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The Anarchist Soccer Mom: Thinking the Unthinkable

16 Dec

is this the kind of mental illness that leads to murder?

This post is by a woman whose son is kind, sweet, and brilliant most of the time. But when he loses control, he’s scary violent. And she can’t get adequate help for him.

I live with a son who is mentally ill. I love my son. But he terrifies me.

A few weeks ago, Michael pulled a knife and threatened to kill me and then himself after I asked him to return his overdue library books. His 7 and 9 year old siblings knew the safety plan—they ran to the car and locked the doors before I even asked them to. I managed to get the knife from Michael, then methodically collected all the sharp objects in the house into a single Tupperware container that now travels with me. Through it all, he continued to scream insults at me and threaten to kill or hurt me.

That conflict ended with three burly police officers and a paramedic wrestling my son onto a gurney for an expensive ambulance ride to the local emergency room. The mental hospital didn’t have any beds that day, and Michael calmed down nicely in the ER, so they sent us home with a prescription for Zyprexa and a follow-up visit with a local pediatric psychiatrist.

via The Anarchist Soccer Mom: Thinking the Unthinkable.

Happy Pluralist Multicultural Pearl Harbor Day

7 Dec

At the beginning of the week, when I was thinking through my writing schedule—which had, once again, been perturbed by this and that, such as the dance competition I’d been to over the weekend—it seemed possible that I’d wrap-up the main line of my pluralism series today, Friday December 7. I picked the day because it was my birthday, one of those milestone birthdays, and so a good one on which to more or less (but not completely) wrap-up such a project.

And that goal seemed well within reach when I posted the penultimate installment, Facing up to Relativism: Negotiating the Commons, on Wednesday. However, I’ve decided not to do it. Oh, sure, I could jam it on through. I’ve got a fairly robust outline done and I know more or less what I want to say. But I’ve decided to hold off a day or two.

For one thing, Fridays have become a casual sort-through-things-and-see-where-we-are kind of day. Such sorting-out and stock-taking is essential to keeping several lines of activity in motion, but it’s antithetical to concentrating on any one of them. And writing that last post will require concentration.

After all, it WILL Be a summing-up of a line of thinking that’s occupied me for the past year and a half, a line of thinking that’s touched base with just about everything I’ve studied and written about over the years: literature, music, cognition, the brain, culture and cultural evolution, film (cartoons in particular), and graffiti. That’s a stew that would best simmer a bit before I deliver it to the table.

* * * * *

Here’s what I want to hammer home in that final post: the connection between pluralist ontology and the ethics and aesthetics of multiculturalism. Now that I’ve made the connection (in Wednesday’s) post it seems obvious to me. But I didn’t see it coming, and that despite the fact that I have spent a great deal of time sorting out matters of culture, identity, and nation. Continue reading

Dance to the Music: the Kids Owned the Day

6 Dec

It IS, after all, about them, no?

Here’s the scene: A middle school auditorium in suburban New Jersey. It’s late Saturday afternoon on the second day of a dance competition. The auditorium is filled—but only loosely—with young dancers and their parents, other family, and friends. They’re all waiting for the last performance of the competition.

Some hip hop comes up on the sound system and a few of the dancers begin moving to the music. Some of them are standing up from their positions in the audience and are dancing in place. A couple others, at the far left and far right down front, are dancing in the outside aisles. More start joining in.

Down front, in the center, the action photographer—the guy who’s there to shoot photos of each dance number so they can then be sold to parents—is sitting down front on his high swivel chair. He’s smiling, swiveling in the chair to survey the scene, and he starts clapping on the backbeat.

That’s me.

Now another hip hop number comes up and, in a whooshhh! dancers get up out of their seats, rush to the aisles, and the aisles are jammed with kids joyously dancing. Five, six, eight, eleven, fifteen years old, a few older. Even the dancers waiting in the wings on stage for the final number, they danced too.

All dancing. 100, 200, maybe more. Dancing.

It was wonderful.

It made the day

How so?

Competitive dance.

What’s that?

What it is is an industry. There are some 200 companies in the USA that hold dance competitions, regional and then, in some cases, national.

Oh, You Mean Like Dancing with the Stars, only for kids?

Something like that. I don’t really know how it works because I’ve only seen this one day’s worth. What was going on that afternoon is that various dance studios would enter students in the competition as solos, duets or trios, small groups and so on, and they’re divided into a bunch of age groups so you don’t have four year olds competing against fourteen year olds. Continue reading

Where FEMA Fell Short, Occupy Sandy Was There – NYTimes.com

10 Nov

On Wednesday morning, as the winds picked up and FEMA closed its office “due to weather,” an enclave of Occupiers was huddled in a storefront amid the devastation, handing out supplies and trying to make sure that those bombarded by last month’s storm stayed safe and warm and dry this time.

