Jailbird

Anarchy, Fairy Tales & Freedom

<March 16/10>

I actually wanted to call this essay “Communism, Fairy Tales, Anarchy & Freedom,” but I know how afraid of communism most people are, so I left out that word.

I became interested in communism in my late teens, after a privileged & pretty mixed-up childhood. Money held no fascination for me whatsoever – but the idea of communities & sharing needs & abilities definitely did.

But then I got caught up in what I now look back on as the fairy tale phase of my life, & my interest in communism (politics of any kind, really) just kind of fell away.

At first during that “happily ever after” phase, I had a job in which I told myself I was “helping” people (& who knows, maybe I did even somehow sort of help one or two individuals), but the prince & princess living “happily ever after,” for me, consisted mostly of marriage & family life – which, admittedly, was pretty darn wonderful for quite a few years there. My prince & I “made one another happy” for quite a while – just not “ever after,” alas…

15 or so years into the fairy tale, a passion for environmental work overtook me (to my own great surprise) & this has led to a great many unintended consequences (a phrase I now just love; it covers such a lot of territory, doesn’t it?).

So here I sit, today, writing this on a sun-warmed rock in a lovely outcropping on a pretty hillside in southern Ontario, where I’m living for a while in this current nomadic phase of my life. No set “home” – a “foot in three camps” as I like to joke (‘though I still have only two legs!) – not knowing what may come next, nor where I am likely to land.

The marriage ultimately didn’t work out (though 20 years & two great kids are certainly nothing to sneeze at), & relationships since don’t seem to have, either. Given my own personal life/childhood history, the 5000-year run of patriarchy & its far-reaching & not necessarily well-understood impacts, women & men’s current confusions over relationships & who we are & what we want – & the state of the world in general – this is not so surprising, really.

The solitary streak in me has grown very wide. Years of living alone have made me…ever more solitary. A bit anxious when around other people’s company & routines for long stretches of time. (For some reason too, I have a positive horror of being “in the way” – some weird holdover from that … difficult childhood, I reckon. I’ll do almost anything to avoid feeling I am in the way…)

I live on a teeny-tiny income no one else I know could begin to survive on (or even want to get by on), and since money & things don’t interest me much, I don’t “have” to “work” right now. This seems to really rattle some people. (I wonder, do they resent/envy my freedom? My choices?)

I adore my current freedom – but it has & does come at some cost. Everything always does, doesn’t it? Biologist Barry Commoner(1) articulated “4 Laws of Ecology: Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Note that last one, hmm? No free lunch. We do always pay for what we get. I pay for my freedom in several ways, trust me. (We all pay for our choices, hmmm?)

Well, for the past few years I’ve begun thinking of myself as a bit of an anarchist. Like communist, the word “anarchist” seems to frighten people. (Imagine grown-ups being afraid of mere words & concepts; a bit silly, isn’t it?)

The Collins dictionary available to me here defines an anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.”(2)

Works for me!

Anarchism-Abbey

All I know is, things on Planet Earth don’t seem to be working too very well. Ya think? Our air is foul, our waters polluted, & much of our Earth now toxic. As the planet sickens, so do we. (Know anyone with cancer? I rest my case.)

A clever quotation I’ve run across goes “There isn’t a problem with the system. The system is the problem.”

Capitalism & “democracy” don’t quite seem to be doing the trick, do they? (Like Christianity, real democracy remains mostly un-tried. (3))

I keep meaning to write an essay called “What is Missing?” & maybe I will finally get to it.

What is missing, in my view, are 2 things:

  1. Deep, deep gratitude for this unbelievably awesome, generous wondrous Earth we’ve been given;
  2. Community. Tribe. Belonging

If we all begin working on these two big pieces of the puzzle that you might call Earth Falling Apart in 2010, I think a lot of pretty cool stuff would start happening. (Of course, lots of cool stuff is already happening!! There are tons of people working away on this stuff as we speak.(4))

Of course, I do not possess a crystal ball. Seems to me this whole shebang could “blow” at any time. Of course, that’s an excellent argument for practicing gratitude, living fully in the present moment, & building community. We might as well keep our focus on what really matters in life, since there are no guarantees about what will happen around the next bend. I have a suspicion that the less we focus now on what really matters, the nastier it’s liable to be.

