POEM: Wage Slave Be Free

I am not a wage slave
I am free
And worth every penny

This week, I celebrated 10 years free from wage slavery!  My ensuing poverty has been a small price to pay for this freedom.  I am the richest person I know.  This short poem is a stab at de-linking our worth from what somebody will pay for our labors.  Also, this poem seeks to de-link the dangerous, though widespread, notion that our quality of life is pretty much directly proportional to our income.  Both a rich set of research and my own personal experience have proven that beyond meeting our basic needs, money is very ineffective at increasing our happiness.  At this point, money is not much better at improving overall quality of life either.  Some may squeak out some extra years, but may very well be less happy.  In my case, I am confident that the last ten years have produced more health in me than the previous ten years as a wage slave.

Some may contend that “slave” is too harsh a term.  This may be true, but I have a poetic license, and I’m not afraid to use it!  However, the constellation of realities for many wage earners is little consolation for the wages they earn.  Having to sell yourself wholesale to another for a wage is a relatively new addition to so-call Western civilization and in human history.  This package deal tends to serve employers and corporate interests more than individual employees.  This is increasingly so.  This millennium has seen virtually all of the gains in productivity, rooted in human labor, go to the top few percent of the richest Americans.  Corporate power has been extremely successful at hogging up all of the economic gains of labors increasing productivity.  This trajectory is degrading the value of work for most people.  Some have simply opted out of the work force.  There are fewer people in the American work force now than at the beginning of the millennium.  I’m not convinced this is a bad thing.  However, the way it is happening is brutal.  High unemployment across a wider range of job categories, including higher skilled jobs, drives down wages for all.  Of course, many jobs lost are replaced with lower paying jobs.  Some people, in some households, have come to the conclusion that they can’t afford to work!

For myself, I am less about the money than fairness.  I am less about the money than maintaining a free and fulfilling lifestyle.  I am less about the money than about living simply, consistent with an anti-consumer lifestyle, to live a sustainable lifestyle that won’t contribute to destroying our environment and planet.  There is more to life than money.  This seems like a trite statement.  However, I see many gaping inconsistencies in the way people talk and the way people live.  Such talk is a leading cause of global climate change.  Such a walk seems to be producing ever-diminishing returns in our quality of life.  Closing this gap would be better for both people and the planet which sustains us. We can do much better…

POEM: The Right and Wrong End of a Gun

I shot Bill
In the gut
He stood there
For a moment
Seeming like a lifetime
His blood flowing
Like
Well
Freely
Or
Might as
Well
Be
‘N aRiA
Souled
A Bill of goods
Now Kosher
A salt of the earth
A haughty boys’ game
So brand-ish
Shrouding
A right end
And a wrong end
Of a gun

This is another anti-gun violence poem in what is yet another recurring theme in my musings.  I can relate to the emotions leading to want to hurt someone, even kill them.  However, I am chronically puzzled by how humanity (or inhumanity?) allows these gut feelings to get the better of us.  This seems to be solidly within the immature stages of human development.  In this poem, Bill suffers from the incarnation of such a gut feeling, by feeling a bullet rip through his gut.  You may note that there is no context given for why Bill was been shot in the gut.  I suspect that many people might presume that Bill somehow deserved being shot in the gut. Our gun culture is moving us ever along a victim blaming worldview.  This thought process is similar to people’s reactions and inquiries when someone’s house has been robbed.  Were the doors locked?  Do you have a security system?  As if not locking your door or having a security system is justification for a robber to rob you!  Similarly, gun rights folks are selling Americans the wholesale paranoid notion that if you don’t have a gun then you are just asking for trouble, with no little irony, from a person with a gun.  The truth of such paranoia may very well be directly proportional to the self-fulfilling aspects of modern America’s love affair with firearms for personal protection.  As a trained public health professional, who has studied gun violence as a public health problem, there is a scientific consensus that the easy availability and increased presence of firearms leads to increased deaths.  Of course, most gun rights enthusiast deny such scientific evidence.  Who knows, maybe their being hot under the collar is confounding this whole climate change brouhaha.  What may be of some surprise to people is that increased gun deaths are very often suicides.  In fact, those with access to guns are more likely to kill themselves than be killed by someone else.  Perhaps this is some cruel twist of human evolution, but surely we can do better than killing off ourselves.  The polarization of views on the role of guns in American culture is stark.  Whatever your views, America is moving toward resembling the OKKK Corral, and I consider this a move toward increased terrorism, never knowing whose home and family might get caught in the cross fire.

