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Entries in prosperity vs. poverty (11)

Friday
Aug052011

Edumacation Aint What It Used-ta Was

I went to Mesa College the other day to get a report on what classes I need to be a transfer-ready student. My dreaded math and science classes are all that stand in my way. As if my four years and one semester of algebra was for naught (see my progress reports and other docs in Skool Daze gallery), I get to do algebra AGAIN if I am to get on with my studies. And this algebra class is just as a prerequisite for another class that might be more mercifully realized as statistics, which elicits a less dreaded response in me. I have two science classes to take, one of which needs to have a lab associated with it. 

Thanks to idiocy at every level of society, the financial picture is weaker than ever at the state level, so there are notices all over the campus and website that resources are strained. And for me, right now, I see that damn near every class I am looking for is closed or wait list only. I'm torn. I like the feeling of victoriously finishing a class, probably having learned something, and usually getting excellent grades too. But like in the fall of 2006, I am on unemployment again, and to go to school during the day is to forfeit that, which is risky because there are no prospects except shitty jobs that I'd prefer not to apply to, some paying less than the unemployment anyway! 

I could say that I feel trapped. But in more ways than just not having an education. There is that. Sometimes I guess there are opportunities that I'm missing. But remember, even in 1993 when I took a semester, a year, a decade off from school, there were plenty of stories about college grads who were still flipping burgers. It was hardly an incentive to rush through school. These days, the economy is in the shitter more than ever, and there is a dawning realization from the oh-so-well-educated classes that people are... generally overeducated for the work that needs doing. Duh! 

Our global irony is that all our problems can be laid at the feet of people with education and ambition. If that solved the problems of our human existence, I might wager that by sheer volume and weight, we have more well educated and ambitious people than ever. The factory-schools have pumped them out quite well. But then why are we at a global situation that fills some with dread? It wasn't the peasants and the meek that brought the atomic age, the computer, the transportation system, the genetically modified crop, or the financial rackets that wrecked the economy. It wasn't the peasants and meek who thought that stuff up and implemented it at market scale. We have more brain power than ever, but less soul to guide it! We can discern the comings and goings of things in the natural world, but we can't figure out how to live within it as if we are integral to it and it to us. What century before us honestly could worry that humankind could destroy not only the town/city/state/nation, but ultimately the biosphere too? It would be insanity. You don't need a fucking Ph.D. in anything to realize that, but now we have more and more people educated at levels that seem to elevate people off the ground of reality. All that was supposed to alleviate the trials of life, but education, when partnered to serve corporations and technology, is just part of the machine that is going to be our undoing.

I fancy myself more of a liberal arts learner, rooted in the model that learning is good. For the sake of learning itself, or for personal improvement to develop an open mind ready for civic and social engagement. I feel that I've pursued that despite being off the official academic coursework for more time than I have been on it. In that, I've come to regard all my life as my classroom, all my trials as my teachers and assigments. I do sometimes lament not having done things according to the typical post-high school plan, but then I also admit that while I might have done that, I was quite wet behind the ears in many other ways that took an educational path that schools don't/won't/can't provide. I recognized in 1993 that I could go through the school process, essentially spinning my wheels learning stuff without knowing really why I needed or wanted to know it. 

In the men's work that I do, everything is regarded as a teacher. It all belongs. That alone, learned in a new way at 36, was a huge thing to pick up, particularly at the level it hit me last year. I've even learned lessons from dogs that surpass the teachings of bosses and mentors and others. Tomatoes in August left an indelible mark on me that high school teachers wish they had the power to leave upon a person. A shoot of a tree branch sticking through a field of concrete says what pastors can't say so efficiently and eloquently.

