Archive for August, 2013

Modern war

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Things rarely develop unexpectedly. Despite the near-deafening advertisements about innovation and change, we generally know, far in advance, what’s coming. I think we accept unfortunate situations because they’re described to us well ahead of time, and we embrace them in our expectations. So, when I was in college, the claim was that someday – unlike in that day – we would be a nation of ‘burger flippers.’ And we became one. Someday – unlike in that day – we would lose our Social Security. And we’re OK with that. Someday – not quite unlike that day – wars would be television programs that don’t harm our own children. And, well.

There is still some harm done to our own children, of course. But the TV thing: after one hundred thousand dead and two years of war, it becomes time for the monolithic invisible global government to announce Syria’s use of chemical weapons and prepare – a strike. Prepare a strike?

Markets gyrate. Commentators foam. The strike could come as early as Thursday! The strike may be coming! The strike may be coming!

A couple of days pass. No strike. Oh well, it’s hard to know what a strike would be, anyway. Or why a strike is an appropriate reaction to chemical warfare. It reminds me of ineffective parents trying to discipline children who really don’t care if they’re punished at all. But these are civilizations. These are whole peoples. In some cosmic accounting system, they probably actually matter.

Happiness, dissatisfied.

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

Over the years I’ve learned about talking to children. They hear none of the intentionality or history behind an explanation. They hear only the words. They assign meanings from their own close, physical experience. They respond.

So I confuse Evan when I say he should never be satisfied, but I hope he will always be happy.

Evan has a lot of information about being, and it’s been collected for him and arranged and assigned to groups. He knows the difference between hippies and Christians and businessmen. He’s been attracted to Buddhism and he likes the idea of simply being himself as complete fulfillment.

My history is more complex. I bear genuine scars. Raising children, I’ve had to look thoughtfully at both what I think life is, and what I think life offers. I’ve come up with this: I’m an actively creative creature which must struggle – struggle hard – to invent and construct objects and events in which I can see myself. Doing so gives me deep comfort, and goes far toward resolving the question of who I am. I think of the results of such activities as ‘accomplishments.’ I personally value them. Encouraging them is what I offer my children.

At once, I agree, it is true: simple existence without motive or expectation is complete living. Mindful awareness and acceptance are the foundations of personal peace. Commitment to objectives is always a form of bondage. So when Evan becomes angry – and he becomes very angry – that I claim hope for his happiness while driving him to accomplishment, I say this:

‘Only when you decide who you are – and only you can decide this – can you know how to serve the needs you will discover within yourself. You are thirteen. You don’t know who you are yet. You are in a tough world, surrounded by young people like yourself. The actual, circumscribed lives of each of you, when done, will have been of different sizes. You are growing now, with no idea of how large you might become. There are hard limits on everyone, more so on others than on you. Over the coming years, one by one, all of you will be confined within insuperable boundaries. As that occurs, philosophies and religions of acceptance will be offered as comforts against sensations of failure and  defeat. If you pursue them out of momentary attraction; if you suspend your purposeful, hard, effort so you can relax by the stream to contemplate your navel, you may later discover yourself confined in a smaller box. If your spirit is clear, and you are right about your whole life at the age of thirteen, then truly – God bless you. But if you’re not entirely, divinely, certain – then grow large. Grow large.’

Despite my carefully precise phrasing and perfect selection of words, Evan doesn’t think this is very clear. He says, ‘you don’t want me to be happy at all! You tell me never to be satisfied with anything. I don’t have to want to accomplish some great piece of music to make a great piece of music. I’m doing my music because doing good music is what I do, and it’s really good.’

To which I observe, ‘but not so! Continually, I ask for recordings of your songs and you say, ‘Dad, you don’t understand. They aren’t ready yet. I have to change this first.’ So tell me, why aren’t they ready yet?’

‘Well, because I want to make them better.’


”Well, they’re not ready yet.’

‘And this I call dissatisfaction. I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s a personal desire to do better. I don’t think, in fact, you can be happy without it. What you call ‘wanting to make them better’ I call ‘being dissatisfied.’ I feel the opposite of wanting your unhappiness. I’m hoping you have a rare and deeply gratifying life.’

And Evan says, ‘Oh. I get that.’


Who to become

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

A few Hebrews died of trichinosis, and they made it a mortal sin to eat pork. But it’s really about commitment to ritual. It’s about who you think you are. It’s about identity. Today , there are folks who can make morality out of mortality and call it the greater good. I still call on the name of the Lord, thinking I’d rather have Life.

The latest great white hope is in fact a huge white man, embellished by a public contempt for smart people. It’s a test of the historical Republican constituency; a probe to see how big it still is. I know the guy has lots of scientific explanations for his condition – how it’s genetics or predispositions or some such – but me, I’m not going to go intellectual about it: he’s a fat boy. He can’t control his appetite and we know whose table he wants to sit at.

My son is thirteen and we’re parents so we worry about his friends: we want to make sure he’s not hurt; we don’t want him to be misled. We want – well, I don’t know what I want. It’s easy to watch how friendship works in young people: their schools periodically change the groups they’re in and it’s apparent how much they identify with those who just happen to be in the same room. They forge some bonds and they start up some rituals, but then it’s a new year of school and all the characters are different. So they do it again. It’s a filtering process: the enduring rituals define the adult lives that result.

I got banged around enough, myself, any ritual seems worth busting up to me. I know it’s just a sham for somebody else’s purpose. But these things go deep in the brain. The most attractive human being I’ve met in twenty years doesn’t want to be my friend at all. I’m thinking Evan better go at it as hard as he can.

It seems I’m able to shift perspective: today I feel I can change things, tomorrow I feel like I can’t. The whole universe transforms with my perceptions. I have been very fortunate. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord.

Class defeat

Friday, August 9th, 2013

We’ve had a couple financial contractions. They looked pretty scary to most people, and damaged the working majority severely. But two was enough to get used to them. The affluent class actually looks forward to the next decline, because they’ve learned how to ‘profit from both sides of the trade.’ They know the suffering will be duly born by some other public.

My son is thirteen years old and all the girls he knows are ‘cutting’ themselves. He himself has two visions of the future: successful musician or indigent street minstrel. He doesn’t see any in between. There is none, really – just a dead-end, mind-numbing workday routine the kids already know leads to old age in debt.

Most young people, of course, will endure by necessity. The brightest – so the hope goes – will get caught up in the false promise of social mobility and have the fight wrung out of them by fifty or fifty-five. But a permanent, prominent elite class is an ugly thing to maintain, and the threat of proletarian aggression is real.

So, things that look like liberal progress are being permitted as exercises on behalf of the dominating elite. The productivity of the work force is such it’s more important to manage its idle time than to urge it to greater effort. Marijuana is being legalized, finally, because it’s better for my son to get stoned than to get revolutionary.

The history of all society is the history of class warfare, today engaged in as class stupefaction. The popular ruling claim is always, ‘we’re beyond that.’ Only malcontents and enemies of the state agitate for ‘redistribution of wealth.’ Our artificial elections are full-time celebrations of meaningless differences, like football games. The results are no more important.

I am fifty-five years old today. If I were young again (alas!) – well, I don’t know what I’d do.