The United States of Insanity

xlarge_55.39_burchfield_imageprimacy_800Charles Burchfield

An unintended prelude:

This was begun in February, 2020, while the COVID-19 pandemic seemed to lay safely off-shore, in Asia – far away.  In truth it was surely here despite Herr Trump’s propaganda move of blocking travel from China as our globalized world makes both the delivery of made-in-China products like Apple computers or the sweater you are wearing and, as easily, whatever viruses or other natural organic things where ever made, show up on your doorstep, almost instantaneously, even without the help of Amazon, though this company surely helps the delivery be faster and more efficient, if, as it turns out, rather costly.

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As it happens this pandemic slips easily into the ideas which I am mulling in this little essay as it has brought to the foreground much of our shared craziness, and how our intricately knit system actually works.  Inverting the customary American paradigm of the rugged individual, “freedom” in our terms (I have the “right” to do almost anything I want to do), and so on down the litany of All-American beliefs, the Covid-19 virus has forced us into collectivist behavior, into, gosh gee, acting as a community.  How un-American!  It has also shown how intimately interconnected we are in almost everything: what you do impacts me and what I do impacts you.  Our myth of autonomy, the self-made person, the libertarian do-what-you-wanna-do view of, say,  Senator Rand Paul, who, bless his very little heart has contracted the virus, has been laid bare for the falsehood it is.   As have many other things which our society takes for granted and behaves accordingly, which, in fact, is much of what has led us to this point.   Perhaps the corona virus will be a very costly but useful lesson, which our political system could never deliver on its own.

 

Jasper Johns flagJasper Johns

These are some random observations written from inside an insane asylum, specifically this country which is called the USA.  It happens to be the country of my birth and I guess we could say of my formative education, and certainly, like it or not, I am culturally and socially an American.  Had I been born a few hundred miles further north than I was, I would be Canadian and a bit different as a person.

As in most such asylums, those within it perceive everything around them as normal and right, the way the world is and should be.  Our customs, habits, our cultural etiquettes, our way of being in the world all seem as they should be.  We are all conventional, bound by our well-learned rules, those we have been taught since infancy.  And, of course, anyone who questions or challenges these conventions is deemed nuts.

1.

Cars.  And everything associated with them.  Making them, fueling them, giving them what they need – highways and parking lots and parking buildings and gas stations, and garages and mechanics and tires and races and the entire panoply of things centered around cars.  And trucks.  And deaths: 37,000 a year recently in the country.

warhol-pink-car-crashAndy Warhol, Pink Car Crash

To we Americans, and many others around the globe, cars are a natural thing, a given, and in many cases a life necessity.  Our society is built around this, with our urban world largely structured around cars.  Two cars in every garage.  Living in a place like Los Angeles, where the car manufacturers bought up the local tram service and destroyed it, provides a perfect example, though almost any American city is the same.  And in truth our car culture was carefully contrived and nurtured both by corporations seeing a bonanza, with subsidies from the government to build the highways and develop the oil industry.  Win win win, as Mr Trump would say. And somewhere Americans conflated having a car with having that most vaunted of national beliefs, “freedom.”  How many young men feel unrealized and not really a man without wheels?  I spent a few years in prison with kids who had to have a car so bad that they stole one, crossed a state line, and landed in the joint for 5 years.

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Yep, cars.  In truth cars, and everything like them, are little mechanized packets of poison.  They run on petroleum, and emit CO2.  Even way back in the 1850’s, as England’s industrialization was kicking into gear, scientists foresaw and forewarned that tossing all that CO2 in the atmosphere would lead to global warming.  Yep, way back then the red flag was waved.  But hell, cars were so much fun and they gave you the freedom to wander the globe on your own.  Americans took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

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Detroit and the automotive industry, along with big oil, became the driver of our economy, and as they went, so went the economy.  And not just of the matter of money and finances, but also for its mind-set: a car became an aspect of one’s personality, and they were marketed as that.  Like cigarettes, they indicated class and sophistication, and with the right wheels you got the girls.  And they spawned the American ideal of a house with a lawn of your own out in the ‘burbs, malls, strip cities and then after a while some of the collateral damages came in.

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2.

