Something Missing? Death of Education, Death of Normal, Wrecking Ball Democracy

American Exceptionalism or the Big Lebowski or Death By Numbers?

It is so easy to enter the quagmire of “death by numbers,” but I’ve taken my lesson from Seattle artist Chris Jordan, whose photography implodes many aspects of our modern industrial-hyper consumptive society in his many huge works of photograph manipulation.

His images are also a testament to the power of digital eye, that perspective we get in such things as the number of plastic cups used and tossed away each six hours on US airline – one million total, that is, and they do not get recycled.

Running the numbers as an exceptional practice is not so uncommon in this day and age with our AI and computer-generated motives — and in Jordan’s case – a visual and artistic motif to show why the planet “is cooked” under all existing and so-called mitigatory systems and plans hatched up with the law-disobeying corporate shills called US and Company, whose armies, navies, air forces and police-surveillance forces have set upon the world with the help of prostituting politicians a species of man bent on consuming himself and herself to death.

No matter how hard we might try, citizens — AKA, consumers or targets or marks or schmucks — cannot push any initiative or plan or grand idea for social justice-environmental sanity-community engagement without the long-arm of capitalism’s law interfering and moving us like paper mache marionettes in their house of horrors drama.

Take a look at these numbers, and more –

Car Keys, 2011, 60×86″ – Depicts 260,000 car keys, equal to the number of gallons of gasoline burned in motor vehicles in the US every minute.

Or, Over the Moon, 2011, 44×44″ – Depicts 29,000 credit cards, equal to the average number of personal bankruptcy filings every week in the US in 2010.

Or, Cell Phones, 2007, 60×100″ – Depicts 426,000 cell phones, equal to the number of cell phones retired in the US every day.

So, yes, unfortunately, we live in a numbers game, no matter what side of the border line or political line or human line you find yourself leaning away or toward.

For instance, take the recent finding that the average house in Seattle goes for $420,000. You have to put this in perspective: tens of thousands of daycare workers and Sea-Tac airport workers make $10 an hour in my city. Hundreds of thousands in the Puget Sound area are not making more than $30,000 a year. College teachers make $45,000 after years teaching. I see jobs all the time advertised, looking for people with undergraduate degrees and higher degrees, with all sorts of multiple experiences and people and hard skills required, in Seattle and the region, for, the whooping $28,000 to $36,000 a year salary range.

That number – $420,000 – make any sense? How does it connect to other costs of living in Seattle? Maybe rental units are in high demand, and in this supply and demand society, those costs go up exponentially? Are the housing costs and rental demands sustainable?

Compare the lack of subsidized, rent-control, public-private housing strategies, to, oh, another numbers game: Guess what the amount for each Afghanistan invader, US soldier, that is, to be outfitted, maintained, reinforced, supplied each year at a the cost to US tax coffers? Oh, $800,000 to a million dollars.

One soldier, one year. Do the math.

E’s of Sustainability, No Numbers Game When it Comes to Planetary Survival

What about one of the five e’s of sustainability – e for energy (education, environment, equity and economy being the other “e” measures) – thrown into running the numbers game? Here’s an example: The “easy oil” is getting pretty tapped out. Those oil fields holding that cheap oil will probably lose three-quarters of their productive capacity over the next two and half decades. That’s taking out 52 million barrels per day from world supply. Or, 75% of current world crude oil output.1

Want more simple stats on oil and disconnect, or the energy to retrieve and process/refine per barrel? What is it now? Three barrels of energy equivalent for one barrel of energy expended? In 1900, it was something like 30 barrels of crude energy equivalent mined-harvested-drilled to one barrel crude energy equivalent to get it and process it.

The Canadian Energy Research Institute predicts Alberta’s oil sands over the same two and a half decade period will burn up $218 billion of “investment” (that’s a low ball figure that also does not take into consideration United States’ expenditures for pipelines, such as the Keystone XL, to get the goo to refineries).

More on how serious we all are about renewable energy and climate change? U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says Arctic Circle oil makes up an estimated 13 percent of the total planet’s remaining crude and much more of the natural gas.

The results of that great new oil, tar sands, natural gas and bitumen consumption? Global emissions of carbon dioxide will rise by 43 percent in those same two and a half decades. That’s 30.2 billion to 43.2 billion metric tons.

Climate change’s connection to these oil numbers? Come on. Did we put those numbers together yet? No hope of averting all those heavy consequences of planetary warming? Sorry.

Lots of running the numbers in this new Nature report.

The climate numbers are downright discouraging. The world pumped 22.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 1990, the baseline year under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. By 2010 that amount had increased roughly 45% to 33 billion tonnes. Carbon dioxide emissions skyrocketed by more than 5% in 2010 alone, marking the fastest growth in more than two decades as the global economy recovered from its slump. And despite constant deliberations under the convention, the overall growth rate of global emissions hasn’t changed much since 1970.

