Community seeding

I suggested an idea to a doctor I know.  “No way anyone I know would do that”, she said.  She went on to explain that people going into medicine wanted to make decent money, and their insurance was so high they had to make a lot of money, and the only way to do that was to go to urban and regional areas.  But, I asked, what if?

What if insurance companies, in programs under-written by the government, agreed to create special rates to cover doctors and nurses who agree to open small local clinics in rural areas?

Think about how the country functioned 150 years ago.  There are so many small towns, especially those in the Midwest and West (that are now dying).  Some have tried financial incentives to get people to move to these places, and it did not work out so well because there was no connected, concentrated effort to “seed” the community with the services and professionals that serve as the infrastructure first.

Think of teachers: what if student loans were forgiven if professionals spend a certain number of years providing such infrastructure services in small towns?  How about schools that have multi-year classrooms?

Think about who makes the basic infrastructure in a community and make it bloom:  Electricians.  Plumbers.  Doctors, nurses, teachers, a lawyer or two, then shop keepers, maintenance persons of all types.  Seed the community with infrastructure first, and invite creative small businesses to open next (think organic farming, small scale grass fed animals, etc.).  You’ll find, I think, that people will be drawn to such small communities very quickly.

The sprawling suburbs with insane commutes are in decay.  Inner cities are experiencing gentrification, but only by those with the money that can afford to do so.  There are many young people who see the future and think there will be no place for them but starting groups who choose to seed communities together, it might work on so many levels.  Take this to your think tanks and see what happens. . .

Drug Zombies

The zombie movie has become a form in itself.  We can all think of a zombie film or two; the undead taking over and a small band of non-zombies trying to survive.  Zombies are the haunted faces of people who once were, but are no more.  As if whatever personalities, or souls they had have gone and all that is left is ravaged flesh and a sort of animal impulse.

 I read (this information is all from a recent investigative piece in the L.A. Times) that there has been a dramatic rise in the use of heroin in the U.S.  The DEA claims to have been shocked by a phenomenon of the drug business that modeled itself on pizza delivery.  Small, local franchises are left to their own devices (no interference from bosses up the supply chain) and make door-to-door deliveries in small amounts.  Drivers are coached on how to dress “middle class”, and drive safely in innocuous cars.  The nationwide phenomenon was largely successful due to the target market they so smartly chose:  non-urban white people.  When one very successful entrepreneur was interviewed, he said, “It worked great- we didn’t get robbed or have any trouble.”  Street level dealers are taught to hang out a block from rehab centers where people addicted to oxycodone and methamphetamines gather and sell them on the quality (Mexican heroin has been found to be quite a bit stronger and less “cut” than the Afghanistanian and Pakistanian competitors) and cheapness of the drug (compared to buying prescription drugs by the pill off the street).

 What has this left us with?  Well, layer this new wave of drug addiction on to a rising unemployment rate and abysmal economy (especially in rural areas), the complete failure of the “war on drugs”, and we have a zombie problem.  I am not making light of addiction.  I am trying to sort through what I have seen in the last several years in West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina (as well as other places).  Midsized and small villages have been becoming ghost towns for the past 30 years as Wal-Tar-K’s helped kill downtowns, and major industries left.  On a recent trip to a pretty typical town of about 40,000 people in Virginia, the number of street people milling around on a weekday afternoon struck me.  Young and old, black, white, and latin, male and female.  These people were in shabby clothes, with unkempt hair; they loitered around the thrift stores, around the homeless shelters, churches, and the graveyard.  They did not get on busses (I checked back later to see how many were still there) but seem to spend most of their day just hanging out.  I spoke to a few local people I knew and was told that the drug problem had gotten so bad it was not safe to go out at night in many parts of the town.  Whether this is true or not, it is clear that a confluence of problems is hitting these mid-sized and small towns, and drugs of several types are part of the mix.

 I grew up in a rural region that was poor.  I spent much of my adult life living in large urban areas.  I have seen low level drug activity as part of both cultural milieus, and certainly have seen the traditional form of addiction to alcohol going strong.  But what I am seeing now scares me so much more than anything did before.  Truly, it feels like I am driving around in some zombie film, so many unoccupied buildings, so much decay, and so many people living bottomed-out lives in so many regions of this country.  This picture seems to be a taboo subject with our local, state, and federal politicians.   In a way, I can’t blame them.  To talk about it would only upset the apple cart they try to construct, and spread more fear and despair.  But to not talk about it changes nothing, and only allows the complex problems that are behind the zombification to grow. 

