this thread open! I keep learning more and more about all of you when I manage to catch up with blogs via comments to other people's. I do understand the when-and-why of some people closing down comments to a blog. The risk, maybe, of being straightforwardly "in your face"?

I'll be watching to see where these exchanges go next.

[I'm working on changing my OS name to some version of A Day Late and a Dollar Short but as the days and dollars dwindle, minnit by minnit, that's too long!! So I'll just sign as:]
i really like your list and your reasons for each one on it. i got here late for a couple reasons, one of which is you fell off my favorites list (it happens, i know). i read the comments and felt a tug at the one from ginny rose. i think she died right after that date in october, didn't she? and look who she'd spent time with!! i'm so glad i didn't completely miss this.