Something Missing

(This article first appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser June 2011)

The following essay is about interpersonal relationships, though the opening paragraphs may seem to be about disaster, ignorance, greed, and selfishness.

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendrix

International news sources (because American media is mum on the subject) report that a powerful cyclone just blew through the out-of-control and inconceivably deadly Fukushima nuclear power plants, with more such storms on the way. The four nuclear power plants, in the words of the Japanese government, are uncovered, so the ferocious winds of the cyclone picked up and blew tons of radioactive debris all over Japan, Korea, China, Russia, and much of the northern hemisphere. The Japanese government released a statement saying they were sorry they were not able to cover the nuclear power plants before the cyclone hit, but they don’t have the resources or manpower or money to do much of anything about the situation, so…sorry. Meanwhile, the land around those power plants, thousands of square miles, will be essentially uninhabitable for thousands of years; and now a growing number of scientists fear that the megalopolis of Tokyo is doomed.

Am I missing something here? Is this not one of the worst environmental disasters in history? Probably. Isn’t the disaster worsening by the minute? Yes. Isn’t there unanimous agreement among nuclear power experts who have carefully studied the situation that the Japanese government and the utility company that owns the nuclear power plants are completely overwhelmed by the situation and desperately in need of help? Yes. So why hasn’t the President of the United States made this catastrophe a major priority? Why aren’t members of the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate taking immediate action?

Could it be that if America rushes to help quell this disaster, America will be forced to admit that nuclear power is unsafe and unaffordable? If we spend the necessary billions of dollars to save the earth from this particular nuclear threat, will the United States then be compelled to join Germany and Switzerland and other nations finally coming to their senses and phasing out nuclear power in their countries forever? I think so. Which means our government is choosing to allow this unprecedented disaster to worsen rather than admit we’ve wasted trillions of dollars subsidizing nuclear power, one of the costliest and stupidest boondoggles ever perpetrated on the people of the earth—amazing, but not unprecedented.

Throughout my life, various Presidents of the United States and myriad members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives have said with apparent sincerity, and I paraphrase, “We cannot withdraw from (name of country where illegal war is underway) because to withdraw now would be to dishonor those valiant men and women who died fighting to protect our freedom.” Now there’s some logic for you. We’ve made a gigantic mistake. We’ve wasted trillions of dollars. We’ve killed thousands of innocent people, including our own people, so we’d better keep spending money and killing more people so the previous waste and senseless deaths will be justified. Is this some sort of IQ test we keep failing?

This is the same kind of thinking, if you can call it thinking, by which our government continues to subsidize nuclear power. Hey, we spent all that money building these lousy contraptions; we can’t just give up now. Yes, these faulty plants are incalculably dangerous and entirely uninsurable and they create material so toxic there is no safe place on earth to store the murderous crud, but if we admit we made a big mistake then…what? People won’t like us or trust us or vote for us?

By the way, this same moronic illogic disallows Single Payer Healthcare, a system that would immediately save the nation and its citizens hundreds of billions of dollars. Over time, Single Payer would save many trillions that could be spent on improving our schools, cleaning up our degraded environment, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, and subsidizing mass transit and the long overdue transition away from fossil fuels. Single Payer would also end the reign of amoral insurance and pharmaceutical companies and usher in an economic and cultural renaissance. Heaven forbid! By removing the profit motive from healthcare, medical services would rapidly improve, the health of the general population would rebound, and a whole new economic paradigm would take hold. Good grief! Can’t have that.

I wonder if those who pretend there isn’t a global catastrophe underway in Japan think they are somehow immune to…what? Death? Climate change? Gads. The latest news from many reliable sources, even fairly conservative sources, says that global warming is accelerating far faster than was predicted by scientists labeled lunatic fringe doomsayers just a few years ago. Life on earth is going to be increasingly difficult for everyone, and soon. Were we to end our dependence on fossil fuels tomorrow, the coming decades promise to be hard slogging for the luckiest and deathly for hundreds of millions. And what is Obama’s response to this information? Drill more oil! Drill deeper! To hell with the environment. That’s the response of the leader of the Democrats, the father of two children.

“America’s health care system is in crisis precisely because we systematically neglect wellness and prevention.” Tom Harkin

I was talking about all this with my wife Marcia, about this maddening illogic that we should stick with systems because we created them, long after those systems have proven to be ruinous. And Marcia said, “What about the illogic of people staying in toxic and dysfunctional relationships?”

As the former president of the Association Of We Who Stay In Toxic and Dysfunctional Relationships, I took her question to heart and saw how it directly applied to the question of why our leaders continue to wage war for oil, and why they continue to subsidize nuclear power and pretend nuclear power is safe. So why did I stay in toxic and dysfunctional relationships? Because I was afraid of the unknown, I didn’t think I deserved anything better, and because I was fulfilling the emotional programming of my childhood. And I had yet to go through the severe emotional crises and near-death experiences and life-saving therapy that enabled me to get well enough so I would no longer tolerate staying in toxic and dysfunctional relationships.

Extrapolating from that insight, perhaps humanity needs to go through ever more deadly crises and near death experiences and the equivalent of successful therapy before we can finally end the toxic dysfunctional relationships we have with our fellow humans, and the toxic and dysfunctional relationship we have with the earth, and create healthy and regenerative relationships.

“Friends are relatives you make for yourself.” Eustache Deschamps

A few weeks ago I received a note from a former girlfriend in which she said she was in her first serious relationship in a decade, and, in her words, “I really don’t want to blow this one.” To that end, she wondered if I had any insight into why our relationship had fizzled so she might not repeat the same mistakes in her new liaison. I thought back to my connection with her, and that caused me to think about my other previous relationships, including my unhappy first marriage, and I realized I am no longer the same person I was ten years ago.

How am I most different? I am much more at peace with my mortality. I know, rather than hope, I am a good person. I have terminated all abusive and dishonest relations, both personal and professional. And I am often happy rather than sad, though when I am sad it is mostly about the suffering of others rather than my own suffering.

“The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” Benjamin Disraeli

In the early 1970’s, when housing was cheap and organic gardening was my new religion, I lived in the communes of Santa Cruz. I started one commune of eight people and moved into the second commune of twelve. I was excited and inspired by communal living, but foresaw the collapse of the movement because it was clear that most of the participants in that grand experiment were unwilling to put the needs of the group above immediate personal gratification. This primacy of the individual, which is not exclusive to America but is pronounced here, is an important element missing in most discussions of why our government—national, state, and local—relentlessly puts the needs of wealthy and powerful individuals above the needs of the rest of society.

We would like to think that the behavior of those at the top of our pyramidal system are the cause of our problems; those people invested in grabbing everything for themselves and annihilating the earth in the process. We would like to think that you and I would do much better if we were in charge. But I don’t think that would be true unless, before we took charge, we were well-practiced in living simply, sharing what we have with others, and putting the needs of the group above our desire to have everything we want right this minute.

Todd’s web site is UnderTheTableBooks.com

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