All Politics is Personal

I am an old man. I have just driven across a major part of the continental landmass to visit a much older man and woman. I have come to the Deep South for a last visit with, especially, the old man who is about to die.

It is said that all politics is local. True enough, but actually: All politics is personal. My father has chosen to live – it is his personal statement. The society supports his decision to stay alive – to stay alive at all costs, literally. But he will not live. His death surrounds him like the muggy Florida air; no matter what way he turns it is immediately before him.

I am surprised that I am not surprised at the deterioration, better, the destruction, of the last five years. I will not do the details, suffice to say that the enemies of life when denied a quick kill tend to become vengeful. But it is not the sadness of my father’s physical experience or the progress of his various diseases that are my major interest, though the attempt to avoid and delay the inevitable is part of it.

Driving from Hattiesburg to Gulfport on US49 a sense of deep incredulity and species’ wonder began to fill me. How could we lay ourselves – our products, our process – over the land with such arrogance? The ground reshaped, beaten hard and covered with suffocating asphalt; plants torn from the ground and discarded; dozens of dead, this and that clump of fur or shell or scale, litter the roadside. And all of this, a 100 yards wide for 60 miles, over a thousand little hills and valleys. Of course, it was not just this stretch of road, four thousand miles of road would roll out under me on this trip, but this road was so clearly cut through my native land; an ugly scar painted in imitation of the beauty that had been vanquished.

How could we do this? Ridiculously, this question sat before me as a real source of wonderment for about 40 minutes of the drive; until fog, the outskirts of Gulfport and a big black Harley with a big rider dressed in black against the white fog send me off into the details of capturing that image. But it came back again and again; and as I looked at the old man on the couch beside me – the remaining 115 pounds of him stretched out on a six foot frame – I saw him laying over the land like the road, enduring the moment and destroying the future.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the old man. And I also once “loved” that road, the way it undulates up and down like driving over a rolling ocean; it is also one of the most beautiful roads in America, wide boulevard with great trees, wide median and mowed margins. ‘We’ decided that it was more important to get to the gulf from Hattiesburg in an hour than it was to preserve the land and the millions of lives (and we don’t even see the lives lost as lives at all). It is more important for my father to use vast resources and live on into the nearer regions of death than it is to feed the beginnings of new human life.

These thoughts navigated my mind with some embarrassment as I cruised down the extravagance of I-75 until I landed out its exalted heights on to Sun City: a world made for people in ‘transition.’ For a country boy like me such a place is almost unbelievable. Even more so since I grew up not 5 miles from here; a time when there were only sand-track roads, lemon groves and bare-foot country boys to modulate the free movement of rattlesnakes, alligators and Florida panthers. Today, miles and miles of little houses surround vast shopping areas, all bric-a-brac and gaudy pretense.

I don’t know the answer, but I do know that this is not it. Not only has this city, laid over the land of my youth, destroyed a river and thousands of acres of perfectly good scrub country, it is perpetuating a monstrous lie.

Watching my father, the elements of ‘living well’ become, if not transparent, then at least less opaque. There is nothing that he can buy that matters anymore. Nothing! The pills around which much of his remaining life revolves relieve some anxiety, but bring no joy. It mattered when I ‘took his side’ in a minor dispute with Mom about how to place a chair that he was trying to sit in: “Just leave him alone. He knows how it needs to be for him to feel safe.” (How very odd to talk about my father in the third person in front of him as though he were a child.) And it mattered when I sat beside him and took his old hands in mine and told him that I was happy to be with him and that it had been too long since I was.

It matters, in a negative way, that his children live in other states and other states of mind, that his grandchildren are in China and New Mexico. It matters that the love and human contact that he craved all his life, that is worth living for, will not let him die in peace and in its embrace.

James Keye is the nom de plume of a retired academic and small businessman living with an Ecological Footprint of 1.6 earths. He can be reached at Read other articles by James, or visit James's website.

