Saturday, March 22, 2014

What War Is Good For

Absolutely nothing? Think again!

Jerome, Arizona

War is exciting for everyone in and around it, young and old, all creatures great and small. Men historically get most of the credit.

War is fun for kids. Most boys play army (a reason to roll in dirt and yell), and own little plastic men of war. (Flashback: watching the TV show “Combat" and telling Mom I wanted to be in a war. That was the end of that show.)

Gold King Mine, Jerome, Arizona

War is a blessing for Owners and Workers. Weapons must be built and delivered, soldiers must be trained and shipped and supplied, and survivors must bury bodies and rebuild. And the info-tainment providers will amuse us with all we need to know, between advertisements.

War is delicious, for dogs, crows, millions of bugs and a bajillion trillion microbes.

Glenbar cemetery, Pima Arizona

Wars far away are good for everyone who stays home. “All you tough guys go ahead, I’ll stay here and take care of all the women and stuff.” With the herd thinned on both sides, less competition for what’s left, and jobs for all.

War provides criminally insane citizens a way to live productive lives, without wasting precious taxpayer pennies on mental health care. Feel like killing a bunch of people? Armed state-funded missions to non-believers can convert “psychotic” acts to “heroic.”

Perkinsville, Arizona

War has been a legitimate career choice for single and/or unemployed males since the days when rape and plunder were part of the benefits package. New and improved armies provide a salary, housing, and college money. Best of all, free health care, important in a profession that may cost you an arm and a leg.

Yes, war progresses, thankfully. The biggest military in recorded history now hires openly gay people too! Except for the raping, armies have always been a bit gay--camping with 10,000 dudes? Now, no one has to pretend otherwise. First “minorities," then women, now everyone is welcome to bathe together in blood.

Pima, Arizona

War is fantastic for all who enjoy tales of terror and horror movies. The bigger your military, the more can be provided. The fear and panic, like Coca-Cola, is the Real Thing!

War brings lost souls back to church, trying to make sense of it all. Love thy neighbor--or not? Shalt not kill--or shalt? Is war “pro-life"? Good luck!

Perkinsville, Arizona

War fills folks with patriotism, on both sides. We salute our flags, and give up our spouses, parents, siblings, and children, for truth and righteousness! Hopefully we didn’t like 'em all that much anyhow.

So hurray for war! Why do politicians bother lying to justify it? Fear not, wise leaders: if the gods won’t be on our side, the energy companies and military industry always will.

Dead Horse Ranch State Park, Arizona

Bored with endless war? Too much of a good thing? There is a solution: televised baseball and soccer.  Sports evolved to channel humankind’s violent impulses somewhat safely. At every game, on every broadcast, spontaneous joyful hugging, among persons of every size, shape, and race.

The same know-it-alls who happily support endless war can just as easily be tricked into happily embracing everyone. Simply take the Pentagon’s mass killing budget, and invest in grass fields, television equipment, and cute uniforms. Don’t worry, General, it’s still propaganda. Broadcast all ball-game celebrations world-wide, and let the hugging begin!

Gold King Mine, Jerome


  “For the last three or four thousand years, Hebrew prophets, Greek philosophers, Indian mystics, Chinese sages, Christian preachers, French humanists, English utilitarians, German moralists, American pragmatists, have discussed the perils of violence and appealed to man’s better nature, without much noticeable effect….

   “…[T]he crimes of violence committed for selfish, personal motives are historically insignificant compared to those committed…out of a self-sacrificing devotion to a flag, a leader, a religious faith, or a political conviction. Man has always been prepared not only to kill but also to die for good, bad, or completely futile causes.”

Arthur Koestler, The Ghost in the Machine, 1967, pp. 233-234

Phoenix, Arizona "downtown"

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Vacation Meditation

Kids grown and on their own, a parent can’t help but look back and wonder. What just happened? Why did I have kids, anyhow?

Flagstaff AZ

The Biblical mandate to “multiply and replenish the earth” has been fulfilled to planet-destroying excess. Few of us need extra hands on the farm. Birth control is available and acceptable. Was my desire to replicate the sacred DNA merely selfish? My kids were planned, but I hadn’t wondered why at the time--it’s what people did, survival of the species.

One obvious answer: ready-made friends. Taught and loved well, they might love and respect you no matter how weird you seem to everyone else. And with a properly installed work ethic, you get a free place to stay when you’re too poor to go anywhere or do anything on your “personal time off.” (Formerly known as “paid vacation.”)

That was part of it, I guessed, as I drove north again to sleep on the dank couch in the dilapidated trailer shared by sons two and three. Beyond their little trailer park, raggedy pine forested hills, new places to hike. Like a camping vacation, but slightly less filthy. Music, laughter, philosophy, gizmos, theirs was an amusing world. They slept on bunk beds in the one little bedroom, among instruments and amplifiers and scattered clean and dirty clothes. Greasy kitchen, a bit rank.

“You guys live like animals,” I’d gripe, “No woman would want to spend five minutes in this stink-hole!” “True, that,” they’d agree, “If we start cleaning you’ll know we found true love.” Maybe after a few years of nihilistic hedonism they’d be ready to start a family. Or not. “Hey, whatever,” I often told ‘em, “if you’re not sure whether to make a baby--don’t.”

Son Three had recently made the difficult decision to 
quit college, halfway through a four year academic scholarship, sentencing him to several years’ immediate, possibly permanent, poverty. To his credit he quit in an orderly fashion, between semesters, unlike Son Two who had simply stopped going one day, unannounced.