This entire numbers game is highlighted in this month’s Nature journal, (“Second Chance for the Planet”) ahead of the Rio+20 environmental summit in Brazil later in June. In a nutshell, this study deals with the combined effects of global warming, population growth and continued environmental degradation. Real collapse, bigger than anything Ray Bradbury could have imagined in his books and stories, more than neo-conservatives and libertarians could even begin to deny. In just five generations, total collapse of “the ecosystem”?

Here’s what head of the U.N. Environment Program, Achim Steiner, has to say about scientific study after scientific study and all those numbers: “I would like those activists who are preparing to come to Rio+20, to protest and to also lament the little action that we have seen; to open up a second fund and to take a report like this and tell them: ‘Answer to the public, why are we not moving ahead in these issues.'”

Which US lawmaker, which multinational corporation, which Western culture, which industrializing nation will fight tooth and nail these climate change-global ecosystems numbers? The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Koch Brothers and Fox News laugh at these numbers. Liberals just scratch their heads and fly off to Brazil to be “in the numbers game in person, up close, Copacabana or Bust.”

You fight global warming, you are a new terrorist. See Will Potter’s, The New Red is Green.

Before we look at steady state economics, the culture of art, and what behavioral scientists have to “say” about these mind-strafing numbers, let’s look at what I consider the bulwark of sustainability. Education.

What about the numbers tied to education? You know, education, that other “e” in the five e’s of sustainability. Education, which is being attacked from all sides of the human equation – corporations hate it if it’s not facilitating a fast-track for compliant workers to pump up their numbers game; governments hate it because they can’t allow too many smart people to get a whiff of their malfeasance and cooked numbers game; superstition-driven religions hate it for subverting that control over man-woman when 15 billion years of geologic time kills their numbers game; war profiteers hate it because their own histories will be recorded by it, each and every number of killed, maimed, missing in their wars of empire numbers game.

In the USA, going to the education numbers game … with drum roll, please: more than $1 trillion in student loans outstanding in this country.

Two-thirds of bachelor’s degree recipients borrow money to attend college, from the government or private lenders, according to a Department of Education.

The total number of borrowers is definitely much higher since the survey does not track borrowing from family members.
Contrasting the 1992-93 graduates – 45 percent borrowed money, and that survey included family borrowing as well as government and private loans.

For all borrowers, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300; 10 percent owed more than $54,000; 3 percent more than $100,000, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports.

Lots and lots of numbers to parse and project, and what do our staid and smart education sector folk have to say? I have been pursuing the Inside Higher Education and Chronicle of Higher Education web pages, as well as Alternet‘s special “education” pages. The two former frames have sickening after sickening story of the broken paradigm of “nations in debt must do things to cut, cut, cut the public sector, public safety nets” repeated in infinite ways through infinite disciplinary lenses. I see so many angry, anti-liberal arts, anti-intellectual, anti-humanities commenters saying all the arts, diversity classes, ethnic studies, multiple interdisciplinary programs and degrees have been a total waste of good taxpayers’ money.

I am seeing liberals and conservatives stiff arm saluting privatizing and the corporate model of education, daily. I am seeing the blame put on the current generation and the 30-something generation for opting out of the heavy, most important subjects in the world – STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) – for foolish things like American studies, environmental planning, sociology, liberal arts in general.

Time and time again, more and more people are shifting the baseline, daily, almost, gathering steam and sticks and stones to throw at the “idiotic students and families who would be so economically-challenged to have gotten so up to their proverbial necks in debt … now suck it up and just pay that debt with interest off now … pay your debt you owe to the greatest generation ever … your debt to Bezos, Gates, Koch, GE, Boeing and the wise old wizards of Wall Street and high finance … it’s because of them you can even breathe and eat and live your rotten hippie, alternative, film studies and art school and community development lives.”

I am serious, more serious than a hyperventilating sentence to try and get a laugh. These writers, journalists, academicians, education planners, the wonks, and the front-line faculty and staffers, all of them, they are in retreat, on the defensive, and confused and disorganized.

So that shifting the baseline for them occurs daily. Like what ecologists, scientists, and environmentalists (usually all three are in one) fear – too many people, even scientists of today, have shifted baselines. Especially, though, the American, Western people. More so the corporatists and governments protecting them.

The lines and baselines have moved. That’s out death. Let me explain.

Pretty simple explanation on shifting baselines tied to ecology. Oh, like 90 million beavers in the continental United States before 1700. Now? Less than a million, yet, today, beavers are considered worse than varmints, trapped and removed and culled so property owners can have their lawns and cute invasive trees and shrubs. The problem is baseline beaver populations in 1700 and for centuries before created streams, rivers and vital wetlands, thanks to the beaver dams.

Now, we are going back to the future with beaver restoration. Read here on the magnificent of beavers and groups that are “into” re-shifting baselines, as in restorative conservation, a sort of ecological restorative justice movement.

