T for Tom

On Good and Evil

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on January 26, 2017

We must remember the equal law of the universe. Perspective allows but timeliness denies the ability to see that things are as good as they are bad in equal measure. So for whichever you feel the direction the wind, hold also that it grows and shrinks for the opposite as well.

It would be easy to look around and say that things are as awful as they have ever been in a long time. But even 158 years ago, Dickens famously recognized that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The temerity of humanity hasn’t changed much. That in our ability to see further, imagine greater, and believe brighter, there lurks too stronger fears, more powerful hate, and terminal disbelief. The limits of each end are only defined by the reach of your knowledge.

For these fears to exist now, that we headed in a doomed direction, must then be because of the greater acknowledgement that we can do so much better. Just a few hundred years ago, there was not a real testament to the power of peace, but the wellspring of harmony spreads in the modern times only as the violence of war continues to reach every corner of the earth. They are as married as tide and the moon.

The fears that bring this about are of course very real. There are genuine concerns that the climate may buckle before our children grow old. There are real people dying everyday in a war that grows only in extremities and sees no end. There are people everyday dying in poverty, left without the programs in place needed to ensure their survival in an overcrowded world. There is an entire gender that has very little control over its reproductive system. But to recognize these is to know also that a future can exist without these issues. Equal parts good, bad.

I believe that this swing of things is the direct result of the positive steps taken in the recent past. While not fully developed in practice or politics, there is an increasing public awareness to the value of positivity, charity, and peace. Negative rhetoric only increases to combat an equal measure of positive rhetoric. And out from this war of words, ideas, facts, and beliefs, we have seen only one side “win,” insofar as allow it to be a victory. And it may even be a giant, leaping step in that direction. But not long ago there was a victory for good. For all these reasons, it may be an even bigger leap than the one we’re taking now. And then it’s the good’s turn.

For this we have to keep hope alive. It is unbound by the rules of good and evil, and exists only within your heart. Hope. The world continues to conspire to make evil of art, reason, fact, and existence, but we are still alive. There is no greater reason to rejoice than to celebrate that the streets are still full of good people. And a great deal of them are taking to the streets in increasing numbers.

So there in your home, keep hope alive. There in your workplace, keep hope alive. In your churches, your synagogues, your gardens and bowling alleys, keep hope alive. Everywhere we look go and gather, there are people in the great communion of the soul, conversing, cheering, arguing, and living in the splendor the human condition. It is by its definition an awful condition to be stricken with in our existence, but that only means we can achieve an equal amount of good if we recognize and overcome its terminal end. We are not meant to be here, and so the only choice is to make good of it.

Because without hope, we will meet only our end. We’ll meet our end anyway, but let’s make the choice to do it in peace. Here’s to optimism in the new world.

Retrospective on a Weekend

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on May 21, 2015

It’s been five years, two months, and two weeks since I believed in God, give or take a couple of days. For all the significant moments in my life that I remember exactly, I can’t actually tell you which specific day it was, but I can remember that it was in the first two weeks of March of four years ago. It was a period of my life where all the days kind of run together, and I didn’t have any reason then to treat a Sunday differently from a Wednesday differently from a Friday. But I woke up that morning, and as I’ve alluded to before, nothing peculiar happened. It was innocuous, the sky was the grey, the trees were blowing in the wind, and I looked up and felt that I was the only one responsible for my life. It was empowering. But I’m not here to tell you what I don’t believe in. I want to spend a few minutes talking about the things I do believe in, and how last week I felt them again in many ways all at once. I feel rejuvenated.

I believe in the sanctity of human power. I believe that our evolution has set apart for a reason, and we haven’t found out the reason yet. I believe that our only steps forward will be harmonizing with the earth and our past. I believe that we can each do this individually, and should do this individually before we can ever hope for a better future as a planet and a biosphere at large. I wish I could swat a wand and change it all instantly, but I can’t. Instead I evolve in my own way, and in these past few months and short years, I’ve done that by returning to nature, and for the first time have started to embrace this united nation as a frontier, the true limits of earth that it really is. And last week was the most holy I’ve felt in years.

Since coming back to America, I’ve been through the Appalachian Trail, up the waterfalls of Jefferson Forest, to the summit of Guadalupe Mountain, across the entire Chisos Basin in the Big Bend Mountains, seen the relics of Pueblo life carved into the Gila Wildnerness, been snowed in at the top of Lincoln National Forest, and will soon be embarking on my third trip into the Grand Canyon. It will be my first trip to the Colorado River though, and every time I’m reminded that it is sincerely the most spectacular land feature this rock of earth has ever created. But last week I nearly touched the heavens in a place called Chiricahua National Monument in the southeastern basin of Arizona.