“Candles?” asked a dull-eyed woman arriving at the door.

“I’m sorry, but we’re out,” said Sofia Gallisa, a field coordinator who had been there for a week. Ms. Gallisa escorted the woman in, and someone gave her batteries for her flashlight. As she walked away, word arrived that a firehouse nearby was closing for the night; the firefighters there were hurrying their rigs to higher ground.

“It’s crazy,” Ms. Gallisa later said of the official response. “For a long time, we were the only people out here doing relief work.”

After its encampment in Zuccotti Park, which changed the public discourse about economic inequality and introduced the nation to the trope of the 1 percent, the Occupy movement has wandered in a desert of more intellectual, less visible projects, like farming, fighting debt and theorizing on banking. While several nouns have been occupied — from summer camp to health care — it is only with Hurricane Sandy that the times have conspired to deliver an event that fully calls upon the movement’s talents and caters to its strengths.

via Where FEMA Fell Short, Occupy Sandy Was There – NYTimes.com.

What Have I Learned from Sandy? Resilience Begins in Responsibility

8 Nov

I phrase it as a question because, though, considered as a weather event, hurricane Sandy is over and done with, as a psycho-cultural-historical event, it is only in the early phases of its life. In an earlier post (Thoughts on Sandy: We Must Change Our Ways, NOW) I talked about the need to restructure our world:

We have to rethink and restructure. We have to decouple and downsize. Otherwise we’re committing suicide by “civilization” and technology.

That idea isn’t new to me. It’s been with me in one form or another for a long time.

But, whatever lessons Sandy has for others—and I hope her lessons have been deep ones—I’m beginning to think that she does have a lesson for me, a lesson about self-reliance, community, and their interdependence. Still, I’m not sure. It’s too soon to tell. In any event, before I get around to a tentative account of THAT lesson, I want first to talk about some other lessons.

Sputnik, Martial Law, Berlin Wall

These lessons are personal lessons, though not entirely so. They are lessons about the intersection of my life with the larger currents of history. As such, I don’t expect that these historical events will have the same or similar significance for others, though they might. Briefly, these are the events:

  • 1957: The Russians launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to circle the earth
  • 1968: Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots broke out, and martial law was declared in Baltimore
  • 1989: Berlin Wall came down and set the stage for the reunification of Germany

I was ten years old in 1957 and was fascinated by outer space, rockets, and such—a fascination stoked, no doubt, but various TV programs by Walt Disney and films such as Forbidden Planet (1956). The launching of Sputnik marks the first time my dreams and fantasies met-up with history.

The launching of Sputnik was certainly a world historical event. Shorn of politics, it was the first time that humans stepped off of the earth to inhabit outer space, if only briefly. But of course, we can’t divorce Sputnik from Cold War politics, nor did I do so as a ten-year old. I knew, in my ten-year old way, that it was important for America to beat the Russians in the space race that Sputnik had catalyzed.

However, by the mid-1960s I had decided that, if the Cold War was in fact a real and pressing international conflict, it was a conflict dominated by a military-industrial complex that was more interested in preserving itself than in preserving the peace. The war in Vietnam had made me a pacifist and the counter-culture had almost made me a hippie.

Almost. I wore hippie clothing, listen to the Beatles, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, and smoked weed—yes, I inhaled. But I never made it too full-out hippiedom. I was too much of an intellectual for that.

And when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, riots broke out in Baltimore, where I was attending The Johns Hopkins University. The riots took place in East Baltimore, far from the North Charles Street campus of university, but that made no difference when martial law was declared. The whole city was put on lock-down. Curfew was 4PM and National Guard vehicles and men patrolled the streets. Of course I had to break curfew, along with some of my hippie (and non-hippie) friends. Continue reading

Life in the Vats: Have We Forgotten How to Make Things?

26 Oct

If so, we’re dead. Oh sure, as individuals, we’re going to die someday. What I’m talking about is our society, our culture. We can’t live on service and information. We need to make things.

At all levels.

My father spent his working life with the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. When he worked for there it was the second-largest steel company in the country, and perhaps the world. Now it doesn’t even exist.

I more or less know why the American steel industry collapsed—OPEC, high oil prices, foreign cars invading the American market, and so forth. I’m not pretending that didn’t happen or that we can go back to those days. We can’t.

But we’re doing something wrong. It’s not simply that flipping burgers doesn’t pay as well as pouring steel—and it is, after all, a lot less dangerous. Nor does running down the aisles of a giant fulfillment warehouse pay as well as working the assembly-line in an automobile plant, and that gig is, if anything, more physically wearing. The pay is important.