Unfortunately, community activists, urban planners, public policy organizations, and, yes, even marine biologists tend to shift baselines as more is lost, less is gained and our internal psychologies and external behaviors have to dull the realities of our own actions and those of the resource industries and consumptive businesses we have fed to continue our lifestyles.

So, yes, lots of numbers, lots of GIS maps of every cross section of humanity, the earth, ecosystems. All those numbers to worry over.

The problem isn’t the numbers but rather it’s the narrative frames, the psychological impact of in utero conditions on who comes out afraid to face facts, change, and those who want facts, change; because new science says you can tell a scaredy-cat conservative reactionary in the playpen. What our society is, especially US and British, or any Caucasian ones, well, we know that there is the open, holistic, multilingual, multi-contextual abstract thinker versus the xenophobic, paranoid, compliant-to-authority, father-figure seeking conservative.

It happens, conservative or liberal at birth, in the playpen, in the school yard.

How those numbers, those contexts, those specific narratives around and defining those numbers differ depending on which thinker is considering the exact same information.

As more and more things get more and more controlled by fewer and fewer controlling entities, the fewer free agents will exist on the planet, which means fewer and fewer enlightenments – problems anticipated and solutions given – will occur. The human species is naturally conditioned to be restrained, stuck in group-think, and to stay within the proscribed norms of any thousands of proscriptive realms or groups and sub-cultures.

People hate the Bradley Mannings of the world. Despise the Rachel Carsons. Revile the Ellsbergs, Naders, Maria Gunnoes of the world.

Yet, it all comes down to e-d-u-c-a-t-i-o-n.
It all comes down to c-u-l-t-u-r-e.
And it all comes down to c-h-a-n-g-e in b-e-h-a-v-i-o-r.

BF Skinner Anyone?

Get this – so, my fiance’s a teacher – reading and math and arts – at a non-profit private school in the shadow of Amazon.com’s campus in downtown Seattle. Plenty of children from whole families, some from broken ones. Many are adopted. Some from other countries. Interesting and challenging work, with students who are way behind the reading, writing, math, learning curves.

Special education with a twist – work is intense, small-group-engaged, and tied to direct instruction and behavioral psychology and other modalities to effect real progress with students, some of whom are on the various learning disability spectrums, like autism.

So, that organization, ABAI, Association for Behavior Analysis International, had its 38th annual convention in Seattle. Her school’s various stakeholders attended and presented. Interesting, bizarre, erudite, and sometimes chilling workshops and presentations by the dozens. One struck me, and it ties into so many studies I have been mining tied to climate change, risk analysis and behavior (and PR, messaging, selling, marketing climate change).

Here’s one in the popular press to eschew.

Here’s one compelling paragraph form it that sets up what I bring up next:

But now a growing number of social scientists are offering their expertise in behavioral decision making, risk analysis, and evolutionary influences on human behavior to explain our limited responses to global warming. Among the most significant factors they point to: The way we’re psychologically wired and socially conditioned to respond to crises makes us ill-suited to react to the abstract and seemingly remote threat posed by global warming. Their insights are also leading to some intriguing recommendations about how to get people to take action-including the potentially dangerous prospect of playing on people’s fears.

What makes the ABAI presenter, Lyle K. Grant from Alberta, Canada, compelling to me is not that he reduced his climate-carbon footprint to a DVD-presentation in absentia at the Seattle Convention Center while two present panelists also presented at the workshop. It’s that this researcher and professor for 31 years at Athabasca University is looking at some old work around a society based on permaculture, the arts, less work, and skilled living and skilled consumption.

Obviously, Grant covers much of the research behind this human behavior of putting off the consequences of one’s action today without thinking about the future intended and unintended consequences; the idea of lag time catching up to future generations because of current generations’ near-sightedness; and the continual mythology and embedded reinforcers of a growth economy, one predicated on each new generation getting more, having to work harder to get more; one where population – at least those in developed societies – can grow because growth means more innovation, more people with solutions and more consumers and customers to extract profits from.

His premise, though, is to inculcate a culture of learning and one of arts and culture.

People are highly capable of adapting to various types of environmental and other challenges once those challenges are encountered in concrete form rather than as an abstract idea (Grant, 2007; Swim et al., 2009). Most successful behavioral interventions are indeed based on simply giving people direct practice that allows them to acquire or perfect skills (e.g., Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007; Martin & Pear, 2003). The problem with economic growth and overconsumption is that direct practice is not possible because the harmful consequences only occur when shortages in a finite natural resource appear or the Earth’s ability to absorb waste products is exceeded. Archaeological and other historical evidence indicates that several ancient cultures failed because they outgrew their carrying capacity or otherwise failed to adapt to changing environmental conditions (Diamond, 2005; Redman, 1999). However, these consequences were encountered only by people who lived centuries ago. As a result, these consequences do not act directly upon anyone’s current behavior and instead act only indirectly through application of derived rules or instructive analogies, weakening their relative effectiveness (Malott, 1986).