 I am still surprised, still shocked when I drive to towns in my region and see the overwhelming number of people stuck in time and place, human artifacts of decay.  A few have cardboard signs and sit at street corners.  Most just mill about.  I have never had a particularly addictive personality, but like depression, I know anyone can fall.  I fear for my kids, my friends, my community, and my country.  What is happening people? 

 The guns and running solution in zombie films will not help us, nor does objectifying those who are sinking (which seems to be the popular opinion of GOP leaders).  Like a viewer at a zombie movie, I do not ask who will save us; I do not ask who is to blame.  I only ask, what will happen next? But without the thrill of a horror film resolved, or the comfort of knowing it’s just make-believe, can we simply sit and watch?

 

That old feudal feelin’

A Washington Post journalist writes this week that his time at Davos (the world economic conference) surprised him.  He found a form of “populist” rage simmering in the most powerful and monied people of the world, and it was spurring many extreme conversations about what should be done to fix world financial systems (one such suggestion was global labor laws).

Yet the anger he observed is significantly different from the populist rage and anxiety of the powerless (which means most of us).  We are angry because everyday basic transactions of life have been and continue to be violated, while we are expected to conform to “rules” and at the same time be suckers- at the loss of home, health, family, and life in many cases.  Some predict a French revolution style acting out- but the very wealthy know better.  They are angry because enough nouveau riche (newly rich), many of whom are in banking, designed systems to get rich quick, without thought for consequences, and made the very rich feel threatened, robbed and worst of all- duped.  My father told me once not to taunt a big dog, you’ll get bitten.  That newly rich man with ties to Madoff found floating in his pool?  Get bitten indeed.  The worst thing a very powerful (which is synonymous with wealth in our world; money being necessary, but not the whole definition of what constitutes a powerful individual) person feels is to be duped, taken advantage of, treated like a fool.  It is the highest form of insult, and retribution is always swift.

 Those who were at Davos now talk about “fixing” the series of problems that have brought us to our current global economic insecurity, and in ways that circumvent a revolution (because those are bad for business) and consolidate their power even more, so that such recent financial events do not happen again.   I am not a fan of “runaway” capitalism.  Quite the opposite.  But it fills me with feelings of foreboding to know that the super powerful are trying to find ways to change things, and not in ways that mimic socialism, communism, or capitalism.   The discussions at hand are filled with the knowledge that to maintain any economic stability, the vast majority of people must feel safe, or at least not threatened.  Thus did the discussion of global labor laws arise.  The uber-powerful already consider themselves the care takers of the rest of us, if for nothing more than the fact that to do so stabilizes their own positions. But how much care?  How much cost-benefit analysis must be done?  There will be complex formulas, there will be intricate arguments.  But what these proposed changes at the very highest levels will mean seems to be a new feudalism.

 Let’s consider this for a moment, shall we?  There have been many societies in history that had explicit class levels (Thank you William the Conqueror, and India for examples).   Consider the warrior/military class; think the new global Blackwaters, er, newly named Xe, that have taken over global military function.  All else, at the national level, is a form of employment that takes the lower class (as defined by education, intellect, money, family, and regions) and gives them a job- makes them a National Guard so to speak- that does domestic work.   Think of recent events around the earthquakes in Haiti.  It is a textbook example of one of the poorest places in the world (and hence not of high financial stakes, such as Iraq, that require explicit military “intervention” to “secure”: control for the profit of specific people).  The fast, very public response to the events was amazing.  How many photos, tweets, essays, videos, and general information moment to moment got circulated?  With no invested entities to curtail it (as was in the recent Iranian elections), the information flowed and then did resources.  Will this become a global pilot model of support to shape the future from?  This model allows us all to feel involved, puts resources in poor places, and happens globally, not just locally.  Interest dies in increments of time out from event, as information overload leads us to believe things are being taken care of.  What a machine!

 Will the new skilled/crafts class be our doctors?  Our lawyers?  Engineers?  What will the business class be, and how much will they be allowed to do?  Will there be a rise of the sanctioned social services class (teachers?  nurses? city planners?  garbage people?  mail persons?) generally labeled as government workers?  Will there be untouchables (with the complete privatization of prisons, will they become workhouses to be “productive” and contribute to the overall system?  Will there be degrees of this class on a global scale?  Will execution of the very worst be a global standard?)?  What will the new global legal courts look like?  Will the aristocracy maintain the highest levels of judges and law?  What will the religious/priestly class look like?  What will their sanctioned roles of control be?