POEM: Less Than Eternal Question

The Rev. Medley
Had risen
To the highest position
He would ever
It was only down from there
An awe too common
Occupational hazard
Of moderate irony
And accumulating lessens
Just falling short
Of making one cross
Facing that less than eternal question
If only Jesus
Had bothered to develop
Better retirement plans

Here is a poem that I wrote before the Lenten season, and now that we are in Lent, I realize that it is an appropriate Lenten poem.  I have always admired Jesus for being “all in” this thing called life.  While Jesus’ way of being in the world raises difficult questions, his life powerfully juxtaposes finding meaning in life with finding meaning in death.  Lent is a time for Christians to reflect on such things.  For years I have often joked that I have given up Lent for Lent.  More to the truth, my ascetic tendencies and frank goals of living simply leave me in a sort of permanent Lent.  In practice, I see that Buddhists seems to model better than Christians simple living and prudently avoiding attachments to material goods. Materialism has such a powerful and normative presence in Western civilization, that Christianity, at least as practiced in Westernized communities, seems to have accommodated rampant materialism quite well.  I see the divide between serving God or wealth (worldly power) as primary in my understanding of the message of Jesus’ life and death.  The conventional wisdom of sensible retirement planning, as alluded to in this poem, seems second nature to what is considered the good life in modern times. I have witnessed way too many fear-filled discussions in church settings about more financially secure appointments, health coverage, and retirement benefits for clergy.  In sharp contrast, I have found little traction for providing a living wage to janitors, secretaries, and many other employees of churches or faith-based organizations.  Church folks are too polite to crucify you for suggesting providing a living wage to low-wage church employees, but the resounding silence kills nonetheless.

In reflecting on the often lukewarm leadership of professional Christians, often called clergy, outsiders are at little risk of ever guessing that the founder of their movement was publicly executed by the state for his revolutionary, uncompromising life.  In sharp contrast, outsiders have little difficulty understanding that religious elites were complicit in Jesus’ murder.

I admire the Buddhist spiritual practice of meditating on your own death.  This practice seems like a powerful way to elicit the value and importance of life in the context of death.  Followers of Jesus have a profound leader who made such meditations an incarnate reality.  Jesus is the way.  But the retirement plan is a killer.

POEM: High Cost of Employment

Despite the high cost of employment
It is still quite popular

This short poem is a takeoff or elaboration of Will Rogers’ infamous statement: Despite the high cost of living, it’s still quite popular.  As wage slavery continues largely unabated, many are confronting the seemingly wild proposition of whether it’s worth being employed!  Surely, millions of Americans in two-income households have concluded that it just isn’t worth it for the second person to work.  By cutting childcare, transportation and other cash costs, as well as cutting the emotional costs of unsatisfying work, many people have experienced enhanced quality of life.  The trends to increasing self-employment, contract work, or voluntary part-time will likely receive a boost with Obamacare offering more access to health care that is not dependent on large employers.  Similarly, small business entrepreneurship will likely accelerate.

Personally, I have found that being dangerously underemployed is quite wonderful!  I have grown to appreciate the value of time over money, and the profound freedom to pursue my passions, most of which are not particularly monetizable.  My need to monetize is governed by the organizing principle of: for every dollar I don’t spend is a dollar I don’t have to earn.  I regularly ponder the possibilities of “hiring myself” to do tasks that I would otherwise pay cash for, and often get satisfaction in a variety of such tasks.  Cooking is a good example of this, where I can eat more cheaply and more nutritiously by preparing my own foods.

As workplace dissatisfaction is endemic, and employees commonly feel dehumanized, the push to finding fulfilling alternatives will likely continue.  Hopefully, this can help transform work into a more meaningful enterprise for millions of people.  May we all find joyful work and abundant re-creation.

