Friday, April 22, 2011

μὴ μου τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε: The Outer Circle

I've been silent here for a long time, or so it seems to me.

Here it is almost the end of April and I've posted, what, five times?

I realized just this week that I have lost...something...some critical passion or fire that kept bringing me here.

One thing, I think, is the realization that this place is now so empty, that so many friends and readers have gone.

I enjoy writing for its own sake, but one of the main reasons I write here is to try and get my ideas heard and hear back from those who read my writing. And while I love talking to Lisa, mike, Ael, Pluto, the folks who come for the "battles" posts like Leon and Don Francisco, seems like such a small circle. Much as I enjoy our little community, blogging means time, thought, and work, and I had once hoped that work would enable me to reach out much further.

Realizing that it's just the few of us in this little room, frankly, makes me think that the Facebook contingent might have something. At least all they have to work on is 520 characters. (He snorts...)

And MilPub, too, absorbs a lot of energy; my military and political writing that once came here ends up there being discussed in ways that make the sad idleness of the cross-posts here all the more frustrating.

But I think it's broader, and deeper than that.

Way back in probably 2007ish or so I wrote a post here called "Don't Disturb My Circles".

In it I talked about the Grand Illusion of parenting; that we, we parents, could somehow, through will, or effort, or just hope, divert the the terror by night and the arrow that flieth by day.

That we could
"...manage our little piece of the world while the Heavens fall around us. We teach, we warn, we clutch, hold and pull away. We hide the scissors and cap the poisons and pad the corners and close our eyes at the daredeviltry and hope that the fates are kind and the ground soft. We compare car seats for impact performance, choose bike helmets for impact resistance, make healthy lunches, watch uplifting programs, read good books and teach good manners and confide good choices until it seems that we’re ready to fall over exhausted from so much care."
And that somehow, by all these good choices, all this care, that we could control our world.

And when I say "control", I mean only that we could protect our children from physical harm.

Mojo and I know, in a way I hope few parents know, and will ever know, that the harm is always there. We can never forget that. And if we ever do, the fine gray skiff of ash inside the wooden matryoshka doll on the shelf in our bedroom is there to remind us that though
"...we may tell ourselves that anything that wants to hurt or kill our children will have to tear us apart before it does, as we do we realize that all our love and all our strength are helpless against a kinked umbilical cord, a flu germ, a moment’s inattention on the part of another driver."
We live with that pain, and the fear of that pain, every day.

And to that pain the only options are to surrender, or endure it and continue. We chose to risk the dark seas of Fortune and have there continued our journey as parents.

But I didn't really want to talk about parenting again.

I wanted to talk about my country.

Because in the earlier post, I talked about how part of parenting is a deliberate decision to ignore the statistical facts that a certain number of children will die or be maimed by auto accidents, falls, poisons, disease, violent acts...and that in the most incisive parsing of persons and circumstances there is no way of ensuring that your - our - own children are protected from harm. Instead we live our lives as if those awful fates were not possible, as if we could spend the remainder of our lives tracing our children's hopes and dreams in the dust and that the shadow was just the plane tree from across the garden and not a Roman soldier with his sword red in his hand.

Right now I think more and more about that because of what I see in my country.

First, let me just say that making a democracy work seems to require some fairly simple things.

Yes, I know that there many, many difficult things within those "simple things" - a googleplexmillion, as my son would say, of complicated individual choices and decisions. The devil is, as always, in the details.

But it seems to me that the overarching principles seem pretty commonsensical:

Involve everyone in the life of the nation to the extent possible.

Try to keep the citizens "citizens", and not rulers and ruled. That means that extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme partisanship and extreme homogeneity, extreme power and extreme weakness are all inimical to making a country work. The critical mass in the middle exists not as a lump unable to choose a pole but as an active force of median values; practicality, sense, compassion, bravery, honesty, fidelity.

Make the place as equitable and fair as possible; let those who can exceed do so, but not by letting those who can't fall below the level of "citizen".

Help for the sick, the weak, the old; callousness makes a nation vicious, not strong.

Be strong, but not swaggering, powerful, but not rapacious. Don't go looking for fights; enough trouble will come your way without seeking it.

Spend within one's means, but recognize that polities have common goods with spending on. Accept that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, and that those who reap the most benefits pay the highest price, and should do so gladly and graciously.

Aim for self-sufficiency. It's one thing to trade, another to be dependent on things like minerals and petroleum that we as a nation can't produce for ourselves. It presents the ugly choice between a hostage to, or a thief of, the things - such as petroleum - that the nation lacks.


I know that my country never really lived up to those ideals. But I look around now and it seems that I can barely recognize the nation I grew up in, I can't ignore the ignorance, greed, short-sightedness and general fucktardry.

My country seems determined to tear apart the structures that helped form it as I knew it for no better fucking reason that because our wealthy seem to object to paying taxes and our "leaders" seem addicted to foreign war.

