Autumn Thoughts

by rthieme on October 10, 2008

starry-sidebarBy Richard Thieme

It is raining, leaves are falling, and the sky is dark, oh, dark.

A friend, despairing over the heart of corruption beating visibly through the skin inside the current financial meltdown, wrote:

“And things will only get worse, not better. I don’t even want to go on a rant regarding how Washington discourages me as a small businessperson while failures like AIG get huge tax breaks.”

As someone who set up a small business of sorts fifteen years ago as a wrapper for professional speaking, the shock was how many obstacles, penalties, and general “screw you’s” were embedded in the process. I asked an accountant if honest people had a chance. He said, not compared to his many clients whose evasive tactics stretched gray areas into black.

After my best year of income, he called on one fateful April 14th and told me to sit down. Every single penny of the surplus I had set aside on top of normal cash flow, he told me, was due in a single check for estimated state and federal tax, extra tax payments not calculated, and above all, both sides of social security which is a huge hit for entrepreneurs. I emptied my “extra” money market account and sent it to the state and federal governments. Every single penny.

I am so glad they have used it wisely.

The far right wing anti-foreigner anti-Arab and Jew (what’s up with hating both?) political parties in Europe have gained strength in Austria, Flanders, Switzerland, Italy, even Spain where Jew-hating is a bias of 50% of the population (although Arab-hating is higher). In Russia and most Slavic countries, you don’t even have to take that pulse; it is always visibly throbbing in the vein. Even Japan, with a dearth of real Jews, registers anti-Semitism. The simplistic hatred and scapegoating of “the other” is apparently a very contagious meme.

When people feel out of control, as so many now do, the projection of false patterns onto incomplete data intensifies. They think they see causes, evil doers, bogeymen, behind the REAL evil doers, causes, and bogeymen, who in turn encourage them to see the mirage and not themselves. Cheney hides in a bunker and Bush does what he has done for eight long years. Then their cronies slouch away to the spa for a government sponsored retreat from anxiety and fear.

The rest of us are advised by news anchors to breathe deeply, take walks, and eat and drink moderately. The same advice applies when we listen to pundits, eight heads in a row, shouting at each other, shouting down all and any voice that contends with their own.

In light of a recent “this is the first-step” exercise to use the United States Army to ensure domestic order, the posse comitatus law is becoming as obsolete in practice as guarantees against search and seizure in a panoptic state that justifies vacuuming up all communications, foreign and domestic, at the source. I am always chagrined when my predictions of how societal structures will follow the contours of enabling technologies do in fact come true. What were scary stories of a haunted house told around the fire on a dark night have become the headlines and all of the stories inside, too, the wrapper of our lives.

As a former clergyman who has listened to the heights and depths of human experience, I know that if people can do something, they will, someone will, and then those who think they are good will respond with similar actions. You can not stare long into the abyss before the abyss in turn stares deeply into you, as Nietzsche said.

He ought to know.

Now I am not a violent guy. I read a lot, think, talk, write, listen, love energetic interaction with people of all kinds. I have a generosity of spirit that is generally ready to forgive and connect. I relish life and the people I love. But the dangerous options that occur to me now will also occur to people less inclined to be law-abiding. Somewhere in America, someone is listening to his television, feeling helpless and growing enraged, and cleaning his gun.

We are through the looking-glass. Those of us who saw that we built a house of cards have scant consolation from its tumbling. Knowing we were living an illusion, I still preferred knowing it and employing irony to illuminate it to this dark time which signals the end of irony altogether. As Tina Fey is showing on Saturday Night Life when she impersonates Sarah Palin, there is little difference between the thing itself and the caricature. The ironic commentary collapses, and the level of deceit by our leaders, political, economic, other kinds, begins to creep out of the shadows.

This is when I return to things I wrote years ago, trying to bootstrap my optimism and faith. Things like Ferg’s Law. Ferg said, “When things can go right, they will, and at the best possible moment.” I reread that Islands in the Clickstream and hope that he was right.

As the sheriff said in Fargo, contemplating how many people died for stupid reasons, “… and it’s a beautiful day.” She looks at the bad guy who did much of the killing and adds, “And all for a little money. There’s more to life than money, you know.”

Now we get to find out what it is.

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