 Most of all, are we kidding ourselves if this is not implicitly, if not explicitly, already the case?   Those at Davos will do what they will do, hash out compromises among themselves, and agree upon ways to squelch any reaction in ways that will not be overtly violent (China is learning the backlash of that approach).  They will find ways to garner our support, throw us bones.  We will be more organized, we will possibly even feel “more” free.  We may not fear global war anymore.  We may not fear for our children’s lives.  I do not know what the specifics will look like, I can only imagine possibilities.  But I wonder, will George Orwell’s books quietly disappear?  Will all the IPads and Kindles just not carry them, and then our collective memory of these books and what they posit simply evaporate into history?

 Post Davos, post 2010, what does the future look like?  I don’t know.  I may be in the intellectual class now, but we are only allowed access to certain information and means of expression.  I am ignored by those who would rather happily munch toxins and watch quasi-violent entertainment, and am segregated by those who would rather have their ideas promoted, not mine. In sum, my class has some cultural capital, but we are wage slaves none the less.  Perfectly contained in other words.  Now if I could only get my hands on some Soma, I’d be fine.  But I’m sure the CEO’s of Glaxo are working on that.

Connect the dots

I really enjoy statistics.  I studied stats under a very kind, bright man who was dogged in his love of seeking out statistical errors and finding mathematical problems in analyses.  I wish I had paid better attention in all the classes I had with him.  Simply put, statistics can be a way through a forest of data, a way to see how “best” to draw conclusions- how to connect the dots.

Present day data mining is a hot way to do the same thing.  Vast amounts of data stream through super computers and different sifting programs are constantly developed to connect the dots and help humans analyze and draw conclusions.  I find this pursuit fascinating.  Not only where data is drawn from, but also how it can be thrown together at any given moment with other (often seemingly disparate) data and voila!  Conclusions about how large groups of people or chemicals or systems behave can be made.  Are the conclusions always accurate?  Probably not (back to statistics- the probability issue).  But then the conclusions themselves get treated as data to be shifted, grouped, and analyzed. 

There is a micro level of such investigation I’ll call case study (also a formal term).  This is the science and art of seeing the big picture within the single case, thinking of a case as a somewhat self-contained system (good doctors frequently do this).  All the data that can be derived from looking deeply within what is often treated as a single data point- a single person, or even business, or family- can be amazing.

One thing we know about systems (I won’t credit the long list of popular books currently published on this topic), say the human body for instance: when a cycle of feeding off of itself to survive begins, the system is in the last stages of existence.  When the human body (as is the case with long term anorexics, and cancer patients) starts consuming it’s own muscles and flesh to survive, it will die not long after.

I do not think it is a stretch to apply this idea to economics.  Whether one looks at the macro level of systems, or the micro (single families and businesses), these systems have begun to feed off of themselves.  The structures that would allow for the solving of problems in creative ways, of offering relief for corrosive stressors, of shifting problematic function points, have all worn away.  The cycle of feeding upon core bones and muscles, the very things that drive the system(s), has begun.  It takes time for these tings to wear away, but wearing away they are.  There seems to be nothing to alleviate these processes, so the spinning within spinning of these cycles, the feedback loops they create, continues and grows in corrosive power as the micro systems interact at a macro level; and the macro level systems themselves are caught in the same corrosive cycles of core decay.

Is this pessimism?  Some might call it that.  Some still hope that an outside force, something called God, or the possibility of drift that creates a sudden set of alternatives not previously imagined or seen that can throw the health of a system into more positive order may happen.  This may be hope, it maybe foolishness born of desperation. 

Some would say this is the natural outcome of systems- this decay into chaos, and that at the furthest point out from organization, from order, when chaos is as crazy as it can get, systems start to reorganize again organically.  Maybe so.  But how much decay and dying has to happen first?  This is a question no economist, no social theorist, no statistics genius, no physicist, and no computer scientist can answer.

So as each of us has a brain, an elegant machine if you will who’s very design is to connect the dots, to make connections between data, input, and then experimentally react, then analyze the results making more data and input that creates new connections and makes stronger pre-existing ones; we try to problem solve and forecast in order to survive. 

