Archive for October, 2017

Moronic Individualism

Monday, October 16th, 2017

newrealityM

“We are in crises where we are finding that the old systems don’t work. But that sort of disillusionment is only discovering that what you thought was so, isn’t. It’s the first step in learning. So I celebrate disillusionment.” Buckminster Fuller

The United States spends a trillion dollars a year on war.

We are told that several of the terrible fires raging in northern California this October were started by downed power lines sparking dry brush. How is it that in the year 2017, the richest nation on earth still has most of its power lines above ground? Part of the answer is that this nation spends a trillion dollars every year on war. Another part of the answer is that the state of California has a tax structure favoring wealthy people and corporations who do not feel they need to contribute to the greater good, so the state government lacks the muscle to compel the owners of those power lines to bury them.

We live in Mendocino, and every winter, often several times per winter, we are without power because of downed power lines that should not be suspended above the earth so they can be downed by annual winds and falling trees, but should be safely buried below ground. But because our utilities are not publicly owned, this endemic idiocy continues year in and year out. Why are our utilities not publicly owned? Because wealthy corporations control our government.

We wonder when the electorate will wake up to the inadequacy of our system of governance and taxation? Judging from the responses to the catastrophes that have befallen Puerto Rico and Texas and Florida and California, the answer is Never. We have evolved into a society of shortsighted self-serving stupid people, capable of bravery and bursts of generosity, but mostly we fend for ourselves in the face of a social system that punishes us for cooperating with each other.

That we do not have Single Payer healthcare, free healthcare for all our citizens, is conclusive proof of our collective myopia and disregard for the wellbeing of others. People may rant about how horrible our current President and Congress and Supreme Court, but our deplorable representatives did not come to power through a violent insurrection. They rose to power through the will of a society composed of profoundly self-serving people. Not bad people, but people trained from birth, and from generation to generation, to prize the individual, the self, above all else.

I recall when I was involved with a group of people in the 1970s planning to buy land and create a rural commune. At the initial meetings, I and a few others made the case that our first orders of business should be the establishment of a dependable water supply, a good road, an excellent septic system, and a reliable source of electricity for the entire community, to be followed by the construction of a community center with a kitchen adequate for the needs of the entire commune. Thereafter, we would turn our energies to building our separate dwellings.

No, said the majority of those involved. First we build our separate houses; then we’ll do that collective stuff.

I could not understand why these seemingly intelligent people thought this way, but I have since come to understand that they were simply being Americans. In America the needs of the individual, however absurd, always come first. And this is why we don’t have Single Payer Healthcare and why Donald Trump is our President and why we spend a trillion dollars every year on war and why we don’t have trains going everywhere instead of roads that are constantly deteriorating and why power lines are still above ground and why everything that has made our country the giant mess it is today continues to hold sway over our lives.

We know several people who barely escaped with their lives in the Santa Rosa and Redwood Valley fires, people who lost virtually everything they owned. Their losses are tragic, but such losses can also present us with opportunities to make changes in our lives we might not otherwise make that can ultimately benefit us.

I say this because I read a fascinating study done of people who lost everything in the great Oakland firestorm of 1991, and the gist of the study was that many of those people came to feel the loss of their material possessions was the beginning of much improved lives. And more personally, in 1980, shortly after moving to Sacramento, my house was broken into and thieves took virtually everything I owned including the food from the refrigerator, art from the walls, records, books, camera, typewriter, manuscripts, vacuum cleaner, clothes, bed sheets—only my piano and mattress remaining.

For some days after the robbery I was in a state of shock, but eventually the shock gave way to myriad realizations, one of which was that there were people in my life who were emotional thieves and robbing me blind. In my new state of awareness, I was able to eliminate those emotional burglars from my life.

This is not to suggest that catastrophic disasters are good, but that sometimes we can, individually and collectively, learn from experiences of loss and make changes—such as burying power lines—that will benefit us in the future.

And in the midst of the terrible political and economic wildfire that is the Trump presidency and the Congress of Selfish Monsters and the many state houses controlled by sexist racist gun fanatics, I hope previously asleep people will wake up to realize that the old way of the Demopublicans and Republicrats is moribund and always leads to psychopathic presidents serving the corporate overlords.

The meaningful alternative to our corporate totalitarianism is to build a system with housing for everyone and healthcare for everyone and safety and food and meaningful work for everyone, with a small efficient defensive military, and a system of taxation that does away with a small percentage of the population having most of the goodies and everybody else living on the verge of losing what little they have.

Oregon

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Rita

Rita photo by Todd

“He walked joyously, triumphantly, through the peace and beauty of springtime in California.” Katharine Grey

My great grandmother Katharine Grey wrote a pair of novels Rolling Wheels and Hills of Gold, published by Little Brown in the 1930s. Based loosely on the experiences of my paternal ancestors, Rolling Wheels is about a family coming to California from Indiana via wagon train in the years before the Gold Rush of 1849, and Hills of Gold is about that same family living in California during the Gold Rush.

