Archive for February, 2010

Hiatus

February 7, 2010

I’m taking a short break from creating new posts. I want to clean the joint up a little—edit some old posts, delete some others—and take a new tack. I’ve been posting mostly about politics, which is not nearly as important to me as some other subjects. But we are living in a particularly odd and, I’d say, dangerous time, and I seldom hear anybody say what it is that I want to hear said. Now that I’ve gotten some of my political views off my chest, I’d like to write about some issues that are nearer and dearer to me, but more difficult to discuss. For those of you who care, I won’t be gone long. I figure a month or so. Should there be any reason to, I’ll post Progress Reports on my book, Street Song.

Thanks,

Mark Bittner

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More on the Founding Fathers and the Tea Party

February 7, 2010

I saw a news story today that said that one of the most popular speakers at the Tea Party convention was some guy who emphasized the need to get back to the original intent of the Founding Fathers. I have always thought this was a particularly dumb idea. The Founding Fathers were not gods. They were a group of men who had some good ideas and some bad ideas. They should serve only as a point of departure. What’s true and what’s good is all that matters, and we have to figure that out for ourselves in the here and now. I have no doubt that many of the Tea Party conventioneers hold that God was personally directing Jefferson, Hamilton, Hancock, et al., but that’s an entirely egotistic belief—not to mention bad theology.

The Tea Party

February 6, 2010

Conventional wisdom says that Jimmy Carter was a weak president who led the nation into a state of malaise, and then Ronald Reagan came along and made us believe in ourselves again. The conventional wisdom is firmly ensconced. Journalists, politicians, and mainstream historians all spout it. But it’s not the truth.

During the Carter presidency there was a brief moment when the window was open to the possibility of making some much needed change. Vietnam had left the country in bad shape—politically, economically, and psychologically. We were down, but it had nothing to do with Carter. That was already the situation when he came into office. He’s been the only president in my lifetime who said openly that the country ran on some false assumptions. One of the most egregious is the idea that we can constantly raise our standard of living, that there can be endless economic growth. This is an impossibility logically, and he seems to have known it. Carter made some effort to get the country to understand that we were entering an era of limits. He tried to get people to take the energy situation seriously. He was vilified for telling the truth. Reagan came along and undid any progress Carter may have made toward opening up a discussion about reality. One of Reagan’s first acts as president was to take down the solar panels that Carter had had installed on the White House roof—one of the most foolish symbolic moves any American president has ever made. He liked to say that “conservation just means we all freeze in the dark.” It says a great deal about the man. He gave people simple answers and resold the people on the fantasy aspects of the American Dream. The prosperity that followed was all done on credit. As somebody  once said, “we borrowed money from the Japanese and threw a party.” There wasn’t any new era of production, and in the end that’s what creates real wealth. We’ve been living in Reagan’s dream world ever since.

It’s very clear to me that we’ve already reached the end of our ability to raise our standard of living. We’re failing economically. We don’t produce anything anymore. We live in a service economy—a dead end—and we’re never going to get that old economy back. (Personally, I’m fine with it. I see immense wealth as a bar to good character.) There’s a lot of stuff coming down the road that the media and the politicians are paying zero attention to— “peak oil,” for one. Most people I talk to have never even heard of it. It’s probably the most important economic/material plane issue of our time. I’ll be writing about it at some point. I’m still learning.

I know I’ve said much of this before, but I’m bringing it up again because of the Tea Party convention in Nashville. I had an exchange with one of them recently, and I realized that they’re not really bad people. But they do live in a delusion—the Reagan fantasy—and they don’t spend much time being thoughtful. This guy had quite a few hatreds, and he was willing to give up most of them when pressed. But he demanded simple answers. The Tea Party wants the old America back, the America of a constantly increasing standard of living. They seem to see money as the only real pleasure in life. They’re going to be getting angrier and angrier as time goes on. Regardless of what happens in the future—which political party is in charge and so on—that dream is over.

Progress Report #25

February 6, 2010

I’ve finished the second draft of Chapter Twelve, working title, “The Diamond-studded Highway.” It took three months and came in at 87 pages (double-spaced, 8 by 11, which I reckon to be around 73 book pages). For the third and final draft, the chapter will be shorter. Monday, I start work on Chapter Thirteen, working title “The Fool On the Hill.” It should be much shorter.

I’ve been practicing writing with my new fountain pen. I like it. I haven’t been using it on this second draft, which is to be finished at the computer. I’ve just been getting my muscles used to writing by hand again. As I’ve said, I want to handwrite the third draft, entering the text into the computer at the end of each day’s session. My thought has been that handwriting the book will make it more personal and intimate, and everything I’m discovering in my practice sessions confirms this. I always wrote songs by hand, and I had a particular way of working. My old habits are coming back to me. I feel more present with silence, pen, and paper than I do with humming hard drive, keyboard, and monitor. It’s true.

Founding Fathers

February 4, 2010

I’ve been reading a book called The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture by David Shi. It’s an overview of some of the movements in American history that have resisted materialism and striven to live a more meaningful life. I haven’t read much American history. I never find it absorbing. I keep wanting to like Jefferson, but invariably end up indifferent to him. As far as I can tell, all the Founding Fathers had an aristocratic mentality. Their main concern was for the privileged. They come off as pedantic stuffed-shirts obsessed with commerce. None of them seemed to have recognized the horror that the country was perpetrating on the Native Americans, which says to me that, morally speaking, they were deficient. None of the early American movements are of any interest to me until the Transcendentalists and Walt Whitman. They’re the first Americans whose approach and beliefs I’m able to relate to at all. Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, and company were the founding fathers of the America I would like to live in.