November 30, 2006

Demons and Lepers

I was recently ambushed by a Nadine Gordimer quote: "The old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms."

Roman-afflicted Israel was, and modern "America" is, in such a time. If Paul Goodman, writing in the early 1960's, described us as suffering from "unfinished business," what can we say for our current selves, except that we are heirs of all he meant and more?

As the gains of the 60's were rolled back, the long onset of the BGH Economy (Say "Moo!") began. When our rulers began talking of a "kinder, gentler" world, it was a timely reminder of the crueler, harsher (and infinitely pettier!) world they had in fact been imposing for one very long time.

Playing musical chairs for jobs--no longer hoping much for the advertised
'rewarding' careers, gradually settling for bait-&-switch at best--has psychologically deformed most all of us. For people who once hoped only for honest work and a tough-but-endurable life, the concept of what Buddhists call "right livelihood" has become an unimaginable, inaffordable luxury.

Self-images warp and shatter. Mania and depression are the twin sides of this coin. And for that lucky class of people in (more or less) beautiful cliffside homes... the many faces of denial.

The lepers are on your corners. They're a scurvy lot; I don't recommend kissing them. But you can't truly say they aren't your brothers and sisters.

An old, alcoholic friend has just gone over the edge; her little booze-devil isn't cute anymore, has started to tell her who's in charge and what she "has" to do. She doesn't want to hear how big it's gotten, how it will eat her if she doesn't put it down.

Pray for her? What does that mean? Pray God to make her do something she doesn't want to do? How many friends of alcoholics have prayed that futile prayer?--and what is the prayer we should pray instead?

A booze-devil is individual-size, obvious to everyone except the one afflicted. What other, larger, unrecognized devils leer out from kindly, oblivious eyes?

What is a devil? A conscious, malicious being? Or an angel twisted by our desires?

Does it order us to act like zombies? Or do we lull ourselves by dreams of mechanical efficacy?

The other night I was remembering my youth, how I'd done ever so many foolish things only to keep from clearly looking at myself. Last night I told some friends; they said, "Isn't that how everybody's youth goes?" Lucky if we've gotten past that, at all. Shouldn't we have compassion, for everyone with their heads still stuck in dark places?

We made it (to those dubious heights we now inhabit); there's hope for us all. Unlikely as it looks...


At 4:59 p.m., Blogger Larry said...

Thou speakest my mind, Friend. In fact I'm working on a post with the same basic subject; I'll call it Drifting Down II. We can analyze our misfortunes in terms of fairly expectable events (the filthy rich are not the only culprits).

I'm working from The End of Affuence (with a great abundance of statistics.

At 5:48 p.m., Blogger forrest said...

Try _Fear of Falling_. Along with her (Barbara Erhenreich's) more recent works. & why not Theresa Funiciello: _Tyranny of Kindness_ while you're at it?

"The filthy rich are not the only culprits," you say.

True enough. "You can't cheat an honest man"--which may not be a fact, but certainly reflects how many scams work by means of a streak of larceny in the victim.

The filthy rich have, many of them, consciously worked to cling to their unfair--and to a large extent unusable--share of the loot, at the expense of everyone else's basic well being. They've had, naturally enough, a disproportionate influence over events and policies. So I won't buy "innocent," but I'd be willing to accept a plea of "mitigating circumstances" for them. As in "not knowing what they do," any more than the rest of us.


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