This is a strange day in our land. Public political discourse having sunk to new lows (at least in comparison to any time in my memory) over the course of the election season, we now find ourselves in the improbable and puzzling situation of inaugurating a man for president who has made an astounding fortune and garnered worldwide attention by: A) Being born to a wealthy family that was willing to bail him out when he failed catastrophically in business, B) Learning how to make deals with people that he would then burn all bridges with by failing to keep up his end and getting away with it, C) Appearing on ‘reality’ TV to advertise and glory in his terrible personality and cruel management style, D) Selling his name, once famous and admired, to people who were better business people than he, and E) embarking on a new career as a toxic political pundit. Gosh, the last time we elected an entertainment media celebrity for president he at least could sort of act. Anyway, somehow this guy then managed to wrangle the support of a major party and convince just enough people in just the right places to vote for him that he could dash across the finish line just ahead of a far more qualified, far more predictable and reasonable candidate.
Not that I think she was a great option. She scared me, to be honest, because even though I suspect her base values of being on the right page, she has spent so much time within the system and trying to succeed within it that it is hard to imagine she would have done much of anything to correct the drastic excesses of it that have been among the major forces threatening to tear the world apart for about a hundred years now, and which have been relentlessly degrading its capacity for health and life for humans and other living things. In some ways, in fact, she scared me more deeply, precisely because I think she is good at what she does, and probably knows how to get things done very effectively. Meaning that the U.S. empire would have been likely to surge ahead strongly.
I was a sardonic voter on voting day, I can tell you. Hope was not exactly on my mind.
I actually feel more hope at this moment than I did then in some ways. Here’s why: literally millions of people are streaming to the capitol at this moment so that today and tomorrow and hopefully long beyond they can let the powers that are about to be know that they are not going to let our society take this poison calmly. By itself this is not worth much. I am unsure of how it will affect decision-making at the high levels given the ethos of ignorant arrogance that has been invited into all the power positions.
What helps me out in the hope department is that this could be a sign of us being willing to, after a long hiatus, take back up our duties as civilians, as society builders, as those on whom it all depends. What happens next, what messages and abandonments and intrusions and attempts at control will now be wafting our way from the capitol many of us find totally unpredictable. Are we prepared for the contest of our lives? How do we prevail in the cause of our freedom against this force for domination?
In my view, the kernel of how we do this is not by getting out more votes for “our side”, or by massive displays of symbolic civil disobedience. It’s not even trying to smile more and be friendly to people we think the new administration might be targeting. These things might each be crucial strategies at various points, but I say the kernel is ownership. I believe a healthy society is like a wall built from adobe blocks, where the blocks represent communities. Made, placed, and maintained well, such a wall can stand indefinitely. We have allowed ours to erode, even honoring and celebrating those who have made their living stealing material from the foundation blocks to create huge, elaborate structures on the top (to push the analogy to its limits). Case in point, the president-elect. We have allowed this to happen because we have ceased to feel responsible for or identify with our place in it, identifying more with the whole. If each community is conceived of by its members as being primarily a part of the whole society, and gaining its strength and value mainly by that association, then it is apt to downplay and neglect its own integrity, function, strength and value. In truth, in a society mostly made up of thriving communities, a dud here and there doesn’t affect the strength of the whole much. But by way of individual/family geographic mobility, centralized and universalized economics, and mass media this erosion has become general.
You can’t repair a whole wall at once. There is no great big trowel that we can all grab onto together and spread the new, healing mud and straw. It will take many hands and careful attention in many places. So maybe this inauguration is a chance for us to realize what’s going on, and connect with some deep motivation within ourselves to remember the value and nature of that maintenance.
I said the kernel is ownership. Let me say what I mean, and what I plan to do about it. I think one of the remedies for our society’s ills is to reclaim our membership in particular places: to learn what it means to live and move and have our being here, now (wherever ‘here’ is for you and whenever you are reading this). Nature tends towards diversity, and human cultures and economies follow the same laws: the unique combination of resources and forces in a place promote a unique character of life that develops there. But when we subject nature, or our own cultures, to universal forces and resources, such as in a vast cornfield, the result is an incredible extraction of productivity at the expense of long-term health and resilience.
We must begin unhitching ourselves from the universalized resources and forces of our civilization and reconnect with the localized resources and forces of each of our places if we want to regain the strength and character many of our communities have sometimes known. This implies ownership. We must retake our society by retaking our places. We must make them once again our places, made up of our homes, our land, our ecosystems, our culture, our technologies, our cuisine, our economies, powered by our energy, informed by our history, organized by our politics.
Over the course of this year I will be writing once per month on this website. Much of what I write will be an attempt to articulate some aspect or other of the above. I invite you to read along with my mind, and please provide any feedback or further ideas you may have in response.
Just like societies are made up of communities, communities are made up of families and individuals, living in homes. So that is where I will start. January’s writing has some thoughts about how we at Tangly Woods are attempting to take responsibility for our lives in this place. It turns out that it all comes down to love.