Nothing can prepare a man for the moments of surprise only nature can create, because seeing truly is believing. I knew through reading that the monument was a relatively small, 100-acre-or-so area up the Coronado Wilderness, preserved for its unique rock formations. Some 100-million years ago Sugarloaf Mountain was an active volcano that erupted for the final time, spewing volcanic ash all throughout the basin. The ash-flows changed the rocks there into a supple Rhyolite, which over the last 100-million years has been eroded to create standing pillars of rock, each in looming up from the ground to make shadows like giants. And from on top of any one of the pillars looking into Echo Canyon, it can seem like a buried army. It can seem like a place untouched, and for that it evokes the spirit of the holy.

More importantly, it is a stern reminder to me that there is a certain beauty that will always exist within the world no matter how hard the darkness of humanity casts over the land. My experiences here in America will be for the foreseeable future always marked by my impressions of my own past, my impressions of the different continents I’ve seen, and primarily the differences in the people I’ve met along the way. I did not want to return to America, and hiking there in Chiricahua I made the remark once, “such a beautiful land spoiled on such loathsome folk.” It’s a bit hyperbole, but it’s a bit truth as well. Luckily I was in the presence of one of the most inspiring persons I know, and she was receptive to hear me ramble. This was something I hadn’t been afforded in quite some time, but it allowed me to vocalize an idea I’ve been tossing around for a few weeks now.

Recognizing that the escape to nature is Muir-ian in it’s own right, I couldn’t help but wonder what facilitated such a transformation in myself. After having spent countless weekends wandering the sidewalks of any European city and wanting nothing but for coffee and conversation, how now did I revert to such apparent lonely desolation high in the mountaintops? Where did I decide I no longer wanted to be among the people of this world? It is, obviously, provoked by the people I am surrounded by. And it got me thinking about freedom.

We’ll never be free, truly, I’ve given up on this. But there is a freedom to be found in different ways, individually. But this freedom here, this freedom in America as I’ve found it, comes with a price. The books will read and the films will show and the explorers will say, “there is freedom in the mountains,” and they are right in some ways. But no matter how many hills I climb and how far away I get from the city, there will always be the underlying purpose that I’m doing this to escape. If I disappear into Yosemite never to return, even fifty years from now after spending every new day of my life there, I cannot forego the recognition that the freedom of that life is chained by the notion of having fled. And no matter how gratifying such a freedom can be, it is to me not honest. I had that honesty in the past, and it wasn’t in America. In places of happiness, freedom existed because I utterly felt no compulsion to lead in any direction – there was an ostensible feeling that the end of any day would lead to bliss. And it didn’t matter what I did. Most of my days were spent walking without a map and I always ended up exactly where I wanted to be, even if I didn’t know where I was going. But here in this country, my escapes are always calculated. I enjoy them for their refreshing qualities, but their limitations are equally heartbreaking.

Echo Canyon

Echo Canyon and the Giants

Finding the holiness then, is the thing to hold onto. I can remember after a day of hiking while obscenely drunk, we ended in the Heart of Rocks, appropriately named. It is the south side of Echo Canyon and follows a draw out into the canyon, mazing through the giant figures above until resting on the edge of a cliff, staring out across the canyon with the sun setting over the range in the distance. We had a long conversation there about the things humans do to each other, and I became unnecessarily and passionately enraged at this. We do so many horrible things to each other. But Alison passively walked away to rest in the hammock, and her calm was remarkable to me for its ease. I know she is not unaware of the things I was saying, but it must be that it no longer weighs on her life. I wish I could find that kind of peace.

For too long we stayed in the Heart of Rocks and immediately upon departure we passed by the Big Balanced Rock for a second time. It’s a 1000-ton pillar that has been carved away at the center to create what looks like a dreidel spinning on a stone column. But this time, to get a better look, I walked into the center of the formations to see its silhouette against the sun. And in this moment, I found my sanctuary. The rocks created a large circle around me, near 50-meters in diameter, but each rising almost 50-feet or more into the air. And in the center was only grass, a few shrubs, and I standing there alone. I felt that they were praying over me, and wishing me a safe journey ahead. I was surprised that this spot, not 10-feet off trail, hadn’t been named or reserved. But it was probably intentionally so, to keep people out. And it was more magical that way – I felt as if I had opened the doors to a temple, and there in the sunset knew that everything would be all right in the end.

Cathedral at Big Balanced Rock (photo: Alison)

Cathedral at Big Balanced Rock (photo: Alison)

There are places where men don’t go, and these places are the last of the cathedrals. Without worrying too much about the world at large, I can go there in good company and find restoration. It is my own prayer and only the rocks are listening. That is something I can believe in.

I Have Unique Skillsets.

