An open space for global conversation
In our society, there are a few people who control most of the money and almost all of the levers of power, and then there are the rest of us. That is surely an oversimplification, though. For in the rest of us, we can find all kinds of divisions of power. Men have it better than women, whites than people of color, American citizens than foreigners, middle class than poor, fully able bodied than those with disabilities, human than non-human, property owner than non-property owner, manager than worker, good-looking than ugly, stronger than weaker, and on and on. Yet, surely all of these other hierarchies might be easier to eradicate if there were not so few people controlling the economic and political capital and all that goes with it – namely government at all its levels including the laws, military, and police; business at all its levels, particularly the large corporations; the banks at all their levels, especially the mega banks (I know you’re not listening, Wells Fargo); etc. These same people control the mass media – and the useless range of talking heads we hear – and the policy choices left as scraps for those foolish enough to believe their vote matters.
Of course, that we are all left as fools is the point. Compared with their power, we are mere babbling idiots. I am allowed to write these things because they resonate nowhere. I am lucky if I can get my friends and family to read these essays. At most, my reach is a few hundred people for any given essay. If my message is intended to penetrate those who wield power, it simply cannot. Therefore, I am not a threat. Voices much larger than mine – from Amy Goodman to Noam Chomsky to Michael Moore – cannot make a dent in their citadel. In respect to it, we are left as babbling idiots. We, to them, are no more than the curiosities we find at the zoo – the same zoo animals that we happily abuse without a second thought. “Don’t feed the animals” might as well be a message for treating us. Ignore them, and they will go away. Give them a deal on consumer junk. Numb their minds with the safety of popular culture where what passes for radical is whether someone dares to utter a foul word or shows too much skin.
Many people are surely “happy” with this life. They make enough money, they have a nice enough family, and they enjoy watching television day after day after day. So long as the upper classes keep a moderately fattened middle class, the wretched underbelly of the society will continue to be tolerated. You never see domestic cows rise up whatever their conditions. Just keep them sufficiently fat, and they will find contentment in that. I doubt that cows are actually content with that, but I want to make a different point. Keeping a cow fat comes at a cost. In Greater Yellowstone, it literally and specifically means the deaths and torture of thousands of bison. In human terms, it can mean computer chips coming at the cost of millions of lives in Africa, chronic poverty, and a permanent underclass of despair. It often means wars in other countries to maintain control over oil and energy resources, it means detrimental land practices, and that interestingly can lead to deaths and torture of thousands of bison. For keeping cows fat is not irrelevant in practice to keeping humans grazing on potatoes (in a thousand different varieties) from the couch.
Yet, as long as we do not have to think about any of these things ourselves – so long as enough of us can remain fat and lazy – we are free to do whatever we want within the range of minutiae left for us (even to write essays like this – whatever floats your boat?)
We are left babbling fools. When some people wake up to their condition and decide that they want to live their lives more fully – recognizing that the happiest life is one where each of us has the chance for the fullest expression of our nature – they occasionally go out to protest. This has happened in the last year with the Occupy Movement; it has happened here in Bozeman, Montana with a Wells Fargo divestment campaign and other actions. Inevitably, some people show up, raise a fuss, other people honk horns, and everyone goes home. To the vast majority, it just looks like a show – a perverse show perhaps that could use a director and professional writers. It’s where the lunatics go, not the respectable people. Respectable people understand that change is not made that way. No one listens to lunatics on the side of the road waving signs and speaking incoherently into a sound system. It smacks of almost a religious cult to go out there with a sign proselytizing and chanting like maniacs.
What the respectable person does not realize is that he too has been made into a fool. Most people live in their silly little boxes connecting their asses to the couch, with a beer at their side, a remote control where their penis might be, flipping through hundreds of channels constantly. Perhaps, they pride themselves on being outdoors people, going out and hiking in the mountains with their dogs, enjoying the scenery and the physical exertion. This is all good; even animals need their exercise. They think they have found a place to keep their dogs off their leashes, but the leashes are firmly around our necks. The moment ends, and we return to our jobs and the numbing routine of life. Look at this society from the sky, and you see what looks like an ant colony marching in line, the land turned into grids, and all the people down there look like mere ants filling up those grids with their cars. The respectable person has been made a fool. Our ancestors would not likely see this as progress. They would laugh at what buffoons we have made of our lives.
Through peaks, we see that things are not nearly so dreamy that even the happy caged fool imagines himself. We get a glimpse behind the American Beauties at the high divorce rate, at the high suicide rates, at polls that suggest that the respectable people don’t think things are going in the right direction. Alcoholism and drug abuse are high at all socioeconomic levels; diseases related to obesity are gaining strength as well – all while health care costs are skyrocketing and many formerly middle class people have lost their homes and their jobs. There is high anxiety about whether the middle class trough isn’t soon disappearing. Indeed, I am not immune; I can write this essay today because my contract at another job recently ended, and I too am between jobs and unsure whether my trough will run dry. We do not know where to turn. Our friends are the people we get drunk with; can we count on them to be there when things really get tough, when we might find ourselves imposing on them? In some cases, we are fortunate. Many are not; they do not even know their neighbors.