Throughout my childhood, my father impressed upon me that we were real native Californians, being descended on my father’s side from people who came here before California was even a state—never mind the indigenous people who lived here for thousands of years before my Anglo ancestors arrived, or the Mexicans who settled here hundreds of years before the first Anglos came to California.

I was also repeatedly told that my ancestors came to California in the same large wagon train that included the ill-fated Donner party, except my ancestors made it over the Sierras before the onset of winter and founded the town of Fremont while the Donners starved and ate each other.

And this is some of why when I travel to Oregon, I think of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea and the Oregon Trail and pioneers and the wilderness that was Oregon and California before cars and freeways and computers and everything that has transpired in the last little while of human history.

Marcia and I just returned from an eight-day drive-about in Oregon, and the trip was a Big Deal for the likes of me, one who rarely leaves our watershed here on the Mendocino coast and rarely rides in a motorized vehicle for more than a few minutes at a time every few days. We spent two nights on the Oregon coast, four nights in Portland, a night in Bend, a night in Eugene, and another night on the Oregon coast before returning to California. We took many hikes, ate many good meals, communed with good friends, and saw many sights, some marvelous, some not so marvelous—a fine trip all in all.

The biggest motivating factor for making the trip was to visit our friends Bob and Rita who recently moved to Portland from our neck of the woods. They have both become adept at navigating the byways of Portland and were marvelous guides and hosts as we explored that sprawling metropolis full of trees and roses and bridges and breweries and cafés.

On our last full day in Portland, we took the light rail from a station near Rita and Bob’s house to the center of downtown. A few decades ago, Portland became the first large metropolitan area in America to begin using most of the monies returned to them by the federal government (from the federal tax on gasoline) to create an urban transportation system that would make a good life possible for city people who don’t drive cars. Thus Portland has an excellent and ever-expanding light rail and trolley system second to none west of the Atlantic seaboard.

While riding the light rail into downtown Portland, I became aware that everyone in the crowded car, save for Marcia, Todd, Bob, and Rita, was staring into some sort of portable computer and occasionally diddling the keyboard: small and large smart phones, pads, and laptops. Everyone. No one was looking out a window or at another person. The young woman sitting in front of me was scrolling through photographs of tattooed naked women posed provocatively; and the man sitting beside her was playing a violent video game and snorting every time he killed something.

When we detrained downtown, I noticed that many of the people walking around and sitting in cafés and on benches were also staring into portable computer screens and jabbing them with their thumbs. In fact, save for the legions of homeless people occupying downtown Portland, almost everyone who was not walking fast or riding a bike was staring into a screen and diddling. For some years now I have been aware of the entrainment-to-screens phenomenon in America, but I had never before seen this mass entrancement on such a huge urban scale; and I was both astonished and weirded out, if you know what I mean.

A few days later in Eugene, we were eating good Indian food with our friends David and Joan and Eileen. David is an elementary and middle school music teacher who combines song, dance, comedy, marimbas, ukuleles, drumming, improvisation—you name it—to create exciting and engaging musical experiences for his students culminating in fabulous group performances.

“But,” he said, while telling me about various aspects of his work, “I now feel the most important thing I can do for my students is give them time to engage with me and each other and their own creative impulses without interfacing with their diddle boxes. Because interfacing with their diddle boxes is the main thing most of them do all the time now.”

“If we live, we live; if we die, we die; if we suffer, we suffer; if we are terrified, we are terrified. There is no problem about it.” Alan Watts

There is a square in downtown Portland, one of the main squares, that has lots of places to sit and gawk at passersby, and in one part of this square there is a small parabolic amphitheater made of bricks. If one stands in the center of the parabola facing the ascending tiers of brick half-circles, and one speaks aloud at a normal volume, one’s voice sounds incredibly loud and clear in one’s ears—a totally neato auditory experience.

So I’m standing in the center of the parabola facing a young woman who is sitting slightly above me in the amphitheater and facing in my direction, though not seeing me. She is hooked up to her smart phone with wires connected to tiny earphones plugged into her ears, and she is diddling her screen.

I say, “Hello there,” and the words sound loud and clear in my ears. And then I say to the young woman, “You’re doing this aren’t you? You’re making this happen.”

She frowns quizzically at me and takes the earphone out of her right ear. “Are you talking to me?” she asks, her voice remarkably sonorous.

“Yes,” I say, nodding. “You’re doing something to make my voice sound loud and clear in my ears, aren’t you?”

After a moment of silence between us, a sweet smile claims her face and she nods in agreement.