15 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 29th, 2008 at 8:45am #

    ab politics,
    a woman told her husband and me to stop talking ab politics; however, she never espied that by banning talk ab ‘politics’, one is engaging in ‘politics’
    this attitude is called “tu quo- que”
    actuall, we were talking ab ethanol, wmd, foods, history but to her it’s all politics.

    who taught her to think so? other people: media, schools, clergy i think.
    she also thought she cld pull that one over me. how ab her husband? was he onto it, too?
    i’m sure she’s also for free speech if the speech is ab approval of what the ruling class teaches. thnx

  2. Diane said on December 29th, 2008 at 1:23pm #

    I had a similar experience with both my mother, and her youngest sister (close to my age), and my aunt, all going within a year.
    I found it very difficult, as they all seemed to have such a fear of death, dying, and permitted the people in white coats to control their leaving.
    I thought this funny, as they were all gleeful aethists, who had transferred their faith to the doyens of medical technology, doctors are the new god.
    In one case, the medicos performed needless surgery, (a less than 1% survival rate) and outright lied to the family about her survival chances, I assume in aid of valuable research, leading her into 2 months of terrible suffering.
    This is an important issue, and one I think we will all be fighting about in the next 20 years

  3. rg the lg said on December 29th, 2008 at 1:42pm #

    The dilemma of staying alive … in spite of the fact that life becomes something torturous and inhumane.

    But consider the concept of the Hippocratic Oath … which boiled down to the essential is ‘do not harm.’ Harm has been taken to mean … death. The oath has been transmogrified into ‘allow no death’ … as if death were the only harm.

    If global warming has a single cause it is that there are simply too many humans on the planet. Too many humans are creating harm … and thus death becomes not an enemy of life, but a solution.

    If we would only let ourselves die when attacked by a bacterium or a virus … we, collectively, would do less harm

    RG the LG

  4. kalidas said on December 29th, 2008 at 2:50pm #

    I ain’t afraid of death.
    It’s the dying part that bothers me.

  5. The Angry Peasant said on December 29th, 2008 at 7:05pm #

    I believe life is precious. However, it is only from a very personal perspective. To me, my life is precious. When you realize how ridiculously short it is, and that you’re never, ever, ever going to have it again, it must be precious to any sane person. But, as I said, only in a very personal sense. My life; certainly my son’s life; my brother’s, mother’s, best friends, etc.; all these lives are precious to me. George Bush’s? Quite the contrary. The jerk across town? No. The loudmouth at work? Nope. But empathy is what allows us to recognize others’ feelings of invaluability concerning their own lives. Basically, this is what differentiates a Ghandi from a George Bush. Those who cannot see or choose not to see the importance of life and quality of life to others are the very ones who do not deserve the same regard. I guess what I’m saying is, fry the evil; make room for the good.

  6. Tree said on December 29th, 2008 at 7:24pm #

    The evil can always become good and the good can always become evil. Once you start determining who is good and who is evil you become just…creepy. Or another Hitler or Bush or any number of people who feel they know what is best for everyone.
    Sure, there are clear cut cases either way but when one states “fry the evil” I get a little worried. What’s evil to you is good to someone else. Or in other words, one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s insurgent.

  7. The Angry Peasant said on December 29th, 2008 at 11:33pm #

    Well, I was speaking a bit flippantly in response to RG the LG’s comments about too many humans creating harm, and that death becomes a solution to our problems. In essence what I was saying was if you have to kill people, it might as well be the evil ones. That’s where you jump in with your spineless objectivity. There’s good and evil in the world, and, yes, sometimes it’s a matter of opinion, in little instances here and there. But you can’t honestly say that Bush, Idi Amin, Hitler, Stalin, Saharto, Pol Pot, Nero, ad infinitum did anyone any damn good. No. They tortured, they, killed, they impoverished and oppressed millions. Millions. No grey areas there. So don’t give me that fence-straddling liberal shit. People like you are the reason no actual progress is ever made in the areas of reform. You spend too much time trying not to hate anyone. That’s why the ruthless conservatives have been whipping our hides for thirty years. Sometimes you need to get angry and hate evil people. Hugging a tree isn’t enough.

