"There is just enough bullshit to hold things together in this country. Bullshit is the glue, that binds us as a nation. Where would we be without our safe, familiar, American bullshit? Land of the free, home of the brave, the American dream, all men are equal, justice is blind, the press is free, your vote counts, business is honest, the good guys win, the police are on your side, god is watching you, your standard of living will never decline… and everything is going to be just fine— The official national bullshit story. I call it the American okie doke. Every one, every one of those items is provably untrue at one level or another, but we believe them because they're pounded into our heads from the time we're children. That's what they do with that kind of thing—pound it into the heads of kids, ‘cause they know the children are much too young to be able to muster an intellectual defense against a sophisticated idea like that, and they know that up to a certain age children believe everything their parents tell them. And as a result, they never learn to question things. Nobody questions things in this country anymore. Nobody questions it—everybody is too fat and happy. Everybody's got a cell phone that'll make pancakes and rub their balls now— Way too fucking prosperous for our own good. Way too fucking prosperous, Americans have been bought off and silenced by toys and gizmos. And no one learns to question things."
"Americans are fucked. They've been bought off. And they come real cheap: a few million dirt bikes, camcorders, microwaves, cordless phones, digital watches, answering machines, jet skis and sneakers with lights in 'em. You say you want a few items back from the Bill of Rights? Just promise the doofuses new gizmos."
"Shopping and buying - and getting and having - comprise the Great American Addiction. No one is immune. When the underclass riots in this country, they don't kill policemen and politicians, they steal merchandise. How embarrassing."
"The world is like a ride at an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think that it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills, and it's very brightly coloured, and it's very loud and it's fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question - is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us. They say 'Hey! Don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride.' And we...kill those people. Ha ha ha. 'Shut him up! We have a lot invested in this ride. SHUT HIM UP! Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and family. This just has to be real.' It's just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn't matter because: it's just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings, and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourselves off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one. Here's what you can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defence each year, and instead spend it feeding, clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, for ever, in peace."
"You Have NO Choice," A New Frame For George Carlin's Classic Shtick "The American Dream"
Against the apocalyptic horror of Vietnam -- and energized by the "sound track" of "The British Invasion" and California Dreaming -- we "hippies" realized something was profoundly wrong with so much consumptive, wasteful, blind-and-blinding acquisition.
Admittedly, our parents had suffered real deprivation during The Great Depression and so this fevered indulgence was understandable.
Gramma and Grampa themselves were remarkably free of The Acquisitive Heresy, focused as they were on the primacy of "need" and keenly aware that the normalization of "want" was a moral hazard. Literally, a kind of wantonness.
The zeitgeist of "The Sixties" informed my counter-cultural generation that experience, participation and the joys-of-communitarianism were more important than the witless trough-slurping that post-war Capitalism normalized under aegis of its Madison Avenue propaganda machine pumping "The Seven Deadly Sins" like Trump grabbing pussy.
Just now I realize that if you are to keep hope alive when you read this email, I must rein myself in.
In brief, I realized that "The Mad Hunt" (as I came to call the many compulsions of Capitalist consumerism) was exactly that - people in hot competition to "make a killing" so they could acquire more "stuff," motivated by the implicit (and unexamined) belief that "s/he who died with the most toys, wins."
"Stuff, more stuff, and where am I going to store the stuff?" is how I used to describe America to Mommy.
Somewhere in my computer files I have extensive notes for a book (I still hope to write) called "How To Be Independently Poor."
Earlier today I came upon the following Atlantic Magazine article which probes a dimension of our hyper-productive/consumerist "battlefield" wherein we eagerly injure, damage and abuse ourselves (and, as a corollary, the environment-including-other-people) as we "go about the business" (ah! always the busy-ness!) of accumulating meaningless tokens of wealth and "security" at ever greater psycho-spiritual cost.
"The coming peril is the intellectual, educational, psychological and artistic overproduction, which, equally with economic overproduction, threatens the wellbeing of contemporary civilisation. People are inundated, blinded, deafened, and mentally paralysed by a flood of vulgar and tasteless externals, leaving them no time for leisure, thought, or creation from within themselves."
My sweethearts, you have escaped this trap and I am so proud of you!
You know the value of "the great outdoors" and how community life and ecological "enmeshment" are crucially important.
But it is also true that your "work lives" are still ahead of you, and that domain is so drenched by the destructive aspirations of "success" -- routinely ruled by rubric of "exploitation at any cost" -- that your already well-formed understanding of "environmental exploitation" may blind you to the deeper exploitation of yourselves as you run the risk of "buying into" "careerism" - an unquestioned and unquestionable goal - whose supposedly "noble end" is "independence," and, at long last, a leisurely retirement in which you can finally "live Life to the fullest!"
To some extent our lives are always "mixed bags" and it is "in the nature of things" that "Life is suffering" (as Buddha's First Noble Truth puts it) and that we humans are compounded of "light" and "dark."
So, when I single out Sister Marie (our pastoral administrator for many years) it is not because she was a bad person.
She was a quite good person, no doubt better than I.
But there was one revealing moment in sister's life that left a deep impression on me.
I forget the circumstances - perhaps we were chatting after a parish council meeting.