Harmful Delayed Consequences

The effectiveness of behavioral consequences on behavior change is lessened when they are delayed (Ainslie, 2001; Rachlin, 2000) and some of the harmful consequences of a growth economy are likely to be delayed by as long as several decades before they actually materialize. This principle is often described in terms of temporal discounting: The effectiveness of a consequence on behavior is lessened or discounted the more it is delayed. Sustainability is difficult in part because the consequences at issue are delayed and currently unapparent. Harmful effects such as climate change, overpopulation, shortages of fossil fuels and fresh water, are all delayed consequences that are less effective than they would be if they were current.

It’s important that I get Grant’s work right, so another long quote stream is necessary because, a) I already have these ideas down and feel overpowered by them; and, b) I’ve been yammering for four decades to various audiences about the power of the arts, of the humanities, of writing, of the poet. Finally, for my last bit, c) I have studied the world of environmentalism and the regulatory process, whereby not one thing has been gained in the environmental movement – just shifting baselines and the allowance of more and more loss of land, loss of clean air, loss of clean water, loss of marine ecosystems, loss of community will, loss of a noiseless world.

It’s the old fighting the box store from coming into my neighborhood battle. Those meetings and all the extra time to fight say a 125,000 square foot Wal-mart or Home Depot getting everything they want in their design plans, well, all that work, all that huffing and puffing, self-educating in the planning and zoning and design world, all of that, including traffic studies, it’s ALL to the corporation’s liking because the individuals – the community – are expending extra time and hard-pressed funds to get a few tweaks to a building’s facade and some amenities like bike lanes and landscaping.

The box store gets delays, and free work, and free insights, for little or no cost to the corporation. The box store still gets built.

The process is stacked against substantive change. It’s allowing one corporation – sometimes one small polluting business – dictate the future of a community. Corporate personhood came way before Citizens United.

As late as 1840, state legislators closely supervised the operation of corporations, allowing them to be created only for very specific public benefits, such as the building of a highway or a canal. Corporations were subject to a variety of limitations: a finite period of existence, limits to the amount of property they could own, and prohibitions against one corporation owning another. After a period of time deemed sufficient for investors to recoup a fair profit, the assets of a business would often revert to public ownership. In some states, it was even a felony for a corporation to donate to a political campaign.

But in the headlong rush into the Industrial Age, legislators and the courts stripped away almost all of those limitations. By the 1860s, most states had granted owners limited liability, waiving virtually all personal accountability for an institution’s cumulative actions. In 1886, without comment, the United States Supreme Court ruled for corporate owners in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, allowing corporations to be considered “persons,” thereby opening the door to free speech and other civil rights under the Bill of Rights; and by the early 1890s, states had largely eliminated restrictions on corporations owning each other. By 1904, 318 corporations owned forty percent of all manufacturing assets. Corporate owners were replacing de Tocqueville’s “equality of conditions” with what one writer of the time, W. J. Ghent, called “the new feudalism… characterized by a class dependence rather than by a personal dependence.”

What It Means to Be a Dead Liberal

Part of that education about land-holders and corporations taking control of participatory, people-generated democracy is tied to the last 30 to 50 years many see as the death of liberal thinkers, the mass suicide of the entire liberal class, much detailed in Chris Hedges’ book, The Death of the Liberal Class.

I’ve seen that liberal class clash with radical and revolutionary critiques of America, of business, of the role of dissent and upheaval in American life. That death has been part of the consumer supply-demand-marketing-demand/supply operating system I’ve experienced since being a high school student in 1971 in Tucson, Arizona, when a small town got big and out of control because of the marketing of the American dream vis-a-vis air conditioning and the personal internal combustion machine.

To expect Lyle’s behavioral analyst’s sustainability and art education thesis to be heard, let alone adopted on a large scale, well, how can education and educated people draw from any wellspring when we do not even know the basic roots of our democracy, neither the people’s history nor the Constitution’s?

I’ve run into this “education” problem and this “narrative framing” issue and this “shifting baselines” reality for decades in the so-called sustainability movement. Here, in Seattle, via DVD-projected talk, Lyle K. Grant explains the role of education changing behavior:

Beyond simply using education to establish greater awareness of sustainability issues is an imperative to shift the maintenance of behavior from overconsumed to underconsumed reinforcers by teaching consumption skills. The consumption skills implicit in Mill’s art of living, in Walden Two’s Golden Age, and in Scitovsky’s prescription for cultural invigoration are all acquired tastes established as reinforcers only through informal or formal educational experiences. The recognition that the arts are a potential means of furthering sustainability dramatically reframes educational and other public-policy priorities. As Scitovsky (1989b) points out:

… the argument just presented favours subsidies, not to the arts or access to the arts, but to the process of learning to enjoy them. Such subsidies therefore should be immune to the criticism often leveled at public support for the arts on the ground that it represents a regressive redistribution of income from taxpayers to the elite that forms the bulk of theatre, opera and concert audiences. For the purpose of art education is to increase and keep increasing membership in that elite until it ceases to be an elite. (p. 157)

To further arts education, Scitovsky (1992) advocated a broad education throughout the curriculum that encompasses arts instruction. His promotion of arts education is based in part on avoiding the harmful effects (i.e., negative externalities) of alternative reward-seeking behaviors, which include crime, violence and drug use, in addition to squandering natural resources (Scitovsky, 1977; 1992). He cited the teaching of arts in kindergarten and the elementary grades as an exemplary practice because only there students are given freedom to pursue aesthetic challenges and pleasures independently of vocational considerations. He further suggested that existing practices in promoting athletics in schools are “a fine example that cultural education easily could and ideally ought to follow” (p. 301). Scitovsky (1992) envisioned formal arts education as an important supplement to domestic life, pointing out that children acquire an enjoyment of literature and music relatively effortlessly when grow up in literary and musical families. Under no illusions of the difficulties in making a transition to an arts-centered society, Scitovsky (1989b) anticipated that the process would “be a matter of generations rather than of years” (p. 158).

The connection between sustainability and arts education has important implications for behavioral interventions. Programs to teach aesthetic and other consumption skills should be clearly recognized as green interventions alongside those (e.g., bike riding, recycling, etc.) that are traditionally associated with sustainability and are in certain respects preferable to energy-efficiency interventions, which are potentially compromised by longer-term Jevons effects. Consumption-skill interventions address core issues of time allocation to resource-free and resource-light activities. Such interventions have the potential to produce enduring behavior changes though contact with natural reinforcers (Ferster, 1967) and natural maintaining contingencies (Stokes & Baer, 1977).

There is a tendency in the developed world to turn to historically successful scientific technologies to solve problems, an impulse that often leads only to improvements in energy efficiency. Purchases of hybrid cars and development of expansive wind and solar infrastructure projects, for example, are reassuring to many in part because they provide concrete visible evidence that we are addressing problems of sustainability. Yet, these salient interventions are by themselves severely limited due to Jevons effects unless paired with broader changes in lifestyle. Behavioral and cultural solutions, especially those focused on consumption skills, arts education, and movement toward an aesthetically based culture initially seem counterintuitive, irrelevant and insubstantial when juxtaposed with the powerful technologies science and engineering have to offer. This perception, seen even among those sympathetic to issues of sustainability, represents the persistence of the material values that have precipitated a crisis in sustainability. Behavioral, cultural and aesthetic solutions can, in contrast, alter the fundamental motivation to seek material rewards and solutions, break the cycle of work-to-consume and achieve genuine progress toward sustainability.

So while behavioral modification and social engineering and political correctness may be chilling in this day and age of shifting baselines, where $10 an hour, 10 hours a day, at 70 hours a week is the new normal, the new okay, and in a time when we don’t even balk at each powerful single industry monopolizing everything from toothpaste to air travel, something needs changing, and it has to be more education, more commitment to teaching little Johnny not to hit, smack, knife, shoot his way out of an argument. To teach kids to not give up or opt out or drop out or get so cynical and jaded that by age 10 that all they think about is retiring at 30 in some Willy Wonka delirium of HFCS shock and joystick apoplexy.

Schools are under attack, and therefore so is cognition — systems thinking, holistic thinking, and the entire shooting match is at the whim of Bill Gates, the Walton family, Fox un-News, prostituting politicians and now technology and the shifting baselines of our times.

Like I said earlier, education is being assaulted, and the general gist is a part-time nation of fearful faculty, and overpaid administrators that sell/buy technology fixes (sic) and on-line curriculum delivery (sic) wherever the privatizer seeks his or her best opportunity to dumb down education with the mantra of, “Quicker, Easier, Streamlined, Nuts and Bolts, All the Bells and Whistles Unnecessary.”

We are in a time where pontificating educational experts write essays about “how much is a college education worth” and “what is need” and then a truly revolutionary mindset, a truly solutions-based, permaculture-set and consumer-skilled society gets pummeled in the waves after wave of undulating stupidity… shifting baselines.2

One Shot at the Pinata and then What? Pennies from Heaven? Beyond Hope?

Sure, I’d probably not want that Wizard of Oz chance at being reborn in another era, oh, say, 1830s, and then spinning the globe blindfolded and stuck with the closest land mass where my pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey-finger might hit. “That’s where you get to do the roll of the dice, baby – 1830s Congo, brother.”

These might not be the best of times if you are (fill in the blank on your own) ___________ . I can put in a few, such as journalist, writer, educator, unionist, socialist, poet, environmentalist, social justice advocate, American-white-male-against-the-prevailing-paradigms-of-US-imperialism.

Not the best of times, but what’s my option?

The old conundrum of “the grass is greener (stronger) on the other side of the street (hemisphere) never fit me.

I’ve been trying to convince friends, foes and students to be ready to engage NOW, and to confront the injustices happening NOW, because, of course, now is the only time unless you are lucky enough to make a living at being a big time Hollywood movie maker — or you’re stuck in some bi-polar limbo, maybe just another Chance in the 1979 movie, Being There.

That’s a gardener who was birthed and lived on and then left an estate when the owner dies leaving Chance nothing – cloistered since birth from the outside city crumbling around him, but brought up with TV as his companion. Chance Gardener voices inanities gleaned from television shows, advertisements, news things, and, eventually, with so many powerful people listening to his repetitious nonsense, well, he will become the president of the United States.

Walk on water, that end shot form the movie.

Jerzy Kosinski wrote the book, 1971, that the Hal Ashby movie was based on. You know, Chance (the) Gardener, the tabla rasa of American modernism, politics, culture, consumerism, TV-land – a commentary on MUCH of what we now face, some 40 years later – just replace TV with “media” or “the world-wide web.”

The Net-generation morphing into the i-generation. What’s next, Uncle Sam?

That entire Kosinski life, and the fact he was a second generation survivor of the Holocaust – he was born five days after Hitler’s rise to power – is a microcosm of much of American life, and the life of art-mixed-with-pop-culture-mixed-with-message-mixed-with-duplicity-mixed-with-PT Barnum-madness. Plagiarizing accusations, and, well, a suicide after sex, drugs, and Hollywood rock-n’roll. Jerzy and his book/film, Being There, are emblematic of so so much about America exposed and exploited and exploiting. He wrote a Holocaust novel, The Painted Bird, explained by an English prof.

The Painted Bird is notorious for its horrors: eyeballs are gouged out of sockets, animals are tortured, women are violated with bottles holding manure, men are devoured by rats. “The Germans puzzled me,” the boy says. “Was such a destitute, cruel world worth ruling?”

This is the question that Kosinski’s whole life was given over to answering. That he died by his own hand suggests that his answer, finally, was No. And so Kosinski joined a line of Holocaust writers–Tadeusz Borowski, Jean Amery, Paul Celan, Primo Levi–who by committing suicide testified that the world was beyond repair. Although The Painted Bird may not be directly about the Holocaust, although it may not be based on Kosinski’s own experiences during the Holocaust, it is nevertheless an indispensable document of the Holocaust. It is perhaps the greatest example of what is coming to be known as a “second-generation” book: a contemporary report of the hell in which a survivor of the Holocaust must live, one generation after the event.

History repeats” itself ain’t a Nike ad

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Quaint words indeed.

I’ll probably get to the Scott Walker win in Wisconsin, all that hand-wringing by the Democrats-scared-of-their-own-shadows Obama-ites are doing fearful of a Romney Parasite Mitt win (Obamaite — type of mineral; many sided fool’s gold; melts when held close in hand), more and more evidence of Europe which is going the way of the “G” in P.I.G.S. and it means to the USA, but in another essay, not today’s.

First, though, is this odd feeling many I know who dread hearing “bad” news, who can’t take another loss like that recall election, who can’t hear another report about cheese causing cancer or TV piece on all the Ridley turtles drowning on six-pack CocaCola rings and ghost nets.

They’re always looking for some moment in Netflix time when the days were halcyon, when wine and roses made a real woman shine, and when a man was a man and a woman was a woman. They sort of want another Bruce Willis moment saving the day, or maybe they see all zombies in their dreams to be the angels of their hopes.

More than 50 percent of Americans believe-know-hold to the evidence of Old Testament that humans today are exactly how humans looked when they were “put on earth,” whether that’s 6,800 years ago, or earlier – 20 million years ago for the new wave of intelligent design aficionados – and even some who understand the earth to be 15 billion years old still think Homo sapiens always had our guts perpendicular to the roads we built and our eyes set exactly where they are in order to see from afar the Burger King menu or special advertised at Jack-in-the-Box.

More than 89 percent consider themselves Christian, and more than 75 percent believe-know-hope-have heard that angels are real and that they abide on earth and each one of those god-fearing and Jesus-loving folk has at least one fighting Angel looking out for him or her, even if its against mad dogs from Chase or Bank of America.

There will be salvation, Iron Man saving the day, or the day of rapture tele-porting: when all the repentants, sans Big and Tall workout outfits, get pulled into the vortex of the trinity nude so they all can all munch at the all-you-can-eat cafeteria heaven will be serving 24/7 for all eternity.

“If only I was born when the Great Plains had all those native grasses and buffalo; if only I was born when Da Vinci was around; if only ….” You get the point.

Angels will save the day, protect us from glacial melt down.

I’ve been speaking the reality game for, oh, since my early teens when I balked at the military brat life, when I was lucky enough to have heard from real Vietnam combat vets the stupidity of that war-on-more-brown-people-farmers. I fought my old man’s professional army officer status, and I hadn’t talked to him or written to him for the first six months he was on his first tour in Vietnam.

I hadn’t communicated with my old man until that Chinese carbine slug entered the helicopter pilot’s skull, and another came sizzling in from the rice paddies into my old man’s shoulder, a close three inches form his heart.

