As We See Them
The Aftermath: Presidential Elections and other Stories in the Meat Market
Brief Observations At the Still Point
The American people are too diverse and multitudinous to make simple judgments
To generalize would be a transparent attempt to get something out of
them or shame them in ways they can't imagine. Within the one splendid region I
live in are countless good and bad types, all with their singular tales of how they
came to be good or bad; how they manifested the best in themselves or encouraged
the bad in themselves. It's often not a simple tale of morality but one of opportunity.
And travel tales, work tales, love tales, money tales, tales of danger and illicit
joys. An endless, hopeless string of them just in a simple region like my own.
If I were to conjure a future historian he might have a different opinion. He
might, it's hard to say. Let us conjure this creature with all the smoke and mirrors
at our disposal. Yes, he appears to us. A large, no a huge man with a shocking lack
of interest in our own time. "Oh, we study you in fourth grade. We watch the moon
landing, the terrorist attack, a baseball game, and Madonna masturbating on
stage and go to the next era which is very interesting...and when we play the representative
music of your time the students grimace and cup their hands over their ears."
Ah, just as I thought! However, I did ask him for something profound about our
own time and what happens. "Well, it's quite simple my good fellow. And, by the way,
writing and literature do not disappear but are transformed in ways you can hardly imagine. Your great
and brave citizenry broke down into two camps. One were the nihilists who understood
better than most that mask was all; that the performance was the thing. And so the
nihilist and criminal type learned how to perform and rode up the ladder in ruthless
fashion until they had complete control over everything. That was one camp. And the
other camp was filled with good, liberal democratic types who became absolutely
stoned-frightened at what they saw coming about. And these good people,
the back-bone if you will, opted out of it and let it go. And those, my friend, should
be the saddest words you hear. They opted out and focused mainly on their own little
worlds, wishing for death, wanting everything to be turned under. And so it was. And
so it happened."
February 25, 2005
When I was a young guy, in the mid-70's, I lived in the splendid, odd city of
Berkeley, California. When I arrived I wrote in my little spiral notebook, "this
city is a burned out refugee camp." And it appeared that way, at least at the
core of the city. It was the post-60's period of time. Nixon had resigned. Saigon
had recently fallen. Disco music was replacing the classic rock era. I was happily
dazed and confused about everything.
It was in this environment I began to run into a very strange phenomena; the
presence of cults and their recruiters. Cults of every type; religious, political,
social, purely weird, and so forth. It was a cavalcade of cults and their followers, usually
drugged-out, half-insane characters who did have mythical minds as youth does. At
first I was amused and dismissed it all as fallout from the 60's period of time.
Then I became alarmed because I was reading up on the rise of totalitarianism in
Europe and noticed some similarities. For one, there was a fanatical aversion
to anything rational. For another, complete ignorance that covered itself up with
claims of superior knowledge or some kind of channeled intelligence. There was a
third; a total lack of self-esteem that had attacked the people before their
I viewed it as a sociologist would in his first trip to the field. But then
I realized that this was not happening in Europe in its decline but in America.
Was it signaling a decline? Perhaps it was; obviously Berkeley is not America
but there was something very sinister about it all. It was at that time when I
turned back to the original sources of American political culture. The framers
of the Constitution, the enlightenment philosophers of Europe, the ancient
philosophers, the transcendentalists, the pragmatists, and on up into our own
What is America?
It was a central question in those days. I took the cults to be a challenge
to liberal, democratic culture. They could survive, America could survive as long
as the cults did not get power. And only a few of them wanted genuine political power.
The prospect of cults gaining political power horrified me and threw me back into
the core of the cultural values. I did learn a few things during this time.
For one, a liberal and democratic culture will not survive the types of ignorance
being generated by a specialized, dumbed-down, addicted society. For another,
it will not survive the vicious cycle of corrupt power alienating more and more people
until they part ways in disgust and time wipes the empty buildings away.
It was, then, up to the citizens to get out of the shell of ignorance and become
open-ended enough to learn new things. It was up to the citizen to put away dope,
alcohol, sex even, sports, and study to understand that which governs.
And, most especially, it was up to the citizens to ensure that there was a critical
press and that no cult that wants power gets power.
The framers of the Constitution saw exactly what we need to see today. The wedding
between church and state is a sinister one. It may begin in good intentions but ends in
an iron-clasp around the potentials of people, puts a damper on progress, discredits
both faith and civil governance, and is not to be trusted. And in my lifetime at no time
has the church and state been in bed snugger than at the present moment.