Silicon Valley, in its many forms, promised to disrupt business-as-usual in many fields, and it has successfully certainly done so.  Along the way many professions have either been wiped out or severely damaged, not to mention more menial jobs.  Steve Jobs’ invention of the smart phone has radically altered the lives of billions of people, who can be seen across the globe buried in them, or texting while they plow into an on-coming car.  We can now talk “for free” with people across the globe using the internet.  We can tap into the most glorious library ever imagined, or the grossest cesspool the human mind could plumb.  We are still in the early stages of sorting out just what the digitalization of our world has done, is doing and will do.  We can say it has truly, in the span of a few decades, drastically changed the world, whether at end for better or worse is still to be understood.

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In 1993 Jeff Bezos had an idea, wherein using the very new internet, and computer systems and his knowledge of these, he would make an on-line book sales system.  He named it Amazon.  A decade later major bookstore chains were wobbly, as internet sales took off.  And Amazon was flush, and soon branched to other retail areas.  Today Bezos is regarded as the world’s richest man, and Amazon peddles almost anything and, if you pay to be a Prime customer, promises you next day delivery of nearly anything.

In a society trained now for 100 years that consuming things was a measure of one’s worth, this concept was like the yummiest drug ever for an addict.  Consumption is 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the US.  And today, private house-hold debt is about $38,000, and cumulative debt is 14 trillion. And corporate debt another 14 trillion. And US government debt is a mere 25 trillion [courtesy of another 3.5 trillion injected this debt it being pushed to the 30 trill level]. I have always wondered how the GDP could be debt and one runs an economy based on debt.  I think the real answer is delusionary bubbles go until they pop,  and in this case the balloon is a monster and the pop will be to the same scale.

Let’s face it, as they have been duly trained to do so, Americans like to buy things and they do, even if they can’t afford it. And Jeff is right there, ready to feed that habit.  Things things things things.  And for a tiny little surcharge Amazon can have it to you tomorrow.  Or in some cases then the next day.  All the little caged rats hit the “I want” button and get the goodies.

Amazon accomplishes this much as Walmart does, though to a very different clientele. Walmart is low-end, as a visit to your local one will tell you: it is full of cheap imported quasi-slave labor items, and its customers (I would bet 90% Trump supporters) are visibly of a certain class. Walmart, like Amazon, uses sophisticated software to organize both its warehouses of things, and to track the interests/desires of its customers. Both organizations in effect know a priori what it is you (will) want, and have them ready for you when you want them.  Both organizations,  being massive, have the clout of buying on a large scale, and leverage to get the best price, for themselves and for their customers.  And both have been instrumental in destroying countless communities and their small businesses.  But Bezos is hands down the world’s best dealer, putting the likes of El Chapo deep in the shade.  And like El Chapo neither he nor his corporation appear to pay any taxes.  Yep, making out like a bandit.  Except for Bezos it is all “legal” with be best laws money can buy.

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It is Walmart’s practice to pay its employees so poorly they are forced to shop at their employer’s business.  Generously Walmart allows low-lifers (like me) to sleep over night in their massive parking lots, as policy.  As a corporation it has inverted Henry Ford’s basic rule that his workers should earn enough to buy his product; Walmart’s practice is to pay so little you may have to sleep in the parking lot and have to buy its products, so poor are you.

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Amazon’s clients largely occupy a higher economic strata, and while they generally buy from Amazon for lower prices, they buy higher-end items, and have them the next day for the longed-for instant gratification our society has carefully bred into the populace. In many cases, as internet commerce has largely destroyed many big-box chains and department stores, the buyer has little choice but to go to Amazon for many things. Amazon has been ruthless in price cutting to destroy competitors, often buying them once they have been weakened sufficiently.  Predatory mercantilism.

So Amazon is successful in part because it has wiped out its competitors, just like Walmart, and because it does offer a genuine service for instant gratification.  Buy today from your home and get it tomorrow.  And cheaper than if you had to go to a mall or department store.  What a deal!  And it works.  It does so by exploiting workers, minimizing pay, and using the most current business practices, which includes the just-in-time mantra, wherein storage times are minimized, things are received and disgorged as efficiently as possible.  But this is done by the usual capitalist practice of cooking the books, most often seen in off-loading the debit side to society.