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on April 14, 2015

I have unique skillsets. I have marketable characteristics. I have varied and useful experience, and the requisite bullet points. I have spent time in good places to spend time. I have an excellent education and a couple of degrees. I have no use for these.

I have colorful résumés. There’s a green one, and a blue one. I have everything in line and powerful references. They’re nice people who do nice things. I have the right attitude, and I’m approachable. I’d rather be far, far away.

I have many years ahead of me. I have potential for growth. I have one step on the ladder, and each step is a little more time. I have the ability to start at the bottom, and I have the strength to work to the top. I never do.

I have multiple outlets and many contacts. I have a broad network. I have places I could be, and people who want me. I have no need to try them again.

I have a lot of tools. I have endorsements and I have a track record. I have certifications and I have good training. I spend my time working on anything else.

I have a large collection of vinyl records. It’s nice. I have an expensive stereo that plays the music and an expensive turntable that spins the wax. It’s been my only dream, to own all the music. But it won’t fit in my car when I need to leave.

I have a full closet. There’s more than five jackets, a row of quality jeans, and a handful of vintage cloth. The shelf in the center holds my new felt hat, the kind that traveller’s wear on the train. It’ll go with me whenever everything else gets thrown away.

I have a curated library. Nothing but the classics. Anyone could walk in and find something to read. Hardbacks and paperbacks, each chosen for the classic appeal, especially the ones with yellow pages. I’ll put my favorite in my back pocket and the rest go to charity.

I have furniture. I have a bed, two sofas, and a coffee table. I never wanted furniture and never thought about buying it until I rented an apartment. I never considered what color, what type of wood, or what size. I never thought I needed furniture. I needed furniture when I wanted to be comfortable in the place I was living. I never thought of how much time could go by on a sofa I didn’t need.

And now it’s one more thing that won’t fit in my car.

I have decorated with things that I enjoy. I put up canvases of places I’ve been, moments I’ve been happy, snapshots and pieces of memorabilia from where I’ve gone and want to go again. Postcards and concert posters and a collage of photos that help me remember. It was supposed to make me happy again. It only fills me with the worst kind of desire.

I have a nice, big bed. I have a mattress. A mattress is another thing I didn’t think about, until I did. Again, the thinking was I needed a mattress. But a place to sleep isn’t necessarily a mattress.

I have, over time, given away most all the rest. Childhood nostalgia, photo albums, unwanted and unread books, knick-knacks, unseasonable clothes, trinkets, outdated software, relics of hobbies I never finished, unworn shoes, framed pictures, anything that I couldn’t take with me. Somehow I’ve gotten more. Each time I get something new, I try to give something away. The things that don’t need to stay will really surprise you when you operate this way.

I still have too much.

I have little problems. The kind that seem monstrous to most, but really, I mean really really really, aren’t worth my dime’s bit of time and toil. I have an idea of who I want to be and no way of getting there, that’s a bigger problem. The rest is c’est la vie.

I have places I want to go, things I want to do. I have ideas and creativities and arts all rolling around in my head, but I don’t have the whatever-it-is to get after it. Instead I have a job, and furniture, and unique skills that get in the way.

I have no reason to worry. I have been in better places, but I have been in worse. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, but I haven’t been overcome yet with fear. I have things I could do, but I have only one that I want.

I want to choose. I want to be free. I want to have attorney over my soul. I want to move about, and be laughed at for dancing. I want never again to hide who I am.

All these things I have now I have because I’ve been hiding from myself. I won’t have them much longer.

Thoughts

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on February 10, 2015

I

What are these things we put ourselves through? Stretches of searches for feelings of satisfaction, literal, ephemeral, spiritual, emotional. Daily, weekly, yearly, and lifelong operating to find an answer for the emptiness inside our selves, that strange feeling of incompleteness that keeps us moving. Too often keeps us waking in the morning to rise again for a coffee, a long drive to work, work where we sit with facts and figures and spreadsheets and crunch numbers and make calls and receive e-mails to decipher the wrong answers, taking home a little piece (often too little) of the thing we think we need, searching until complete (never complete).

2

These things we do to each other go unquestioned in deference to our state in nature. The things humans act upon humans, so strange and bizarre, accepted as a way of normal or a way of society (god, society), because of the underlying assumption that we are different and so can be our actions. But while the lion eats the lamb, the lions do not war against the lambs at large.

Somewhere there is a man who, with a starving family at home because he immigrated illegally to another country (read: a different piece of earth) and can’t find steady work to bring home groceries, is shoplifting a gallon of milk. And somewhere in that same country there are millions of humans complicit vis-à-vis taxation to the notion that that man, the thief, should be reprimanded in writing to be permanently filed in the coffers to let all others know: this man has done wrong, and now will be remembered as a criminal for the crime of feeding his family.