More and more, the world is going to need people who forget all they learned so that they can learn what needs to be conveyed from the planet and its inhabitants for the genuine well being of all who make the daily spin on this planet which makes its yearly lap around the sun. It isn't that education itself is bad. It isn't. But what has to be cut off is the absence of reverence. I'm sort of conflating my former pastor's words with the Urantia Book, but the purposes of education and learning in the Western world have generally morphed from the Hebrews' desire to learn about and reverence God, to the Greek's desire to understand the beauty inherent in all things, including oneself. But both seemed content to enjoy the pursuit, the means, and not to seek to control the ends. We now seek knowledge to use, to manipulate, to control. Think about it: just about any breakthrough is not exciting in the pure joy of knowing something new. Almost immediately, minds are enlisted to figure out how to turn it into a patentable product, a process, or something of use to commerce or government, or worse still, combat. We figured out how the sun worked and made a miniature version with our atomic development. A new species is discovered and not long later, it is seen as the basis for a new drug or food additive. The best university minds aren't discoverers in the old medieval sense; they are the raw materials for industrial development. A Buddhist or Christian or Muslim mystic can study things at a level like a scientist, but their training also instructs them in reverence for what is witnessed, aka, to leave it alone and appreciate it as it is. The layers of wisdom wrapped around any observation-based knowledge says that it is not their place to go tampering. That is the domain of the divine. For a mystic, it would be enough to glimpse the divine, not to try to unpack it all and control it and make it do new tricks, guided by a pathetically limited consciousness.

Reading Richard Heinberg's book, The End of Growth, it is again on my mind that my lifetime will play out differently than any other as we face the consequences of an overeducated, overambitious society of people who have missed or discarded reverence as part of knowing things. A team of brilliant doctors and reattach and reconstruct body parts, but cannot make life meaningful. The dark side of their craft is that all their gizmos take industrial infrastructure that is now on unstable ground. Their educations are expensive, and the debt that allows it to happen is incompatible with a post-growth era. That alone will reduce many a college enrollment number, which of course will make it less possible for most people to pursue higher education that perpetuates the division of knowledge without a concomitant increase in wisdom. Maybe the days of heroic medical interventions are drifting away. I'd like to think that a quality of life we don't now enjoy is something to look forward to.

If anything, there needs to be a return to vocational occupations where people actually do the kinds of work that isn't offshorable and downsizeable. It seems backwards, and it is, but it was a stupid thing to abandon it in the rush to one side of the boat—higher education for all, whether it was a good idea or not, whether folks could afford it or not. A post-industrial future that has to face up to that very fact will not be able to send people learning stuff that is of no practical use. But I hope that in addition to whatever practical skills people have to learn as apprentices, there are opportunities to get a larger picture of life and how that serves people at a fundamental level. There really is only so much work that needs to go on for survival. It is rather attainable, and sustainable. Maybe once the obsession with growth is seen for the stupid and empty pursuit it is, people could reprioritize and place some value on the personal goals of spiritual and emotional improvement that the industrial age has failed to allow us to pursue. It hardly has to be structures. It just needs to be guided. One pretty much needs time to breathe and see a world at a human pace and a human scale again. 

Monday
Dec222008

Wealth

This is one of the extremely rare instances of a forwarded email that isn't totally bound for the trash. A certain figure of my past always spoke of poverty being "between the ears." I contend true poverty is of the soul. But who am I anyway?

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live. They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family. On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?" "It was great, Dad." "Did you see how poor people live?" the father asked. "Oh yeah," said the son. "So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father. The son answered: "I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon. We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them."

The boy's father was speechless.

Then his son added, "Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are."

Sunday
Dec212008

Story Of Stuff

Maybe this is a bit late to do any good this Christmas consumer-glutton season, but next year may be different. Be sure to watch the full version of the film at Story of Stuff dot com.

Friday
Oct242008

The Brain Fart Heard 'Round The World

Okay, the Wizard, the High Priest, or even the god of the world economy made a mistake. Hey, he's only human. He didn't realize there was a housing bubble till it was bursting. What a putz!

I humbly submit these for your viral internetting pleasure—

greenspan: oops, my bad

greenspan: i had a brain fart

don't worry alan, we didn't need that economy anyway

good riddance to greenspan/god is dead

Sunday
Dec172006

Evil Men On The March

the realtor's sign that I wrote a protest message on. The realtor's sign with my protest statement upon it for all to seeBad men steal home—
Makes life harder than it is
What more do they want?

Calsur eat my shit
Soulless absentee landlords
Thick as wicked thieve!

Assholes, pricks, landlords
Hard to discern the diff'rence
Landlords most worthless!