POEM: Jumping From The Ledger

Rejoin the rat race
And all that chasten
Daring to make
A rodent in the machine
Which is all the rage
The bounty on your ahead
A golden hamster wheel
Retard after 50 years
Left dumb
Lips pursed
For so many years
Metering out your daily pillage
From shallow pools
Having waded for your due appointments
Not with standing
That grim reaper having
Sacrificed so much
For what
Spoils
As prophet in titles
Epitaphs
Ridden in stone
Forcing loved ones loanly
To visit what you once were
Suckling on memories
Dreams stoned
Starving
To full
Fill awe that is hollowed
Having
Lived once
Now never more knew
Daze passed
And by what means recaptured
How sew frayed
Of day’s passion
And once with
In is capable rejoinder
To finish this sentience
And not mirror animation
A resounding echo
No longer revere berating
In empty chambers
Wanton listless solutions
Having dropped the bawl
Bored stiff of what lame meant
Drawling on passed experience
Yakking on a bout
Scaling steep mountains
Out of mole hills
Trying
To get your goat and make you want to yacht
And in the end unmoved
Buy the blubbering of beached wails
Strewn by brown shirts and matching knows
Muted lives
Sullen everything
You can possibly think
Trading marks
And in proprietary secrets
May clinch some laconic inc.
Be rift of checks and balances
And should you withdraw
The hush of money
Prepare for it getting even
Silencer
Yet before your time
Sing
Like just
Another grammy
Inexplicably quite
Never herd again
A spoke in word
Unburden some
To pronounce
In that speakeasy of freedom
Drunk with poise in abating
From a salutary utter
After which you could hear a heart murmur
That could with stand a beating:
You can have your bigger cages
And longer chains
Be damned the shareholder value
of Cages and Chains, Inc.
I will jump from the ledger
Even if you won’t
Searching for the perfect pitch
Surpassing everlusting sirens
Till a gentler rock
Finding my voice
In a free Fall
Fallowing a summer
Fueled by that eternal spring
Hoping for more than allege
And giving know pause
To winters and losers
Sharing the good news
Freely
Never put out
To pastor

This poem is a reflection on the rat race of state-of-the-art employment, where even winning the rat race probably signifies that you are just a rat more than anything else.  Even though the productivity evangelists tout great success, the more than tripling of material wealth during my lifespan, has done little net good (mostly trapped people in nets) for workers.  With the wealth of experience and history, it doesn’t take a prophet to understand that ever-growing profits spells a cancerous existence in America.

Fortunately, since I quit my “regular” or “real” job, almost a decade ago, I’ve been able to live on less than what the average American would make with unemployment benefits (though I didn’t receive unemployment benefits because I quit).  I haven’t received food stamps or other government “welfare” assistance.  I have not been a very successful taker, with my frugal leanings and pride in autonomy.  Though Republicans have tried hard in Ohio, under Obamacare, I may not be able to keep my uninsurance, ending a decade without health insurance.

At best, it seems that this increased material wealth has little to do with increased happiness.  In fact, Americans work more hours and are no more happy.  Even having to point out that working more hours doesn’t make you happier is perhaps the best illustration that the productivity police can quite effectively rely on self-enforcement!  Our minds have been so effectively colonized that other options seem barely even thinkable.  The notion that your life can actually be profoundly better living with less is heretical in capitalistic America — if such a crazy notion were even given the time of day!

It seems that Western civilization has reached a point in its existence, where workers are functionally illiterate in life, meaning that they cannot adequately articulate and effectively navigate life outside of money/wealth as their measure of value.  Newsflash potential illiterates: money isn’t everything!  As the saying goes: you can’t buy love.  And, if you can’t tell the difference between love and a comfortable home with a trophy wife, then you might be an illiterate!  Worse yet, most workplaces are better characterized as places where we sell ourselves than places where we come together for our mutual betterment.  And if you can’t tell the difference between love and selling ourselves, then you are definitely an illiterate!