Isn’t it extremely bizarre, this whole perpetuation? The end-state is a letter of words and grammar that accuse the accused of having done wrong. But before I get into the question of who the fuck is judge and jury, I will never understand written punishments, be they the final product or a record of further punishment. Think for a minute – to really free the mind from the vindictive if accidental perspective of crime and punishment, focusing the attention not on the crime or the criminal but instead on the arbiter of punishment allows us to see first the absurdity – that, in equal body and mind as the man being punished, there is another human who by circumstance of coincidence and chance was born of a different family in a different land and was raised to believe, truly believe, that he not only needed a job but a job by which he could command the fate of endless other humans simply by applying the law with his signature (to correctly assume that on most levels the law is not interpreted but only applied). Does this man go home every night saying he did the Lord’s work? That he did a good job? Neither a yes or no to these questions would satisfy me, when instead it could all be avoided.

And that is to me the keystone of bewilderment – how, for all the millions and billions of humans stricken to despair why it wasn’t their own self born into riches and grace, we still cling to the idea that humans get where they want by their individual acts and performance and work. That a president or a lawyer or an actor are deserving of their lifestyle by the virtue of their better-ness, having risen from above the masse rest of us who by continuing to suffer I guess never worked hard enough because we still suffer or else we’d be famous too. So, for being different and for the rest subscribing to the notion of the same, there exists a system by which there can even be judge separate from defendant. My bewilderment exceeds into anger when tendered with the additional notion, safely assumed, that judge in this case (as with all) came to be simply because he too needed a job to pay the bills. If there were any morality in acting as judge (morality being the entire purpose behind criminal punishment), the proprietor wouldn’t accept compensation – the need for morality would be higher and more obvious than the need for work. But instead, this man or woman who became judge started as a boy or girl somewhere just like our criminal, but by writ of circumstance came about the satisfaction that could be had with the job of adjudicating judgment, unlike our criminal who either by internal opposition to this morality (a hopeful but unlikely nobility) or by lack of similar opportunity did not become a judge but instead the judged.

These judges exist in many forms – managers, bosses, police officers, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, coworkers, business acquaintances, lawyers, legal representatives, clients, and so on. Anywhere there is a man and woman making a mistake there is a man or woman passing a judgment. Critically here it is a shame that often the answer is not forgiveness. If that were possible we wouldn’t all be struggling for bread.

3

Sometimes to me the biggest tragedy is that people look around and see things and never think, “how could this be done better or differently?” But then I’m reminded that most people don’t look around and ask questions because this is all they know and they defend it with violence.

I don’t know an intelligent person who advocates for war, and vice versa for the opposite.

4

I’ve come back to this country and learned many things, but what I cling to most is hope. Hope that things will get better. I didn’t have to always think about hope overseas, and that alone speaks volume for our state of affairs.

There’s a place (the only place) I go sometimes in the evening. A few blocks up the foothills from my apartment there is a road that sharply ascends the mountain through a neighborhood, and because of the steep climb there are on occasion plateaus, little ones that are the size of maybe half a football field where nothing can be built (yet). I got to this plateau the first time because it presents the best view of the sun setting to the west over the flat valley of the desert, but I continue to go back because in the middle of this proverbial wasteland there is isolation – I can briefly ignore the chain of apartment complexes below, not be blinded by the storefront neon lights, be away from the buzzing traffic and so many cars driving across this country.

The view can extend for some hundred miles without exaggeration – if you’ve never seen the flattest valley from an elevated perspective, it stretches for as far as the curvature of the earth will allow your eyesight. On this particular plateau with Franklin Mountain behind me to the east, there is a good view of the Sierra de Cristo Rey looming near Juarez, and to the right far off into the distance but still clear are the Florida peaks of New Mexico at 75 miles away. In between is a line as straight as a ruler, and the sky so wide that when the sun finally dips below its horizon the oranges and reds can linger for an hour. It’s especially wonderful when there are clouds beyond the Florida peaks. We’ve all seen clouds turn to pink and purple when the sun sets, but they turn over our heads. Seeing the clouds over 100-miles away turn to the same color but nearly an hour after watching the sun set, that truly is spectacular, and tells me that amongst the thousands of sunsets I’ve witnessed, these are different in the best way.

And so I go back there often, because all during the day and week I drive these highways, past the cracked roads, past the dozens of broken down cars each day, past the daily wrecks, past the advertisements that dot and cover and line all the roads even into the empty valley where otherwise there would be desert beauty but instead there is an advertisement. I go back there because as the sun sets around me grows darkness. It is so very hard to find a dark place in this country that is lit by a thousand lights in a thousand parking lots. The darkness sets over the valley below and from the sky downward and there in the middle is the longest, purest, cleanest disbanding of color from the sun, sandwiched in the middle like the closing of a sideways curtain.

