Monday, October 22, 2018


People I run across, and a few I actively seek out, say to me, "Those clowns and monsters in office don't mean anything to me.  They're a sideshow to reality, an exaggeration like a television show.  They don't feel real.  They have nothing to do with my life.  So I don't vote.  It won't change anything because the new ones are as bad as the old ones.  I have better things to do, like taking care of my kids."

It doesn't seem to dawn on them that taking care of kids -- as opposed to keeping them in cages and desert tents where the AC might or might not work, guarded by unqualified people -- is what voting is about.  Those incarcerated kids are CONTINUOUS with their own American kids.  This will come closer to meaningfulness when their own kids get picked up for drugs, truancy, car theft, breaking curfew, or are shot by a short-tempered neighbor who thinks everyone is after him/her.

A website called Eudaimonia, which is a group housed by Medium, prints essays by its members that address our angst, in terms of diagnosis and cures.  This one speaks of "social pathologies" from a slightly different point of view. Umair Haque is the author.  He claims to be a vampire and pretty clearly doesn't come from Valier.  It's not my origin either, but it's my refuge.

This essay I'm responding to is called "Why We're Underestimating American Collapse."  The idea is five examples of "social pathologies" that are symptoms, probably of a disease that could all be subsumed in the last one.  The five are:

School Shootings: If the kids aren't killing each other, they're killing themselves.
Opioid Epidemic: He claims that in most of Asia and Africa one can buy all the opioids one wants from a local pharmacy without a prescription.  (Is that true?)
Nomadic retirees:  Old people in a low-pay seasonal gig economy, living in their cars, not in touch with families.
Catastrophic collapse of social bonds:  Families have been replaced by emergency services and disability programs.  Now they want to remove those, since they are controlled by government.

A Predatory Society.  This one is worth quoting at length.  "The predator in American society isn't just its super-rich -- but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic, generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane everyday affairs not to be too worried about or troubled about."

The remedies, as usual, are to the taste of the writer -- Zen-like spirituality, the Aquarian faith in small dedicated communities, a taste for change because of discouragement with the present, a loosening of irrational restrictions.  I sympathize with all this, but identify a slightly different force, an original cause:  the Middle Class which became a predatory society.

When society emerged from feudalism, at least in part because of the growing influence of science, the idea that formed was that trade, mercantilism, was the context where people could dissolve their differences, so that small towns formed around trade and businesses, something like indigenous crossroads with traders and explorers who could bring in unique goods.  This was easy in port towns, but happened even in America and it wasn't all paths converging where entrepreneurs gathered to take advantage of sales to travelers.  

This was the source of the Middle Class: mercantilism and exploration in order to take resources from Others.  The flip side was people who bought and kept or sold at a profit.  It was about money and weakness, the idea that Others had no claim.  Religion entered the picture as institutions that supported buildings housing a specialty class who accumulated philosophy in service mostly to the status quo.  Medicine imitated Religion with buildings and near-magic.  The Law also imitated Religion as a way of supporting the status quo through the use of imposing buildings.  And along with the rest came writing -- not individual writers, but the Rule of Law as defined in print which was kept as unchanging as possible.

A sense of the Sacred, the sources of Healing, and the nature of Justice were all still there, but not always in alignment with the institutions of society.  This was already a key subject of Greek drama.

The Elizabethan and Victorian middle-classes, tagged with the names of their Queens, were originating bourgeois.  They were defined by their belongings: the fabrics, the furniture, the tchotchkes, the petite industrial age belongings like typewriters, fountain pens, cuckoo clocks, pianos, running water, electric lights.  Much of the attraction of a spare Zen life is a rationale for clearing all that stuff out.

Also came a strange attachment to writing -- Bibles and Korans, of course -- but also the printed confirmation and endorsement of documents: licenses to marry, to give birth, to die, to graduate, to entitlements and ownerships.  Then came photographs which are actually a form of writing with light, which is poetic but also quite meaningful and moves toward art. Publishing and galleries joined a new class: the middle man.

Art and artifacts are so satisfactory because they introduce money to gambling.  The value of a painting is always a gamble on its reputation in society, which can go up and down overnight, just like the stock market.  This is a potent element in a predatory society, which began as a buyer and seller, then became obsessed with ownership, boundaries, inheritance, blood quantums though no one knew how complicated blood could be so they settled for "who are your people" and left it negotiable.

I inherited all this.  My father valued books (print in codex form -- pages bound) and accumulated them.  He felt the same about phonograph records of classical music enjoyed by middle class people at concerts.  But I transformed his middle class obsessions into something else: the content they carried.  They are instruments offering ideas.  I live in ideas.  Too much, a middle class person would say, because those ship-dominated people were preoccupied with cleanliness, neatness, freedom from foreign disease and bugs that come in the cargo of ships.  (One of my cats just went past with a grasshopper in her jaws.)

My father never read his books.  I do but I can never catch up because there are too many.  After my father's concussion he never played his records.  His omissions have become my way of life.  I'm valuing silence except for the wind, which is speaking.  I'm on the computer all the time but I don't roam around for entertainment.  I have no money beyond the most basic heat and water.  I vote, but I'm a little careless about reading up on the measures.  They call people like me "Class X".  Impoverished but educated.  A writer.  Not the basis of a society.

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