Suburbia's dead
Greed has met its match fine'ly
Manage this, fuckers!

Property value
Kills the family values
Family dead now!

Mike can fuck himself
Then he can count his bucks out
Get rich off mis'ry!

Broken family
Piece by piece by piece by piece
Property trumps all

I don't hate you dad
You will just die lonely, man
You stole my dear home

Saturday
Dec162006

Edward Burtynsky

Anyone who has not experienced the photographic work of Edward Burtynsky needs to do so now. Enjoy this video.

I happened to see his work a while back while at one of the museums in Sandy Eggo. Mesmerizing. I can't get it out of my head. He has shown us our future in the post-industrial era. Think of his pictures of the Three Rivers Dam and imagine that place being Los Angeles in 50 years.

Thursday
Dec012005

Wealth, Reconsidered

Today I woke up at 9:30. It was a rare day off from work. It was one of those days that, as a day off from work and one where I would lose a day's pay, I dread seeing on the schedule. I have more of these days to come in December since the company falls into the typical holiday slow period. I hope I don't have enough days off to cripple my income—that would be too many. But there might be a kicker of a week next week, with predicted overtime that might help bouy up the weaker time ahead by a small margin. Last night had a couple hours of OT dropped in at the last minute which made me feel a little better about today's "loss."

Almost as soon as I woke up, I got a call from Eric with whom I used to work in the sound biz. I approached him about doing a site survey at my church since there has been some interest in getting a proper PA system there. I had also booked another contractor for today but he couldn't make it. Eric told me he could meet as soon as I could. I got to the church an hour later, getting caught in some wicked traffic until I could take another route which was probably equally slow but less tedious. It used to take less than ten minutes to drive two miles. Now it takes 20 minutes to drive ten miles if everything is working my way. Today took 40 minutes. Eric and I did the site survey and were done in about 30 minutes. I didn't know Mike (the other contractor) wasn't able to make it, so I busied myself with breakfast and some reading on James Kunstler's book, The Long Emergency while I waited, supposedly until he called a while later to get directions.

Then I went to the church office at the beckoning of the secretary Beverly who was stumped about how to receive her e-mail (such people still exist, yes). So I did the usual battery of send/receive tests and concluded things were fine. What I didn't know is that somehow she didn't know about the "send and receive all" button, and was startled to learn that the inbox doesn't just magically update itself upon launch. Oh well, not everyone was born with a silicon chip in their mouth (they didn't exist when Bev was born). I hate Windows OS, being a Mac guy, but really, I learned Mac from making all sorts of mistakes, and since her email hadn't been checked since I gave her the church address a few months ago, all of a sudden there came a few dozen emails. So I showed her how it all worked, and after endearing myself to her for my troubleshooting effort, then some other "hurdles" of hers surfaced, and I helped her with those too.

Then I called to find out that Mike K. from Pro Sound would not be able to make it to the church, so it was time to get on with the next part of the day. After doing my trustee's job of being the technical go-between and getting bids for the PA system project, and offering expert advice on computers (both of which would fetch some handsome cash if I were billing), I then called Dee, the lady who writes the church Christmas play each year. Back in the day, I used to be one of the thespians. Now I provide expert audio editing and production services.

Dee needed a list of songs edited down in clever ways to enhance their play. So she came over here and spent a couple of hours as we took a variety of Christmas songs and diced them up to accomplish certain things that the script required. Some were simple fades, but some took some digital surgery. For a retired schoolteacher, digital audio editing is quite a new thing. For me, it's standard fare. She never realized how deep I was into all this. And today, I didn't even have the luxury of using ProTools. Nonetheless, Peak is capable if the imagination exists to use it that way. So I wrangled samples of Bing Crosby and the Chipmunks into form and she left. I spent another hour tidying it all up and cutting the CD.

Then it was time to clean up after my hard day at work. I had my solo counseling appointment at 7 pm. Today, it was said that I seemed in a far better mood than before, despite the range of thorny and complex things I often report on, and still reported on tonight, but with some levity. I left there feeling better that maybe things are better and that I can deal better with things. I've been going continuously for over two years since I was in the throes of clinical depression in summer of 2003. I am thinking of discontinuing for reasons that are primarily financial, but also it seems that it's time to take the training wheels off and see how things go when I soar without a net.