It’s peaceful there and it makes me think of northern Arizona, southern Germany, Spain, and all the places I’d rather be. And if the best place in this town only makes me want to leave, then leave I must and soon.

5

The truth is that I’ve been maddeningly depressed for some time now, the deep, clinical kind of depression that robs you of all energy, thought, emotion, the kind that renders a man still until he finds himself waking up fully clothed and sober in the middle of the room for no reason other than not being able to make the decision to get up and into bed. Forgive me then for having written nothing in a long time, though forgiveness would be accorded if someone were reading, which by now I am sure there may never be.

I persist however because, for reasons I’ll never know, I’ve always believed that it would set me free, in the colloquial and clichéd way. But even if it never gives me the lifestyle we all want, I’m sure that it is the only key to my sanity. I’m reaching the point where I cannot go any longer delaying my life in this world, and that means equally that I cannot any longer pretend to go along. I don’t know what that means I should do, but things have to change and the strongest feeling is that I need to be better, seconded by the feeling that I’m the only one that can do this. So, well, here we are.

6

I write because in this arena there are no rules but those I impose on myself. I’ve always struggled with others’ rules because, I don’t know, why shouldn’t I? Why can’t anyone be allowed to be, in the most free and individual sense? Thousands of years of human history and art spent at believing in that proposition, and yet we’re no further along now than when we were slaves. We may have more distractions, but if we all have the same distractions we are not individually unique. Even the lower class can afford a Coach purse to feel entitled.

7

I’m not a good employee because I simply cannot believe that I should work until I die. I don’t believe this to be true for anyone.

7.5

I don’t think anyone believes that of their self either, but have only forgotten that they will in fact die. It’s important to remember that life only exists in opposition to death. It doesn’t go on and this is it.

8

Some time ago I was talking to my wife about some of these and other similar thoughts on the tragedy of life and modern living. I think maybe the context was the vote on gay rights in Estonia and the equivalents in America and other countries. We both (rightly) concluded the errors present in Judeo-Christian morals when applied to law, and it always at first engenders sadness that humans as a society are still struggling with understanding and forgiveness.

But then, for some reason and when I’ve never thought of this way before, it occurred to me that I am insignificant. I am just one of the billions of our animal species blotted somewhere on this earth. And unlike centuries before, I used what little education I was forced and offered, and from other things I chose to learn by having access and desire, I have concluded on my own things that before were punishable by execution and ostracism – atheism, peace, equality, social economy, open borders, and all the things mislabeled as liberalism. And I’m just a single man, born of two humans in a large city and moved to be raised in a small town, with a small education, and working like a everyone else for a few dollars.

And if I am free to reach these conclusions, and simply even able to reach these conclusions without the same tireless efforts used by those who brave souls who originated these philosophies, and if I am not persecuted for having these beliefs, and if my wife can reach these conclusions equally and simultaneously in the same way on the other side of the planet, than surely we have made progress that we just haven’t recognized yet.

And surely the world can progress more.

How Am I Supposed to Feel?

Posted in Prose by johnsontoms on October 6, 2013

How am I supposed to feel about this?

As things get worse, other things carry on.  Enough other things carry on and everywhere everyone can act like nothing is happening.  There are still the magazines to tell you how to dress, the televisions to tell you how to vote, the radios to tell you how to dance, and the schools to tell you who to be.  We walk the streets in a mired identity that believes somehow it is singular yet, all around us, are others of us.  And every one of us, alike and the same, carries on like nothing is happening.  “It will pass” and “it will end soon” are spoken intelligently like we know, like we have the answer, because it feels right, doesn’t it? But what is it to feel right?  How did we arrive in a place where giving to others is a political battleground?  And while there are so many things to indicate that such an emotion is a path wrongly taken, that too – that feeling that giving to others is a human right, not a charity – could be a symptom of years and generations of going about it all wrong.

After all – what about where we are says anything we’ve ever done was good?

Because here we are, stuck in the middle of a government shutdown during one of the most volatile, divisive, politically eruptive periods in American history staring down a mounting list of problems as society continues to rift, debts continue to grow, men and women continue to be shot down, racial divides thicken, sexual and religious inequality persist, and there to oversee it is a government body that collectively said “fuck it.”  It’s a remarkable thing to say, maybe finally, that democracy has failed.  It has failed us, it has failed itself, and I begin to wonder how much longer we can sit by and try to patch the holes in a ship that is clearly capsizing.  What’s so wrong with revolution after all?