In the great exchange debate of values, circulates the notion that time is money.  Capitalists have effectively dominated this debate, demanding perpetual focus on the centrality of money.  Now, you may be able to exchange your time for money.  However, money can’t really buy time, otherwise the rich would live forever!  More to the point, money can’t buy life.  Money may be able to carve out more “leisure” time — that time when you are not selling yourself — or even buy some edge of health compared to others, and perhaps increasing your lifespan.  However, no matter how effectively we manipulate our material environment, through the proxy of money, this, at best, only offers the opportunity to live, not life itself.  Our time represents this opportunity for living.  While money has an interplay with how we experience our time, the very quality of our life, it is subordinate to time.  In youthful, or just plain oblivious, denial of our limited time, i.e., eventual death, we may convince ourselves that we have more time than money.  This perception influences our judgments about the time-money exchange rate.  I suspect that the best way to reflect on this is to ask yourself which is better: to have more money than time? or, to have more time than money?  In the end, ultimately, time will win this debate.  Nonetheless, many, if not most people waste a lot of time before realizing this, that time is more important than money.

Of course, living with a lot of money or very little money may confound this realization that time is more important than money; the rich thinking that their time is founded on money because they have it, and the poor thinking that their time is dependent on money because they have very little.  This is one aspect of the destructive reality of huge income inequalities, of greed and poverty.  This confounding of reality serves well neither the rich or the poor.  Wealth and poverty are conjoined twins, seemingly destined to believe that their life is best served by the machinations of material existence, to the deficit of a more full and complete life.  Both excess and lack, especially when conjoined, can lead to fearful and alienating lives.  The rich can become disconnected, unempathetic with lack, even paranoid of losing their excess (sic).  The poor can become discouraged and desperate, lacking in the face of plenty.

The apostle John offered the simplest, though apparently quite difficult, solution to the conjoined twin fates of excess and lack, by proclaiming: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).  This would put a lot of liberal think tanks out of business.  This would put a lot of conservative think tanks out of business.  In the end, thinking about such things, particularly if you are the well-clothed one with a full belly, does little to address our lack, our common fate: poverty.  Of course, this is America, so there is more than one brand of poverty: material or spiritual.  For the particularly unfortunate, you can have both brands.  Fortunately, God has the preferential option for the poor, the central tenet of liberation theology, founded by Peruvian theologian Gustavo Gutierrez:

 “The preferential option for the poor is much more than a way of showing our concern about poverty and the establishment of justice. At its very heart, it contains a spiritual, mystical element, an experience of gratuitousness that gives it depth and fruitfulness. This is not to deny the social concern expressed in this solidarity, the rejection of injustice and oppression that it implies, but to see that in the last resort it is anchored in our faith in the God of Jesus Christ. It is therefore not surprising that this option has been adorned by the martyr’s witness of so many, as it has by the daily generous self-sacrifice of so many more who by coming close to the poor set foot on the path to holiness.”

The preferential option for the poor is a perspective God’s grace giving special favor to the poor.  The way that God has created reality actually favors the poor more than the rich.  This doesn’t glorify material poverty, but it recognizes that the experiences of poverty more directly connect us and open us up to the deep importance of mutual aid and genuine, caring relationships.  The poor’s very survival depends on it.  The rich are insulated from this palpable, ever-present reality of the poor.  The rich can “afford” to make the mistake of buying their way out of this deeper and more difficult (yet rewarding) way of being.  The rich are more easily fooled into thinking that they don’t need others.  The injustice maintained by the rich is that as conjoined twins, the rich twin foolishly acts as if they can do whatever they want without the other, even when faced with the heart-wrenching realities of material poverty wracking his world.  Such heartlessness is a failure at intimacy with other human beings and reality writ large.  Perhaps a better formulation of a universal constant of metaphysics for the betterment of humankind would be the directly inversely proportional relationship of material and spiritual poverty.  Of course, this would turn capitalism, and its reliance on endless greed and profit, upside down, or more aptly, right side up!  Skeptics might ask if it is possible for the rich to spiritually prosper.  This is an ancient question:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’” (Matthew 19: 23-24)

I love the common interpretation of this passage as a reference to a gate into Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle” that was opened a night after the main gate was closed, and this gate was so small that the camel (the rich) would have to unload all of their baggage and crawl through on their knees.  Yep, Jesus was one of the greatest poets I ever metaphor!

May you live into the reality that spiritual wealth is more directly accessed with less rather than more material wealth.

 

 

POEM: Wolves in Elephants’ Clothing

Wolves in Elephants’ Clothing

Somewhat sheepishly
She whispered
Beware of wolves in elephants’ clothing
Lurking about
Only looking
Like they want
To kick some ass
Though you can skulk in style
If you have
A grand
Old party
Securing your plush seat
At the table
Loaded
With elephant guise
Rather incestual sycophants
At their I’m potentate parties
And if you are well, off
They will take you
To a tee
Spouting about
King George I and King George II
And unjust taxes
More dear than all the tea in England
And buy George, they’re not satisfied with a billion
Let alone a third
Perhaps some fresh prince all over
A newly-minted crime scene
Unseemly blind to any lackey of evolution
Yet there is no ruler
To measure their monkey business
Their trinity
Cheering with pomposity
Throwing monologues on the fire
And stalling
Having perfected the nationwide holdup
A three wring circus
And we are left
With what’s in the stall
The elephant dropping
All that is fertile
For phony fossils
Making evolution impossible
A lessen they never forget
With a mellifluousness Abel
To capture the common man
A cleanliness next to godlessness
Their hoods white
For shadowing their golden daze
In an urbane jungle
Leaving behind poor gramma
Spelling her downfall
GOP opposed to GOD
Having fallen
Down
And can’t get up
Leaving students
With nothing but a prayer
Leaving workers
With a free market they can’t afford
Leaving US
With life after death
And perhaps before birth
Still
All the wile between
Sent to our gloom
To be
Or not to be
Borne again
That is the quest in
Whether it is know buller
For in the mine to suffer
The blings
And ere rows
Of outrageous fortunes
Oar to take alms
Against a see of troubles
And by opposing thumb end
Overcoming any
Hitch
Hiking what’s left
As necessary
Sew much more than
Evolution
One of the scarce things
They can’t seem to buy
Their con science
Of what
They know longer nose
Inescapably figuring
Somehow elect by birth
Perpetual SNOBS
Where the N is usually silent
In their civil war
Inevitably impaled by their mortal compass
Spinning north and south
Feigning uprightness
Disavowing any revolution present
Captivated by fanciful futures
And realities passed
And still
What goes around
Comes around
A choice truth
Either buy
Ballads or bullets
We all have the write to choose
To ward off electioneer death

This poem is a thinly veiled anti-Republican party exposition.  Profoundly ironic, Republicans are as sure proof as you are going to find that evolution doesn’t exist, and, as Gandhi never said, “Be the lack of change you want to see in the world.”  The Republican party appears quite comfortable with greed as the primary human motivation.  Perhaps worse yet, and even more disingenuous, is the ease at which Republicans embrace anti-science views, of which anti-evolution and climate change skepticism are its hallmarks.  For the so-called religious expertise that Republicans claim, they certainly manage to brand religion as anti-science, which it need not be.  Even within the hallowed halls of religious territory, Republicans manage to bring hypocrisy to ever-new heights.  With their specialty Christianity, Republicans paint a picture of Jesus as if he were a white, suburban-living, English-speaking American, preaching some prosperity gospel.  For God’s sake, Jesus wasn’t even a Christian, he was a Jew, and a Palestinian Jew at that!  If such a poor, dark-skinned, Middle-eastern, non-English-speaking, peace-loving, giver of free health care showed up in America, the Republicans would have reserved seating at his crucifixion.  Of course, they would contract out the actual killing, though a carpenter driving in those nails would not likely be a member of the carpenters’ union.  Plus, the Republicans definitely wouldn’t bother paying a “living” wage for such low skilled tasks, however unpleasant.