But making things with your hands is more important. Being in the direct and immediate presence of morphing physical stuff—iron ore to iron, sheet metal to an auto body, thread to fabric, fabric to pajamas, logs to pulp, pulp to paper, paper to cut-outs for a home-made Halloween costume, seeds to earth to corn to hot-buttered corn-on-the cob—that’s VERY important. Continue reading

Devaluing care work — and women – Salon.com

2 Oct

“Once upon a time, we lived in a world where men engaged in paid work and women stayed home and took care of the children, the elderly, the sick, and the disabled,” says Nancy Folbre, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the editor of the recent book “For Love and Money: Care Provision in the United States.”

We no longer live in that world, for reasons that go well beyond women’s individual fulfillment (though that matters too!), including stagnating real wages and loss of worker protections in traditionally male jobs that once provided a “family wage.” But you wouldn’t know that looking at the American workplace, still structured as it is around the assumption that someone is at home to care for those who can’t care for themselves. And even in this election year of tailoring messages to women, the failure of the economy to catch up to household realities is scarcely on the table — not for Republicans, of course, but not for too many Democrats either. Given how women still pick up most of the slack on care work, even when they’re in the paid workforce, this is as much an issue of feminism as it is one of reproductive rights.

via Devaluing care work — and women – Salon.com.

The Tomato Incident | Vermont Commons

25 Sep

The Transition movement is rooted in permaculture principles, which some people call “social permaculture.” Applied on a social level, the principle of observation leads to some important foundational questions. Where are we? What’s going on? Who’s involved? Where are we going? How are we getting there? How do we work together?

This isn’t something that we can simply read articles about. We need to experience these questions together in shoulder-to-shoulder, hands-on kinds of ways (kind of like my tomato plants) to see—by trial and error- just what makes us lush, green and bountiful! Reading articles can ignite good ideas—but they have to be tried on, worn and felt. We have to experience what works and what doesn’t in order to make choices for our communities (and our gardens) that will give us thriving resilience.

This means getting out there and doing it. It means shucking off the social isolation that, as Americans, we have unquestionably accepted for the past two decades. It means letting go of the concept of ‘rugged individualism’. The Transition  movement is about transitioning away from overly individuated singularity toward an integrated synthesis. We, as individuals, will necessarily awaken to our roles as a part of the collective. We will reclaim our rightful place as ‘citizens’ instead of being merely content to be ‘consumers’.

via The Tomato Incident | Vermont Commons.

Bleg: Beyond/Beneath the Nation-State

21 Sep

Two days ago I put up a post in which I asserted, by the time-honored method of pulling it out of my arse, that

in the long run, more and more political action which shift to cities and thereby ‘hollow out’ the increasingly sclerotic system of nation states which governs the earth and the global level. In a century the nation states will be husks of what they are now and most of the world’s civic business will be conducted by shifting coalitions of cities and regions.

I’m interested in exploring that notion.

Very.

Anyone have ideas, suggestions for things to check out, etc.? Any relevant science fiction?

* * * * *

In that post I cited, as examples,

  • the Second Vermont Republic, a group of citizens who want Vermont to secede from the USofA,
  • the Transition Town movement, folks who are adamantly apolitical but who, in anticipation of peak oil, are working toward local self-sufficiency in food and energy and all that that implies, and
  • Mayors of Peace, an international organization of cities seeking to end nuclear weapons by 2020.

What else is there like that, where “like that” is interpreted generously? Continue reading

A Garden State of Mind

20 Sep

Though I watched my mother tend to her flower gardens, I even helped her weed, and each Spring I looked for the irises to bloom, I didn’t become a gardener. For one thing, I never owned a home with grounds for a garden, though I could certainly have planted gardens in the house I rented in Cropseyville, NY, for two years or so. But I never had any such inclinations.

Thus it comes as a bit of a surprise to find myself tending plants, pruning them, a bit of weeding, and a bit of watering. I like it.

But what’s it about, this gardening thing? Here I’m thinking as an evolutionary psychologist, you know, the folks who believe that we’ve got Stone Age minds we’ve got to harness to operate the Modern World. And I agree with them, in a way.

Our Stone Age ancestors didn’t garden, nor do our primate relatives. We all forage and eat plants, and we also do a bit of hunting for animal flesh, humans more so than other primates. We’ve got ‘instincts’ for those things. But we’ve got no gardening instinct.

Nor for that matter, do we have instincts for quantum mechanics, archery, basket weaving, hopscotch, square dancing or bowling, among many other things. So how does our Stone Age mind do such things?

Obviously we’ve got to construct routines for these various purposes. Continue reading