But we mustn’t think politically.  These problems are too rich to play with numbers, too significant to meet with logic, for logic and numbers have long been thrown away.  In many ways, logic and numbers brought us to this point – where, for sake of a seat in office, for sake of identifying with regimes and ideas, for sake of wanting to keep what’s ours, we’ve given up on the idea of charity.  Frankly, this all boils down to politicians and their supporters that refuse to help those in need, by providing a simple basic service, medicare, that might keep someone alive.  Isn’t it incredible? I mean, how can we look at ourselves and say that we’re debating people’s worthiness to live?  That’s what’s going on.  And I don’t know how to feel.

It should be so much more simple than turning on the switch again, and as much as I want someone to do it, it won’t change the void and disillusion I have – this feels like something that should be changing my life, but I feel nothing.  I’m more frustrated from the loneliness, the normality of it all.  While I walk around trying to grab onto people or words or ideas to make sense of what’s happening, the world keeps spinning and in it are people that watch it spin.  As a government employee I should be affected, changed, impacted, much less enraged, but I got paid – one of the few, and I’m still at work, and I’m carrying on, and nothing’s changed, except that my government has failed.  That idea has done more to me than any paycheck ever could.

I can’t accept living in a world so disengaged.  These are acts of tyranny, the times when politicians get drunk on the eve of watching the government die.  But I can’t very well blame them for living within an environment that watched such behavior blossom and become, largely, a mode of acceptable behavior beyond punitive action and free of ridicule; in a sense, everyone was doing it, so what’s the big deal?  That millions of lives worldwide ride on it.  But, like everyone else who keeps checking their smart phones for updates or watching their televisions for sports scores or checking their internet for cat photos, distractions keep us from realizing what’s going on, feeling the gravity of the situation, and knowing for once that we’re in a bad place.  We’re on a slow boat to anarchy.

Decisions are being made for spite.  Real world, heavy decisions are being made for spite.  Ones in particular that shut down a government and make literally zero logical sense other than to enrage voters and chase reelection.  Where are we when this is acceptable political behavior?  And more than what can be done, how did we arrive here?  Has it always been like this?  How should I feel about this?

The arguments are so compellingly strong against the behavior of the few that have made this happen.  The irrational decision to fight a bill that has been signed into law is never one that will make sense, and, as the president has calmly said, “are tactics designed to ransom the government and its people for things that will not change.”  I believe that’s an impeachable offense.  But it’s not important.  I can’t get over the fact that in the 21st Century, this new millennium, we still have people who refuse to help others.

In an argument the other day with a coworker, his reasons for support of such behavior circled around the fact that the many shouldn’t take care of the worthless few.  Never mind that over 40-million working adults can’t afford healthcare, and that 1 in 5 choose to go without, these people are infringing on the capitalist efforts of the few who have.  The few who have earned a little bit, who have something others don’t and don’t want to share.  It didn’t mean anything to him that his own friend, another coworker standing near us who is a father to four children and previously earned less than 30,000$ a year, couldn’t afford health care were he not in the military.  The first man was convinced that “the country’s gangsters” would “abuse Obamacare” to “get things they don’t deserve.” How in the hell is this kind of idea real?  How the fuck can people go on living like this and saying these things?

That to me is a more pressing issue than the government shutdown.  I don’t know what to feel because the issues at hand are not the most important.  Even as millions ignore that it’s even happening, for the few who are paying attention I want to say – look harder.  This is not about politics.  This is about human behavior.  This is about human emotion.  This is feeling.  This is about the ideas of religion and philosophy and the culture of fear.  This is about thinking.  Thinking goddammit, and are we thinking anything at all.

Because if we’ve gotten everything so wrong, it means also that how we think is wrong.  To its worst end, maybe the idea that we should help each other is wrong.  To its illogical conclusion, maybe we should accept that life is a series of births and deaths and attempting to save a life is pointless, nay, harmful.  It’s frightening because it feels so wrong, but that’s what I’m talking about – if everything we think is right is actually wrong, then what about the opposite?  How long before we give it a shot?  How long before we don’t have a choice?

We can’t keep going about things the same way forever.  History is a series of trial and error, a long steady line of mistakes, theories, hypotheses, test and conclusion.  Along the way there have been the romantic few who dared to accelerate the process: Plato, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Newton, Da Vinci, Kant, Bacon, Einstein, Tesla, the ones who through philosophy, mathematics, science, and sheer curiosity dared to dream of a world with answers derived from simply asking questions.  They were the ones who about them saw a world that didn’t work quite the way it was advertised, and they sought (and succeeded) in providing a few more ways to think.

