The problem of misplaced concreteness
(One of daily cartoons from nakedpastor.com)
This Thanksgiving, more than others, I’m hearing stories of distress, even panic and despair. All the time the conventional news obsesses about dozens of people blown to pieces here or hundreds buried in mudslides there or thousands displaced by political genocide. And all the time in the background there are what I call “pencil deaths,” those caused by the failure to allot budget resources needed for what are known effective and justified alleviations of misery. Equally lethal miseries are created by the obsessive accrual of wealth, too much for anyone to spend so that in the end it amounts only to more pencil shenanigans in attempts to hide it.
It’s not just the ugliness in the US among the high and mighty. It sweeps the nations of the world and challenges the very concept of nations at all. “United” was supposed to help, but the UN is overwhelmed by the far more powerful international corporations, imitations of human systems that are clearer robotics than any industrial revolution style machines.
The Industrial Revolution threw a net of railroads over the planet, now being completed in the eastern parts of Eurasia but not quite in the African jungles. The cyber-revolution has picked up the challenge on the Internet. No one knows what will happen. So far, it has been a great step forward for the isolated villages of Africa, allowing banking and commerce that had been prevented by inaccessibility. No doubt new ideas and a sense of pushing-back horizons have begun.
Russia was probably the first to realize the great power of the Internet to interfere in other nations. It’s hard to know whether the chaos now in countries used to the Rule of Law and institutional support of values have been destabilized by the Second Cold War or whether worn out arrangements made at the end of WWII has created the perfect storm that invites gaming the systems.
The Baby Boomers are dying of old age. Most of them refused to learn to type — that was for women — so never could really keyboard and therefore have a pretty tough time getting their minds around this new landscape. They’re busy trying to squeeze a bit more power and money out of their jobs — those that still have jobs — particularly our “elected” representatives who mostly got into their titles by seeming benign and having good connections.
It’s been good for me. I never really grasped the publishing industry, though I had writing skills. Long-form blogs are just the ticket for me, though I’m careful to keep paper copies. But I’m no gamer. I take games too seriously and I hate to lose. The aspect of the internet I’m most thankful for is that it resolves the choice between the great adventure of thought possible at a fine university (and the glamour of fine things) — and the quiet prairie small-town connection that is the bone of me.
I was raised in the closed family arrogance that has plagued so many people, that method of living based on the replication and defense of whatever has already happened, preventing all change. The stubbornness and high-mindedness of my high school teachers (esp. the dramatics teacher, Mrs. Sparks) shoved me out into the “greater” (bigger) world of university and implanted the idea that no matter how elite and vital it was, there was always somewhere another group of people who were more, above, deeper, (and all the Lakoff-noted metaphors that convey challenge, never-endingness), the unfolding of awareness that humans can do across the generations.
That got me into seminary which took me where no one expected me to go: circuit-riding around Montana in a van; associating with an extraordinary set of UU male politically- incorrect-but-vital ministers just before they were broken up by an invasion of feminists who insisted on mommie values; an extremely cold sojourn in Saskatoon; and a slow path back to the Blackfeet rez, or just off it, where somehow all that has coalesced into meaning. From here via keyboard I can stay connected to the indigenous people of the north, my former students on the rez (baby boomers — the millennials are their grandchildren and very different), and a diaspora of boys of many kinds everywhere. I can sit here and explore the incredible advances in understanding of the human body, things that doctors don’t have time to read about, so that I go to appointments with printouts in hand.
Unitarianism is one of the institutions that have shifted and dissolved over time. The other is my birth family which had three roots because the Pinkerton sisters all married Hatfield brothers, so that was a double root; and then my mother, who wanted the city, married my father, a rural man who never quite committed to the city though he marvelled at the Industrial Revolution. They were all three branches on the cusp of the shift from a nation that lived on farms to cities that have grown so much they are being spoken of as the natural replacement for nations.
The Pinkerton-Hatfields never left the idea of the one-celled family that taught its children to get ahead, and some of them still raise sheep. In the craving for prosperity, some made compromises and some suffered bad luck. I’m not in touch with any of them. They sheltered one of my damaged brothers for a while, but didn’t know how to confront and contain dementia — not even for their own Alpha males, so my brother died. The other brother does not communicate.
On the Strachan side there are literate, keyboard-competent female cousins and we keep in touch. But they are dedicated to family, safety, secrecy that they think of as discretion, and the prevention of change. We’re the same age, all born in the same month, but quite different in terms of education. We can relate — with effort.
The denomination I once felt was the answer to everything has disintegrated. Opportunistic minorities looking for status accurately assessed it as a way to become genteel. Women looking for power thought ministry would provide that but were mistaken. These folks get cranky and pick fights. They’re not my quarrels and their values still belong to the last century, though they are supposed to be permanent. There’s nothing wrong with them — they’re just not enough. Anyway, the don’t practice them any more than Christians practice Christianity.
Once in a while I feel as though I’m not trying hard enough, aging too quickly, too dominated by cats, not keeping my lawn cut. It’s not that I’m not admired and loved enough, because that doesn’t really matter. Because, oh, do I have the best objects of admiration and love and I love them as hard as I can — even when it bugs them.