I left there and took Dee her CD. She was delighted. It led to a conversation that took the next hour and a half or so. I've known Dee for years and years, but this was a totally unique conversation. It was real validating. There was a lot of peak oil talk because it's impossible to have anyone understand what makes me tick without encountering that topic. But it carried us through talk about music, my old recordings, and the one that Kelli and me did some years ago, and through literature and politics. It was great. It was, as Martin Buber would say, meeting. And, actually the Buberian reference is appropos to this talk with Dee at her house. It was in 1989, and again this summer when a small group of church folks did a detailed study of Buber's I and Thou, in which a central tenet of the book is that all real living is meeting.

Then I left and chased all over North Park for a grocery store that was open after 11. I got some stuff and ate a tasty salad and reflected on my day.

I didn't earn a damn cent today. In the morning, when I got the phone for Eric's call, I noticed that there was a call from work asking if I'd come in for three hours. I didn't reply. Nor did I reply to the call three hours later. I'm not boasting; I just decided my day was valuable to me in its own right, using the skills or talents I have to make myself useful to individuals and to my church community as a whole. On a day like today, I didn't complain for getting gypped of hours or pay. I didn't complain for what I didn't have. I only enjoyed what I did have, and shared it freely. I had a whole different experience even within that aspect of things—I've done lots of "free" work for people before, and some of that is what drove me to depression. I've done a lot of audio work and recording work for too little. Either it was on spec or an outright lie that I would be paid but wasn't. I've done years and years of work for peanuts. I often still feel that I have never really gotten my fair share in some deals. But today, I did a lot of things that if I billed as a professional, I could do pretty well. I used to pay out of my own pocket the cost of studio time to accomplish what I did for Dee today: I paid $200 for this same type of work back in 1994-1998! Who knows how much Bev would be in for if she really called a tech to fix her little email issue, but let's say that its at least $30 an hour. I'm already anticipating doing the church PA installation myself, probably as assistant to whoever we hire.

A day like today reminds me that money is not everything. In some ways, I wish I had gone to work, but really I wish that only because my wage would be handy when it comes time for bills this month. I have enough to get by, but I worry about it a lot because Kelli can't work, and any money she has to offer now is from financial aid loans. But today was so rich for me. So validating. I often feel that my contribution at work is so little valued, even at the wage I get. I feel often that I am very replaceable. But at my church, and with folks who stem from that central relationship, I am someone. Someone who can do something unique, or someone who sees the world in a different way that challenges them. Some days I use my computer chops, or today my musical ear and ability to edit like a composer. Two weeks ago it was my ox-like ability to move staggeringly heavy furniture on my own before anyone arrived to the work party. It's weird. I get paid to do that sort of thing but feel devalued. But if I do it for free without being asked, I feel like someone special.

If I had other ways of coping within the economic system of the present, I would just quit my job altogether. For now, it's time for bed. I get up at 6:45. It's 12:30 am.

Monday
Nov212005

Message To EONSNOW List

I sent the following to my email list after having a great turnout at my showing of the WalMart Movie by Robert Greenwald. The part of this message about Thanksgiving and peak oil falling on the same day, only to be followed by business-as-usual is especially bittersweet and poignant for me. I plan to have a great dinner with the closest thing to a functioning family that I have: Kelli and I are going to spend the holiday with some family friends who have adopted us and made our lives richer for the time we've been together. It is interactions like these that show me the promise of the community that I think is critical in the near future when a lot of promises and hearts are broken because of energy scarcity. We already see problems of large operations in entropy—the response to Katrina is one such instance that our government is unable to meet our needs, and should not be counted on. The only anything that will matter is our determination to cooperate and share what we have.

Some have rightly noted that most of what I present is not all cheery. It lacks the Hollywood ending. I leave the Hollywood endings to Hollywood. What we have before us in Peak Oil is a huge issue that no three living generations of humans ever had to cope with before. The implications reach across all sorts of human activity and our civilization itself. Huge question marks are popping up over all sorts of minds when the topic comes up: how does a global society that is addicted to cheap and abundant oil deal with the time when that is no longer possible? What is at risk when the very lifeblood of our elaborate systems of agriculture, transportation, economic growth, finance, and technological development is in peril of peaking and declining steadily (oil), or altogether crashing (gas)?

