“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.