Instead of possibilities like a Manhattan Project to solve our dependence on the petroleum we must buy or take from others, our energy seems to be invested in arguing about aborting pregnancies and similar nonsense.

Instead of asking why we seem to insist on giving up our liberties for some illusion of safety from scary Terrorists, and our broad base of economic power for a narrowing and precarious - but taller - pyramid of lucre, we worry about idols and silly street crime.

I would never, never in my life have imagined "Busted" magazine as little as two years ago. But there seems to depth to the folly we delight in, and not simple, harmless foolery that we hairless monkeys have always delighted in but the sort of bone-deep stupid that begins to warp and twist the very structure of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

And I feel powerless to stop any of this.

I have tried conventional politics, and helped replace our senior Oregon senator with a man who seems to believe in the ideas I mentioned above. I voted - not gleefully and with a dull resignation - for the current president and his party. In hopes that they would fight for the nation I grew up in.

And, instead, watched them and their entire organization cower from, and truckle to, the people who seem to think it would be good if my country returned to the time when power, and wealth, were reserved for a small elite - assuming, I suspect, they they will be in that elite. I have watched the people I thought would fight for the sort of America I grew up in; the America of the living wage, of the GI Bill, where old people and sick people could, at least, have some hope of evading a Dickensian casting off...I have watched them squirm to evade being called "liberal" and flinch under the invective of liars, buffoons, idiots, and lunatics.

And I look around and just don't see a hope of changing this. The alternatives appear to be either the new Oligarchs...or those who run before the oligarchs.

My country is being commodified, privatized, outsourced, downsized, monetized, saturated with advertisements, war porn, greed, and foolishness. It is getting "leaders" like...Donald Trump.

While I recognize that much of the history of humanity has always been thus, it is painful for me to watch it happen again, to my own land, and know that anything I can do is less than a grain of sand in this vasty deep of clusterfuckery.


So, as with parenting, I can't keep the Romans outside the walls. I can't prevent the terrors, avert the bad choices, make decisions for the governing of my Syracuse in hopes that it will avoid the siege and sack. All I can do is try and keep them from disturbing MY circles. The circles I have some hope of control over and feeling for.

It hurts my heart to admit that I no longer feel that I can make any real positive change for my country, but my country seems to me to have mortgaged itself to its wealthiest citizens and industries, and I haven't the power or the riches to compete with them.

All I can do is look to my family, my home, my neighborhood, my city. My little circles in the dust.

And in the next post, I want to talk about that.


Don Francisco said...

Hi Chief,

If it's few words of encouragement you are after I'm always happy to oblige. Though I tend to only post on the monthly battle, I've enjoyed your political thoughts the past few months and only hope you continue with them.

It makes me reflect on the contemporary politics & history of my own country, the UK. Though far less extreme over here, I too worry about the drift from the decades of social democracy that used to govern my country. I worry as you do that the country my 18 month old son will be less fair, less stable and more divided than in the one I grew up.

I find the national political conversation in my country so feeble as to barely merit the phrase. Political policies are suggested 'efficiencies' without any principle in mind or goal beyond being 'efficient', politics now simply an exercise in accounting, and nobody calling b*llshit. Whilst I wouldn't swap your country's politics for mine, at least you have Jon Stewart.

Do keep it up Chief, this is a great blog. All the best.

Leon said...

And a comment from socialist Canada here, I don't envy your position as I see the political discourse in the US seems to have dropped even below the gutter. Any nation where someone like Donald Trump's "presidency" bid appears in any media source other than the Onion is in trouble.

I think the only solution for the US is for the mush middle to stand up and dominate the discussion. For too long both parties have pandered to the extremes on both side.

Illegitimi non carborundum,

srv said...

Have read you on and off since intel-dump, and have followed more on milpub that GFT. If there is a single blogger in the interons upon whom I can rely on always agreeing with, it's you. If you were to say something I disagree with, I would really be stuck.

This post emotes the kind of nihilist cynicism I've had since Bush got re-elected. After living through Reagan and 2003, I would never fathom it could get worse, but there it was - a realization that >50% of my fellow citizens are arguably sociopaths.

Over at Balloon-Juice, there has been a long watch for Peak Wingnut - the event at which the republican party jumps the shark and begins to collapse.

Looking at a poll where 70% of teabaggers are upset Ryan is going to kill Medicare, it may just turn out we don't have to have faith in the democrats, we just have to have faith that republicans' are predisposed to self-destruction. It's their nature.

So, strangely, against my own nature, I now believe the pendulum has already started swinging back. It will take awhile. We might not get back to where we once were. There will be no great progressive 2nd coming, but I have more hope (a four letter word today) than at any time in the last 8 years or so.

But I'm all for focusing on your village. We need those lifeboats.

Pluto said...

I agree with SRV that you've got a great blog here, Chief.

But I disagree with him on the nature of the situation. The Tea Party was conceived by the Republicans as another "Swift Boat" scam but has grown into something quite a bit more fearsome and has turned on its originators.

