Thursday, July 17, 2014


Cultures only shift if they are in extreme pain, or if some demographic grows enough to have influence or another one shrinks so that it no longer has influence, or if the larger economic picture shifts dramatically.   An example of the first might be the eruptions over racial inequality, the second might be the swelling number of old people while the youngest are shrinking and displaced, and the third might be the invention of frakking resulting in the sudden abundance of oil and gas.  I'm keeping this 3-item sequence in order in the next paragraph.

The price to be paid -- eventually -- doesn’t come due for decades.  (1) contempt for government and distrust of cops; (2) dominance of pharma and insurance;  and (3) contamination of an already constricted water supply.  Also coming due now is the cost of supporting plutocracy and corporate plundering in Central America decades ago.  It is coinciding with the rot of our own public schools which is part of the willingness of parents to “protect” (indulge) their own children at the expense of everyone else’s.  They do not believe in a tide that raises all boats: they think they can win by stoving a hole in the boats of others.

Normally I live a pleasant bubble of a hermit life, but recently I’ve had visitors -- not many, but enlightening.  They were all women who had raised children alone either because the men they originally married turned out to be impossible to live with or they just deserted anyway -- maybe with dangerous habits.  I didn’t inquire very deeply -- I’m just picking up on their comments, which are these days a common part of a general contempt for men -- except their own sons.

Gender shifting has concerned a religious denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association specifically, which serves the demographic of educated, generally well-employed, progressive people who try to take social action.  They are open to the culture in an unguarded way.  This means that when the pill arrived on the scene, then feminism, and a wave of divorces followed, there was a general reconfiguration.  The terms of engagement were no longer the harnessing of men to families.  Now the women had to go to work.  And because the standard of living is now far far more expensive than it was in the Fifties, even when the husband remains, the whole family must work or someone must make very high salaries, which are mostly found in institutional management positions.  This kind of job changes people.  What was intended to be a meritocracy, based on skill, becomes an oligarchy, based on wealth and status.  Very hard to leave.

Some UU fellowships and sub-groups became centers for hooking-up, on the one hand an escape from the suppression and falsifying of sexual identities and on the other hand a disregard for those left behind.  We used to snicker at one of these groups, named for Michael Servetus, a crusty old monotheist who was burned at the stake with his books tied around his waist.  In the last decade or so ministers have been declaring that they are no more “special” than their parishioners and should live on the same terms.  This provoked the one-man-opposition of the “Emerson Avenger” who devotes his energy to naming and blaming UU ministers for their bad behavior.  The REAL behavior he’s after is not sexual: he was mocked and rejected by a UU minister because of a vision he had.  His vendetta is a displacement.  The behavior on both sides WAS and IS bad.  It's just that one sorehead is not going to make a difference unless the culture shifts.

Moral turpitude has always been a problem among all clergy, the same as it has always been among all those with privilege and power.  Why any such status is defined as entitlement to abuse the vulnerable and generally behave badly -- often concerning money -- is a mystery to me.  In my young days it was assumed that greater privilege meant greater obligation, but that has dissipated [sic] to such a degree that a few years after I left seminary there was a wave of “formation” classes and counseling, to discourage those who came into the vocation with the idea that it was an easy job.  

By that time I’d moved on, partly out of disillusion.  I had belonged to a small female ministers’ group.  One member (a “good” Christian) moaned constantly about how hard it was to get laid now that she was serving a church.  “Getting laid” is evidently where our belief in mystical magic went after God died.  It was a culture shift.  Orgasm as epiphany.  Very incarnate.

"Bronze Inside and Out" by Mary Scriver

My recent visitors came partly for information and partly out of the belief that because I had had a book published and seem to be living on some secret resource in an idyllic small town, I knew something that an older woman could use.  They were disillusioned.  My secret resource is social security.  My book profits are nonexistent.  My prestige here in Montana had nothing to do with ministry, but everything to do with Bob Scriver.  They assume that because he was worth millions when he died, that his life must have been happy.  They do not want to hear about his heart attack, his stroke, his many days of being bedridden, his problematic wives, his dead children.  Much less do they want to know what vengeful art profiteers have done.

Simple Simon

The biggest danger in a culture shift is for those who go one believing, like Simple Simon, that the old rules still apply.  (It is now politically incorrect to tell the story of a retarded hired man who was paid “in kind” by his farm employers, and always took his profits home to his family in ways that destroyed the pay, because he always did what worked last time:  leading a bag of flour home on the end of a string, carrying a puppy home in a bucket of cold water.)  The US is acting as though it were a powerful nation, but not only has it lost its power, but also the nature of power on the planet is quite, quite different than it was when we were fighting world wars.  It’s not just a culture shift, it’s a global planetary shift in ecology (changing seas and air, eliminated species) and economy (machines and the internet).

Deserted bookstore

I came back to Valier believing that I could write for a living or at least willing to risk the attempt.  The stories I know are dramatic, I have the skills, and I believed I had a message.  But as I told my visitors about what I’ve watched disappear in the last fifteen years -- the system of advances for writers; machinery for producing, storing and distributing the paper objects we call books; businesses based on quality rather than sensation-of-the-moment; local bookstores -- I could see that they never knew those things existed in the first place.  They looked around my shelves and shelves of books and simply didn’t believe me.  I must be doing something wrong.  Maybe I’m lying.  To them, books are a mysterious natural phenomenon, not something that responds to supply and demand.

On the other hand, the late-to-seminary UU minister is gradually realizing that being old and female means something like being adjunct faculty at a university: always marginalized, a person assigned to take up the slack in small groups away from the action -- at a bargain price.  The other women, who were distantly related to Bob Scriver -- their great-grandfathers were brothers -- are looking at the forces that have controlled their lives because of economic recessions and the resulting decisions by their forebears to go West, trusting that they would join a boom of some kind on the Canadian prairies.  My ancestors were like that, too.  So were Bob’s.  We converge.

George Hawley Macfie's home in Quebec.

Today is not our grandparents’ world.  It’s not even the world of twenty years ago.  It is a world willing to kill, greedy for privilege, determined to control what cannot be controlled.  But a new culture shift is moving slowly under our feet, sending children walking north.

No comments: