Monumentally Empty

by Bruce Patterson, February 15, 2012

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who are hungry and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

 — Dwight D. Eisenhower

When, in 1870, the steel exoskeleton of the Brooklyn Bridge began rising out of some of the Western Hemisphere’s most crowded and lethal tenements, there was a popular backlash. What sort of man, citizens asked, pisses away his paycheck in a saloon while his children go hungry? We had just fought a murderous Civil War in order to reaffirm our fraternity and indivisibility, had we not? Was there any shortage of war widows and orphans trapped in the teeming industrial slums potmarking this bloodstained land? Are the helpless to be left to their own means and, if so, upon whose word? If such be the case, how safe is any man, woman or child? Who among us can swear before God that he or she will never break a leg, or fall desperately ill? What, pray tell, distinguishes liberty from slavery, civilization from savagery? Is America now the Queen’s England? Shall we hang little boys for stealing apples?

The Brooklyn Bridge rose in all its metallic phallic glory, of course. The widows and orphans lived and hungered and died along with countless, faceless others in the same newborn-baby-eating slums for decades to come. Now the Brooklyn Bridge, at least if you believe what you experience on flat-screen, HD, 3-D, surround-sound TV, is a divinely universal commercial symbol of beauty, elegance and munificence; of applied Science and Industry, Enlightened Capitalism and Human Progress brought to you by the Empire City and compliments of the Empire State. Who needs food when you have monuments to Pharaoh?

When I first laid eyes on the monstrous new super-duper prefab erector set federale fort rising from the scalped, stripped and staked hillside south of Boonville, it struck me: that’s what’s wrong with the poor kids growing up in Anderson Valley today: they should have been born shiny new fire trucks. If they’d been born fire trucks, they’d not just be kept dry and warm, full, cool, comfortable and clean all year round, they’d also get free cradle-to-grave maintenance and repair. As an extra added bonus, when ever they showed themselves in public, they’d get the oohs and aahs of admiring rubberneckers instead of the do’s, don’ts, sit downs, shut ups, what took yahs and say thank yahs of their scolding, military-style superiors.

Of course I exaggerate. Since a newborn child is worth only what society is willing to invest in it, if kids nowadays had any real ambition they’d’ve been born automobiles. They’d be muscle-bound luxury cars or giant spotless diesel pickup trucks idling like knock-kneed Harleys. They’d be wiener dog limousines sporting shades, careening Airborne Express minivans, teetering boxcar Winnebago’s, basso-profundo-voiced CHP pursuit vehicles accelerating into the night or — since we’re wishing here — predator drones.

Ever notice how nobody ever talks about having social priorities anymore? When, as a practical matter, an entire population is reduced to a captive mass audience maniacally feeding on Technicolor puffballs, ethics becomes whatever tastes best at any particular moment. When patriotism amounts to voting your imaginary pocketbook, cheating on your taxes and issuing blank checks to a corporate militarist political class made up of certifiable pathological liars, silver-spooned, gold-plated prima donnas, arm chair Napoleons, perfumed swindlers, war profiteers, war criminals, gun-runners and slavers, and big box, luxury box, megachurch-simulcast-TV-new-time consumer-friendly religion boils down to admiring your wholesome, chemical-laced self in the rearview mirror, who needs social priorities?

For nearly 40 years I’ve taken my living from the dirt of Anderson Valley, moving from job to job and place to place, and I can’t remember all of the hovels and backwoods shanty encampments I’ve visited and passed through. In a community having real law and order such places would be bulldozed for violating the building and public health codes, but that doesn’t mean they rent cheap. About the only way a field hand around here can house his family is to rent out rooms and the corners of rooms to friends and relatives. You won’t find many ancient leaky three room cabins housing eight people because the inmates like the arrangement.

Whose bright idea was it to replace all of the culverts under the Ukiah road? How much tax money did that cost? How paid? How about the schools having plenty of money for hierarchy, bean-counters, new buildings and hi-tech gadgetry, but not money for teachers and aids, daycare and healthcare, arts and music, fieldtrips and sports? How about sinking millions of tax dollars into “infrastructure” at Hendy Woods just to either kill it or, better yet, sell it on the cheap to an anonymous conglomerated entity run for the benefit of soulless institutional investors counting and recounting worthless pennies? How much money have the taxpayers spent on two bright-shiny-new AV post offices with fine modern parking lots just so the federales can have clean, well-lighted places in which to screw their employees and customers? Public radio and public health clinics — anything “public” including law enforcement — gets cut back and forced to go begging for crumbs while we’re spending God knows how many dollars replacing culverts? Who shook hands with the devil to seal that deal? Maybe, in order to salvage at least a small fraction of our public investment, we should rent out the culverts to homeless families in the market for a bargain.

For nearly a quarter century my wife worked at Anderson Valley Elementary School and she says there are more hungry kids enrolled there today than there were back when she started. If, thanks to the USDA, the school didn’t offer free breakfasts, lunches and afternoon snacks, passing tourists would be able to stop and get their snapshots taken with their arms wrapped around little bowlegged boys and girls with rickets. And while the link between hunger and classroom inattention has been firmly established (imagine that), at least if you believe what passes for Republican National Leadership today, that USDA money is being wasted and defrauded and abused and — worst of all — it’s ruining the moral fiber of these poor little innocents by deluding them into believing they’re entitled to special treatment.

When you live in a televised corporate mercenary universe where money is power and power is God, then the only kinds of human labor that count are cheap, cheaper and the cheapest of all. Imagine owning your very own batch of little assembly line children chained to the floor of a bustling sweatshop hidden away under the toxic red haze of some as well be nameless Third World slum megalopolis. Were you so fortunate, why would you want American workers with book learning? Moreover, as TV constantly reminds us, most of these welfare-chiseling little school kids that are bankrupting America ain’t even real Americans to begin with (it shouldn’t matter whether or not they were born here). So why waste our precious money on snot-nosed little school kids when instead we can initiate a federal program to build a privatized Clean Coal crater-removal strip mine on the moon? Why not build a new generation of 12,000 thermo nuclear warheads painted in shiny candy apple red, white and blue? Why not grow fresh crops of nuclear submarines, nuclear aircraft carrier battle groups and intercontinental ballistic missiles? How about building ourselves the world’s largest-ever bunker-busting bomb and then attacking Iran? Japan got Fat Man and Little boy, didn’t it? War’s where the real money is: the money plus the power, glory, immortality and adulation. Why feed the children at home when we can slaughter them overseas?

For at least 6,000 years people have been living in Anderson Valley and during nearly all that time the creator was made manifest in creation. The sky and mountains, creeks and ocean were alive with cosmic mysteries and practical problems and solutions, and the biological and meteorological diversity that is nature’s bounty was seen as proof-positive of the creator’s beneficence. While life was always a matter of life and death, people walked in beauty.

Not all, or even most, of the Europeans and Euro-Americans who colonized Anderson Valley were out to get rich. And even though the majority of them held to some modernized version of the Holy Roman Empire’s official state religion, their individual places in nature were made obvious to them while they earned their daily bread. Drawing a line between creation and creator has always amounted to a parting of sands; a fit topic for conversation but not much use while you’re walking the cows home. It’s only since the coming of consumer car culture — cars being the carnivorous Trojan horses that draw the throwaway junk wagon of a society over-burdened with ancient degraded explosives — that the earth underfoot has been exiled into nothingness. Or, more properly speaking, banished into the monumentally empty place sprawling inside the souls of the complacent and the apathetic. Nowadays too many people see nature as a mausoleum and earthly life — God’s Green Earth — as just penciled-in entries on institutional spread sheets, private assets and liabilities, negotiable chips and coins, this even while the fishless creeks are screaming rape. It’s only we of the Information Age who have exiled creation and the creator — and our better selves — to the furthest reaches of outer space.

When does wishful thinking metastasize into willful ignorance? What has collective willful ignorance ever gotten a people? (To get an answer, you can start by asking an elderly German.) When you issue blank checks to everybody above you in the pecking order, should you be surprised when they treat you with contempt? When you offer up your neck to hungry wolves, does it help to have a positive attitude? When “global warming” is a euphemism for the wholesale plunder of the very same natural world that gave rise to civilization, and when it’s being snuffed out solely for the short-term monetary benefit of the short-term few, and you personally — in spite of its flaws — value civilization and wish a better version of it for your children and grandchildren yet unborn, what is the way ahead? A very difficult question, but one thing is absolutely clear: it isn’t going back to the place that never was.

(Footnote: What has willful collective ignorance gotten the community of Boonville? That stinking firetrap downtown Ricard slum standing proud in all its mercenary glory, for one thing.

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