We got problems.

One thing I can't stress enough is that the range of things that I am talking about are not partisan issues. They are everyone's issues. There is some need to get partisan because we do have a lopsided "balance" of power in this nation, and these people are distracting us with petty nonsense that is worthless in the face of what our real enemy is: the end of the oil age, and the fact that it will up and smack us in the face with an utter lack of media attention. So, folks like me who find the time and will to give a damn are the ones who are saddled with the chore of spreading the word. I guess I am the liberal media.

People often ask what the solutions to these things are. The answer is simple: it's not simple. However, I do offer a few things like:

Take stock of your motivations for what you do. Don't take things for granted. Have you let the quasi-official state religion of consumerism get the better of you? Challenge yourself to break habits that keep you in debt, or that keep you from engaging in good relationships with family, friends, and community, or following your God. Why do you work 60 hours a week?

Trust your own abilities. A lot of consumerism comes as a result of people who have been trained to doubt themselves, which is just the sort of people who will have to shell out money for all sorts of goods and services that might be unnecessary. A lot of us like to "leave it to the experts" when we don't even need to. What you can't do yourself, maybe your friend can. And vice versa.

Ask yourself if there is any simpler solution to whatever problem you face. Or can you be any more resourceful than the last time you faced the same problem?

Value things that can’t be bought. One day not everything will be for sale. If we are looking to devices, knick-knacks and other junk for comfort, then someday when this system fails us, we are going to have a nightmarish depression that a world of psychiatrists can’t fix. Consumerism is not a substitute for the fundamental joy we should derive from real life, in all its complexity and beauty, and yes, tragedy. You’ve heard it before—you can’t take it with you. After a century of economic growth predicated on disposable everything, and predicated on insecurity, it is only up to us to decide to claim our lives back. We’re headed for a time when there will be a permanently declining amount of fortune. Either we can be invested in disposable artifacts of our present, or we can be invested in the community life that will do the work of sustaining us when everything else falls away around us.

There are no for-sure things to tell you. But my time researching all this for the past two years has led me to doubt most of what passes for the name-brand media, and to doubt rosy-sighted economists that tell us the future will be better when we just get this technology or break through the regulations that hold the market back. Nonsense. What we have is an overly complex civilization that is ready to fall from its own mass. Hurricanes can’t be dealt with by our inept government. Corruption is rampant, but is business as usual. Marketism is the official religion that keeps us scared—stop consuming and the economy will collapse. And of course, the hijacking of at least two of the world’s major religious faiths by radicals who can’t be called fundamentalists because they really don’t get what the fundamentals of their respective religions really are! What we have is a system that is already in the process of crumbling. It is usually a fate that any large system can look forward to. Would we not be fools to think that our turn would never come up?

I want to reiterate some things that were mentioned briefly at the meeting on 11/20.

Kenneth Deffeyes says that peak oil is due to take place on Thanksgiving 2005. The day after that is the day that Adbusters.org has dubbed “Buy Nothing Day” as a deliberate attempt to jam consumer culture on the highest of high holy days for the retail sector. Hmmm. You folks, and others like you might be the only ones who can appreciate this point in history. It is a microcosm of the world’s dilemma-at-large. One day we will have peak oil (whether or not it really is on Thanksgiving 2005), and the next day, people will continue on with life as usual because no one will have told them about the day before, and what it means. Life as usual of course means that people are spending themselves silly, flying in airplanes just to play the slots in Las Vegas, and generally living like there is no tomorrow. Well, I have news. There IS a tomorrow. But if we don’t stop this madness, it will be in the dark, in the cold, and we will all be watching as our precious world gets torn asunder under the stress of figuring out how to live differently, while still clinging for dear life to the old ways— easy motoring, something-for-nothing, and in a consensus trance that everything is goingalongjustfinethankyouverymuch. (I just ripped off Jim Kunstler in a big way.)