But with these foundations for thinking having been laid down for thousands of years, our contemporary state seems scripted.  In a way, the greatest thinkers and doers have been said to answer humanity’s greatest scientific and moral dilemmas.  We know that humans should persevere to help other humans, and we are left to figure out how.  We know that electricity can stimulate particles to create energy, and if harnessed properly, can compute equations at a percentile of the human brain’s capacity, and we are left to figure out its greatest use.  We know that particle physics can dissemble the known universe, and we’re left to figure out how to make it possible.  We know that people shouldn’t die young, and we’re left to figure out why it’s still happening.  It’s like putting together an existential puzzle where the factions of the earth each have a piece don’t believe that other pieces are needed.  If only these factions could cooperate.  More exciting still, is that there is more thinking to be done.  Look no further than the perilous state of things to know that we haven’t gotten most anything figured out.

I’m not the first, lord no, not the first to have this idea.  If I’m lucky I’ll have even a fraction of the success those before me had with it.  In the 18th Century, Immanuel Kant became fed up with the way things were presented.  Having seen a recorded history of the world and its moral dilemmas decided by faith, Kant proposed a way of thinking that stated directly why humans felt such moral gravity and how such faith failed to answer the implications.  It was revolutionary: “Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but … let us once try whether we do not get farther with the problems of metaphysics by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition” (Critique of Pure Reason).  Essentially, the way we perceived our experiences is a consequence of our predisposed ideas, or, we get what we want from things.  Kant was raised in the church (big surprise) and a stern home education focusing on the use of Latin and classic theologies.  In short order, a boiling point for the thinking man.  And while it is important to notice the things he was able to conjure, the beautiful and mystic moral questions he was able to transcribe, it is most important to evaluate his positive assertion for the necessity of thinking – our experiences conform to our ideas, or the way we want them.  And he didn’t want to be like that.  Everything he was taught to believe didn’t seem entirely right because, as he correctly hypothesized, it was a result of scatological heresy passed down in the form of history to be taught as truth.  He didn’t know what truth was out there – he just knew that what he was being told was wrong.  And for his efforts we have the greatest works on Moral Metaphysics ever assembled, paving the way for why the human brain seeks cognitively to search for the best emotional solution.

This is of great consequence in the modern day.

The Age of Information after all is pummeling us like a steamroller from hell.  Life is advancing at such a speed that profits are proportionately related to the amount of technology used in production (I just came up with that, but fuck, isn’t it true?).  The trickle-down effect of this relationship affects you, the user and consumer and producer, in the market economy of “slave wages,” for lack of a better term.  Basically, you need money to survive; in order to make money you need a job; in order to keep a job you have to operate within the confines of the jobs demands; the job will remain present and profitable in so long as it is within the curve of advancing technology; you, personally, therefore must stay within the curve of advancing technology.  And so begins a life connected infinitely to the radio waves of the internet, radio, television, and cellular life.  As much as I have removed television from life (I have not one, do not watch more than an hour each month in public spaces), and as much as I try to refrain from other modes of consumption, I have to keep my e-mail updated to receive important communications from coworkers and my employer.  As a resident of Europe for a couple of years now, the easiest method by which I can contact anyone, sadly, is Facebook.  This relationship with technology can vary in degrees, but the necessity to operate in the modern has us crippled.  Instead of thinking, we’re consuming.  Instead of running ahead, we’re catching up.  Reactive, not proactive.  And while we know that we shouldn’t be so easily directed by the flow of traffic, we know also that we should be able to answer life’s simple questions of survival – food, shelter, family, in that order, thank you Maslow – and in the Age of Information we can do that.  It isn’t until that process is interrupted that we will realize the true order of chaos around us.

Because, truly, what have we gotten from this modern world?  We’re too afraid to believe that the things we own, all the total sum of the products, emotions, and ideas that we possess within our mind, could be as strong as the house built on the sand, to use a well-known analogy.  It’s frightening that everything we know is wrong.  Frightening, absolutely shaking.  So while the government goes into shutdown, while our government is failing, we sit back and watch the television and focus our time on distractions to make it seem less real.

The failure of government is a real and shocking truth in this country that no one yet is fully conceptualizing.  Just imagine now – think of all the times you’ve heard the battle cry, “it’s unconstitutional.”  The indictment on any unjust action as “unconstitutional” is as strong or stronger in this country of ours than any previous moral judgment ever used, biblical or otherwise.  It’s a way of life here, in the blood.  The Constitution is our bible, our religious document.  Invoking its charges, we’ve been led to believe that only be the words of Thomas Jefferson and the founding fathers (just men, mind you) we’ve been able to forge out a world of peace, freedom, and liberty through a system of government we call democracy.  For nearly 250 years it has been the calling card to successes large and small.  And now it’s wrong.  It doesn’t work.