Nevertheless, the happy fools are content enough and only take a disdainful glance at anyone who reminds them that there are many who are not and have never been so fortunate – that the 2008 economic recession was their lot long before the housing market collapsed.
The protestor actually has it right to yell and scream and wave all kinds of signs and to be as incoherent as possible. That is who we all are in respect to the few people who have all the economic and political power. Those who pretend they can change Wells Fargo or elect the right man who promises the right kind of hope are dangerously delusional. They are merely seen as yelling and screaming, too, but they waste their time pretending that there’s a reason to craft their message. We have seen with bison where that goes when a Greater Yellowstone Coalition, for instance, repeatedly sells wild bison out for the “next step forward.” They believe they have the ear of the governor, as if that matters. We have seen what all the electioneering has done to give us a President Obama who has plenty of blood on his hands – continuing to wage wars across the world. They have elected Democratic and Republican congresses, and they are surely not the same (one is always going to be better than the other), but they did not derive their power from you. They derive it from those who hold the purse strings. That is why they can pretend to be environmentalists, for instance, all while supporting hydraulic fracturing. That is why they take a half moment to shake your hand while spending hours wining and dining with the rich and influential.
There is a logical notion lost on many people – that of the false antecedent. Namely, in any compound proposition, if the antecedent is false, it really does not matter what the consequent is. The entire statement will be true because the entire statement is vacuous. Thus, in the proposition, “If the cow jumped over the moon, then the moon will be made of green cheese,” the entire proposition is true because the antecedent is always false. The cow did not and has not jumped over the moon, and therefore you can say whatever you like about it. It does not matter. You can say that the moon is made of rocks, or you can say that Elvis is still alive. I’d suggest considering the false antecedent, “If your voice matters, then you should ….” The protestor goes out realizing that we are all made into babbling idiots. Others choose to vote. Others have a barbecue and text their choice for the next American Idol. C’est la vie.
The real problem, of course, is that our voices – the extension of what it means for us to be alive as humans – do not matter in the least. Thus, I’d suggest that acting like fools via protest serves a more rational purpose in one respect. The protestor is, by screaming and yelling, trying to express to the rest of us that we are reduced to a state of relative insanity, and that we fellow fools need to do something about it. Unfortunately, the message is lost on a dumbfounded public that misses the irony. That is no doubt why I find myself writing an essay like this – so that at least those few people who hear this recognize that we have as much hope of getting our message across to the powers that be screaming like fools than doing anything else. Or, maybe, we just need to figure out how to be more entertaining. As court jesters, we might be able to be more subversive than we realize if only we were more conscious of our aim. My sense is that too many protestors believe that they are doing something that might communicate a serious message. There is a serious message for sure; however, we need to step back and realize that the message isn’t to be found in our signs, but in our desperation – in the fact that we are exposing the truth of what we all are – lab animals in some sadistic if yet silly experiment.
Consciousness that we have been made fools, then, is perhaps the first step of wisdom.
However, I have left out something very important. While we are fools in respect to them, we must learn to be meaningful friends with each other. We should never want to have the kind of power and prestige that the rich and powerful have. They too are fools in choosing a world where only the scattered few have the opportunity to live freely, constantly having to plot ways to stay on top of the pile. It is no doubt why Plato in Republic likened the despot to the unhappiest person of all. Anyhow, in respect to each other, we’ve also been made fools by the various power dominations that exist within our society. It can often feel beyond hopeless that we can find meaningful friendships that we can trust. Relationships between races are fraught with mistrust due to the history of racism in society. Women are often rightfully untrusting of the motives of men. A poorer friend may think his wealthier friend may use his favor over him. Many groups of people dissolve into petty soap operas rooted in the stupidity with which we feed on in this social structure. Yet, overcoming many of those obstacles is so important – to find a place where your voice matters, to find a group of people where you can scream to your heart’s content but be there with a kind word, a meal, or even a building project.
I meet a lot of people who admit a core of loneliness. If recognizing we are made fools is the beginning of wisdom, then the admission of our loneliness – strange as it may sound – is the beginning of hope. When people both realize their place as fools in this world and yet also find a kindred bond with some in the immediate environment, then maybe there’s a reason to care, to be rational, and reasonable, and respectable. There we find the true seeds of happiness – not the inner peace sold like a potion and not the so called outer peace of hope in someone else somewhere else – but in discovering something simultaneously in ourselves and with each other. Only if we can succeed at those first steps can we have any hope of raising our voices loud enough to be heard up in the citadel, to make ourselves strong enough to tear that tower of Babel down once and for all.
This is my cry in the dark. Has anyone heard? I don’t want to be left howling alone in this dungeon. Enough is enough! Let us sing a new song!