For Thanksgiving this week, promise me you will take a moment to understand where we are today. And where we look to be going. Imagine your Thanksgiving in the absence of cheap and abundant oil and gas:

How would you get your family together from across the continent?How would all that food get to your table?How would it be cooked?How would you be able to heat your home to a pleasant 70º F?How would your veggies be grown without the natural gas based fertilizers and the pesticides and herbicides that keep them looking like prize entries in the local fair?

Whether or not this Thanksgiving turns out to be the momentous point in human history when we have successfully used up the first half of our ancient sunlight endowment, it will probably be the last when we can operate in “business as usual” mode. But I hold that this is actually a good thing.

I wish you all a good holiday. I’m taking December off from annoying all you folks with such stuff, so stay tuned in 2006.

Monday
Aug152005

Cause For Hope

A black woman gives an older white homeless woman some pizza in inner ring surburban San Diego and reminds her kids that they "don't know how good they have it."

If this were another time and place, the homeless woman would have been black, the passerby would be white and would perhaps spit on or kick the poor huddled figure, if such an act was worth the effort. Otherwise, total neglect would suffice and be socially acceptable.

America has changed. Or black folks are resiliant and forgiving. I thought after seeing this exchange yesterday that there was not much that blacks have to thank whites for after centuries of mistreatment, continuing to the present day. It takes grace to overcome all those years of history, and to do something so fundamentally right as this. It takes grace to admit that anything you have is good enough to give thanks for. This black woman did not appear to be well off any more than most other hourly slaves who work at WalMart and a million other service jobs in San Diego and across the nation.

One day, America will be riddled with homeless and displaced folks of all colors, shapes, and sizes. The post industrial/post carbon age is dawning upon us and will only get worse. The illusion of individual wealth that defined the 20th century might be on its way to evaporating, leaving a lot of people with shattered senses of self. All the consumerism and individualism will meet its logical end point before long, and people will be reduced to sharing whatever remains of the petro-fueled industrial era. Reduced to doing the good things that never really stopped being fundamentally good or necessary, just neglected. My vision for America in the 21st century is a dire one. I make no effort to hide it. I see some terrible things in front of us as our petro-era balloon deflates, and people find themselves with scraps of what was once a great nation. The scraps will be worth only what they can be used for to ensure survival. A lot of things that now exist for vanity or recreation will fall by the wayside. All the ridiculous things we surround ourselves with will be up for reevaluation if they somehow owe their creation and usefulness to oil or gas, or our idea that even the smallest pissant can live like royalty. Recycling of components and materials will be widespread; money will be next to useless if somehow people can't agree on what it worth. Value will be measured in how well something sustains life.

The coming era could make or break the Christian project. I hope it renews it and I hope that people will be called again to live like Jesus wanted us to live—selflessly even in the hardest of times. I hope people of faith can really be the ones to model the practical aspects of what we now consider charity but will ultimately be the deeds we engage in to ensure mutual survival. I don't think anyone will really be immune to the effects of a widespread petro crash because it will also take the global economy with it, along with the industrialized production of food and most of the transportation schemes in the world. Not everyone will be able to join an intentional community on the edge of civilization, after all. Most of us will have to make the most of what we have around us. And with the dissolution of far flung systems of technical support and transportation, we will find ourselves far more bound to smaller geographical regions and far more dependent on one another within those regions to make our infrastructure and communities work. What choice will we have? We will actually have to trust our neighbor, and vice versa. Now I am speaking like a revolutionary because our present zeitgeist is one of distrusting everyone around us so we can be patriots. Sad.

I advise folks to listen to their grandparents and immigrants and get an idea of how another generation or ethnic group had to live in the absence of all the lazy-making gadgets and habits we now have. Or consult the old folks and immigrants to understand the time and place before individualism was not as rampant as it is now. Individualism is what will wreck America. Hell, it is ALREADY wrecking America. What was once our favorite characteristic will be our Achilles heel if we don't relearn how to cooperate without competition. The corporate dog-eat-dog mentality MUST die, or people will continue to be reduced to nothing from all the competition that pits otherwise good people against each other in a race for bigger, better, faster, more.