So sayeth I, your friendly local anarchist. One who is trying hard to bring us all back to the really, really simple things: gratitude, community and circles.

Janet

p.s. There are many essays about gratitude on this blog. Only because it’s the primo, most important & perhaps most left-out thing going on Planet Earth. And because it’s free & wonderfully rewarding & liable to lead, when practiced faithfully, to much happier lives & communities & families – & even a healthier planet… No kidding!!

‘Quote of the day’  with this post: “…as the Buddha told his cousin Ananda, the whole of the holy life is good friends. Our relationships – and our love – are ultimately what give depth and meaning to our lives.” – Joan Halifax in Being with Dying – Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death.

My first idea for ‘Quote of the Day: “The aesthetic indictment of industrialism is perhaps the least serious. A much more serious feature is the way in which it forces men, women and children to live a life against instinct, unnatural, unspontaneous, artificial. Where industry is thoroughly developed, men are deprived of the sight of green fields and the smell of earth after rain; they are cooped together in irksome proximity, surrounded by noise and dirt, compelled to spend many hours a day performing some utterly uninteresting and monotonous mechanical task. Women are, for the most part obliged to work in factories, and to leave to others the care of their children. The children themselves, if they are preserved from work in the factories, are kept at work in school, with an intensity that is especially damaging to the best brains. The result of this life against instinct is that industrial populations tend to be listless and trivial, in constant search of excitement, delighted by a murder, and still more delighted by a war.” [Ouch!] Bertrand Russell – June 1921 issue of The Atlantic Monthly.


(1) From the Center for Biological Systems & author of Making Peace with the Planet

(2) Jailbird, by Kurt Vonnegut, Dell, 1979. Page 216.

(3) If you think Canada is a democracy, then I think you are not really paying attention! And if you think dumping Harper – the best prime minister oil money can buy – for Ignatieff would make a whole lot of difference, you are REALLY not paying attention… ***** Lots of great quotes about politics & democracy here.

(4) Paul Hawken’s wonderful book Blessed Unrest is very eloquent & inspiring on this score.

Courage, Apathy...& Evil

*** Quotes on courage here! <March 18/10>

I’m reading a book called Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa,(1) by Antjie Krog. Bit of a tough read, at times – but very well-written, provocative & rife with interesting thoughts, insights & quotations. Rough because one learns in detail some of the horrific acts of violence & cruelty visited upon so many citizens of South Africa in the apartheid era. Its recounting of the operations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission makes for fascinating reading (parenthetical thought: I ought to let the author know of my deep appreciation for her book!).

We human beings are certainly a curious lot. We can be so marvellous, generous, compassionate, creative, loving & wise – & by the same token, so thoughtless, self-absorbed (2), cruel, violent, homicidal, and … dare I say, evil?

I will leave it to the philosophers to debate whether or not evil really exists. (though I personally feel we are a bit short of time here on Planet Earth for long-winded philosophical debate & time-consuming study; seems to me more like a time for concerted ACTION.)

I will add that I have encountered my fair share of nasty (even homicidal & sociopathic & kind of scary) characters in my time – in a professional capacity, shall we say – so I am not unfamiliar altogether with the sheer nastiness capacity of some human beings…

Anyway, whether or not evil exists, I will say that I think the apathy of so many people I know & meet – in the face of the most serious & horrendous crisis our species has ever known – borders, to my way of thinking, on evil. (Edmund Burke said “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I rest my case…)

It frightens me.

It astonishes me that most people I know would be more upset to hear me describe myself as an anarchist (3) than they would to hear that our robot-man prime minister is quite knowingly destroying a huge swath of Canada (read up on the tar sands ) in the name of profits for his corporate buddies (George Monbiot has described Canada as a ‘corrupt petrostate’).

