Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Magic Words

Live = Free. Live - Free = Die.

Listening to a dope-growing pig farmer at a public hearing about wetland buffers last night, I realized that the phrase "Live free or die" effectively nullifies all environmental protection.

If you subscribe to The Code, any restriction on your freedom, by anyone, for any reason, calls for your armed resistance. If you fail to remove the restriction, by logic you must die. Even self restraint counts as unacceptable tyranny. It might set a precedent for a standard of behavior less than free. At the first urge to show self restraint, the true believer should commit suicide. Anything less will dilute the purity of everyone else's freedom.

Obviously, any concern for your neighbors, descendants, other species, aesthetics, or any factor other than the fulfillment of your immediate and ongoing desires makes you less than free. The true believer that we must Live Free or Die has an obligation to destroy the environment that supports all life, since death is the alternative to living free. We must live free to the hilt, to the bitter end, or it won't have been worth living at all.

The supporters of living free or dying have made it an unofficial governing document. It's four blunt one-syllable words. It's easy to remember and it sounds so tough!

In the rest of his discourse, the pig farmer basically said that he was too stupid to understand the proposed ordinance, so it was wrong. It is clear that the speech centers of the brain are nearly the last thing to be destroyed by decades of drug use.

This same pig farmer walked into my yard when I moved here in 1989 and told me he was the local dope grower, so if I wanted any smoke I should look him up.

"The cops know all about me and they don't do nothin'," he said. "So it's perfectly fine."

About four years later, some friends moved in about a quarter-mile away, just across the river. The pig farmer appeared as if by magic, walking right into their house. He repeated the same welcome-wagon message.

I hadn't seen him in years. I thought he might be dead. Only from the neck up, it would appear.

He left, daring anyone to come change his lifestyle in his swampy lair down a mud road.

In the same meeting we spent an hour and a half on one definition because a dyslexic was wrangling over homonyms. Of all the crap I had brought regarding the science of wetland buffers, the one thing I needed was my big, fat dictionary.

You want to know why nothing gets done by the government? By the time everyone is finished arguing the problem has either gotten too big to be fixed, in which case it becomes "an engine of the economy," or gone away on its own. Gone away doesn't necessarily mean it got better. Maybe whoever you were trying to save had already died. Maybe the problem mutated into a different problem.

Sullen people sulked over their bad real estate investments as if the rest of us owed them something for their stupidity. We let them speak. Their supporters growled their tough slogan. They sneered at government, the big and bad. No individual here is any more responsible than average for the collective bad choices made in America from the mid 1970s onward, but we're all paying the price. We have to be absurdly careful going forward because we were so greedily careless when we should have been starting to adjust our behavior while the problems were smaller.

People made bad decisions in other parts of the world, but America, self-styled leader of the "free" world, owed that world a better example. Instead we chose vanity and an escalating standard of self indulgence.

I subscribe to no religion. I am afraid of most of them. I don't moralize as someone who believes we should dress in somber clothes and deprive ourselves of fun. I just believe in doing a personal environmental and social impact statement on that fun. Hedonism is absolutely fine as long as it's sustainable.

Environmental standards are meant to put helpful limits around development. People who just want to plunge ahead without restraint won't view those standards as helpful, but those are exactly the people from whom the standards will protect the rest of us.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I get lonely when the sun goes down

I thought my old laptop was spazzing out as I worked on the minutes from the last Conservation Commission meeting. Text kept highlighting itself, the cursor was jumping around. Then I realized that the cat on my lap had a paw on the touch pad.

I get lonely when the sun goes down. I was making up a song about that, kind of a nice one to start with, but it deteriorated, the way my compositions so often do. Perhaps the cat was responding to the soulful blues-y tone of my lament when she clambered onto my lap beside the computer and started her accidental editing.

She has left me to my work. I should get it done.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Political Vitriol

The recent shooting spree in Tucson has brought attention to the ugly rhetoric in American politics as if it was a recent thing.

A Republican I know, a man in his 80s, has told me more than once that a woman he worked with in 1963 made no secret how pleased she was when John Kennedy was shot.

In a nation founded on a war of independence from its colonial parent and then advanced with systematic genocide against the indigenous people of North America, violence is part of our fundamental makeup. A large chunk of this nation insisted it was their right to enslave persons of African descent they had imported and bred for servitude, until the issue came to a head in the 1860s and the nation fought a long, bloody war over it. Once the official war was over, the subjugation of those African Americans continued, even as the country returned to its westward expansion at the expense of the aboriginals.

When cattlemen and sheep herders had a conflict, guns were drawn. When labor got uppity and demanded concessions from the privileged management class, goons beat them into submission. Examples abound of force crushing reason throughout our nation's history. Those are only the recent chapters in the history of our species.

Evolution moves very slowly. In every generation, more and more people do see that humans need to move on to more intellectual, less brutal forms of conflict resolution. A more cooperative society emerges, excruciatingly gradually. Attempts to force a revolutionary change of mind and heart always meet intractable opposition. Will we destroy ourselves before understanding becomes widespread? I probably will not live to find out. Visionaries envision, but grunts continue to obstruct. People who think that killing somebody actually proves something keep doing their thing, making the actual task of governing more difficult than it already is.