(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2014)
“Life is full of obstacle illusions.” Grant Frazier
Congress has just voted to cut nine billion dollars in food stamps for poor Americans while voting to spend an initial sum of twenty billion dollars to bomb people in Syria and Iraq. That’s twenty billion on top of the trillion dollars Congress gives the Pentagon every year to, you know, bomb people all over the world.
Is there anything we the people can do about this insanity? Hypothetically, yes. We can engage in massive protests and strikes, say fifty million of us, demanding more money for the American people, an emergency national conversion to renewable energy sources and drastic cuts to the Pentagon budget. And we could organize and carry out a super effective boycott of Chevron. But none of that is going to happen because the vast majority of Americans are so busy scrabbling to make ends meet or scrabbling to buy the latest iPhone and other neato stuff we don’t need or sitting on our asses watching television, that from a political perspective we the people are irrelevant. From an economic perspective, we the people are a source of trillions of dollars of income for multinational earth-plundering corporations; such plundering funded by we the people buying neato stuff and overpriced medications and inadequate health insurance.
So what shall we do, you and I, in the face of what we know to be true about what is happening to the earth and to our society, and also knowing that the ruling elite can watch half a million people march in Manhattan to protest global warming and not give even a tiny hoot?
“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” George Eliot
Here are some ideas about what you and I can do.
Idea #1: Give money to poor people. I know there is a strong sentiment that giving money to poor people only encourages them to stay poor, but that is untrue, cynical, and verges on the insane. So let us give money to poor people. If you don’t feel you have much to spare, just give a little.
Idea #2: Let us not buy a neato thing we were going to buy. We just won’t buy it. We’ll make do with other neato things we already have. Remember: long before that neato thing you want existed, you were getting along okay. Not buying that neato thing will free up cash for food and giving money to poor people.
I know we shouldn’t have to give money to poor people. Our country is so incredibly wealthy there need not be any poor people, not a single one, but the ruling elite have rigged the game and conquered our brethren with neato things and television and car-centric everything so equality and sharing the wealth is not going to happen in America any time soon. So let us not think of giving money to poor people as something we should do but as something we want to do to help counter the gross social and political imbalance the stupid meanies have created and we have acquiesced to.
Idea #3: Be kind to everyone we meet. Sometimes I make a fool of myself being kind to people, but most of the time the person or people I’m kind to appreciate my kindness and respond in kind. Today, for instance, I was buying a half pound of ground beef to go on the pizza we’re making tonight, and I was kind to our usually taciturn butcher, and though he resisted at first, eventually he smiled and even laughed a little when I said perfecto because he guessed to within a fraction of an ounce the amount of beef to put on the scale to make a half a pound.
Being kind to everyone we encounter makes it impossible to maintain attitudes of disdain and fear. I think disdain and fear are not only closely related emotions, but are two of the fundamental factors causing people (and they are just people) in Congress and in the huge voracious corporations destroying the earth to do the horrible things they are doing to our society and the earth.
From a Buddhist perspective, disdainful and fearful rulers and insanely rich people and people mindlessly watching television and compulsively buying neato things are mirrors for us. Their actions and attitudes are reflections of our own actions and attitudes, and we would do well to stop denying this and explore ways to change our own actions and attitudes. Who and what are we disdainful of? What are we afraid of? Why are we disdainful? Why are we afraid? What can we do to stop being disdainful and fearful?
“In their property was a portion dedicated to the beggar and the disinherited.” The Qur’an
Some years ago in San Francisco I was with two fellow artists, a man and a woman, on our way to a Chinese restaurant known for excellent food and wonderfully low prices; and even at those wonderful prices going out to supper was a serious splurge for me. The city was teeming with poor people and I had long since given away my spare change and one-dollar bills.
We were just about to enter the Chinese restaurant when we encountered a frighteningly gaunt man who said, “Hate to bother you folks, but I am starving to death. Can you help me?”
I reached for my wallet and my male friend grabbed my wrist and said, “Don’t. He’ll just use it for drugs.”
“No, I won’t,” said the gaunt man. “I need food.”
I gently disengaged from my friend, took out my wallet, and found I only had a twenty-dollar bill therein. If I gave the gaunt man my twenty I would not have money for supper. Meanwhile, my female friend had opened her purse and given the gaunt man a dollar. This so outraged our male friend that he threw up his hands and cried, “Don’t be fools!”
Then I said to the gaunt man, “We’re going into this Chinese restaurant. If you come in with us, I will pay for you to have some food.”
The gaunt man nodded and followed us into the restaurant where he ordered rice and vegetables—costing me seven dollars—and sat apart from us at a small table, wolfing down his food and drinking many glasses of water and dozens of cups of the complimentary tea. My two friends and I had a wonderful meal and laughed until we cried about something I can’t remember.