Sunday, February 07, 2016


One of the first sci-fi stories I ever read was H.G. Wells' story about the evolution of humans played against the economic gap in English society.  It was represented by the rich becoming more and more “elfin,” meaning effete and ineffective but surviving by the magic of belonging to an upper land-owning class.  The desirability of the upper class life was signed by a beautiful blonde emotional woman.  (With pet dragons?)  Like many of the descendants of this plot plan, the “lower” working classes were underground, based on the reality of coal mining, tough and physical.  In the Ring films, the real brutes roll out of the mud in the walls of excavations, like grubs.  The big strong tough miner wins the girl, right?

One of the echoes of this wrestling with evolution was knowing that the early hominids — the ones that weren’t even first-draft moderns — were as sexually dimorphic as many four-footed species.  That is, the males were big, heavily muscled, with jaws that had teeth (as some anthropologist said) like pegs, fit to tear raw meat off bones.  The women were half that size and more lightly built.  Change came about when fire allowed cooking so that big teeth weren’t needed and hunting and gathering began to rely on knowing things, planning, cooperating as a group with clever strategies, and sharing food.

Nevertheless, constant concern remains over what is male or female in behavior, body conformation, dominance, and economic opportunity when the forced roles of reproduction are blunted by contraception.  That's saying nothing about the ability to change genders convincingly.  How much is genetic and what does the new shift from industrial to technology mean?  (For some reason penises are getting smaller.  Auugh!)  Even war is changed by technology, since it is now much more of a video game with predator drones managed at consoles in middle America.

Controls for a "Reaper" drone

This is another shift from dyadic systems of the past to more of a monoculture.  Except that there is a new dyad operating — several, actually.  I subscribe to The Guardian, an English newspaper, which turns its attention to America and sees the same Wellsian split between industrial labor and investment capitalists, the same split between haves and have-nots.  It’s an irony that England should have to tell us what our own newspapers don’t because the papers are owned by our rich and control the news.

I’ve lost the link to an article about free-lance writing that mentioned the national split that haunts us in Valier:  it is that between the cultural evolution of the city and our ways in the rural or “flyover” middle continent.  Both urban and rural are in the grip of media-enforced stereotypes, writers’ rooms where a certain kind of person sits developing by committee the stories the unwary accept as truth.  Sometimes they are didactic and even progressive.  They were the force that transformed the stigma against gays, so long as they were a certain “kind” of gay — respectable, loving, protective.  They were the people who taught us blacks are like whites.  (Cosby threw a hand grenade into that — or maybe he only turned out to be just like a white predator.  And maybe blacks are NOT like whites.)  The writers never have figured out what to do about Indians, or Chinese, for that matter.  The editors who assign stories do not know the middle of the country exists.

When I am in Portland, my preference for wearing denim cowboy shirts, tails out, over bright print skirts and with big craft earrings, made people think I was lesbian, which was an advantage since the management was lesbian.  (I'm not.  I'm solitary and celibate -- much more shocking.)  

In Valier my work shirts and sweats are seen as poverty.  (I stopped bothering with earrings.)  But there are lots of people around here in that category.  In neither environment am I seen as a writer because there is a split in the stereotypes. Writers are either wise old weathered males in university towns or smart pretty young mothers on ranches.

Jim Harrison

Beyond that, cities suck profit out of the rural.  Rural professionals are no longer the kind and principled lawyers of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” or doctors like “Marcus Welby.”  They are third tier scramblers trying to pay off their grad school loans as soon as possible.  Or sometimes they're escaping from the quasi-law of regulations, which are state-by-state.  I include teachers.  An insurance cartel is busy acquiring as many delinquent tax debts as they can, often because the owners either died alone or left for warmer weather, shorter distances, and better managed McDonalds -- abandoning their property.  What was originally devised as protection is now predation.

