only God when he’s drunk.Tom Waits
My blog is dedicated partly. Mostly. To decadence. This we know. It’s in the title.
I’m happy with my easy life. But I remain acutely aware that it is through fortunate circumstances that I find myself where I am. The luck of the draw. We like to believe our success is due to hard work and big brains, but mostly it is because we were born into a culture that provided a good basic education. We had good nutrition and mostly supporting and loving homes. Perhaps I have a few more brain cells banging around than some, but definitely less than others.
So when I go about documenting the fun times I am able to enjoy with family and friends, it is not to be boastful, but truly to celebrate the good fortune nearly everyone in my ecosystem enjoys.
Throughout my life I’ve tried hard to educate myself, through reading, observation, and personal interactions, to the experiences of others and more specifically to those less fortunate. I’ve traveled often and broadly to countries where poverty is widespread. I suppose in a sense I am hopeful that an understanding of the pain and suffering and indignity that often comes with extreme and moderate poverty, will help me empathize with their plight and even occasionally find a way to help a few people here and there.
For me, this goes all the way back to my childhood. I always had a severely overdeveloped sensitivity to pain and suffering of humans and animals who were vulnerable or oppressed. At times, before I learned how to manage my emotions, I went into some pretty dark depressions. I had difficulty reconciling the reality that half the world lived in comfort and relative ease while the other half were suffering from malnutrition, diseases that were easily preventable with reasonable health care, and all the other afflictions and social maladies that comes with poverty. It just never made sense to me that we chose not to share what we had to help ease the suffering of others less fortunate.
My parents had no idea what to do with me.
Anthropologists now know that the human experience, going back hundreds of thousands of years, was largely defined by our ability to empathize. We know now that our survival as a species was dependent on our willingness to help others even if it meant putting ourselves at more risk. Indigenous cultures did not abandon their weak or old members. The strong did not go off and form their own clans and leave the weak behind. They fed those who could not provide for themselves. Their ability to empathize, to recognize the pain and suffering of others, became key to collective survival. Social strata certainly existed, but not to the point of exclusion or abandoning those at the bottom.
Of course this is a mass of generalizations and there are exceptions in our ability to empathize and help others in need. It’s hard to fathom how people of Nazi Germany were so blind to the atrocities committed in their back yard while they went about their daily lives. Or how the people of the US turned a blind eye to slave trade, enslavement, and torture of blacks. Or how we enthusiastically embraced a pattern of institutional genocide of Native Americans so we could live on the land they had inhabited for millennia.
Interestingly, this same very basic sentiment is probably the best differentiator in our current political landscape. We are defined by those in our country who want our tax money to go towards helping those less fortunate, and those who want to build more bombs and guns and warplanes and are willing to abandon those most in need.
It is offensive to me to live in a time and place where so many are collectively indifferent to the plight of others. Our Republicans in fact, actively advocate to make life even more difficult for those already marginalized. 50% of the country supports this view, just to save a few dollars in tax.
Simplistic I know, but I don’t that is an inaccurate characterization.
What started me off on this ramble? Tonight, when I left the bar after having a few drinks with a friend, I had to make my way through the cold and blowing snow to my car. I drove home to a house that was toasty and warm. I had a nice bourbon and sat to write and think a little.
And I thought, ‘fuck, it’s cold out there’. And it reminded me how fortunate I am. And everyone living in the houses I can see around me. But this also reminded me how many people in the world come home to a freezing cold house, with a dirt floor and no electricity or running water. I’ve visited these homes. Many times. I know some of these people. Their children go to our school. I’ve seen our young students put their lunch roll in a coat pocket to take home and share with their family because there was no food in the house. A single roll.
The very few times in my life when I’ve been out in the elements and living a little rough, I remember the feeling of cold and hunger. But I am talking about missing a single meal. Or one or perhaps two nights of cold. And I chose those experiences, I was not forced to it. I’ve never been far from a meal or a decent nights sleep. But for many, that is their daily life.
In Namibia right now, in a country not really known for extreme poverty, there are people who do not have enough to feed their family. And in winter, they have no propane to heat the house or even to cook. They have to walk blocks to get fresh water and carry it home in buckets. I’ve walked those dirty streets and visited those people in their homes.
I visited the home of one of our learners one day; a shack made of wood and tin salvaged from garbage bins. There were 8 people living in a single room about the size of my living room. They had spread an old carpet over part of the dirt floor. The kitchen was a small propane single burner on an overturned bucket. Toilets were community toilets 3 blocks away. This mother, a woman of 45 or so, walked the 4 miles every day to her job as a housemaid. And then she walked home. A job that pays so little that it only afforded them just enough food to feed the family, with nothing left for propane or school supplies or clothes or basic necessities.
And tonight, I am home, warm, well-fed and sipping expensive alcohol.
I had a call today with a grantwriter and professional fundraiser. I’ve always been wary of going down this path. Is it really the case that we have to beg people to help those most in need? Those suffering each and every day with no hope of a future? Is this who we are? It seems so.
Most of the small personal donations we receive at MYO or Silver Linings comes from my friends or family who don’t make much money. I have many friends making $500,000 or more who have never made a single donation to MYO, or as far as I can tell, to anyone in need. Maybe they participate in the United Way campaign at work to get a little tax break.
