Tuesday, January 23, 2018


"Troubles" are the things that bother people in their lives, that they talk about at night over the kitchen table, the things that they are actively worried about. "Issues" is what the political system does to run elections. ... When Issues don't speak to Troubles, and Troubles don't connect to Issues, you have a crisis in democracy.

The supper table conversation when I was growing up (Fifties) and when my father was home, was usually about corporations versus co-ops.  My father grew up on the prairies, both sides of the 49th Parallel, and was dedicated to the idea of democratic self-governing institutions as opposed to corporations, who were furthering their goals by accusing co-ops of being “Communist” which was how we understood Russia in those days.  

My father’s formal job was keeping agricultural coops happy and functioning so they would buy from a larger wholesale co-op, Pacific Supply, which finally succumbed to corporatization.  At that point my father lost his job.  (It was probably inevitable since he suffered from undiagnosed consequences of a concussion, possibly leading to a version of Parkinson’s.)  

Since moving to Valier, I've witnessed the last of the local cooperatives closing down, mostly because no one has the time to go to meetings and research decisions.  Anyway, most people can live with corporations so long as there is enough money circulating.  This is not the Thirties. 

So I recognize another of these either/or discussions, like the one about “issues” versus “troubles.”  The scariest one is the results of a polling offering a choice between “prosperity” and “democracy.”  Would you rather be rich or free?  The majority chose prosperity.  They didn't mind a collar on their neck so long as they had money in their pocket.

Another troublesome discussion is between the individual and the whole.  Should a person make choices that are good for him/her self, or what serves the society?  Clearly in a family or even an early-days loose tribe, there will be pressure to serve the whole group, so that an individual who doesn’t fit might even have to leave.   Today the individual defiantly resists taxes for infrastructure we share and resents educating "other peoples'" children.  

The preferences I see around me are for prosperity, the values of the dominant group, but still a preoccupation with troubles.  There’s not much allowance for those who are atypical and active stigma is attached to poverty.  It’s considered a failure, a vulnerability, and can mark a person for discrimination by predatory people.  The high value on being “rich” is what motivates predators.  

One of the nastiest results is something like debtor’s prison — passing laws that require expense, then punishing those who fail to comply by fining them, and if they don’t have money but do have property, putting liens on their homes. Undercutting any special programs for helping poor or otherwise disadvantaged people is part of this pattern of getting richer by taking from the poor.

As these practices become embedded and accepted, they become invisible.  Efforts to bring them to consciousness or think about alternatives are opposed by those who are profiting.  In a small town or even in a city, going against profiteering subgroups can be very messy, even dangerous.  Even common democratic mechanisms like a town council can lead to shouting and violence.  Worse, many people who handle discomfort and dilemmas by simply avoiding the situation, are destroying even the illusion of democracy.  They "don't have time."  It’s a perfect setup for a dictator, or even a guy who likes to make little side-deals by using a leadership position.

These are “issues”.  The “troubles” have become disfunction in government at every level.  It’s being estimated that the current federal Special Investigator has posted 270 sealed indictments against legislators, aides, vendors, and various go-betweens and “business” dealers.  These people are globally connected, as likely to be in some other country as here in the United States.  We worry about terrorists and off-shore corporate operations, but rarely think much about money laundering.  Arms sales and drug rings are TV plots.

The most interesting factoid I’ve seen so far today is that 90% of immigrants to Mexico — often white professionals looking for a warm climate and low costs — are undocumented, in violation of the Mexican regulations.  What if Mexico, in addition to not funding Trump’s wall, suggested that if DACA is not funded, they would send home all the illegal retirees?  We don’t expect other countries to treat us the way we treat them.  It’s called “exceptionalism.”

My income is right on the poverty line.  Actually, I do a little better because of owning this house without debt.  It is assessed for taxation at about $30,000.  The other day I overheard someone suggesting that the only way this town could return to its former glory was to get rid of all the $30,000 houses, because they attract the evil poor persons, which is code for the Blackfeet who now constitute 30% of the town but generally don’t participate in town governance out of historical caution and the feeling of not really belonging.

My “poverty” is partly a counter-culture impulse, semi-religious.  Not quite “religious” because religion in the US is based on institutions and institutions are no longer my “gig,” whether they are co-ops or corporations.  The UUA pretends to be a cooperative but is constantly becoming more corporate.  The idea of focusing on principles instead of dogma (another interesting dyad) was that the idea of agreeing on universal obvious values (like, the Golden Rule) would be a force for unity, but instead dogma came barking in the name of efficiency and the drive for prosperity, even existence as an institution, translated into doing whatever would bring in new members, even it were transiently political, merely popularity.  Popularity is always connected to prosperity.  Neither is infallibly sustainable.

In fact, religion has become such a hot topic, such a bone of identity contention, that people are avoiding it — just staying home.  In fact, even race is back to being controversial in spite of the lines becoming so blurred that people have to be asked what they are and the census questionnaires allow people to check more than one category, the list of which are a mix of genetics and ethnicity and national history anyway.

My conscious goal is simplicity, meaning keeping my attention on basics, but what people consider basic now is a lot of expensive equipment for maintenance and transportation.  Riding mowers, steam-equipped washing machines bought in pairs with dryers, dish-washers, ice-makers, convection ovens, all the entertainment electronics (and exercise equipment for couch potatoes), and massive pickups that cost more than my house and are almost as big.  My rule of thumb — except for the computer — is that if we didn’t have it in 1950, I don’t need it.

But our governance in those days was something we did have, or thought we did.  Maybe we were deceived by ignoring some things.  After all, we loved Ike but he had a mistress.  (It was wartime.)  It was just impossible to imagine Mamie as a nude model.  And Ike's son married a Nixon.

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