Monday and the recurrent conundrum: Why? Or more properly, What? Why do we find our attempts to live a good life so consistently frustrated? What is required to construct a functional ‘good life?’ Today we ask these questions, find more questions, and note the critical (desperate?) need for answers.
Plasticity isn’t everything, and Mondays tend to emphasize the radical bendiness of the everyday. We might think the reverse: Monday’s reputation generally inhabits ideas of the implications of the imposed work world, with its rules, requirements, and the tyranny of money (people of great wealth are reputed not to experience the Monday phenomenon). Given the nature of that tyranny, we slip & slide from one obligation, privation, or excess to the next, powered by the confidence that it all makes sense. However, on examination these assumptions fall apart, prove flimsy, ungrounded. Bendy. And on Mondays, we especially feel the oppression of that ongoing fallacy.
Cultivate a few houseplants or garden vegetables – geraniums, begonias, peas, kale. They are dependent on us for water & food, protection from the elements, and so on, all of which require some degree or other of income. On the other hand, generally when we remove human society from an ecosystem plants – considered rogue plants in the human social environment, because they invade our space – take over, repudiating in a big way any imputed dependence on humans and their economies. Those plants we cultivate, that become so dependent on our income to survive, are not, of course, plants in general – they are the plants we humans decide to invite into our world. Become part of that world, they are necessarily then, like us, dependent on income. But how essential is this dependence? Is it inherent, or imposed – and can we go guerilla? What would that “little war” look like?
While “guerilla” refers to warfare, the term has taken on the colloquial meaning of efforts that get around society’s “big guns,” circumvent the structures imposed by those in positions of power to restrict the freedom of the poor or disenfranchised. In this case, the effort suggested above is to circumvent the current economy as preached by those with all the power, lately referred to as the .01%.
Not unlike the medieval economy, reliant on serfs, today’s plutocracy continually reminds us how grateful we should be to participate in our enslavement to their dollars. We might mobilize based on the recognition that we really do want to live in a free society. Our guerilla effort might take the form of joining cooperatives, growing and giving away seeds & plants, &c. Cooperatives place themselves in the cracks, trying, like rogue plants, to open up the concrete to the use of the organic, to efforts to form a society less greed-based.
Even so, don’t we need money to get the seeds in the first place? Members of the cooperative must have enough money to buy the ingredients/materials/seeds to begin with for the things they trade or sell thenceforth. Current efforts to form cooperatives share limitations consistent with similar efforts of earlier generations. Someone must have some funds to get it all started, funds generated through participation in the more greed-based society eschewed by the participants of the co-op. Still, cooperatives represent an effort toward social health, and an attempt to elude the dictates of the wealth-empowered minority.
What about micro-finance? Doesn’t that represent an alternative effort to combat the whole process? The micro-loan idea bases itself in financial assistance in the form of small loans to individuals in circumstances that we – with the leisure to complain about our own powerlessness in the face of a society controlled by the rich – find extreme compared to our own. This can make us feel we are complaining in the midst of relative plenty, and we should quit grousing or do so something, but that leads us back to where we began: what, how? And, should we be content with a society locked into a circular support system for the rich, just because we happen to enjoy better runoff than some people somewhere else in even less economically & politically free societies?
This author doesn’t imagine this essay to be a close examination of economic theory or sociology (note the lack of statistics to support assertions); it runs with the assumption of the reader’s familiarity with current rising unemployment, the accelerating rise of wealth to a smaller and smaller portion of society, and the ever-increasing tendency away from empowerment of the rest of us evidenced by the gargantuan sums required to say, run for public office. More, this essay attempts to make sense of the sense of being caught in a net, and the search for tools to extricate us from that net.
What are the implications of our responsibility? Where should we go with our observations on social inequity, personal frustration with, global extremeness of? What happens when we don’t participate? Increasingly, people are taking that route, creating networks similar to the hobo networks of earlier generations. When we decide to scrap the whole enterprise of running to catch up, we become “vagrants.” In other words, there are laws against not participating in the serfdom: ergo, succeed or end up on the streets, subject to privation and (with the added insult of) the continual indignity of possible incarceration. Society is eager to spend increasingly gargantuan sums keeping people in jail. Slave, hope to rise in the ranks, or fall by the wayside. So much for free society. The huge transgression of the ‘60s was to try to sidestep serfdom. The economic component of that effort largely failed – a result of human nature, or the nature of contemporary society? A combination, maybe.
The Buddha’s answer was to exit society’s net for the freedom of self-imposed poverty. Buddhism represents, among its manifold representations, a comment on the tendency of human society to breed the psychopathic individual. Devoid of empathy and motivated by the drive for power, driven by the need to take what other people have, to amass the ability to control other people, these people desire wealth so far surpassing need that they can, with apparent sincerity, perennially complain that they barely get by with what they have (note how many of our current .01% claim with a straight face that proposed tax increases will do them real harm). And, with the intense drive of the psychopath, they regularly arrive in positions of social and political power.
Some think the answer lies in psychotherapy – it’s a personal problem, not a social one. Perhaps, up to a point. We can all use a little more balance, but really – is it psychologically damaged to object to one’s society being run by psychopaths? Wouldn’t that be evidence of sanity? Again, we can ask “How can we fix ourselves?” but the more critical question remains: “In light of these observations, how do we live in this society, how do we change it, can we change it, ultimately, how can we bring a little more sanity into our world?”
The idea that the journey is more important than the arrival seems inherently ludicrous to some of us, but certainly the journey is equally important – the ends don’t justify the means. The point in asking these questions is not to gain temporary psychological relief; I really wish I had more answers. The point is to keep reminding ourselves that we need answers, we need to find out how to make a road paved with common sense and informed perceptions, and step out toward social equity. If a free society is too much to hope for, we need at least to make a freer society.