Thin populations spread over great distances means more need for public infrastructure from bus lines to fiber-optics to water management.  But here there are more tax cut-outs from the public body, from reservations to Hutterite colonies to giant corporate ranches to federal wilderness.  Montana's statistics are always distorted because they don't include the many reservations.  On purpose since they would drag down the evidence of prosperity to what would look a lot more like Butte.

Butte -- the M is for mining

As the article from the Guardian notes about Butte, the difficulties are resulting in what in biology is called “apoptosis,” simply stopping to exist, dying spontaneously.  The medical news feeds are announcing a recent study that showed if mice have all their senile cells (those on the verge of apoptosis) removed from their systems (I still don’t understand how) they make a sudden gain in vitality and live longer.  Consciously or unconsciously, there are people who would like to do the same thing in the human population: remove all the sick, depressed, hooked, unemployed, old and “foreign” people.  I have no doubt this would mean a jump in prosperity.  And a lot of empty houses to get people off the streets, though there probably ought to be a housing apoptosis to get rid of all the sub-code structures.  The apoptosis of small towns with no profit-making source of "new blood" is already happening.

Landed gentry, as portrayed in movies.

The trouble is that, like English landed gentry, evolution would take the remaining people and settlements towards not just cultural deadends, but towards that same cell-selecting apoptosis from the same causes.  Technology doesn’t just mean that all the money rolls into one corner, but that money suffocates.  And because of technology, we can all see it.  We just haven’t figured out alternatives yet.  Capitalism, communism, laissez faire and regulation have all contributed to the problem.  And the REAL problem is that we’ve just about used up all the free profit from the environment, the ore and oil and even fertile soil, which erodes quickly when irrigated.  And that exotic little trace element needed for Apple cell phones.

If one adds up information like the cultural shift away from grain-fed beef, the collapse of countries that once made deals to get our wheat, the growing allergies to gluten or to trace molecules of fertilizer and pesticides, antibiotics being worn out, erosion, climate change, and water shortages (which may only be distribution patterns changing), one is sharply and chillingly aware of the possibility of the whole grain industry collapsing.  It’s beginning to happen with corn already.  One fast-developing wheat virus would end Valier.

Small towns like this one have had imposed upon them by state and federal officials a host of infrastructure requirements: legitimate regulation of water, and sewer as well as profit-making provision for electricity, internet, gas and so on.  Some communities have dwindled below the critical mass necessary to support schools, churches, libraries, grocery stores, service stations.  

What that means is that a different kind of culture is unfolding in the country than in the city, but the city doesn’t know anything about it.  They pass laws that don’t fit, make assumptions that aren’t true, and use their greater population density to become technologically more clever — and more expensive.  One great vulnerability is the electrical transmission systems that power all the gizmos. 

Dwight D. Eisenhower

When Eisenhower was president, he insisted on a transportation system that would support war of the WWII kind.  It also exploded (increasing prosperity) the American automobile industry.  We all hit the road.   We still use the transportation systems to shift goods across the nation, though the bridges and railroads are decaying.  But the electronic infrastructure is probably more vital and it could be shut down by a teenaged hacker.  (Can you tell I’m now watching the series called “CSI:Cyber”?)  It’s already happened.  The intimacy of the computer screen beats even the intimacy of a parked car.

Worst than than, if cities collapse due to disaster or rot, the population will fall back on the country and they might not be welcome.  I still remember a right-wing friend who expected atomic bombs to prompt a migration in this country like the ones across the Middle East.  He had wrapped greased sem-automatics in plastic and buried them.  I don't know where.

We could always go back to basics, like “knowing things, planning, cooperating as a group with clever strategies, and sharing food.”  We're not quite to "apoptosis," but in many aspects we're suffering from "inanition," failure to thrive.  We're not quite to class war, which will not be between rich and poor but between urban and rural.

What's your Precious?

In Saskatoon I developed a vigorous theological elaboration of the rural prairie.  It triggered a passionate response from another female minister, defending skyscrapers and sidewalks.  People who knew both of us would tell you the chances of reconciliation were nil.

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