Archive for June, 2013

Jocks Rule

June 28, 2013

I graduated from high school in 1969, so I caught only the tail-end of the 1960s. At the time, almost everybody had a cause of one kind of another. ‘For or against the war’ was probably the biggest one. But there were the civil rights movement, spiritual seeking through drugs, the environment, and lots of others. One of my causes then was the struggle against the high school social structure. I didn’t like the way that school administrators and much of the faculty allowed—even encouraged—the athletes to run the social scene. I’ve never been the rebellious sort—I never rebelled for the hell of it, ever—but one of the good things about the Sixties was that they made you feel more free to speak up about things that you found oppressive, even when you were in the minority. In my senior year, I started getting into arguments with athletes in class about their dominance of the hallways. Over the course of the year, I became increasingly hot about it.

One afternoon the school held a pep rally for the football team that everybody had to attend. The rally was held in the school gym, and everybody was sitting in the bleachers. The football coach, Mr. Thrasher, gave a pep talk about the big game happening that evening. During his talk he called the team down to the gym floor. We were all supposed to stand up for them, but I refused. I could no longer give them that kind of respect. I thought it ludicrous. I didn’t do this to bring attention to myself. I didn’t think anyone could see me. I was surrounded by people who were standing. I intended it as a private protest. At the end of Thrasher’s speech, the school band started up the fight song and the football players returned to the bleachers. While the band was playing and the students were clapping and singing the fight song, one of the football players came running and dodging up the bleacher seats, grabbed me by the shirt, and pulled me to my feet. He was red in the face and screaming about my disrespect. I dug in my heels and screamed back at him. I don’t remember what I said. I know it was hostile. The altercation was somewhat concealed from the rest of the student body by the loud music and the bodies standing all around us. Eventually he let go of me, pushed me backwards, and went back to where he’d been sitting. I was livid, of course. I kept thinking, “What gall! What gall! What kind of person is it who can say ‘You have to stand up for me!‘?”

Recently I received an email from an old high school friend. She told me that the guy was recently elected to a seat in the United States House of Representatives.

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Notes on the Empire

June 19, 2013

One of the big delusions that Americans operate under is that we live in a democratic republic. We don’t. We live in an empire. Republics and empires cannot coincide. While I wouldn’t say that the republican function has disappeared entirely, it’s clear that it has been steadily eroding over the years. One reason it hasn’t vanished entirely is that the U.S. is hampered by its self-image as a fighter for democracy and freedom. It prevents us from being nakedly imperial. We have to be more subtle than, say, the British were. I don’t think this is some kind of weird conspiracy theory. The people on the inside know it’s an empire. Here’s an excerpt from a magazine article written in 2004 for the New York Times by journalist Ron Susskind.

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who ”believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ”That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

A remarkably hubristic statement. I think this explains in good part what happened to Obama. His supporters, myself included, thought naively that we were working to elect someone who would return the country to its democratic roots. But empires don’t give up the ghost without an immense struggle or internal collapse. They are utterly ruthless. It’s the only way to become one. In a sense, Obama had no choice other than to go along. He would have been eliminated if he hadn’t cooperated. Still, I don’t think that’s what happened exactly. Like all of them, he was dazzled by the immense power of his position and wanted to be successful in it.

All empires collapse, and I believe that’s what we’re seeing now. We live in a period of growing decadence. You can see it in the indifference toward what’s happening to the environment, the obsession with gadgetry, the fawning over celebrities, the constant wars, the desire for ever more wealth. Because this particular empire has became a global venture, the effects are going to be more far-reaching than any previous collapse.

Last weekend I rode my bike to Mill Valley, a wealthy town in wealthy Marin County, which is just north of San Francisco. I stopped to take a break and watch the scene around me. It was warm and sunny and there were a lot of people hanging out in the outdoor cafés, eating, drinking, talking on their cell phones, laughing — having a party. I remember seeing a young guy and his girlfriend cruise by in a sports car with the top down. They looked sinister to me. I loathed what I was seeing. While so much of the rest of the world suffers—the people who make their clothing, for example—these beneficiaries of the empire continue to party and, as George Bush Sr. said, “to recreate.” Meanwhile, in the background, the insanity continues to build. Those people have no idea of the storm that’s on its way. I can’t say that I do either—not exactly. But I’m convinced that we’re living in the beginning of historical times.

A note on Edward Snowden: I don’t consider him a hero. I don’t know enough about him, and, for all I know, he has issues that, in my view, would diminish him. But I have no problem whatsoever with anything that he’s done. He is not a traitor. You cannot betray an empire.

A Poem by Robinson Jeffers

June 15, 2013

This poem was originally published in 1925. But it could have been written today. (Pardon the formatting. Some of the lines break in the wrong places. I don’t know what to do about it.)

Shine, Perishing Republic

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily
thickening to empire,
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,

I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and
decadence; and home to the mother.

You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it
stubbornly long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains: shine,
perishing republic.

But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the
thickening center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster’s feet there
are left the mountains.

And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught–they say– God,
when he walked on earth.

 Robinson Jeffers

Posting Dilemma

June 12, 2013

I’d gotten so tired of posting negative assessments of the contemporary world that I decided to change course. I wanted to be more positive. So I pulled back and tried to cultivate a more hopeful outlook. The end-result is that once again I’m forced to acknowledge  just how bad are the times that we’re currently passing through. I see that I am surrounded by negative developments, negative energy. We all are. Anyone who doesn’t see this is either living in a fantasy world or is so distracted by his gadgets that it doesn’t matter to him. So I’m not going to force myself to put on a happy face here. I intend to talk about what I actually see. (I hope no one will mind if at times it seems awfully bleak. I’m not naturally inclined toward pessimism. But we have to be real. It’s the only way we’re ever going to get out of this.) One difference is that in the future I’m going to try to take the longer view, where there may well be hope. The short-term, though, is clearly very bad. It isn’t hard to understand why. This is what happens when a people is completely given over to Mammon.

No Difference

June 6, 2013

I have a horrible summer cold and have just been trying to relax. This morning I’ve been reading the outraged comments from the citizenry over the revelation that the government has been secretly receiving millions and millions of phone records from Verizon. I’m not shocked by this kind of thing anymore. Deeply opposed to it, yes; but not shocked. I’m completely disillusioned with the government. Eisenhower, of all people, warned us about this stuff, and it’s happening. Heavier and heavier all the time. I’m reminded of what a friend once told me back in the 1970s. He said that in the Soviet Union you’re not free to say whatever you want. In the United States you are free to say whatever you want—as long as it doesn’t make any difference. I think that’s very clear-minded.

We need a huge change in this country. How are we going to make it happen?