Some of us throw those nets of possibilities so far, then connect dots so strangely that we create paranoid loops for ourselves, seeing only information that then shores up what we believe to be connections of the most “real” or true.  You know people like this; you have been tempted to think like this.  Some of these folks will say that everything they experience is due to God being angry, or chakras being out of whack, or a comic book boogie man pulling all the strings of power in the world; or aliens.  Fear is a powerful motivator, and when the complexity of everything individuals face is so overwhelming, the impulse to simplify kicks in, and to react.  Thus we connect dots, and draw conclusions.  Even when we may know better, the comfort of sometimes whackado conclusions and the simplicity of them temporarily puts a stop to the fear, the stress, and the overwhelming feelings of powerlessness we experience.

Then sometimes, even when we try to be as open minded as possible, when we know our own error rates for our conclusions, our own foibles, our own ignorance and holes in knowledge, when we try to see as broadly as we can, what we see can seem damning.  So many experts on climate, economics, and politics- they very people we trust to see broadly- are feeling powerless.  Their sense of desperation transfers to others, and they get pilloried for being pessimists or crazy when they may be doing the best they can while trying very hard not to be “Chicken Little”.

Imagine again connecting the dots.  Taking that huge box of lenses, and pulling one magnifying lens out.  A small one, which will show you only your family.  See all the dots- your current bank balance, your debts, your possessions, your needs, your wants, your strengths, your weaknesses.  This system overlaps other systems, the businesses you run or are employed by, schools, communities, states, nations, geographic regions, on and on so much so that if you try to use all the lenses to see, the information gets overwhelming.  You may use well-developed tools for analysis- borrow from those classes you have taken to help chunk the data, to help index and analyze. 

But if you are like me, you may still be feeling overwhelmed because of what you currently observe through any particular lens:  the knowledge that the system you observe, and the other systems overlapping it, seem to be feeding on themselves.  Businesses cooking books, cheating, lying, creating new rules that feed off of customers in ways that destroy healthy interaction and hide it in language to try to stave off the customers reaction.  Individuals selling off anything they can, cutting back in ways that “go to the bone”, or throwing “caution to the wind” (forgive the mixed metaphors) in anticipation of collapse.  Government at multiple levels reduced to corrupt self-preservation, or feeding off of core muscle to keep going.  I don’t see where these cycles of decay end, I only see consequences of the decay that provoke more decay, more chaos.

As a parent, I feel despair.  Where can we go?  What can we do?  What will be the best decisions- even on a micro level, day to day basis- to take care of my family?  I wish I could write off these feelings as just something all parents experience, or as some floating midlife crisis.  But as I connect the dots, I am starting to wonder if we need to plan for something bigger than laughing off stereotypical angst.  If the smart, educated people I trust (including my husband) are feeling the same way, and seeing the same things when they connect the dots, by taking them into consideration am I just reinforcing my own patterns of belief?  Or should we really be reconsidering the very foundations of where, who and what we are to better plan for the future?  I don’t know and it scares me.

I think if we are honest, all of us are scared.  No amount of knowledge, hope, or power seems to be able to change the course of current systems decay.  What happens now is both a topic of speculative fascination (game playing) as well as pessimistic reaction (greed, violence) and in some cases altruistic exhaustion (volunteering time or money we don’t have for causes that give us a feeling of having done good, or hope).

I hear people saying do the best you can right now.  It makes us feel like we have some control over the moment.  It’s not bad advice.  But now is always connected to later, and some of us can’t help connecting those dots.

Stuck in the middle with you

It has been said that describing the American experience as being at the mercy of anything is to give in, to invite patriarchy.  To believe that forces larger than the collective of the citizenry control our fates for good or ill encourage hopelessness, and metaphors of parents (which conservatives and religious leaders seem to like overly well).  This may be generous- because feeling powerless and recognizing forces larger than oneself are also a form of realism, grim as it can be.  Also, it seems these are the first steps to action, to reacting, and to resisting.  Not just in the ways of adolescents, but in ways that are methodical, well thought out, and effective as resistance.

It seems in our current moment most of us are caught between descriptions and forces of extremes in politics, economics, and other facets of life.  We have become again faceless masses others like to speculate about, and use for their purposes.  Even, it seems, with a new populist media/technology of tweets, Face and Space ramblings, and blogs- have we become still more invisible?  It sounds like a paradox, but it is not.  Listen to several different objects at once, and it all becomes white noise.  When a stronger signal breaks through, it is all we can hear.  That a limited amount of people control stronger signals is simply fact.  That we can become seduced by the plethora of information, disappear down rabbit holes of specificity that appeal to any current emotion and interest is the new soma.  George Orwell had the date and substance wrong, but in general I think he was right.

