Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Stuck in the Middle with You

Sometimes the oddest things can fit together, and life for a moment seems like that James Burke PBS show Connections. In this case we’re talking about my vacation to Orlando and Las Vegas, my search for kindred souls, golf, American life and the unvieling of Christo’s “The Gates” in New York’s Central Park.

How’s that?

During these two weeks I had time to read two books, The Price of Dissent, by Bud Schultz and Ruth Schultz and The Middle Mind, by Curtis White. The first is a historical account of repression from the early days of the union organizers through the Red Scare, the civil rights and anti-war movements, and continuing to accounts of government spying on dissidents during the Reagan era imperialism in Central and South America. The words are mainly those of the victims who survive . This should absolutely be a text for every high school student in America. I don’t think this will happen.

The second book is subtitled “Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves”. I think I had heard this book referred to in some op-eds but when I saw this subtitle there was no hesitation—along to the library desk it came. This is, after all, where we started back during the campaign. This is Fiengold’s lament for the Greenvillians of Alabama—this is the water down the center of the water slide—this is the absurdity that Janet Jackson’s breast is what makes a Superbowl garbage.

My reaction to the urban/suburban landscape of America is one of great disappointment at the utter ugliness of it. I see miles and miles of asphalt and signs and millions of noisy charging steel nightmares belching the silent plague of exhaust. I have this futurist notion of high-rise pods connected by quiet electric trains. Instead of the vestigial feudalism inherent in owning a postage stamp of land humans have opted to free the land, population centers are interspersed within vast free ranges where again “the deer and the antelope play”, as do we. It is difficult for me to accept the American social design because for some reason I continually ask if we might find a better alternative. In doing such I have resisted Wright’s “Middle Mind”, though expression of such thoughts is often met with antagonism. I imagine an alternative.

The “Middle Mind” is Clinton’s moderate liberalism and W’s neo-conservatism at the same time. Mostly it is about the vacuum of critical thinking that exists in a society so hell-bent on conforming to perform. The “Middle Mind” marches to sound bytes like “bridge to the twenty-first century” and “the march of freedom” without first thought, let alone second.

So while a liberal might see a trip to Las Vegas as sin I see that, despite all of its excesses, the Strip houses, transports and feeds its denizens in a manner that is more aligned to my efficient ideal than any suburb might be.

And while so many families are charging along intent on starting their Disney Experience they pass quickly through what was my most artistic experience of Orlando, the vast atrium of the hotel/airport. (just stop, close your eyes and listen)

And though it’s not likely that the National Endowment for the Arts will begin to support golf lessons, there is art indeed in summoning up all ones senses and coordination to strike a two iron perfectly from 225 yards into a quartering wind. As time slows violence becomes grace as the ball seems to defy gravity for a while before it begins its graceful arc downward and (joyously) laterally toward the target. This ball that was launched with such force now doesn’t so much drop on the green as it settles cozily and quietly. You, I, or Tiger Woods himself cannot know how, why or when this will happen, only that it’s similar to something imagined.

Is it rational to chase a thousand miles and dollars to pursue such a rare thing? (didn’t happen this time, incidentally) Yet golf is America’s pastime, so much so that it is difficult to conclude that Americans don’t spend a lot of time imagining. Is it rational to hang thousands of “too-short window shades” in Central Park? This has been done and it is clear that we are not nearly intellectually dead quite yet.

To a much greater degree than in any society before us we are burdened with our success. To advocate upheaval in our society is to promote destruction on a previously unrealized scale. To imagine a new paradigm for this culture is unprecedented in its complexity.

To shake us from complacency would be a monumental task, likely only possible as a result of cataclysmic events. A likely more attractive impetus might result from an enlightened leadership as yet unknown.

And it is here that American anti-intellectualism and American disdain for metaphysics seem most fatal. Because the only alternative to learning to think change is “faith”, as our leaders like to put it, in our political process, in the honesty of our political representatives, in technology, and in the benign presence of capitalism,. Nothing about the last few years of North American history gives me any reason to think that these things deserve our faith. Our political representatives and their parties have shown themselves to by venal, self-serving, obliged to corporations, and afraid of the collective strength of the military and the defense industry. To these people are trusted the authority over weapons that replicate the destructive power of stars. So, no question about it: We need to learn to think change. Then we need to change. (his italics)

White isn’t very optimistic and I must admit that I’m not either. In the meantime I have my imagination.

update 2/14/05: As an aside, I couldn’t help but wonder how it is that Curtis White came to teach at Illinois State in Normal, IL. Though Normal comes from the University once being called “Normal College” meaning “to train teachers” there is some Vonnegutarian quality in seeing it pop up in White’s book.

There’s more. I hung around with a pretty quiet crowd in high school and I managed not to get drunk until college. My first week at Illinois Wesleyan, which is in Bloomington and one mile south of ISU, culminated in a football game between this small private college and the University. My new friend from San Mateo, CA and I walked up a set of railroad tracks to the game while splitting a six pack of 16 oz. Schlitz beer. Thus as I became inebriated for the first time I at some point crossed the line into Normal.


At 3:50 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

Stuck in the Middle--hmm, like to think of it more like--free in the middle. I just changed my voter reg to 'independent', more to my nature and of,I think, many others. No labels,party politics, no history-laden ideologies. Just a balance somewhere between grass-roots activism-what works, what doesn't and your own staus quo.
Kinda like that short-lived show,"Northern Exposure", set in fictional Sicily, Alaska. Most viewers didn't get the zeitgeist of that series;(obviously, it was cancelled after 2 seasons)that of an enlightened populace, thriving on living close to nature, respecting each other's views and cultures while educating themselves in various intellectual and artistic pursuits outside their day jobs. Their basic faith was in each other to do the right thing. Sure, they had their rich fat cats wanting to hyper-develop the town and a prima donna restaurant chef/owner who sometimes abused his customers. But, in my estimation,wasn't a bad place to live, work & play.
Their catalyst actuating this lifestyle seemed to a quest for the simple,the classic, the well-thought-out along with a deep respect for preserving the environment.
I believe that the growing "geo-green" movement (references on request or Google-it)might well provide such a catayst, if not a group platform on which to stand. Citizens are getting the idea we collectively are poisioning our planet each and every day. Our planet, as an organism, is not a renewable resource.And, if there was ever a need for rallying around and hugging your favorite tree, now is that time.
We also need the clear eco-leader voice; that of a Thoreau, or Whitman or Pearl Buck to light up a path & start a theism that truly touches us all.
Hell, even throw in a few golf courses, with real hazards like quicksand and rattlesnake traps.Spend your discretionary $$ chasing a ball,getting some excerise- whatever blows up your skirt.
Better than another housing tract.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Bullock said...

Anangalous to the water down the middle of the water slide, an op-ed article today from one of the Eastern media's better thinker/talkers,David Brooks, is interesting in hinting at a possible third party emerging element and the quest for a pragmatic leader.(
Hope his instincts are good.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger sequoit said...

My response to Mr. Brooks:

David Brooks states in his op-ed, “Over the past decades we have seen a gigantic transfer of wealth from struggling young families and the next generation to members of the AARP.”

It’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that benefits to seniors represent a wealth shift, as Mr. Brooks has pulled up a bit short on the money trail. This money that moves to the seniors continues to move on to the wealthy, senior or not. Perhaps an emergent leader will otherwise be outraged at the total unwillingness of the actual “Ownership Society” to contribute more fully to the aid of the generation whose productivity has increased its share of the wealth, the rate of growth of this increase and the rate of acceleration of the rate of such growth.

We can afford to be healthy, and we can afford to be retired. The problem is that we aren’t really “we”, are we?


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