My wife and I had relentlessly insisted they go to college. Our early struggles with poverty, and my perpetual whining about idiot employers, should have been reason enough. Again I was unsurprised but perturbed. Sure, the ‘American Dream’ has always been rigged for the rich, but couldn’t people rebel more comfortably with “an education”?

He and I went hiking the next day, on a drizzly afternoon. North of the trailers, west of the cement-block warehouses, a NO TRESPASSING sign marked the rocky trail up past the railroad tracks. (We generally ignored such signs, “They don’t mean us” we’d joke.) Scattered trash, side trails to camp spots of the homeless. The trash humans were regularly picked up and disposed of, to keep the Owners’ property values safe.

We huddled under trees above the tracks, to rest and wait for the rain to slow. Trains thundered past while we discussed life and the future. He wanted to work and live and travel and see where it went, to live in poverty rather than spend another minute in a classroom. (I knew that feeling.) He decided this after many hours of meditation, he said.

Flagstaff AZ


During childhood bedtime enforcement, he had often complained, “I’m not sleepy!” “Pretend to sleep," we’d tell him, “make up some dreams.” The little insomniac dove into deeper and deeper states of relaxation, sometimes for hours before falling asleep, he now informed me. The grinding boredom of a moronic “No Child Gets Ahead" school system led him to discover he could reach that deep state almost at will. One day, during his last year of high school, a hippie teacher taught his English class how to meditate--so that’s what I’ve been doing! he realized. Now he used it as a tool: to help figure out who he is and what he wants. And to relax and escape during his new dishwashing-at-the-old-folks-home workaday world.

Flagstaff Arizona

His words brought to mind the helpful and hopeful meditations of my young quasi-hippie years. Tense and uneasy by nature, I’d forgotten I owned such a critical skill. Thank you son!

Beyond procreation, here was a reason to have babies: to remind us of important stuff we forget over years of drudgery, improve on it even. Or if they earnestly attempt to do right and follow their bliss, remind us to keep trying no matter how many times we have failed. What radiant beings!--and we are radiant still, just weaker and wrinkled.

Flagstaff Arizona

What fierce affection grips us for these creatures who come out from between our legs! What fiery heartache, thinking of all they must endure in a lifetime, no matter how “successful.” But hope also: my son, wiser and braver than I, might be alright, happy even. Wasn’t that the goal, happiness, or at least bemused melancholia?

So I decided to be proud of my college dropout, for taking the time to listen to himself, and for standing up for that self, in defiance of the culture and his parents. No matter where his road went now, he owned it. That took guts at 20, or at any age.

After the rain we meandered through the low rent neighborhoods on the other side of the tracks, back to the trailer. Then we grilled some cheese sandwiches.

Flagstaff Arizona


“The world is not an unsolved problem for scientists or sociologists. The world is a living mystery: our birth, our death, our being in the moment – these are mysteries. They are doorways opening on to unimaginable vistas of self-exploration, empowerment and hope for the human enterprise. And our culture has killed that, taken it away from us, made us consumers of shoddy products and shoddier ideals. We have to get away from that; and the way to get away from it is by a return to the authentic experience of the body...exploring the mind as a tool for personal and social transformation. The hour is late; the clock is ticking; we will be judged very harshly if we fumble the ball. We are the inheritors of millions and millions of years of successfully lived lives and successful adaptations to changing conditions in the natural world.
   "Now the challenge passes to us, the living, that the yet-to-be-born may have a place to put their feet and a sky to walk under;... caring for, empowering, and building a future that honours the past, honours the planet and honours the power of the human imagination. There is nothing as powerful, as capable of transforming itself and the planet, as the human imagination. Let’s not sell it straight. Let’s not whore ourselves to nitwit ideologies. Let’s not give our control over to the least among us. Rather, claim your place in the sun and go forward into the light. The tools are there; the path is known; you simply have to turn your back on a culture that has gone sterile and dead, and get with the program of a living world and a re-empowerment of the imagination.”

Terence McKenna, Eros and the Eschaton

Near Perkinsville, Arizona


   In the dining-room, the door firmly closed, Babbitt walked to his son, put both hands on his shoulders. “You’re more or less right. They all talk too much. Now what do you plan to do, old man?” 
  “Gosh, dad, are you really going to be human?”
  “Well, I— Remember one time you called us ‘the Babbitt men’ and said we ought to stick together? I want to. I don’t pretend to think this isn’t serious. The way the cards are stacked against a young fellow to-day, I can’t say I approve of early marriages. But you couldn’t have married a better girl than Eunice; and way I figure it, Littlefield is darn lucky to get a Babbitt for a son-in-law! But what do you plan to do? Course you could go right ahead with the U., and when you’d finished—”
  “Dad, I can’t stand it any more. Maybe it’s all right for some fellows. Maybe I’ll want to go back some day. But me, I want to get into mechanics. I think I’d get to be a good inventor. There’s a fellow that would give me twenty dollars a week in a factory right now.”
   “Well—” Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. “I’ve always wanted you to have a college degree.” He meditatively stamped across the floor again. “But I’ve never—Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t repeat this to your mother, or she’d remove what little hair I’ve got left, but practically, I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life! I don’t know ’s I’ve accomplished anything except just get along. I figure out I’ve made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods. Well, maybe you’ll carry things on further. I don’t know. But I do get a kind of sneaking pleasure out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did it. Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down. Tell ’em to go to the devil! I’ll back you. Take your factory job, if you want to. Don’t be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I’ve been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!”
Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951). Babbitt, 1922

Perkinsville bridge, Arizona