The film The Matrix comes to mind, a metaphor for waking up from our collective pervasive delusions.  Is revolution truly fomenting as some of late have claimed?  Or are we the stepchildren of warring parents, ostensibly being protected and shut into rooms, not seen, not heard?  The uber rich dine with religious extremists; if an apocalypse is coming they simply hole up, drink up, and toast to the end.  What becomes of anyone else is not their concern, and justifiable by pointing blame out to those they refuse to see.

We do not seem to feel a basic strength that would help make positive change- our very collective humanity.  Kinship with people different than we are by nationality, class, or any other category seems antithetical to the current paths of anger, mistrust, defensiveness, and blame that are popular.  Workers who fought for unions at the height of the most egregious corporate abuses knew that kinship was key.  Humanism is a force for good, not to be vilified.  Without it, we fracture and fall.  The signers of the Declaration of Independence knew this.  The figure known as Jesus Christ knew this.  Mohammed knew this.  Buddha knew this.  Mother Theresa knew this.  Artists, musicians, poets and philosophers have known this.  Scientists know this.

When will those of us in the middle recognize it, stop talking about it, and actually act collectively on this knowledge for a greater good?  I think expecting elected leaders, business moguls, and celebrities to do it is not only passing the buck, but will only frustrate.

What this means can be manifested in multiple ways.  Maybe they will not all be strictly compatible, maybe we’ll see a cobbled together set of actions that overlap, a messy vision in action that is dramatically different than what we have now.  Driven by collective humanity that is not drugged, not locked away, and willing to broker a different reality.

Hope must spring eternal.

The pleasure of beautiful things

Advice for the retail world:  make it an experience again.  Not the “rarified air” experience, like so many haute couture lines that opened retail shops in the recent past, designed by those who seem to think shopping should be like going to an art gallery, with the same high prices, cold air, and tomb like ambience lacking in any human presence (to their surprise, they lack the requisite robotic and emaciated shoppers as well).  No more the grab and go of malls either, or should I say teenager theme parks complete with heavy browed security to prevent those ever looming petty thefts and feared eruptions of violence.  These bastions of cheap consumerism, garish color and sound, and the worst edibles known to man, anchoring neighborhoods surrounded by big box stores, acres of asphalt, and exchange-name restaurants proffering the same fare trucked in every week are dying. The experience is run run run, acquire without thought, and keep going.  It is exhausting, boring, discomforting to observe and perversely, makes me both sad and glad to see it all go.  Change is difficult.  Atrophy limb by limb, week by week, while weeds peek up through the sea of black, and the workers left in stores that remain walk to the only source of sunlight, the front doors, and peer out. 

If retail is to have any presence in the future, re-examining what obtaining goods is about might be useful.  I do not intend to raise dairy cows, so I must procure dairy goods from suppliers (dairy farmers themselves, and I am lucky to be able to go to the farmers market or visit a local dairy if I choose) or the “middle men”, the grocers.  I can go to the Wal-Tar-K’s and pick up toothpaste, a tarp, and milk at the same time or I can go half a mile to a neighborhood grocery store; small, with a surprisingly wide variety of goods, cheerful and funny employees, and quirky promotions.  The experience of the latter is infinitely better, and the overall grocery bills the same. 

For other things, objects I do not buy on a regular basis, I had been retreating to the internet.  Shoes, clothes, and toys in the sizes, materials, and styles I wanted were available, even if the experience was the same as reading a catalog.  Then wide spread information theft arose, and already this year we have had our credit card company send us new cards because, they announced to us, our information had been “compromised” (read: stolen) by a retail merchant.  I am going back to cash, which helps me stay on a budget, and clearing out all my internet information.

I wonder about the pleasure of beautiful things.  Not only obtaining them, but observing them, seeing them, feeling them, and being surrounded by them in a retail space.  I suggested to our local Apple store manager that she put in a coffee station, as they already have the big circular bar to service patrons and Apple stores offer instructional chits that patrons can use at their leisure– go in and learn when you choose.  She replied that the mess would be horrifying.   She is a nasty old woman who is rude and condescending, and chalks up her lack of business to people not using her brand of machines.  She is a delusional idiot, like so many business managers at all levels.

