Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On living in a too competitive nation.

I am not and will not be one of the competitive, hard driven workaholics who neglect life in its beautifully creative form in order to profit from, build capital with, and network among the boring (and most inefficient) elite. Creativity, in all its raw and wonderful movements, is being and has been neglected. A capitalist nation need not be an autocratic oligarchy ruled by a militaristic fearfull bunch of zealots. Nay--a capitalist nation MUST not work this way! Competition isn't what made America great--it isn't what makes the world economy go round.

Living and working in New York City has shown me alot about myself and alot about the way the economics of extreme late-capitalism effect the average person. The goal of profit and the threat of loss have become all-too-important in the workings of our society. This is not to say that there is no benefit in consumer capitalism or that there is no goodness within the economic system we have set up here. But globalism and a hyper-active market have made corporations trump individuals. The average CEO makes 430 times the salary of the average factory worker. Up from 301-1 in 2003. Up from 109-1 in 1990.

And get this:
In Manhattan, about 75 percent of the people with high-level education aged between 25 and 32 years old work more than 40 hours a week. In 1977, only 55 percent of the people worked the same amount of time

I choose not to fall into this trap. I choose to work hard and love life, but I will not compete. I will not live for profit, but I will seek creative ways to live. I should mention that I'm not advicating anything really radical here--like extreme socialism or some sort of kibutz-type living (although I've always thought that might be kind of fun)-but I am suggesting a different approach and mindset. Life is not a business and we shouldn't try to make it one.

Wendell Berry (who always has something worthwhile to say on this subject) says in his essay on local economy "Sentimental capitalism is not so different from sentimental communism as the corporate and political powers claim. Sentimental capitalism holds in effect that everything small, local, private, personal, natural, good, and beautiful must be sacrificed in the interest of the "free market" and the great corporations, which will bring unprecedented security and happiness to "the many" - in, of course, the future.

"These forms of political economy may be described as sentimental because they depend absolutely upon a political faith for which there is no justification, and because they issue a cold check on the virtue of political and/or economic rulers. They seek, that is, to preserve the gullibility of the people by appealing to a fund of political virtue that does not exist. Communism and "free-market" capitalism both are modern versions of oligarchy. In their propaganda, both justify violent means by good ends, which always are put beyond reach by the violence of the means. The trick is to define the end vaguely - "the greatest good of the greatest number" or "the benefit of the many" - and keep it at a distance."

Poem. I'll be posting tomorrow--

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front -- Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Paul Tillich on Faith

"Faith is a concept--and a reality--which is difficult to grasp and to describe. Almost every word by which faith has been described ... is open to new misinterpretations. This cannot be otherwise, since faith is not a phenomenon besides others, but the central phenomenon in man's personal life, manifest and hidden at the same time. Faith is an essential possibility in man, and therefore its existence is necessary and universal.... If faith is understood for what it centrally is, ultimate concern, it cannot be undercut by modern science or any kind of philosophy.... Faith stands upon itself and justifies itself against those who attack it, because they can attack it only in the name of another faith. It is the triumph of the dynamics of faith that any denial of faith is itself an expression of faith, of an ultimate concern."- Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Wye Valley, Wales -- near Tintern Abbey

Sometimes -- Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
From bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
Faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
Elect an honest man; decide they care
Enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they are born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
Amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
That seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Change, Fear and Hope.

"The world is changed... I feel it in the water... I feel it in the earth... I smell it in the air... Much that once was, is lost... For none now live, who remember it... It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of men, who, above all else, desire power. But they were, all of them, deceived, for another Ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged in secret a master Ring, to control all others. And into this Ring he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life. One Ring to rule them all.” -- The Lord of the Rings

The world seems to be changing each day with an ever so tenious approach toward some sort of "doomsday". The headlines on the newspaper today speak of tough talk from North Korea, the increasing death toll in Iraq, and more problems with the perception of Islam. Just as depressing is the political situation in the United States--the constant blame game going on here is enough to drive anyone mad. Peak oil, evangelical fundamentalists, homelessness and every other problem or evil we're dealing with these days all seem insurmountable.

It's easy to live in a constant state of fear and anxiety of what the next hour will bring. The post-September 11, 2001 world is more like the days of the cold war and might even be compared to the years before World War 2.--not to sound like an alarmist. Like T.S. Eliot in The Wasteland we ask "Is this what western civilization has led to?" The situation is tense and sometimes a little bleak--but one must not forget our chance at greatness. We must not forget to hope.