The rise of the Evangelicals has sparked the fear I had years ago in Berkeley just
as the terrorist attack took me back to the years of thinking about nuclear war. Bad
years but which did lead to some interesting areas of contemplation.
February 10, 2005
The free and democratic people have a wonderful way of
tearing down a monolithic structure of thought. We experienced
that once when the new left gained enormous stature in the
wake of Vietnam, Watergate, civil rights, environmental
concerns, women's rights and the rest of it. It was across
the board but initiated the complex and inevitable "backlash."
Of all the movements of that time the one for civil rights was
the most noble; the one most necessary. But even that
petered out after awhile. The laws were passed, and
the movement eased back into academia where it died on the
The backlash against the 60's gained a lot of momentum in
the late 70's. There was the Bakke case that challenged
affirmative action, the rise of the fundamentalists, the
challenge against the government itself with the tax payer
revolt, the presence of Ronald Reagan beginning to appear.
This is all history now, as much a part of the history as the
fabled 60's and 70's.
In the long run the left was cut to ribbons by internal
contradictions and the fact that in a democracy you must
represent the real concerns of the people. This is a central
lesson. And that chapter is now written and done.
We now are confronted by a very monolithic right-wing that
the genius of the American democracy must begin to pulverize
and pull down if it is to create a new liberal democracy. It's
very difficult to know where to start.
Perhaps laughter and scorn initiate a new age.
The left was burned by its own reductionism. Reduced to the primitive,
original sins, life is impossible. To build anything is impossible. Whether
that sin is secular or religious life can not emerge from it. In that case
there is no growth, development, building, construction but only destruction.
The only thing built is a base of power for the destructive force. The left
is instructive this way, a lesson. It probably outlines some of the pattern
that will finally throw off this right-wing burden.
February 5, 2005
The state of the union strikes me as useful only for the media who then
talk endlessly about what is in store the next four years.
I left a quarter of the way through, bored and restless.
When the President introduced the soldier's mother and
father, and the Iraqian woman whose father had been
killed by Hussein, it was very emotional, very moving.
Yet, there are many Iraq's. There are many places where
freedom is chained up and will be for a long time. If
America's only effort to free people is in Iraq it will be
empty; a transparent effort to gain oil and a staging area
in a strategic area. What about central Africa, east Africa,
even south Africa? North Africa? Are Libya and Algeria free
nations? The problem with the President's idealism is that
now America must be the liberator of last resort and be
depleted by the effort or be the hypocrite that brayed about
freeing one people but not another.
Iraq is an emotional issue because it is so good to see
people awakening from a deep slumber. And with the economy
picking up the President looked very confident; not quite
Reaganesque but certainly along the same lines.
The citizen always needs to orientate where he or she is, where the country is, what the pervasive
concerns are. That is an excellent act of freedom without which we are molecules in the lab of the
mad scientist testing us with extreme heat or extreme cold.
In our time the first turning came with the assassination of Kennedy. That ended the euphoric post-World War
II period and initiated a very troubling period. "Troubling" is a loaded word perhaps but it isn't necessarily
bad to have a troubling period. It means it is profound, cuts deep, moves us no matter how we try to escape, pins
us down, laughs at us, and becomes so much a part of us that when it is released, when a new turning
occurs, it's hard to adjust. The election of Reagan in 1980 did mark that turning; the key came when the economy
lurched forward, the markets took off, the computer revolution took off, the cold war simmered down; yuppies,
money, arbitrageurs, Trump, entrepreneurs, Gates, all were the signs of the time.
It was less troubling, more facile, and will be buried in time no doubt. A third turning occurred in the
election of 2000 that showed deep divisions in the nation, and an election that didn't seem legitimate. And then
the terrorist attack as the defining moment for this new period of time.
The divisions between red and blue are not as severe as people believe, certainly not dangerous to
the security of the United States. And before we know it sociologists will be out in force making reds
and blues look at each other in the eyes and say, "I love you." Or have a blue stand and fall back into
the arms of a red. The divisions are not critical but they could be down the road. And the idea of the
United States under attack by crazed warriors is not utterly new but the damage they could potentially do
is brand new.
This period has just started. The Internet plays prominently, much as TV did in the 50's.
February 2, 2005