The larger theme in this poem is about the tension between electoral and non-electoral politics.  The two-party duopoly of Republocrats offers only a narrow range of possibilities deemed politically feasible.  This leaves the electorate, barely even a majority of eligible voters in many elections, to ratify the predetermined candidates from a relatively narrow ideological pool.  In my view, this electoral desert leaves little room for the kind of robust responses that the current world begs.  Our slow and limited responses to climate change and energy use demonstrate this best.  Even a well-managed end of civilization as we know it is a poor substitute for saving humanity.  Of course, the “ballads or bullets” dichotomy is somewhat hyperbolic for effect.  Nonetheless, without nonviolent revolution, or much-speeded evolution, our current body politic will experience a much more violent demise.  I am rooting and working for a nonviolent revolution.  The driving force of this revolution will almost certainly originate outside formal electoral politics. As history teaches us, such robust change does not come without personal sacrifice, and it demands courage.  The Republicans would be well-advised to learn from Jesus, who showed us a different way.  And who better than Jesus would know that just because you are a carpenter doesn’t mean that you have to see everything as a nail!

POEM: Unending Vocation

She summoned me
To tell me
Of my new job assignment
I soon realized
That it was
Not beneath me
But behind me
So I moved on
In my unending vocation
As I was tolled

This poem is autobiographical.  This experience of mine could be viewed even as the first step in my unending vocation of poet.  I have often used the phrase “Not beneath me, but behind me” to describe the process that I experienced leaving my “regular” job and career.  This specifically applies to the new job assignment referred to within the poem.  In retrospect, I don’t think that my supervisor/boss expected my job reassignment to be a discussion, but rather a simple informing me of the way in which I was to me managed.  This disconnect exemplifies why I made a relatively quick decision, within a matter of days, to not accept the new assignment and request part-time work entailing my old job duties which were being curtailed.

I also knew that any job with this employer was terminal.  I would have to do something different.  It took me almost two years to quit the part-time work afforded me while I was starting my own business.  Though the decision and timing were more about my emotional and spiritual health than financial.  I hadn’t netted dime one from my new business.  Nonetheless, I knew that my toxic job environment was killing me, bringing out the worst in me.  Certain death is a good motivator.  I choose life, however uncertain, than certain death.  This choice seems somewhat obvious, but I think that it is a choice not made nearly as often as it should be.  Probably something to do with learned helplessness, settling for mediocrity, and false pride.  I took pride in being autonomous and tough, living on breadcrumbs.  I would rail against the stupidity of my employers for not even providing me breadcrumbs for my high aspirations.

Fortunately, I eventually came to realize the great gift that this total desert was, for me to be able to separate myself from such toxic work relationships.  It reminded my of my divorce, in the sense that I felt that my chosen profession, of which I was well-trained, was mine, and these fools should leave, not me.  Of course, this wasn’t going to happen (actually, in the case of my divorce, this did happen).  So, I left.  The leaving of my profession was entangled in another reality, that of having 50-50 custody of my kids and not willing to move elsewhere for work.  So, fate had its way with me…and I am all the better for it!  I sort of backed into parlaying my unique talents into a new vocation: as the greatest punster for peace in the English-speaking world!  How many people can say with certainty that they are the best in the world at something?  What a privilege to not relegate such a momentous reality to a mere hobby.

This whole process was very humbling and awe-inspiring for me.  I have grown a great appreciation for going through “bad” stuff, trusting my own instincts and the benevolence of a higher power to come out on the other side even better off.  I consider myself to be a very creative and imaginative person.  I consider myself very intelligent.  I could not have predicted the good things to come.  I fooled myself into thinking that I could foresee and control the future.  Fortunately, I could not.  Fortunately, my future was better than I had even dared imagine.  From this experience I have come up with a saying: God doesn’t give me want I want; God gives me something better!

May you find the courage and wherewithal to follow your instincts and dreams, trusting that there are powers at work that will bring good things into your life, even better than you dare imagine!