If this contracting economy is teaching us anything, it is that the days of buying for buying sake is over.  Encouraging it any further is stupid, and the self-sufficiency and recycling of products (gardens, second hand stores, people learning to fix things) that is rising up is a good thing that may help us reformulate what it means to “have” anything at all.

Service, the idea that knowledgeable people with a good attitude can help you when you buy something, needs to come back.  Loyalty from consumers because a store backs up the things it sells (without hassle), because objects are easy to find, in stock, help is always ready, and provides the intangible social and informational resources buyers need (as we regularly experience at our local hardware store) all this should be valued again; not sheer loyalty for “brand” because it is marketed as chic, or used to be dependable, those superficial reasons of buzz, not truth. 

Spaces for social interaction need to be considered.  Think of department stores of mid-century, when there were comfortable places for people to rest, literally rest, have a coffee, or chat.  Also offering “public facilities” that had anterooms with mirrors and chairs (let’s add baby changing areas in ante-rooms of BOTH sexes too, with truly safe tables and disposal methods), a gateway between the intimate and the public.   Think spaces for truly examining items, not simply crammed together racks of confusion that dwarf individuals with claustrophobic environments.  Spaces organized with consideration for the process of appreciation and the ability of patrons to freely move, even two at a time are needed.  The old calculation of “items per square feet or inch” is useless to everyone but bean counters.

Think about spaces where light and sound could be calming, without feeling like generic elevator music; imagine spaces that encouraged patrons to be patrons, not just consumers.  Imagine learning to save and spend money on things you need, and to learn how to appreciate the things you want.  How to look, how to see- as John Berger has said.

Growing up I had an annual shopping trip with my grandmother.  She always made sure to teach me, to remark upon the quality of the items we saw.  Were the seams finished?  Was a blouse cut to a fit?  Were the sheets multi-thread?  Were the towels sized well?  Were the shoes leather, and sewn correctly?  With the raise of an eyebrow, she would dismiss much of what she saw.  A child of the depression, she knew it was not worth it to buy shoddy goods.  Even if it meant you only bought a pair of shoes rarely, you bought good shoes that fit, and clothes that would last, as well as appearing beautiful.

Of course, I had to live through my own young adulthood.  I squandered cash on stylish, but foolish items.  I learned.  I also learned that a terrific, barely used black wool swing coat that fit as if it were made for me, although made thirty years ago (and I checked the thread- it was well made and had not deteriorated) was one of the best things I ever bought, for five dollars.  A vicuna over-coat here, a vintage skirt there.  Quality fell out of favor as resale became a mark of shame.  No more.  There is great pleasure in beautiful things, in quality, and the experience of learning about them.  Retail, take note. 

This all points to a more local point of view.  Locally or regionally made and produced items, lower shipping costs, higher dependability, less production and consumption for a cycle of “throw away”, and responsibility to the deeply interconnected nature of commerce is necessary.  To have buyers, those buyers must be employed.  To have service, workers must make fair wages with life sustaining benefits of time and insurance.  The cries that objects will be too expensive if we do this are lies. There are trade offs in where expenses go, and, as we are learning the hard way, no manager or administrator (read: CEO.  They are only titled managers at best, nothing more) is worth the outrageous salaries they are often paid.  There are plenty of bright, energetic, dedicated people of all ages willing to work hard for fair wages who can run companies.

Also, encouraging farmers to grow such things as industrial hemp (no THC), and other fibers, and milling them regionally actually SAVES money.  The whole fast buck lie is falling down, and only those who want to steal the last pennies off the corpse are the ones screaming that any other model of capitalism is socialism or “worse”.  It is a complete lack of imagination, a lack of responsibility, and a lack of honesty that drives them; all this, and fear.  I have compassion for the fear, we are all afraid of change, the unknown.  I have no tolerance for the hatred, the thefts, and the willful ignorance that slows down progressive change for the better.  The hateful rants of the fearful greedy is a position not only immoral, it is ugly.  If beauty is truth, and truth beauty, then maybe we all ought to do a lot more thinking, and talking, about what truth is right now.  The pleasure of beautiful things will only come when we know that they are truly beautiful, worthy, and have the time to consider them wisely.