“Mrs. Haeder … Over … Your husband Chief Warrant Officer Marvin Haeder has been shot … Over … airlifted out of Vietnam and is in Japan … Over…”

How many times that Purple Heart call has been made? How many times to the hundredth power has nothing of the sort ever happened when entire families have been mowed over with supersonic jets and villages vaporized with smart bombs and towns juiced up with napalm and white phosphorous and depleted uranium?

Death, thanks to US of Acquisition, US of Military, sending out that love overtly and covertly in order for us to take what is ours, what will be ours, what will and always be our way of life, thanks apple pie, mom and red, white and blue contract with corporation x, y and z.

Every single time I’ve been that bastard who had to put the negative spin on things, who had to see the unintended consequences, who had to see the negative in all things. “Why so negative, dude?” Or some variation on that theme.

Shoot, when I stopped eating jumbo Guyamas shrimp as a teen scuba diver because of the destruction those shrimpers were doing to the very waters I dove in, and then had to explain to my fellow divers, even then, 1975, they were saying – “This isn’t going to last very long anyways, with all those Japs and Chinese getting a taste for this yummy stuff. Why not be the ones eating it when it’s going to be exported anyways?”

Well, something along those lines. Same today, with Peak Oil and Climate Change conferences or calls into my old radio show – “India and China are going after all that hydrocarbon energy. Are we, America, supposed to sit by and stop our economy because it’s the so-called ‘right thing’ to do according to a bunch of pretentious environmentalists while China and India kick our proverbial butt?”

On a day-to-day basis, dealing with friends, audiences, students, those are easy points to defeat or illuminate as broken thinking. But when all those stories combine and flare up into this convoluted hot air bleed off, well, the answers seem daunting, because, we’ve allowed each new discipline, each new avocation and profession to compartmentalize and build silo after specialization silo, making connecting the dots that more difficult.

Too many times we’ve allowed the generalist mindset go by the wayside forever in favor of blinders and silo thinking. Specialization and serious disconnection.

Like David Suzuki told me recently – “You had all these emergency room visits one summer in Vancouver. Literally hundreds of parents coming to hospitals with asthmatic children, running in from their air conditioned SUVs idling in the emergency ambulance lane, and sure, they couldn’t put together the fact that the heavy ozone and air pollution coupled with the heat were caused by their very lifestyle, the very internal combustion machines they rushed to the hospitals with their babies in. The news reports wondered why so many kids were being struck with asthma attacks. That’s human myopia to the max.”

Funny Times: Where is Joe Bageant when we need him?

Okay, it’s my own personal literary and journalist labyrinth, this essay, sorry … but I will come back to the Big Lebowski just to prove I can book-end something. Eventually, these discourses do peter out (or come together like a series of Rorschach ink blots). First, let’s think about Deer Hunting with Jesus writer, Joe Bageant (okay, no bowling analogy – Bowling for Jesus?).

Yeah, he was called a “left-neck,” and his voice made its way into Americans’ hearts and minds through the internet, radio, web TV. He was loved by those outside his West Virginia hometown, loved all the way from Paris, Texas, to Paris, France.

Born 1946 in Winchester VA, USA. US Navy Vietnam era veteran.
After stint in Navy became anti-war hippie, ran off to the West Coast … lived in communes, hippie school buses… started writing about holy men, countercultural figures, rock stars and the American scene in 1971 … lived in Boulder Colorado until mid 1980s … 14 years in all … became a Marxist and a half-assed Buddhist … Traveled to Central America to write about third World issues…
Moved to the Coeur d’Alene Indian reservation in Idaho, built a cabin, lived without electricity, farmed with horses for seven years … tended reservation bar (The Bald Eagle Bar), wrote for regional newspapers… generally festered on life in America … Moved to Moscow, Idaho, worked on third rate newspaper there … Then moved to Eugene Oregon, worked for an international magazine corporation pushing insecticides and pesticides to farmers worldwide.
Then back to hometown of Winchester VA to settle some scores with the bigoted, murderous redneck town I grew up in. I love’em but they need a good ass kicking.
Died in 2000 when George Bush got elected … died along with 275 million other Americans … Plan to rise again from the dead when he is tossed out …maybe reincarnate as a Commie terrorist on Wall Street … maybe as a sex worker in Amsterdam … can’t decide … both have their advantages. Joe Bageant (1946-2011)

He was funny as hell. Still is, in print. Check out his stuff on the web site created by a fan. Listen to his interviews. We need Joe now – especially now in this sick, slick TV-web era – at every city council meeting. We need him on the board of directors of highfalutin environmental organizations. We need guys and gals like him on MCNBC, CNN and Fox UnNews. We need him teaching in schools and running for office.

Because his very character is American, and there is not another country in the world that could produce this kind of character, thinker, and guy. He moved to Belize because he couldn’t justify paying taxes on America’s illegal wars. He wrote, thought, and was a sort of rural Studs Terkel.