It’s deeply uncomfortable for me to write of these things. Knowing that my little cocoon of readers are aware of the work we are trying to do in Namibia. I take no pleasure in making anyone feel uncomfortable. I do not enjoy fundraising. Asking others to support a cause that is important to to me but to which they may be indifferent. As a matter of fact, whatever the exact opposite of pleasure is, that is what I feel when trying to talk to someone about giving money for MYO. I hate it. I find these things very personal.
I’m no Mother Theresa. This was also know. It’s again in the title of this blog.
But…..I’m still trying to reconcile how to live on this planet and not understand how so many do not recognize or appreciate our shared connection with all. Our responsibility to reach down and lend a hand to others less fortunate. Many people. A great many, do help others in a way that I could not know or understand. But there are also a great many who I know well enough to know they are not putting out that hand. And this, I find difficult. Very difficult. I try to understand but I do not. And I am mostly speaking here to people who, through an accident of fortune, are living supremely comfortable lives. You may say I am presumptuous in assuming they are not lending a hand. Perhaps. But I am speaking mostly of people I know well enough to make the assertion.
They are deeply absorbed with their 401(k) accounts and their IRA’s and their stock options. People who could literally give up 3 or 4 thousand each month and not even miss it, but they do not. They are instead completely mesmerized with watching that pot of money grow. Each month they look at that balance of funds and their ego grows a little bit along with hit. They feel their value and their self-worth has enhanced. But it has not. They will spend a little of that money on themselves and eventually give it all away to their kids—further contributing to ruining their life experience.
I am self-aware enough to understand I am an insufferable boor at times. Sound judgmental even, although I don’t feel that’s exactly accurate. Exasperated. Disappointed in humanity for sure. But not judgmental.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friendsMLK
The stock market has been gyrating and sending all the money geeks into hysteria. I listen to NPR a bit and today they had two financial analysts. So, one tells us why the fundamentals of the economy remain sound and that these are just temporary blips due to slight rises in inflation and supply chain issues and COVID. We should not be concerned. The other says the opposite—that the economy is due for a serious reckoning and the stock market drop will be punitive. Both sound confident. Neither, in my humble opinion, really has any fucking idea. The stock market long ago detached from any sort of connection to reality. It is purely speculative and no one knows when the lemmings will suddenly veer and start diving off the cliff. But what’s the point of this broadcast? What am I supposed to do with this conflicting information?
Considering my portfolio could fit into a hummingbirds egg, it’s not something I really think about. But I am still amazed at how many people think they understand the stock market. Probably the same people who tell us they always win in Vegas. Because, you know, those massive structures are built on the backs of losers.
Stephen Breyer is retiring. So a SC seat is on the market. McConnell is already popping off and underscoring his idiosy. Hypocrisy. Hostility. Absurdity. Lunacy. Irrationality. Moron-ity?
Anyway. Politics is exhausting. So best to let it go. I can’t talk my 85 year old mom in to moving to Portugal so I am stuck in these dysfunctional and soon to be irrelevant United States.
But we are all making the best. Hunkering down in farm country. Cooking great meals, drinking, sharing stories and experiences. It’s fine. It’s not Portugal, but it’s fine.
My schedule is a bit crazy now for the next 5 weeks. Boston next week, San Antonio next weekend, Back to Boston the week after, one week home and back to Boston, one week home and then Amsterdam for 10 days. But nomads are not allowed to complain nor meant to apologize for living true to their nature. I was in Europe at least once a year for more than 20 years, but this is my first trip in 2 years. Damn that COVID.
I’ve been hitting happy hour some days at EpicErie around 5:00. They don’t really have a happy hour so I guess I am just going to the bar every day at 5:00. But Larry and I chit-chat and that makes the trip worthwhile. Sometimes Shannon or Terri joins us which is even better.
In todays ‘Times, we read that the pentagon has declassified and released the video footage of a US drone strike that killed 10 innocent civilians in Afghanistan just at the end of our pulling out our military. We were told of course that this was a clever assassination of a terrorist, which would save lives. Only when journalist uncovered the truth did the US government have to admit to their mistake. We executed thousands of innocent civilians; children, old people, indiscriminately over our 20 years in that country and are still arrogant enough to believe they loved us. We are still too ignorant to understand we are our own worst enemy.
I made a whirlwind trip to Black Dog Ridge earlier in the week. The power company and I seemed to have found an amicable solution. Which his good. The snow and cold has halted construction for the time being. Which is not great. But at my hotel, an angel appeared, and so that was cool.
I’m enjoying my cow neighbors. They have a quiet nature and are a little bit beautiful in a way.
Seems I have to choose between reading and writing these days. Between work, doing my research and planning for Black Dog Ridge, and business planning for Java 13 Coffee and Gelato shop, not many minutes left. So for now I am reading more. Just feeling like being a reader rather than a writer at the moment. Given those constraints I mean. Would love to do both but I enjoy eating and drinking too much. And good cigars and traveling and motorcycles. And someone has to pay for it all.
Oh, and the school fees and Silver Lining and MYO fees. After a rant like this, I cannot let those responsibilities go either—lest I be a bigger hypocrite than I am.
I’m posting this without my usual fanatical re-reads and re-writes. Time is not on my side but I don’t like to go too long between posts.
No other news of note.