Archive for February, 2016

The Problem of the Homeless

February 28, 2016

The City of San Francisco made the news recently by breaking up a homeless encampment on the streets, a long row of tents that Judy and I often drove past on our way to Rainbow Grocery, the store we use. The camp was the subject of a lot of controversy, especially after the CEO of some tech company wrote an open, complaining letter to the mayor, demanding that the mayor do something. The poor guy was sick of having to look at the homeless. It’s commonplace to say that San Francisco has a “serious homelessness problem,” but the entire country does, really. I read recently that my hometown of Vancouver, Washington has homeless camps. The homeless are more noticeable in a place like San Francisco, that’s all. I myself was without a home for 15 years, living on the street in San Francisco from 1973 to 1988. I wasn’t what most people picture when they hear that word, “homeless,” but I was out among the homeless much of that time, and I have a decent idea of what’s going on. When I hear people talk about the problem, I realize that no one even comes close to understanding it, that it’s only going to grow.

For a long time I’ve been trying to figure out a simple way of describing what I see, but only recently did I find the words I was looking for: We live in a system that creates homelessness as one of its inevitable byproducts. This society has a near-religious belief in competition, and wherever you have competition, you have, inevitably, winners and losers. You can’t have one without the other. It’s like water boiling at 212 degrees Fahrenheit: It’s the only possibility. The homeless are the ones who have lost the game. As the competition heats up—as it has been ever since Reagan—the winners keep grabbing more and more, so we have more and more losers of the game. People like the CEO of that tech company are either ignorant or arrogant. Or both. Whether he sees it or not, he‘s a huge part of the problem.

When I was on the street I was subjected to all kinds of absurd situations and arrogant treatment. One example is when people become furious with homeless people for defecating on the street. This society gives them no place else to go. There are few public toilets, at least ones that don’t cost money , and restaurants, cafes, and so on don’t want the homeless in their businesses. I never ended up in a situation where I had to do “my business” in public, but I came close a few times. When you are in an absurd situation like that and you’re surrounded by people who can’t understand the most obvious and simple thing, you tend to lose your respect for them. You end up doing whatever you feel like doing.

If we genuinely want to end the problem, we have to abandon the idea that it’s okay to accumulate as much wealth as possible. It’s not okay to be a billionaire. And if we can’t abandon the idea, then we have to prepare ourselves for the inevitable epidemic of poverty. It’s that cut and dried.

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Idealism and the Young

February 22, 2016

My teenage years were the 1960s, a tremendously idealistic time. It was quite clear then that war was wrong, racism was wrong, chasing money was wrong, not loving was wrong. But I was always having to listen to older people assure me that someday I’d get real and grow up. I never knew how to respond to that. I didn’t have enough life experience to understand where they were coming from. Now we’re in a time where you have a candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, arousing the idealism of the young, and the young are responding. And you have another set of people denigrating their idealism and telling them to grow up. And this time the denigrators are people my age. I understand who they are, what they are saying, and why they’re saying it. They are not the people of my generation who grew up; they’re the ones who got old.

We live in a particularly materialistic era of a particularly materialistic civilization. A lot of us tend to see ideals as having no real foundation, that they’re just “brain activity” in a fundamentally meaningless universe. But the essence of existence is not material. What it is is beyond language, although we’ve come up with words for it — “spiritual” being one of them, one that has gotten tired from misuse. There is a set of universal ideals that grow out of that essence. Most of them are obvious, but not all. You don’t need to cultivate them for them to exist. They are inherent within us when we are born. In many of us, as we get older, as we compromise ourselves over and over again, those ideals grow dull and remote. Many of us eventually turn against them. We don’t believe in them anymore. And then we call it growing up. But real growing up is something else entirely: It’s understanding how difficult it is to bring our ideals into our practical lives and the patience we need to accomplish that. We can’t ever abandon those ideals. The farther we get from them, the older and grayer and more meaningless our everyday life feels. I’m not really interested in what a lot of folks call pragmatism. To me, it looks more like death.

Progress Report #101 and the State of the Blog Address

February 11, 2016

Hello? Hello? Anybody here?

I know I’ve been neglecting this blog. It’s been difficult getting to it, again, because of my book, Street Song. Anytime I have the energy to write, I always feel I should be putting it into the book. At the same time, I don’t want to abandon this blog. I started it up because there wasn’t anybody saying what I wanted to hear said, which is still true.

As for the book, I’m almost finished with chapter 10, and I have two chapters much later in the manuscript completed as well, for a total of 12 finished chapters. I have 48 chapters outlined, which makes me a quarter of the way through the book. (This is the last draft.) It’s almost 10 years now, but I can see the end. For reasons too tedious to explain, these first 10 chapters have been the most difficult to write. The pace will pick up with Chapter 11. I see one task that I have to attend to soon. Within the first seven chapters especially, I have about twice as much book as I want. I need to do some editing, compressing, cutting, which I don’t think will be too hard. There’s always a little cleanup to do after that kind of surgery, though. I can say beyond any doubt that I’ve learned a great deal writing Street Song. You might think that’s a no-brainer, but I’ve always tended to regard writing as an expression of what one already knows. But that has not been the case here. It’s been a real meditation that has changed me. I understand certain things now that I didn’t understand before.

As for this blog, like I said, I don’t want to abandon it. I have one idea on how I can stick with it. It can never supersede my work on the book, but there’s a lot happening in the world right now, and I’m eager to speak my mind. I’ve been on Facebook a bunch lately, but you can’t really go into any depth there. It’s fast and ephemeral — more cheerleading than anything else, as I have told a number of people. I’m sure I’ve lost a lot of readers here, but I aim to make a return. Not many people hold the views I do. Because we live in a democracy, there is a tendency to think that whatever the majority of the population believes is the correct view. I don’t see it that way. I think humanity has gone way off the track. There’s a lot I want to say about that.