So, I end with a few “deer hunting” quotes from Bageant. Yeah, the Coen Brothers’ Big Lebowksi is plot-less sometimes, and the cast of characters is typical Los Angeles zoo. But I was watching it the other night, the flick that is …. And that was after reading a lot of articles on behavioral psychology. On a special topic – how to make computers human, or what does it mean to be human? Pretty arcane and synapse-layered stuff.

What “the dude” represents is America, truly. College-educated, formerly an activist, formerly engaged in community; a pot-smoking, White Russian-drinking “dude” living the dream in LA. Only in America could that have happened, could he have existed. Maybe not anymore, but there was a time … and “the dude” is not an example of faux bohemian lifestyle. Hang overs, cloudless infinity, shooting the bull, endless mixed up language. A cast of screwed up, aimless American characters. Bowling, too. Remember that book, 2000, titled – Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of America Community, by R.D. Putman?

It’s a good read, even if you aren’t an urban planner type.

Well, I end with Bageant because he’s on my mind. After watching the Coen Brothers’ flick. I don’t know why exactly, but the books coming up for review will be my next missives for DV, I promise. Debt, The World Without Us, and, maybe, Bowling Alone. I don’t know.

You got a lot on Amazon.com from me lately. And on that front, more and more news about Amazon hits the airwaves and dribbles on a sea of digital flotsam almost daily. I might get to some of that later. Though Amazon.com is not a theme of mine. It’s one boring corporation with equally milquetoast workers at the top and in the middle. It’s difficult to get all jazzed up about Amazon.com.

For now, adios – keep it real on the summer solstice (June 16). From Deer Hunting with (the dude) Jesus –I sure wish the Coens would make a movie from that manuscript!

*****

“If middle-class Americans do not feel threatened by the slow encroachment of the police state or the Patriot Act, it is because they live comfortably enough and exercise their liberties very lightly, never testing the boundaries. You never know you are in a prison unless you try the door.”

(or)
“The four cornerstones of the American political psyche are 1) emotion substituted for thought, 2) fear, 3) ignorance and 4) propaganda”

(or)
“Republican or Democrat, this nation’s affluent urban and suburban classes understand their bread is buttered on the corporate side. The primary difference between the two parties is that the Republicans pretty much admit that they grasp and even endorse some of the nastiest facts of life in America. Republicans honestly tell the world: “Listen in on my phone calls, piss-test me until I’m blind, kill and eat all of my neighbors right in front of my eyes, but show me the money! Let me escape with every cent I can kick out of the suckers, the taxpayers, and anybody else I can get a headlock on, legally or otherwise.” Democrats, in contrast, seem content to catalog the GOP’s outrages against the Republic, showing proper indignation while laughing at episodes of The Daily Show. But they stand behind the American brand: imperialism. They “support our troops,” though you will be hard put to find any of them who have served alongside them or who would send one of their own kids off to lose an eye or an arm in Iraq. They play the imperial game, maintain their credit ratings, and plan to keep the beach house and the retirement investments if it means sacrificing every damned Lynndie England in West Virginia.”

(or)
“Man! Can you believe they actually allow this stuff to be sold over there? Glad we got laws against that crap in this country.” I remind him that the socialist party is probably the largest political party on the planet. “Aw bullshit!” he said. I asked, “Then what the hell do you think is the largest party?” “The Republican Party of course! We’re the only country with real political parties.” Now this is from a guy who has an MBA from one of the South’s universities, holds local office, and has influenced public affairs.”

(or, finally)
“Looking at Great-Great Grandpa Baldwin’s photograph, I think to myself: You’ve finally done it. It took four generations, but you’ve finally goddamned done it. Gotten that war against reason and uppity secularists you always wanted. Gotten even for the Scopes trial, which they say was one of many burrs under your saddle until your last breath. Well, rejoice, old man, because your tribes have gathered around America’s oldest magical hairball of ignorance and superstition, Christian fundamentalism, and their numbers have enabled them to suck so much oxygen out of the political atmosphere that they are now acknowledged as a mainstream force in politics. Episcopalians, Jews, and affluent suburban Methodists and Catholics, they are all now scratching their heads, sweating, and swearing loudly that this pack of lower-class zealots cannot possibly represent the mainstream–not the mainstream they learned about in their fancy sociology classes or were so comfortably reassured about by media commentators who were people like themselves. Goodnight, Grandpa Baldwin. I’ll toast you from hell.”

  1. See Michael Klare, “America’s Fossil Fuel Fever,” Nation, 19 March 2012. []
  2. See Dean Dad, “Need,” Inside Higher Ed; “What Should a Year of College Cost?Inside Higher Ed. []

Paul Kirk has been a journalist since 1977. He's covered police, environment, planning and zoning, county and city politics, as well as working in true small town/community journalism situations in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Mexico and beyond. He's been a part-time faculty since 1983, and as such has worked in prisons, gang-influenced programs, universities, colleges, alternative high schools, language schools, as a private contractor-writing instructor for US military in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Washington. Read other articles by Paul.