Needs and wants

There seems to be a lot of discussion right now about what defines need and want. Both are categories of desire.  Need is most clearly defined by the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy: food, shelter, safety. Included above this is some vestige of social connection, a form of intimacy akin to love- that thing without which babies die (see the studies regarding this from mid-twentieth century), old folks slip into afflictions and die, and the rest of us suffer depression and a variety of illnesses.  Abraham Maslow (1943) developed a pyramid of levels to represent a complete individual that has been revised from time to time, but the basic ideas have stayed the same.  There is a line on the pyramid, below it are needs and above it are what we might call wants.  Above the line categories include respect, achievement, creativity, self-determination.  Our founding folks might have seen these as the basis of the “pursuit of happiness”.  So are they really wants- or another form of needs?  I suppose it depends on whom you talk to. 

Many wealthy people in this country think cutting back on their monthly liquor orders constitutes privation.  They will also tell anyone who listens that everyone else, those making below 50k a year especially, ought to just suck it up and cut back.  They shake fingers and cluck, some massaging their conscience with a few dollars thrown at a charity (for which, as Blago of Chicago made clear, they expect a return in money, big parties, and other benefits).  No health insurance?  Too bad you are not “talented” enough to find a good job with benefits.  Need extra tutoring for your kids?  Daycare?  Too bad.  You should not have had children you can’t afford.  The list goes on and on. They strut around at cocktail hour, palms open, telling their friends “what do they expect?  Of course our companies/banks/businesses need the bailout.  We are the ones who keep this country going.”  The unquestioned assumption that big salaries, and big compensation packages are also necessary, needful things; this fun-house mirror of self regard and privilege is horrifying.  Finding out recently that a high percentage of the businesses getting bailout money operate core off-shore tax havens and that much of that money is being funneled away to these havens is also scary.  It all points out that the modus operandi for too long has been nothing more than greed driven to the extreme, and instead of being the foundation for a healthy, complex economy– undermined it entirely.  Like over-mined ground in West Virginia, the ground is collapsing and everything that rested on top is caving in and becoming toxic.  The fires that burn below in the mines of Pennsylvania will burn for thousands of years (http://www.offroaders.com/album/centralia/centralia.htm).  Let’s hope this metaphor for our financial system is a little less long term. 

Maslow had it right I think.  In a very pragmatic way, we know if people don’t have basic needs met their lives spin out of control, and even worse, they die.  I don’t think the vast majority of people in this country are confused about the difference between needs and wants, and they don’t need daytime talk show hosts to wag fingers and wax poetic about the uplifting opportunities for self improvement by learning to live with less.   What most people seem to need is parity between those who want to believe they are the caretakers of our systems, and those who have little control over them. Business journalists held hands over their collective mouths until the holidays had passed, and now are starting to blather forth all the bad news they held in.  It’s gonna get a lot worse, and no one is really sure how much worse.  Where have you gone Nancy Reagan; ketchup never was a vegetable and a full belly is a basic need.  We can’t wish or talk away the realities of what is happening.  The time for blame seems to have passed when the government is giving life boats to the very wealthy while yelling into the megaphone to look the other way, these are not life boats, they are some thing else, um, yeah, bailouts that will make everything better.  Just keep your noses to those rapidly sinking grindstones, and we’ll give you a couple hundred bucks at tax time (and take it back in the now $17,000 per wage earner that will be needed in taxes to fund the bailout).  When the ship is going down, those scions of business and culture will be off to their private islands stocked with alcohol and say it was everyone else’s’ fault. The nut-bags plan to hole up in Idaho, and as one blogger put it, “I’ll have the guns to come take your organic gardens, liberals”.  No, we have no time to blame.  

What do I need today?  I need a laugh.  I need to clean my house.  But more importantly, I need to know I can feed my kids, get them adequate medical care, and keep a roof over our heads and clothes on their rapidly growing bodies.  A solid elementary and secondary education is essential as well.  For myself, I’ll skip a meal or two but I can’t live without the laughs. It is way too dark for me, and many others, right now.  We have to find a way to laugh without sticking our heads in the sand as many conservatives would have us do.   We have to find a way to channel our anger productively, and act.  When we suggest a state-wide schools strike involving students, parents and staffers in the local newspaper comments section (in response to the announcement of deep cuts in public schools as the first place to plunder now that the state is broke) it is rapidly removed.  There was no foul language; it was a short, thoughtful, polite comment.  Do we need or want to speak out?  How about both? Perhaps it is doubly necessary, this need to speak, to form consensus, then act– no matter how scary it seems to those in control.  The ship is sinking.  What do you need as it does?  What are you going to do about it?