You need to remember that there are two parts to the Tea Party. The first is the obvious, very large bunch of wing-nuts and screwballs. They have large numbers but signify nothing.

The second is the very rich, well-hidden patrons such as the Koch brothers. They are the real threat to Medicare and they WILL kill it even if they have to lose their wing-nut cover to do so.

The Republicans are finally admitting that the Democratic party is essentially dead. It is just a platform for ambitious politicians who don't want to be called Republicans. For proof of this, see what the Democrats have done time and again on taxes in the last decade.

This leaves the Tea Party and the badly damaged but still semi-functional mainstream Republican party to fight over the control of the US government. A prize beyond belief.

I suspect that the patrons of the Tea Party are casting about for the proper leverage to persuade the Democrats to kill Medicare in the name of saving it.

I wish I thought the Democrats would have the backbone to refuse them but I doubt it.

FDChief said...

Hey, guys, I do appreciate the shout-out, tho it wasn't really so much looking for motivation as much as just a sort of despair. I seem to have spent a hell of a lot of my free time crafting posts for this blog, or MilPub, as well as comments on other blogs, letters to the editor, congressmen, senators, election campaigning, and all-around civic duty...only to watch my country seem to grow ever more ignorant, careless, venal, and mean-spirited.

It just seems to get my blood pressure up and for no gain.

As you can see from the post that follows this one...I'm still in there ranting. But the effort seems large the the reward small.

But you are no small reward, and I appreciate your taking the time to visit me here. Here's to us, who's like us? Damn few, and they're all dead.

rangeragainstwar said...

I believe that our govt/governed have /has become a adversarial relnship.
To say that GWB was re-elected is to legitimize the fact that he wasn't elected in 00, he was appointed by the Supremes.

FDChief said...

jim: I'd say, rather, that the relationship is just dysfunctional. The conflict is there, but it's not really "adversarial" in that all the rounds are going downrange from top to bottom. The governing classes are pursuing their own agenda that is fairly well disconnected from the needs and goals of the governed. Things like financialization of the economy (i.e., companies run for the short-term benefit of the stockholders instead of the employees and the long-term business health of the company) "free trade" and open borders benefit the rentiers far more than the wage-earners.

And I have no idea how to remedy this...

Lisa said...

Dear FDC,

For all of the sadness around, your writing (presence) is a deep comfort. Your passion and eloquence is rare, and I cannot thank you enough for sharing of yourself here. I suspect I speak for many in saying that. If a preponderance shared your fire, we would have a pretty nifty country, indeed :)

Like you, I find the stupidity and cruelty around me baffling, boring and stultifying. One cannot know the good they do; I feel you do a great deal of good.

Thank you.

vy said...

I don't think I've commented before and I'm a bit late on this one but what the hell...
I have enjoyed your posts for quite a long time and can only say Amen to this one. I am an American living in Denmark (for the past 12 years). While we supported Obama during his campaign and saw himbeing sweared in from our hotel room in China just a couple of days after meeting our son, we still feel like we are watching the boat sink from afar without being able to help. I don't understand the mentality of someone that agrees with the Palins and Becks over there. Just don't get where they are coming from as it is so far from our own beliefs. I don't understand how media and pop culture has become so powerful and looking out for number one is the norm. The system here in Dk is not perfect either and is in some aspects being 'Americanized' -not in a positive respect. I am asked all the time if I would ever move back. For the last many years that idea has just been plain scary. I would love to and would be able to handle it but what would become of my children..
Not sure where I am going with this but just wanted to say that you are doing some much to help our country. You speak your mind, challenge the ridiculousness and focus locally on your community. If we all did that, I think we could do wonders.
Thanks for the thought-provoking posts. Hope you don't stop.

FDChief said...

Violet: Thanks for the comment. You guys help me pull myself up when I've been marching on my chinstrap.

As far as it goes, I don't think that things are as bad here as they probably seem from the outside. Most Americans really ARE decent, sensible people, and in particular (as opposed to in general) this nation is still a functional place and a salubrious surrounding to live and raise kiddos in.

But, as I said in the post, the fish is rotting from the head. And whether we will still be able to say this the same way when MY kiddos are grown, I'm not sure. I suspect that things will be smaller, meaner, and poorer, and the "soft" oligarchy that we have will be harder and more vicious. So things in Denmark - happy Denmark, that doesn't have to expend blood or treasure worrying about who rules today in Samarkhand! - will probably seem better relative to the U.S. in 2040 than they do today. My opinion, YMMV...

But - as the second in the series of these posts emphasizes - the reality is that I (and you and yours, if you returned here) don't live in "the U.S." as much as I live in Portland, Oregon, U.S. My local conditions, influenced as they are by national events, dominate my world much more than the national ones do. So regardless of what Jim DeMint thinks, we despise him and his ilk here at the People's Republic of Portland and hopefully always will.

Anyway, please feel free to comment again - I loves me some comments! Tusind tak and held og lykke!