I'd like to think if a black woman who had ancestors who suffered as slaves under white rule can bring herself to help feed a white person down on her luck, then anything is possible. It is a reminder that things don't need need to simply kowtow to cultural and historical inertia and that we should never take anything for granted.

Monday
Apr042005

Uh, Like, Don't You Get It?

One is dangerous enoughOkay, so I was watching a little news this weekend and saw that in Arizona, there are some concerned citizens who want to do something about the illegal immigration problem. So they have banded together and formed some vigilante group that supposedly would do directly the things that the government has not done to protect the leaky border. They say they aren't out there to hurn anyone, only to be spotters, but seriously.

The Minutemen, as they were called, all fit real squarely into the mold of the post-9/11 George Bush redneck America. You know the look—Wal Mart/NASCAR nation dressed in T shirts with "We Will Never Forget" and "These Colors Don't Run" and all that other jingoistic shit that totally misses the point. (When I see bumper stickers with "We will never forget" I automatically adjust it to reality: "We will never GET IT.") The joke is on them—they believe in and support the illusion of small government on one hand but curse the government not offering them the protection they feel is due them. They love to say they want a valuable service such as protection at the borders so that 9/11 doesn't happen again. But they also vote for the guy who claims that he wants to give every one tax breaks (and makes only a nominal effort for the huge majority of the population).

Well, let's remember that 9/11 didn't happen because of Mexicans crossing the borders. And let's remember that those Mexicans who do cross the border are taking our throwaway jobs. And let's remember that those throwaway jobs are the ones that make our lifestyle possible. You know, getting fat and driving around senselessly. I wouldn't diss the Mexicans who come over and grow our crops. One day we will be begging them to share what they know. Besides, usually the Mexicans are pretty benign. They aren't here to destroy our economy, and I don't think that the money they send home to family is really robbing us of much.

But it's not about Mexicans, is it? No. It's about fear. More fear. And, like Michael Moore said in Bowling For Columbine, it might not be a great idea to have guns everywhere if the whole nation is neurotic with fear. Shit, I wonder what percentage of our economy owes itself to fear. Security systems, locks, car alarms, CC video, security guards at strip malls, secret shoppers, guns & ammo, literature, martial arts lessons, insurance, gated communities. Jeeze, is there much of anything that we do that doesn't somehow show our fear of not just the unknown but of each other?

I saw this email going around a while back that if nothing else served as a reminder that all the stuff we expect to have in our lives comes at a price. The infrastructure that brings us water and food and takes our shit away to some hidden locale comes at a price. Fresh water, good roads, and legal protection comes at a price. Social Security comes at a price. Border protection comes at a price. So what's up with these people who want it both ways? Don't tax me but give me the border patrol? Don't tax me but keep 9/11 from happening? Don't tax me but go liberate Iraq? Don't tax me but give me clean air, water, and renewable resources? Don't tax me but give me well paved roads, bridges, sewers, and power grids? Don't tax me but give me cheap gas? Don't take my money as a young worker but don't let me starve and die penniless at 72?

I wonder if these people ever stop to think that getting their $1000 tax refund (or cut or whatever it is) does as much for them as it would if the government hung on to it so that it would be available for a viable border patrol program, and maybe other worthwhile programs. Some would be convinced that reforming Social Security would be a good idea, doing the Bush thing with private accounts. I think that is the most pathetic thing. Social Security would be neither social nor security! It is one of the few insurance plans I could embrace, because it is actually designed to be of real use. I think part of the Bush plan to eliminate SS and to progress with the idea of a so-called "ownership society" is to not only help their corporate buddies, but to make it so that people have to work longer, thereby supposedly keeping the economy stronger by keeping more people working. Well, that is pretty vacuous an argument, especially if it means that people will be in charge of their own retirement funds, a proposition that is put in jeopardy if the economy gets hard and people have to tap into those funds prematurely. It doesn't take into account the part about corporations downsizing or even eliminating their domestic workforce. There is nothing redeemable about the Bush SS plan because it is scheduled to be implemented in a period that will be defined by a failure of global capitalism, economic recession (if not global war and depression), and the promise of more of the same until oil supplies dwindle to a point where the stuff is hardly worth pursuing anymore. Not depletion, just to the point where it is more expensive to hunt and extract the stuff than the economic benefits it can return.