It surprises me that the thing most people seem most curious about when they ask me about my sit-in/arrest experience last Nov. 30th, just before the Copenhagen meetings, is what it was like to have to wear a diaper all day. They are dying to ask me whether or not I peed in it. (The answer, for the record, is no. I skipped my morning coffee that day, which for caffeine addict me was frankly the most challenging aspect of the whole experience!) But the experience wasn’t so much about using a diaper as about getting outside my comfort zone – something I think a lot more of us need to start doing.

I know there are a lot of reasons for our apathy.

But it scares me.

I heard a report on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio yesterday, on ‘The Current Review.’ It was about a TV show in which participants were asked to cause fellow participants to be given electric shocks. Apparently, most did order the shocks.

What kind of people are we?

It worries me.

Author Antjie Krog asks in Country of My Skull (in reference to the goings-on in South Africa during the apartheid years, & afterward, during the time of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, which began operating in December 1995), “What the hell does one do?”(4)

& I wrestle with this question myself, pretty much daily. What the hell does one do?

I am not a philosopher, dear Reader, nor any kind of “expert” nor (supposedly) brilliant scientist.

I’m a woman, mother, environmental activist & writer (a person who is unpaid for the work I do; that’s not a complaint, just a statement of fact) – & I am no longer confident about the ability of our species to survive.

We have made/are making such a frightful botch of things.

Still & all, what is one to do??

Throw up our hands?

I say, Take action.

Let’s raise our voices.

Let’s quit stepping over the elephants in the room, & start calling them.

Let’s grow some courage. Grow some balls...as it were. Shake things up a little.

In Country of My Skull, Chilean philosopher & activist, José Zalaquett (who served on the Chilean Truth Commission) is quoted as saying, “The most important lesson the struggle taught me and my friends is that no one is endowed with remarkable courage. But courage is another name for learning to live with your fears. Now, after eighteen years and the Chilean Truth Commission, courage has again evolved a new definition: the guts not to give in to easy justice. To live within the confinements of reality, but to search day after day for the progressing of one’s most cherished values. Merciless. Accountable.”(5)

Wow.

I wonder, might we all try growing a little more courage in the face of the grave dangers now facing us? I surely do hope so….

Janet

p.s. A buddy of mine said to me in an e-mail message recently, in reference to the sorts of people who defended tobacco use until they were finally wrestled to the ground, & the people who were responsible for trashing the ozone layer (fully aware, btw, that they were doing so), & the ones who are now defending the oil business with their criminal conspiracy (do read Climate Cover-up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming, by James Hoggan, with Richard Littlemore), “These big business issues, like the pro-smoking debacle, are beyond my capacity to understand – it’s like there is a parallel universe of animal things that look like humans but behave like something else.” Rather nicely put, Richard!!

I’d say it’s time we turfed out politicians who look & act like robots (& criminals), & bring in some real human beings for a change!!

p.p.s. Shortly after I scrawled this essay, riding the GO bus to Oshawa, I resumed reading Country of my Skull. Author Antjie Krog relates on page 159 that just before midnight on May 10th, 1997 (the deadline for amnesty applications), “six black youths walk into the Truth Commission’s offices in Cape Town.” She goes on to explain that they had decided at the last minute to apply for amnesty because they had realized it had been wrong of them to be apathetic, & do nothing. “So, here we stand as a small group representative of millions of apathetic people who didn’t do the right thing.”

Wow...

Quote of the Day’ with this post: “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.


(1) Times Books/Random House, 1998.

(2) I have a very rude name for a condition I feel all too many of us suffer from. “Terminal heads-up-our-own arses” disease. (Sorry; I did try to warn you!)

(3) The Collins dictionary defines anarchist as 1. A person who advocates the abolition of government and a social system based on voluntary cooperation. 2. A person who causes disorder or upheaval. Kurt Vonnegut has a character in his novel Jailbird say “Anarchists are people who believe with all their hearts that governments are enemies of their own people.” I think a lot of us are anarchists, by this latter definition…

(4) Page 118.

(5) Country of My Skull – Guilt, Sorrow & the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, by Antjie Krog, Times Books/Random House 1998. Page 32.