  8. The Angry Peasant said on December 29th, 2008 at 11:40pm #

    And by the way, I detest females who feel the need to use the adjective, “Creepy.” Grow up and adopt a vocabulary that extends beyond your relations with dorks in high school.

  9. john andrews said on December 30th, 2008 at 12:37am #


    Sorry to read about the tough time you and your family are having. I’ve been there – it’s not nice.

    On the other main point you raised, I have to agree with rg: overpopulation is the problem; so it would seem the solution is population reduction. I could not, of course, support any measure that forced a reduction, but it would be a simple enough thing to strongly encourage it.

    It seems to me that there are two very strong opposition forces to such a campaign: big business and the church, both of which want continued population growth for the same reason: their own expansion.

    The long term future of the planet depends on humans somehow restricting their own numbers. The Chinese seem to have shown that a reasonably humane approach to this can be achieved by strongly encouraging couples to have just one child. Something like the Chinese practice needs to be encouraged internationally (does the Chinese lead in population reduction make it the most ecologically advanced nation on Earth? Discuss.)

    It’s unacceptable, obviously, to expect population reduction in other countries without practicing it in our own. Leading by example in anything is the only method that is morally supportable.

  10. Tree said on December 30th, 2008 at 6:28am #

    Angry Peasant, so sorry, I didn’t realize I was communicating with a stupid asshole. I’ll use smaller words next time so you understand better what I’m saying because it’s clear you don’t have a clue what I’m about or what I meant.

  11. bozh said on December 30th, 2008 at 10:00am #

    but, imv (In my view), much greater danger to biota is overwaste and -(ab)use of resources in richer lands than even increase of pop to even 10bn.
    an amer may waste in value hundred times mor that what a child in congo may use.
    w. total ratio being 1000-1 in use of resources in favor of an amer child.
    and this is one of the reasons why euro/US/japan/isr like wars.
    and, at present, we r powerless to even slow dwn the extent of abuse let alone diminish it.
    so, i can only talk and lament. thnx

  12. The Angry Peasant said on December 30th, 2008 at 10:16pm #


  13. James Keye said on December 31st, 2008 at 5:43am #

    That such inanity would generate from this essay is an interesting comment on its thesis, no matter how inadvertent.

  14. The Angry Peasant said on December 31st, 2008 at 7:34pm #

    Well, she started it!

  15. E. Locke said on January 30th, 2009 at 12:14pm #

    I think that we are getting lost in a very interesting way. Lost in a literal way, this “discussion” getting dovetailed by the odd opinions and priorities of others, lost in a philosophical way because we are missing a large part of the authors point, and lost as a society because we value satisfaction above all else.
    I think that we can use this as an example of contrast to give us hope. To look at a man going on so long a life makes you aware of the benchmarks of our society. Within this one mans lifetime the most drastic changes to our philosophical, technological and ecological environments have occurred. The stubborn ideology of old is becoming too far displaced to be relevant, and thus we see how much our cultural philosophy must adapt. Satisfaction needs to be gained from more simple terms, if we claw at life to make us happy we are to distracted to realize that we are filled with vast potential for happiness within really experiencing our lives as a series of moments.
    The roads that displace our wild animals and move us from place to place are an example of satisfaction with no regard to forethought. the road is not evil, nor the peoples who laid it. The road is stubborn satisfaction, the shortest distance between two points. The old way of living brought you from beginning to end as quickly as possible with little attention to beauty along the way. This old man raced along his whole life and now at its end, is holding of with such ferocity because he has reached his destination and missed the journey. Overpopulation, while a large concern, is not the main issue here, quality of life is. There is a quality that can only be earned by the recognition of how beautiful transition, change, and impermanence are. look at the old and see how adaptable the young are by comparison, this is where i find hope.