Friday, April 22, 2011

μὴ μου τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε: The Outer Circle

I've been silent here for a long time, or so it seems to me.

Here it is almost the end of April and I've posted, what, five times?

I realized just this week that I have lost...something...some critical passion or fire that kept bringing me here.

One thing, I think, is the realization that this place is now so empty, that so many friends and readers have gone.

I enjoy writing for its own sake, but one of the main reasons I write here is to try and get my ideas heard and hear back from those who read my writing. And while I love talking to Lisa, mike, Ael, Pluto, the folks who come for the "battles" posts like Leon and Don Francisco, seems like such a small circle. Much as I enjoy our little community, blogging means time, thought, and work, and I had once hoped that work would enable me to reach out much further.

Realizing that it's just the few of us in this little room, frankly, makes me think that the Facebook contingent might have something. At least all they have to work on is 520 characters. (He snorts...)

And MilPub, too, absorbs a lot of energy; my military and political writing that once came here ends up there being discussed in ways that make the sad idleness of the cross-posts here all the more frustrating.

But I think it's broader, and deeper than that.

Way back in probably 2007ish or so I wrote a post here called "Don't Disturb My Circles".

In it I talked about the Grand Illusion of parenting; that we, we parents, could somehow, through will, or effort, or just hope, divert the the terror by night and the arrow that flieth by day.

That we could
"...manage our little piece of the world while the Heavens fall around us. We teach, we warn, we clutch, hold and pull away. We hide the scissors and cap the poisons and pad the corners and close our eyes at the daredeviltry and hope that the fates are kind and the ground soft. We compare car seats for impact performance, choose bike helmets for impact resistance, make healthy lunches, watch uplifting programs, read good books and teach good manners and confide good choices until it seems that we’re ready to fall over exhausted from so much care."
And that somehow, by all these good choices, all this care, that we could control our world.

And when I say "control", I mean only that we could protect our children from physical harm.

Mojo and I know, in a way I hope few parents know, and will ever know, that the harm is always there. We can never forget that. And if we ever do, the fine gray skiff of ash inside the wooden matryoshka doll on the shelf in our bedroom is there to remind us that though
"...we may tell ourselves that anything that wants to hurt or kill our children will have to tear us apart before it does, as we do we realize that all our love and all our strength are helpless against a kinked umbilical cord, a flu germ, a moment’s inattention on the part of another driver."
We live with that pain, and the fear of that pain, every day.

And to that pain the only options are to surrender, or endure it and continue. We chose to risk the dark seas of Fortune and have there continued our journey as parents.

But I didn't really want to talk about parenting again.

I wanted to talk about my country.

Because in the earlier post, I talked about how part of parenting is a deliberate decision to ignore the statistical facts that a certain number of children will die or be maimed by auto accidents, falls, poisons, disease, violent acts...and that in the most incisive parsing of persons and circumstances there is no way of ensuring that your - our - own children are protected from harm. Instead we live our lives as if those awful fates were not possible, as if we could spend the remainder of our lives tracing our children's hopes and dreams in the dust and that the shadow was just the plane tree from across the garden and not a Roman soldier with his sword red in his hand.

Right now I think more and more about that because of what I see in my country.

First, let me just say that making a democracy work seems to require some fairly simple things.

Yes, I know that there many, many difficult things within those "simple things" - a googleplexmillion, as my son would say, of complicated individual choices and decisions. The devil is, as always, in the details.

But it seems to me that the overarching principles seem pretty commonsensical:

Involve everyone in the life of the nation to the extent possible.

Try to keep the citizens "citizens", and not rulers and ruled. That means that extreme wealth and extreme poverty, extreme partisanship and extreme homogeneity, extreme power and extreme weakness are all inimical to making a country work. The critical mass in the middle exists not as a lump unable to choose a pole but as an active force of median values; practicality, sense, compassion, bravery, honesty, fidelity.

Make the place as equitable and fair as possible; let those who can exceed do so, but not by letting those who can't fall below the level of "citizen".

Help for the sick, the weak, the old; callousness makes a nation vicious, not strong.

Be strong, but not swaggering, powerful, but not rapacious. Don't go looking for fights; enough trouble will come your way without seeking it.

Spend within one's means, but recognize that polities have common goods with spending on. Accept that taxes are the price we pay for civilization, and that those who reap the most benefits pay the highest price, and should do so gladly and graciously.

Aim for self-sufficiency. It's one thing to trade, another to be dependent on things like minerals and petroleum that we as a nation can't produce for ourselves. It presents the ugly choice between a hostage to, or a thief of, the things - such as petroleum - that the nation lacks.


I know that my country never really lived up to those ideals. But I look around now and it seems that I can barely recognize the nation I grew up in, I can't ignore the ignorance, greed, short-sightedness and general fucktardry.

My country seems determined to tear apart the structures that helped form it as I knew it for no better fucking reason that because our wealthy seem to object to paying taxes and our "leaders" seem addicted to foreign war.

Instead of possibilities like a Manhattan Project to solve our dependence on the petroleum we must buy or take from others, our energy seems to be invested in arguing about aborting pregnancies and similar nonsense.

Instead of asking why we seem to insist on giving up our liberties for some illusion of safety from scary Terrorists, and our broad base of economic power for a narrowing and precarious - but taller - pyramid of lucre, we worry about idols and silly street crime.

I would never, never in my life have imagined "Busted" magazine as little as two years ago. But there seems to depth to the folly we delight in, and not simple, harmless foolery that we hairless monkeys have always delighted in but the sort of bone-deep stupid that begins to warp and twist the very structure of our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

And I feel powerless to stop any of this.

I have tried conventional politics, and helped replace our senior Oregon senator with a man who seems to believe in the ideas I mentioned above. I voted - not gleefully and with a dull resignation - for the current president and his party. In hopes that they would fight for the nation I grew up in.

And, instead, watched them and their entire organization cower from, and truckle to, the people who seem to think it would be good if my country returned to the time when power, and wealth, were reserved for a small elite - assuming, I suspect, they they will be in that elite. I have watched the people I thought would fight for the sort of America I grew up in; the America of the living wage, of the GI Bill, where old people and sick people could, at least, have some hope of evading a Dickensian casting off...I have watched them squirm to evade being called "liberal" and flinch under the invective of liars, buffoons, idiots, and lunatics.

And I look around and just don't see a hope of changing this. The alternatives appear to be either the new Oligarchs...or those who run before the oligarchs.

My country is being commodified, privatized, outsourced, downsized, monetized, saturated with advertisements, war porn, greed, and foolishness. It is getting "leaders" like...Donald Trump.

While I recognize that much of the history of humanity has always been thus, it is painful for me to watch it happen again, to my own land, and know that anything I can do is less than a grain of sand in this vasty deep of clusterfuckery.


So, as with parenting, I can't keep the Romans outside the walls. I can't prevent the terrors, avert the bad choices, make decisions for the governing of my Syracuse in hopes that it will avoid the siege and sack. All I can do is try and keep them from disturbing MY circles. The circles I have some hope of control over and feeling for.

It hurts my heart to admit that I no longer feel that I can make any real positive change for my country, but my country seems to me to have mortgaged itself to its wealthiest citizens and industries, and I haven't the power or the riches to compete with them.

All I can do is look to my family, my home, my neighborhood, my city. My little circles in the dust.

And in the next post, I want to talk about that.

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