We can hope in this changed world, we can hope in the possibility that all that's gone wrong may shed greater light on a new way to do things--we can hope for change. It may be hard to find this hope--but hope is what spurs change. So maybe there is no doomsday ahead of us--maybe we will see great change and a great generation will once again rise up and take action.

"Perhaps once again something is afoot in this darkness that no one, not even the prince of darkness knows about. Who knows? We only go like Frodo the Hobbit into Mordar, not certain of the outcome of the mission, certain only of the mission itself. On the journey we commend ourselves to God, and we rest." -PB

Peace and Power

God's Grandeur -- Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Choose Something Like a Star -- Robert Frost

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

On forgiveness.

"He longed to forgive everyone and for everything, and to beg forgiveness. Oh, not for himself, but for all men, for all and for everything." The Brothers Karamazov-Dostoevsky

Recently I've been thinking of the idea of forgiveness. With last week's shooting at the Amish school in Pennsylvania--and the act of forgiveness that community was able to bestow upon someone seemingly undeservant of this, I've sought to come to some sort of conclusion as to what forgiveness is and if it really is possible. The overwhelming question is---why do we forgive?

In On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, Jacques Derrida says that "forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable... It can only be possible in doing the impossible." Dan at On Journeying with those in Exile says for Derrida (in this book) true forgiveness must be unconditional:

...and for Derrida this means that forgiveness is a form of "madness" (He embraces this model of forgiveness) that cannot be reduced to any of these other forms or to "the therapy of reconciliation" (i.e. any way of expressing the approach that treats forgiveness as a means to an end). However, in the day to day reality of life one must deal seriously with issues of penance, repentance, and reconciliation and thus Derrida finds himself with two indissociable, irreconcilable poles: unconditional forgiveness, and conditional "forgiveness."

Derrida's dilemma here shows the quandry in everyday life when dealing with forgiveness. These binary opposites pulled from the act of forgiveness represent a great deal of anxiety and tension in the lives of all of us. Do we forgive with the goal in mind of relieving ourself of inner turmoil--or only because simply we must forgive in order to be forgiven? I'd be more inclined to say that these are outcomes of true forgiveness, but not the cause and motivation for forgiveness. But what does motivate us to forgive?

Miroslav Volf in Exclusion and Embrace says openness to the "other" calls for the kind of self-giving that Jesus manifested on the cross--forgiving others even before they have recognized their guilt. This is complicated, though. We are humans and unforgiving by nature. But forgiveness is part of creation--singing through the birds and floating through the air we breathe--it is redemption at work in our everyday lives. Forgiveness is possible and we are called to it. The act of forgiving someone is truly difficult. I don't think I would be one who could forgive the murderer of my child. Of course, there are some obvious parallels here to the Christian story of Christ as God's only son and his death on the Cross--but I won't make this too much of a religious conversation. There are times in life when we forgive begrudgingly--when we're not inclined to do so by nature, but we feel we must. I argue that this isn't true forgiveness. Forgiveness is full acceptance--not a drop less. Back to Derrida's point that forgiveness has two polar opposites within. The madness of true forgiveness is not possible on our own. We must be motivated, called to it by the divine. But there is always a bit of the divine in our nature.

The painting above is Rembrandt van Rijn's "The return of the prodigal son". An image of true forgiveness, the father receives his son and celebrates his arrival. There is no condition in his forgiveness--just forgiveness and acceptance.

So why do we forgive?

In order that we might have hope.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

William Carlos Williams "Spring and All"

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance-Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Howard Dean

There is hope for the Democratic Party here in the United States--Howard Dean. Maybe he's not the ideal candidate, but the changes he's installed as the DNC chairman are morphing the Democratic Party into a closer knit and a much more involved party than ever before. There is much potential here. If you haven't already, I strongly recommend reading the NYTimes Magazine article on his recent changes within the party. Some might hint that his changes are doing more to destroy the party from within than they are to rebuild it---but it may be that this is the only way to re-make and re-energize a dying Democratic Party.

Mending Wall -- Robert Frost

SOMETHING there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing: 5
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made, 10
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go. 15
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
"Stay where you are until our backs are turned!"
We wear our fingers rough with handling them. 20
Oh, just another kind of outdoor game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
He is all pine and I am apple-orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 25
He only says, "Good fences make good neighbors."
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows. 30
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down!" I could say "Elves" to him, 35
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there,
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me, 40
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."