Sunday, December 13, 2009

Despairing of the Republic

There are a lot of times these days when I feel frustrated and hopeless, as an artist, an educator, a citizen, and a human being. The United States is facing its worst crises in more than 50 years with tremendous and growing human suffering. In the midst of all this, I see the best efforts of a lot of good and smart people frustrated, and the designs of cynics and fanatics prevailing. I see people being persuaded that they should do the equivalent of cashing in their savings, their college funds, their insurance policies, mortgage their homes, and buying a mess of lottery tickets. Some people believe with a religious zeal that their salvation is not in a community where rewards and risks are shared, but in a turn of the roulette wheel. I see a sinking ship with all the crew and passengers fighting each other for too few lifeboats.
I see a thirty year long domination by an impoverished conception of liberty: "I love Liberty, MY liberty, and everyone else can stay in their chains; I got mine and to hell with everyone else. Someone ELSE can pay the dues and do the work of maintaining the community whose protection and privileges I enjoy. I'm my own hero and everyone else is a bunch of suckers and parasites."
I see a mandarin governing class that seems completely oblivious to everything except its own privileged status.
I see an over-class completely insulated from the human consequences of their decisions and actions, persuading themselves that their own base self interest is somehow taking a principled stand. The class that once looked at the rest of their fellow citizens and said "Dance puppets!" is now entertaining John Galt fantasies and packing heat to protect themselves from those now very angry puppets that they left holding the bag.

There are days when I just give up and decide that maybe its time to sit back and enjoy the slide. Sometimes I think that the only thing that can be done is to let all the madness and the poison that infects our country work itself out, never mind all the harm that will be done in the process. There are times when I make calculations about how to get home in case violence breaks out in the Bronx; or along the lines of Michael having Irish citizenship, proximity to Canada, and how do we close our bank accounts and get our money out without raising suspicions.

And then there is this passage from Dr. Martin Luther King's 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech:

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

And further:

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. "And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid." I still believe that We Shall overcome!This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.


Angry student protesters threw rocks and torches at the home of the Chancellor of UC Berkley today with several arrests.
On the one hand, this incident could be easily dismissed. UC Berkley has a long history of student antics.
On the other hand, the issue was not Global Warming or The Middle East, it was cutbacks in financial aid together with steep increases in tuition costs; something being felt by college students all over the country. And lets remember that college financial aid programs primarily benefit the middle class as tuition costs continue to skyrocket beyond their declining means. Students and families (rightly) are beginning to suspect that so much of these escalating costs are a scam and a gouge.
Federal, state, and local governments are paralyzed with corruption and fanaticism. The Two Parties continue their 30 year long narrative of weak, vacillating, always-on-the-defensive-and-eager-to-cave Democrats versus the reckless ruthless ideologues of the party of war and prisons, the Republicans. Both parties are on the take, and on the leash of the corporate oligarchy. Government across the board is unresponsive or paralyzed in the face of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

Time will tell if this incident is one more flash-in-the-pan at Berkley, or a sign of things to come. People across the political spectrum may well come to the conclusion that the Two Parties, stuck in the same old narrative loop protected by state election laws all written to prevent insurgent candidacies and viable third parties, are just so much dreck to be discarded one way or another.


Göran Koch-Swahne said...

Great words by a great man! but then there is always us...

it's margaret said...

That's the Gospel, if I ever heard it. Thanks for posting it --I needed this too.

Unknown said...

Amen to those words. Thanks for the reminder of the man he was.

rick allen said...

Puts me in mind of the (now) old poem by Robinson Jeffers:

While this America settles in the mould of its vulgarity, heavily thickening
to empire
And protest, only a bubble in the molten mass, pops and sighs out, and the
mass hardens,
I sadly smiling remember that the flower fades to make fruit, the fruit rots
to make earth.
Out of the mother; and through the spring exultances, ripeness and decadence;
and home to the mother.
You making haste haste on decay: not blameworthy; life is good, be it stubbornly
long or suddenly
A mortal splendor: meteors are not needed less than mountains:
shine, perishing republic.
But for my children, I would have them keep their distance from the thickening
center; corruption
Never has been compulsory, when the cities lie at the monster's feet there
are left the mountains.
And boys, be in nothing so moderate as in love of man, a clever servant,
insufferable master.
There is the trap that catches noblest spirits, that caught – they say –
God, when he walked on earth.

As a kid I was shocked to read this--America declining????

As an adult I'm a little more shocked that it made it into a textbook approved for me as a kid. I wonder if it's still read?

Counterlight said...

I remember old Robinson Jeffers. I'm not familiar with the poem, but then I'm not a poetry maven.
Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

It's a great poem. I've always said that the other aspect to decadence is something new struggling to be born.
The American Empire is indeed in decline, and I hope that thing struggling to be born is a renewed American Republic. I'm very afraid of what else might be struggling to be born out of the decay.