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Archive for April, 2010

This is taken from Joe Bageant’s post of April 22, 2010. (Ironically we have dubbed this “Earth Day” here in the USA. It’s that special and holiest of days where we as a people can, like all those lapsed Christians who, on Easter, troop into church hoping for a taste of salvation for their sins, praise the glories of our planet and then get back to thumping the crap out of it as they eat their pizzas.) Below are the final words of the piece; best to read it all, but this will give you a taste of Joe’s bracing tonic for our times. Bottoms up! Enjoy!

So I would suggest that in planning for the future, you first spend many days pondering the question: How can I best go about giving up the world as I have known it — which, after all, is the root of our pain and of our catastrophe — and serve others every day and in as many ways large and small as possible. In other words, sacrifice. In truth, the sacrifice will not be sacrifice, but liberation, because Americans are buried under so much material shit and petty notions as to entitlement, that shedding such things is a blessing. A gift.

From that vantage point you can “watch the collapse” while you help put up a pole barn in Oregon or make love in a Patagonian mountain shack after a hard day of well digging, or smoke a joint in utter relaxation after rescuing orphans from the streets of Guadalajara. And chances are that the collapse of the empire will not much cross your mind.

There is no escape, but there is freedom. And if our fellow Americans long ago forgot that, well, one can still get there alone.

But it’s not for the faint of heart.

In art and labor,

Joe

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a simple request

HENRY DAVID THOREAU

HOLD ON

I pray today that I may:

Hold on to what is good,

even if it is a handful of earth;

Hold on to what I believe,

even if it is a tree that stands by itself;

Hold on to what I must do,

even if it is a long journey;

Hold on to life,

even when it is easier letting go;

Hold on to Your hand,

even when I have just lost my way.

May I live in each season as it passes:

Breathe the air,

Drink the drink,

Taste the fruit,

And resign myself to the influence of each.

May I be blown by all the winds;

May I open all my pores and bathe in all the tides of Nature,

in all her streams and oceans, at all seasons.

May I grow green with spring, yellow and ripe with autumn,

Drink of each season’s influence as a vial,

A true panacea of all remedies,

Mixed for Your special use.

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What kind of a country am I going to be going out in to? The USA of right now is certainly not the same one John Steinbeck traveled through with his poodle in 1960. The Interstate Highway System was just beginning to be built. Though Dwight (beware the ‘military-industrial complex’) Eisenhower was at our nation’s helm at the beginning of that year, but John Fitzgerald Kennedy would be elected as the 35th President in November. On the surface, the mood of the US was relatively calm, but a flock of Black Swans was gathering over the horizon. Domestically, ‘women’s liberation’ and ‘the civil rights movement’ had just begun to sprout. Rock and roll was oozing out of the very air. Elvis had displaced Perry Como on the radio. I recall how much Elvis and his music  discomfited my mother. I don’t think it was his references to Hound Dogs all by itself.  The Beatles, though they had formed as a group that year were still a few years away from full flower as was weed, LSD and transcendental meditation among other things. Internationally, tensions with the then-still-intact Soviet Union were ratcheting up. The ‘conflict in southeast Asia’, though not a major irritant to the national mood, was beginning to show signs of inflammation even then. The People’s Republic of China was barely ten years old. The world population at that time had just passed the 3 billion mark and was growing at a rate of more than 20% per year. The population of the US was just over 179 million people. Nearly 70 percent of them were living in what are defined as ‘urban’ conditions. Americans were paying $0.31 per gallon of gasoline. (I have read that the price is actually the equivalent to $2.07 per gallon in today’s dollars, but you might want to check that out for yourself.) Milk cost $0.49/gallon.