As I remember, Marie said -- out of the blue: "When I retire, I'm going to devote myself to peace and justice."
It is true that Marie had many work obligations that understandably hobbled her desire to "devote herself" until after retirement.
It is also true that people are always free to chart their own course, and many will choose, understandably enough, to compartmentalize their lives so that "our dreams can come true"... in retirement.
But it also seems to me that Sister Marie was in a perfect position to "take a stand," and given the unique opportunities of "religious life" she could have devoted herself (and just as importantly could have committed her community) to full-time peace-and-justice pursuit even before retirement.
Franciscan friar Father David McBriar made such a commitment at Immaculata Catholic Church in Durham, making clear to parishioners that he would NOT back down, not even a smidgeon, when it came to full-throttled support for North Carolina's rapidly-growing latino community, even though he knew -- and said as much from the pulpit -- that many parishioners opposed his vision of open-hearted, unmitigated embrace for latinos in downtown Durham's Immaculata parish.
Then, there was the tragic irony that, almost as soon as Sister Marie retired, she was afflicted by a rapidly fatal neuro-degenerative disease that prevented her from making her dream come true.
While discussing these Catholic themes, I recall (as I also recalled during last Monday's Spanish class) that Janet's pastor at Saint Kateri Tekakwitha parish observed that "We are in heaven now. And when we die, it will be more heaven."
Despite the nonsense, noise and dimwit negativity that often surround us, remember: "we are in heaven now" - if only we engage it as such. (I recommend post-war psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's book, "Man's Search For Meaning" in which he recounts profound discoveries from his interviews with holocaust concentration camp survivors.)
By anchoring yourselves in the belief that heaven is here and now, dreams are most likely to "come true" while we live our lives and, furthermore, our dreams need not be delayed or supplanted by the pressured fantasies of capitalism's central dogma that workers "put off their lives" while "captains of industry" do their best to persuade them to "slave away" in dispiriting jobs, chiefly to advance their overlords' mostly depersonalizing and profiteering agendas.
Routinely, "captains of industry" accomplish their goals by isolating "you" in "Systems" built around individual self-aggrandizement; systems in which -- often as not -- the ethos is "winner-take-all" or, at least, an oppressively structured System in which your personal advancement arises from ferocious competition with others, whether those "others" openly want your job, or if others are only accelerating the pace of over-productive "achievement" so that you -- and everyone on "your" "team" -- collaborate frenziedly to "keep up" and in the process make yourselves miserable from overwork.
In Japan, The Word Karoshi Means "Working Yourself To Death"
And often these same marvels are suffused with irony and paradox.
One of my favorite quotations is by the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu: "The profoundest truths are paradoxical."
Capitalism has created a world almost indistinguishable from a prison in which all of us are prisoners -- prisoners who also serve (free of charge!) as our own wardens. Nothing keeps us "in line" like the perceived "obligation " to "slave away."
Is it not a marvel that "anyone" who wants a "favored" position within The System "must" agree to imprison himself as part of the deal?
Yes, there are exceptions but the rule is to sign off on self-enforced "slavery."
But I get ahead of myself...
"Definition" is always crucial.
As you go through life you will, I think, become increasingly aware how "defining the terms of debate" also defines (through "structurally-imposed limitation") the full range of outcomes can emerge from debate.
The "systems" that almost always define definitions of success -- explicitly or implicity -- are not friendly.
For decades, one of my purposes has been to re-define "success."
One of the first essays I ever wrote is on this topic and has actually held up to "the test of time."
Pseudo-Success And The Un-Doing Of America
Here, at last, is the Atlantic article I mentioned, which, notably, fails to fault the twisted nature of contemporary education for not teaching people that money -- beyond an annual salary threshold of $50,000.00 - $75,000.00 -- does not make people happy.
Absent this definition, the whole educational establishment nourishes the Capitalist illusion that "MORE" is the only road to success-and-happiness when, in fact, "MORE" is provably a path to neverending dissatisfaction-and-discontent accompanied by repressed rage and quiet desparation. (Oh, the stories I could tell!)
$50,000 May Be the (New) Happiness Tipping Point
I will close by mentioning my imminent plan to put our West Margaret home into a trust with both of you as owners and beneficiaries.
I will retain "rights of usufruct" until I die, meaning that I can use "home" any way I see fit for the rest of my life.
By creating this trust, I also create circumstances in which you can both feel free to do what you love in Life without feeling that you must make depressing compromises with The System for fear of running out of money in retirement.
This fear is very real, very widespread and in many instances genuinely crippling.
Something like half of all Americans are just two or three "missed paychecks" from penury.
In deciding on this trust, I use as my model John and Robert Kennedy's father, family patriarch Joe Kennedy, who had a knack for making money and who hoped to become president of the United States.
But anti-Catholic bias, coupled with one colossal act of political stupidity, prevented him from reaching The Oval Office.
And so, looking out on his undying urge to be of public service, he gathered together his many children and told them that his wealth would become their wealth, but that he expected them to use that wealth for freedom's sake: first freeing themselves from the burden of financial want and then -- in that atmosphere of personal freedom -- making plans to commit themselves to The Common Good, The General Welfare and the enhancement of America's Social Contract.
I love you more than you know.