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Every Time You See Me Going Somewhere

December 8, 2011

Okay, I’ve got St. Buddy of Miles playing through the headphones, so I’m good. No partisan politics today. What I would like to talk about is kind of a revisitation on a previous theme, that being the tendency of modern ‘grown-ups’ to regard idealistic marches and movements as being stupid wastes of time and energy. I touched on this in my 60’s Revisited rant (chapter 17: Are You Experienced?), and I’ve flirted with the notion of peaceful revolution in this blog a time or two as well. What I may not have made clear is why I think growing up and out of idealism is a bad thing.

Now, you may need to excuse yourself from this one, because it comes from a place you may not be comfortable with. See, I’m pretty poor. I’m typing this on what was once a pretty expensive laptop, so I’m not living in a mud hut or anything like that, but it was given to me by my sister, who passed it on to me when she got a rather expensive replacement through her former workplace, just a couple of years ago. The laptop is obsolete, which in modern Mac parlance means it’s getting hard to update software on it, which in turn means it’s getting harder to actually access things on the internet, like videos and such.

None of this addresses either the issues of poverty or of misplaced idealism. In fact, it’s very difficult for most of us in the western world to put the two together, and we have enough money that we can at least eat cheaply while entertaining thoughts of social revolution. In third world nations, that luxury doesn’t exist, even in nominally democratic nations. The idea that we can have a society based around peace, freedom and sharing the resources responsibly can only make sense in a world where there is enough to go around, and in this day and age, we’re taught from the cradle to the grave that there simply isn’t enough to go around. That we’ve overlooked the fact that we’re deliberately putting what little we’ve got back into the pockets of the extremely rich, who for their part are doing their best not to put any of it back in ours.

Buddy says, “You got to hold onto what you got, brother, and take care of yourself.” He may have had a point. But he was singing that in 1973, and it’s entirely possible that a few too many people took him up on it. We’re still squabbling over table scraps and getting mislead into believing that the real problem is with people who refuse to conform. It doesn’t occur to most of us that there have always been such people and always will be, and it definitely doesn’t make sense to us that even out iconoclasts and social revolutionaries perform a necessary function.

All we see is our tiny stake in the game being threatened by so-called social utopian movements being led by people who were born with more than you or me, appealing to the mass of people who have the same or less, all dreaming that somehow, when the revolution comes, that all of the wealth will be redistributed, when we know our society has been built around the schizophrenic logic that the very rich must be protected, because they somehow are our benefactors. It’s interesting that, when we see the numbers that explain why protecting the rich hasn’t worked in our favour either, we just screw our eyes shut, stick our fingers in our ears and start making childish noises at the top of our lungs to keep from doubting our worldview.

There’s a line in the 1972 musical movie, ‘1776’, attributed to John Dickinson, where he says, “But don’t forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor”. That’s as true today as it was in his time, or in any time, really. Nobody wants to rock the boat, in case it should destabilise the system they know, literally the devil you know, which might one day give them the rich rewards and easy living they daydream of.

It’s our first religion, really: Don’t upset the master, and perhaps one day you will be favoured to sit at the master’s table. Even our major western religions promote the idea that we are living in subjugation and strife in order to earn a a better, richer life after this one ends. Atheists think religious people are insane hoping all this indentured servitude and self-denial can ever amount to any good, and yet most of us hold at least some small part of this doctrine in our hearts, that somehow, the good life is waiting for us if we just accept the world as it is and don’t ask for more than we need. It’s a great idea if it works, but really, it enables the opportunistic and the selfish to lord it over the rest of us while we live in Hell on Earth.

Okay, not all of us are living rough. There are still a goodly number of us that are living relatively comfortably, but their numbers are dwindling, and like a highly competitive round of Musical Chairs at your buddy’s little brother’s sixth birthday party, you’re running out of places to sit. Some of us are better runners, and some of us are more ruthless. These are not necessarily traits that deserve to be rewarded. The faster, more ruthless people don’t need your rewards. They’ll do just fine on their own. Spare a thought or two for the virtue of those that help one another get by with what little is left to be shared.

Okay, so that’s poverty. What about idealism. In a world with seemingly dwindling resources , is there room for the socially-conscous dreamer? Well, I certainly hope so, because that’s been my job title for most of my life. But removing myself from the equation, let’s look at what the idealist actually does that benefits society.

First off, every major social and labour movement change that has come along to improve the plight of those who hadn’t the power or influence to better things for themselves was born in the mind of an idealist. You might think they were more trouble than they were worth, but consider the fact that Many of us had no political voice, most of us had no representation in government, and all of us had to work longer and harder than we generally do these days, and that was just a hundred years ago.

It might also help to realise that, as our society has become richer, our lower classes have always gotten poorer and more miserable and trod upon, and that when the wealth was distributed more generously, everyone prospered better, and society made greater strides in virtually every arena. The good old days our rose coloured nostalgia glasses tell us we lived through in our youth are merely a reflection of the fact that, as we get older, we become more aware of what’s wrong with our world today.

But that doesn’t change the fact that things actually have been getting harder, particularly on the poor, but increasingly within the so-called middle class as well. Some of us are back to working unpaid overtime and not grumbling about it. We think this is acceptable, because we’re too desperate to try to change it. This is what happens when you let those with obscene amounts of money make the rules the rest of us live by. It’s not that they’re evil; it’s that they have absolutely no idea what our lives are like. There’s a complete disconnect between the wealthy and upwardly mobile and the rest of us who have been conditioned to accept our lot in life for the good of society.

We work in the service industries, the factories, the cube farms, the recycling plants, and the people who sign our checks, unless we work for some Mom & Pop outfit, have very little awareness of the forces that govern our lives. You can’t expect someone who has no idea what it means that ground beef has gone up to $7.50 a pack to understand that those extra two dollars have to come from the money you were saving to pay the bills. It’s got to come from somewhere, and you can only stretch a dollar so far in this economy.

We can’t let the rules that govern us be made by the Steven Harpers of the world; these privileged idiots who have so completely lost touch with the common man that it doesn’t occur to them that most of us are scared out of our wits, and those that have been voting for him aren’t voting for him; they’re voting to be spared the oncoming slaughter. They just want to be left in peace. Nobody thinks any of these jokers have the answer anymore. We just want a little peace of mind, and we’ll give away anything we’re asked to if we’re given the whiff of a promise that we’ll get that peace of mind.

It’s our desperate, slightly insane idealists that bring it all back down to Earth. They threaten the status quo, but they do it with the hope that they’ll make things better for everyone, even if it means they get ground up in the gears trying to stop the machine. It’s a form of Stockholm Syndrome that moves us to shout them down, because they sacrifice their own comfort and security to improve our lives. We should be venerating them, but instead we insult them and treat them like degenerates because they still have the courage of their convictions, where we sold ours years ago. They threaten our slave dreams. We would stone them rather than risk our masters’ displeasure.

And yet, so much of what we have as creature comforts today we owe not to our landlords but to our societal leper class, the fuzzy logic dreamers in their tent cities trying to change the world one city center at a time. Don’t think we need them? Have you seen the photographs of Detroit lately? Do you think that entire city just decided to tune in and drop out like Haight-Ashbury? Wrong. They played the game, lived the dream, and their homes, factories and libraries are falling down because there’s nobody there to save them. Too many people are just keeping their eyes and heads down, refusing to question our society’s expectations of us.

If we don’t have the courage to speak out against our precarious lives, we should at least be grateful that there are those who are willing to fight for us.

And if you happen to be one of the few, the proud, the dreamers… thank you.


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