It’s far different now than it was in the summer of 1969, when Gail, my dear friend at the time, and I traveled a circular route around the States, down in to Mexico and back up the West Coast, across a section of Canada, then dropped down and headed back to New England. We were gone about 3 months and traveled more than 8 thousand miles in a jaunty, if sometimes unreliable, beige Peugeot 404. We had no specific purpose and no agenda; we just soaked in the experiences. When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon’s surface on July 20, 1969, we watched it on small 14” black and white TV (that’s all there were then for the most part) that had been set up in the inner courtyard of a small, inexpensive hotel in Queretaro, Mexico. As we motored on that summer and the dust kicked up on the moon began to settle, the War in Viet Nam continued to chew at our nation’s moral core and eat up the lives of tens of thousands of young men. JFK, RFK and MLK had each been gunned down. A few months after we returned to Cambridge, President Nixon authorized the bombing of Cambodia. The Black Swans were coming in to roost. In 1970, the world’s population was estimated to be 3.7 billion. It was still growing at the rate of nearly 20%. The US population was 205 million, with 74% of them classified as urban. Gasoline was $0.36 per gallon. The cost of milk had risen to $1.15 per gallon.

The USA today isn’t even close to being the same place it was in 1995, a mere 15 years ago, when Charles Kuralt recorded the last of his many rambles around the nation. As in the time of Travels With Charley, outwardly things were calm and most Americans were enjoying the largess of an increasingly prosperous economy. Bill Clinton was presiding over a nation that seemed to be on top of the world. The stains on Monica’s blue dress wouldn’t become headlines for many months. The world’s population stood at around 5.7 billion people; 263 million of them lived in the US. Overall the percentage growth of the human population had dropped significantly, but with so many potential parents population growth in real numbers was frighteningly robust. Gasoline sold for $0.88/gallon; milk went for $0.92/gallon.

Today the world has more than 6.8 billion people; the US accounts for 309 million of them. More than 11 new humans will have popped out into the light of the sun in the time it has taken you to read this sentence. And at least 2 out of every 5 of them will be with Indian or Chinese.  “And so it goes.” Today, April 14, 2010, gasoline is selling for between $2.85 and $3.25/gallon depending on where you arebuying it. Milk is going for between $2.70 and $3.15/gallon.

SO what do I expect to find? I expect to find only a few, maybe none at all, pockets or places in the US where the common or ordinary landscape has been unaffected in obvious ways by the changes of the last three or four decades. And these will be only those places where it hasn’t yet been profitable enough for the big corporations to muscle in, or where there is an embedded and determined local culture, one in which people tend to look out for one another, even at the level of business transactions and dealing, have been able to offer up effective and practical resistance. Almost universally there has been a profound and unremitting homogenization of the landscape throughout the nation. Even in those places that have the appearance of being unchanged, you can feel the boorish, bland big-box stores and their litter of off-spring, franchise, fast-food operations, snorting, growling and rooting around no more than a few miles away.

Of course some of the ‘scenery’ will be essentially unchanged, at least that which lies within the boundaries of some of the National Parks or Forests, and many of the State Parks as well. Though I imagine that ‘facilities’ in all of these places will probably have been ‘expanded’ and will be dominated by corporate logos and universally recognizable merchandize.  I will be looking forward to visiting some of the smaller towns and cities – I intend to avoid the BIG places except when they are categorically unavoidable or I have family to visit there. I also plan to stay off the interstate highway as much as possible.

I am curious to see if it is possible to draw any correlation between the size, either economically, or demographically, or in sheer area and population of a community and its infestation by large, outside commercial entities. IOW, if your town gets ‘larger’ in any of these ways, do you automatically become a target for franchises and big box stores? Also: at what point, if it is possible even to speculate on this, does the ‘consumer’ mindset in a community or locale begin to set off a kind of pheromone signal that draws the corporate vultures? And at what point does the accompanying corporate architecture and planning juggernaut effectively erase local expression and identity? I believe that having, creating, or re-creating and refreshing a real, tangible, recognizable local placeness, or style, can be an important step in establishing an appetite for Transition and resilience and resistance. I suspect that having a uniquely identifiable community persona also improves your chances of succeeding in these ‘transition’ and ‘resilience’ efforts. In the final analysis however, you have to care about your community, and you need to have more than a surface affection and dedication to the place. Is it just a place to park your car or to send your kids to school until you move on? After all, if you don’t give a shit about the place you live in, why even bother to help keep it vital or alive at all for that matter? O the choices we must make.

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