Any Social Security plan really looks doomed, be it the current one or the Bush plan. But I think the Bush plan has malicious intent in it because it stands to help some profit off a program that should be more or less altruistic. Social Security now is a revolving door program—money comes in and gets paid out. But even in its current arrangement, the shifting ratio of workers paying in to retirees collecting benefits is a sign that things could get worse, no matter what. The way I see it is this: Social Security could go bust not just because there are too many retirees, but because these days, and in the days to come when the oil based economy starts to decline, there won't be much work to be done, and it will generally decline as there is less available energy to do work, and keep economies afloat, let alone grow. Unfortunately, the baby boomers will be expecting payments at the same time as the economy tanks because of their lifetimes' very work! Millions of boomers will be collecting the dwindling funds, due in part to their efficiency. You know, a boomer aged CEO or small business owner who benefitted off the cheap foreign labor was directly to blame for putting a few Social Security paying Americans out of work, or at least out of well paying, meaningful work that would put more money into the SS system, or the government that should be protecting our borders. You know, the sort of work that made America great in the middle of the 20th century, when companies AND unions got along and had some symbiosis at work. Oh yeah, the sort of arrangement we had that also gave America a high degree of respect in the world, and the means and courage to stave off the Soviet army.

But now, some years later, we can't even protect ourselves from a group of guys that wouldn't even fill a high school classroom. They have done more damage to this nation than the Soviets did in 50 year of Cold War. Actually, I think we have done most of the damage. Call me a socialist if you will, but I think that the drive for individual profits has destroyed us. What else can explain Enron, Ticoh, World Com, and others? What justification is there for a CEO getting paid 500 times what his shop worker is paid, when in our glory days, and even as recently as 1980, CEOs averaged about 40 times the shop worker's salary? (AFL-CIO website stats.) If I made $10,000 for doing grunt work on the shop floor, and my boss made $400,000, what justifies his need to put me out of work for someone who will work for 60 cents an hour so that he can make $5 million? Or $50 million? And that is only his own benefit—not everyone will get that sort of deal. I can't for the life of me understand it. And I certainly can't understand how it can last. Of course, it won't last. It can't last. But no one making absurd amounts of money today will willfully trade that in just to do the right thing. So it's going to have to break. This won't be graceful.

Bush talks about wanting people to have more of their own money, and he carries on like his $1000 tax cut will do the trick. Sorry George, but I think the average American worker had more of his own money 40 years ago when he worked hard at a job that maybe actually mattered in life, not this silly shit that passes for an economy now, like WalMart, Taco Bell, ARCO, and everything else we surround ourselves with. I think 40 years ago people were willing to make the tax sacrifice because they understood that it takes that sort of trade off to get the services that individuals can't possibly provide themselves.

My humanities class recently had a long section devoted to Athenian polis—someone who either does not need to live within civilized society or cannot live within it is either god or beast, respectively. So these Minutemen patrolling the border in Arizona? Are they gods or beasts? Do they either not need the cooperation of others, or can they not live within such a system? The entire nature of civilized society is built on detailed, structured systems of mutuality and cooperation to achieve common goals. It's one of the things that sets us apart from the animals. Paying a tax is just one part of that. Not paying a tax, or otherwise not contributing to the system in thought and deed is, as the Athenians believed, a hallmark of uselessness. Aristotle said that a man who takes no interest in public affairs is not harmless, but useless. Vigilante justice is not a particularly civilized thing, especially when there is an organized system that it would supposedly replace. We have a system that just doesn't work, but instead of actually getting inside of the system and fixing it, these minutemen wish to operate outside of the system. Going it alone, according to the Aristotle, is part of a man's worst nature.

But he who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god: he is no part of a state. A social instinct is implanted in all men by nature. For man, when perfected, is the best of animals, but, when separated from law and justice, he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous. Wherefore; if he have not virtue, he is the most unholy and the most savage of animals, and the most full of lust and gluttony.

Let me remind you, the Soviet Union collapsed about three years after its oil production peaked, and also because of their massive military defense budget and closed borders. Sound familiar? Maybe there is a lesson in there somewhere?