I’m telling you that democracy isn’t working.

John Adams, of a few people, said as much: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.” (letter to John Tyler, April 15, 1814, The Collected Works of John Adams)

It is not without any sense of irony that we should also discuss the exact mechanics at work for this failure: in the attempt to make irrelevant the voting power of the republic collective, Federalists relegated the proportionality system of delegates (equal in proportion to population) used in the House of Representatives to the lower tier of the legislative branch, one not responsible for creation of law.  It is however, as part of a bicameral legislature, while not able to create much, capable of at least saying “no” once in a while, as it has and is right now and goddamn it you fools.

Just reading over the words in the above paragraph seem to place the government (which is after all, a group of men getting together, and nothing more) in the same lofty levels as the heavens, the after life, and the karmic truth.  But it is just a group of men entrusted to make decisions for the majority.  It is a tool of voice, a tool no different than the microwave, the refrigerator, the latex condom (less effective, in fact).

What have these tools, these inventions, these governments given us that in any way solves the problems we’ve raised and known to be quarrelsome?  For all the things we’ve created, how then can we not solve something as simple as war with an answer as simple as peace?

It means to me that the entire way of thinking is wrong.  Everything.  All of it.  Peace as we know it is a false concept.  Death as we know it is a false concept.  War, government, politics, state borders, all false.  Sex, reproduction, gods and love are all in the mind, as are feelings of esteem, courtesy, jealousy, pride, anger, frustration, and accomplishment.  Charity, benevolence, kindness, sympathy, and compassion are as equally useless and hollow as hate, violence, prejudice, and intolerance.  We feel and believe all of these things as a result of what we’ve been told.  None of it is true.

It means that my feelings of disillusion, too, are misplaced.  It means I shouldn’t feel that the anarchy is slowing creeping our way, because I should not expect anarchy to be weighted proximally by equal feelings of remorse, regret, fear, and anxiety, as I’ve been taught to believe.

It means I should sit back and welcome the chaos like the warm rising tide that swells in the night with the weight of a dark, burning moon glowing lowly over the horizon never to spin its face the other way because it knows like we know that change is violent and it takes all the power of the sun and stars to make a giant transform its way of life.

 

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…But I really cannot articulate enough, over and over again, this sentences:

How do we live in a world still filled with people who think its okay to operate with hate in their hearts?

How do we still live in a country that operates on blatant and unreal racism and bigotry?

Why do people continue to refuse to help other people?

What is it about personal possessions that is much more gratifying than charity?

I mean, seriously. What do you have that you can’t live without that makes affordable healthcare for people in need an impracticality?

There are a lot of things that can be written in political science journals about the shifts happening right now, and I think the strongest is this – this government shutdown is proof that the two-party system is largely institutionalized beyond a point of referendum, as seen in the power of the radical Tea Party (side note: I’m glad that some outlets are finally labeling the Tea Party as “radical”).  Or, essentially, because of the fear engrained in the historical ideology of the antebellum South and the corporate donations made to the Republican Party on behalf of the gentrified companies that are run by people with such ideology, the Republican Party as a whole must pander to its ideas and wishes rather than dissemble or realign.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, they call themselves the Tea Party – they want things they way they were hundreds of years ago, you know, before a black man took over the presidency.

Which leaves me with two questions:

1)   How do these people survive in this world?

2)   Why aren’t we working harder to eradicate their antiquated beliefs?

Whatever.  Just go post something about #shutdownLOL on tumblr while you order your Pumpkin Spice Latte because that’s all you wanted when fall season rolled around because the movies are still on and its NFL Sunday and I’ve got to work tomorrow and the fall premiere season has started on television and gas prices haven’t gone up and my baby boy brought home his first homework assignment from kindergarten today about the alphabet and isn’t it cute when we get to dress him up for Sunday service? and next week we’ll go to grandma’s and eat that casserole she loves to make but I’ll take my hat off at the table this time even though you know I love to wear it everywhere I mean how often do you see me without it and a can of Bud Light because that’s what a man is supposed to wear even if he’s in the club, just like getting out the muddin’ truck it just feels good speaking of which where are the boys going this weekend? I need plans for Halloween something to do after watching the football game but let’s keep it cheap ‘cause we have to start saving up for Christmas time you know the boys want a new video game system this year the fancy one that everyone else has because I don’t want to him cry about it you know I’m not good with this but I wasn’t out too late I just needed a day to get away there are so many things going on right now I just needed to relieve some stress yes I’ll pay the bills and it’s your turn to walk the dog and I don’t care I just like my coffee black I’ll get it for you after the next paycheck and no I’m not worried about the government shutdown because it doesn’t have anything to do with me #LOLlolololololololol