POEM: Civilization

Dogs pee to mark their territory
Humans build walls
This is called civilization

There are up sides and down sides to civilization.  Western civilization shares at least one thing in common with canines: they both demarcate their territory by the waste they leave at the interface between their territory and the wild.  A dog’s territory is just seems less removed from the rest of nature.  Nature has a way to deal with waste, with its intricate recycling processes.  Nonetheless, humans, in their quest for advancing civilization, put increasing pressure on natural resources and natural processes which maintain balance and health within ecosystems.  Not surprisingly, it appears that humans cannot build a wall secure enough to separate itself from the very environment that it depends. The human race does not yet seem to see the finish line as harmonizing with nature, but rather as exploiting and controlling nature.  This reality is a backdrop for this short poem.  The main gist of this poem addresses the larger issue of human nature.  Humans have their own culture, which seems to be a quantum leap different than other life forms found in nature — separate if you will.  Is this epic clash between human culture and many harmonies of nature at the essence of human nature?  Our propensity to building walls physically, emotionally, and metaphorically, seems as evidence that this might be the case.  Or, are these clashes and divisions simply stepping-stones in the evolution to some higher balance?  The advancing complexity of civilization strikes me as a confounding mechanism that is a barrier to achieving such a higher balance.  There is something profoundly simple in appreciating the harmony of nature.  We should not discount its value by its omnipresence; on the contrary, we should heed omnipresence!  Western civilization’s apparent addiction to increasing complexity and control, in my judgment, is a dangerous substitute for the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature.  Western civilization’s current heading is dangerously imbalanced.  Reestablishing this fundamental balance resides in the already present wisdom of nature rather than some further development of technology to control an unruly nature that can only bend so far to our whims.  Ultimately, we must make peace with nature, or humanity will suffer great harm, perhaps even extinction.  Perhaps this is exactly the awareness humankind must gain before it can evolve to a higher level.  May we grasp the wisdom of harmony ever-present in nature and resist the temptation to worship our own ingenuousness to temporarily forestall impending doom.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: Fringe Benefits

Living on the fringe
Has benefits

I thought that this short poem would have been the seed for a larger poem, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t want to mess with the simple elegance of it.

Since I quit my “regular” job to run my own business full-time, I have learned that time is way more valuable than money.  This has been confirmed along my journey with much less money and much more time.  Research confirms that once we have enough money to meet our basic needs, additional money offers little increase in happiness.  Apparently, the proverb, “you can’t buy happiness” is largely true.  On the other hand, having additional free time, to do what we really want to do, does not seem to be limited by the principle of diminishing returns as money is, that is, after meeting our basic needs.  I would say that trading money for time would be a good deal for most Americans.  Of course, my approach is not to purchase time through vacations or hiring help, but rather to free up time by not selling myself pay any more than I have to.  Living simply and frugally is part of my vocation.  Such a vocation allows my life to better resemble a vacation.  Every dollar I don’t spend is a dollar I don’t have to earn in the not-so-free market.  If you are fortunate to have significant assets available to you, I would highly recommend transitioning to a much simpler life, by ransoming your life with whatever assets you have available.

A transition to a simpler life requires letting go of certain things.  For instance, I am living on the fringe, in the fact that I have been without health insurance for almost a decade.  Though I might add, our health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system, and now is as good of a time as any to be on the fringe of this non-system.  Fortunately, I am healthier than most of my peers.  I eat nutritiously.  I get plenty of rest.  I have much, much less stress than most.  I get a decent amount of physical activity.  I have something that the finest doctors in the world are unable to give their patients.

So, what are some other benefits of living on the fringe?  In recent months, I have written a poem a day, and a blog commentary to boot!  Just yesterday, I broke my record for length of a blog commentary.  I can’t remember the last time I set my alarm to get up in the morning — this is something that the richest and most powerful people in the world cannot claim!  One of my greatest hopes is for people to have morning without mourning!

I recently spent a couple of hours most days for a couple of months with a friend dying in hospice care.

I have spent most of my life on a quest for simple living.  I contemplated and calculated quite thoroughly the costs and “affordability” of quitting my regular job.  Perhaps the greatest single epiphany in my life has been how grossly I underestimated the benefits of working for myself, relaxing my security reflex, and living fully into the serendipitous benefits of simple living.  I feel like I have won the lottery!  Only without the money…

Like a former pastor of mine says, “If you aren’t living on the fringe, then you are taking up to much room.”  May you find the space and time in your life to discover fringe benefits beyond your dreams!