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As well, Amazon’s business model makes a giant C02 footprint: trucks and trains and cars and planes to ship this or that item from an Amazon warehouse to your doorstep – such convenience !  The bill is whatever it is, seemingly “cheap” compared to the nearest local outfit who might provide the same thing, if there is a local place remaining that might be able to provide it, which very likely there isn’t as Amazon and Walmart drove them out of business.  In the name of efficiency and cheaper prices.  Amazon, and for all I know, Walmart, pay little or no corporate taxes as they are able to game the system, or better yet pay the politicians to write laws favorable to their interests.  Meantime they use publicly funded airports, highways, shipping mechanisms, etc. without paying much for them, if anything.  This model is typical corporate behavior in America where in effect these massive corporations speak loudly about the horrors of “socialism” while themselves in effect being government wards, using public systems without paying for them.  Is it any wonder that Bezos is the richest man in the world, and the Walton family is one of the wealthiest entities on the planet?

If it were only this, it would be obscene enough.  However the business models of both of these massive corporations actually finally comes to the destruction of the entire biological system of the globe.  They are capitalist enterprises which require constant growth on a finite planet.  They spew their toxins – whether directly as in the CO2 footprint of moving all that stuff around to get to you just-in-time, or in buying their merchandise, willfully and deliberately, from places with near-slave labor, places which have no environmental regulation, all of which cumulatively is literally killing the world.  So you don’t have to go to the mall or can buy a massive LED screen for chump change.  It is all so cheap !!  Except it is quickly killing you.

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[I note that today, as I write this, Jeff Bezos has announced he is giving 10 billion dollars to study methods to avert the disastrous climate change already upon us – of course he is not suggesting he’ll close down Amazon as a major offender; instead like a good conscientious whatever political stripe he imagines himself to be, he ordered a fleet of 10,000 delivery trucks, just as on a lesser scale nice middle-class liberals get solar panels and hybrid cars thinking this is doing something other than adding to the bill.]

The bill for our conveniences – flying here and there at the drop of a pin, for business or amusement, flying fresh food or flowers or whatever across the globe because we can, or having our package delivered to our doorstep tomorrow.  Plastic bags, industrial farm production with its use of pesticides and fertilizers, current electronic systems wiring the world with a nervous system suitable for a tiny insect but applied to 10,000,000 elephants, our ever more sophisticated weaponry from delivery systems (hyper-sonic missiles), nuclear bombs, bio and chemical, all cascade to join in a massive catastrophic collapse which will trigger our absolute worst natures.

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3.

We were warned 150 years ago, in clear terms, what industrialized civilization was doing and would do so long as it carried on in its fossil fuel burning manner, emitting CO2 (along with many other toxins into the environment, and not only into the air but also our rivers, lakes and oceans): the earth would warm up.  We did not listen because the things we got from industrialization were simply too tantalizing.  Lots of toys, fantastic toys.  It rapidly changed our way of living and being in the world.  Trains, steamships, cars, planes.  We could zip almost effortlessly around the world, and we did.  Now mass tourism is a plague on nearly every beautiful spot on earth.

We were warned by Rachel Carlson in the 1963 in her book Silent Spring, what our pesticide and other agricultural practices were doing to the intricate weave of our environment and its biological base.  We heard a little bit, and stopped using DDT, because our national bird, the bald eagle, was under threat.  However “the Green Revolution” which promised bumper crops through the use of pesticides and massive fertilization to feed the burgeoning billions of humans which modern medicine was offering was more enticing, as later were GMOs.  In 1970, a drive though spring time or summer rural areas in America would require periodic stops to clean the windshield from insect splat, and one could note the frequent road-kill of skunks, possums, deer, armadillos, birds, snakes, turtles.   Today a similar drive begets a near naked landscape, stripped of its wild-life, and insects are largely gone.  Fireflies do not flicker, nor bees buzz (and pollinate), nor swarms of Monarchs delight children and adults.  All these things are in catastrophic decline thanks to we humans and our practices.

And they, along with millions of other small, seeming insignificant things, are part of the intricate and delicate weave which makes the tapestry of life.  In our modern, technological way of life, while on many levels our wizardry allows us to see and understand this complex world, it simultaneously distances us in a living way, and we in turn act heedlessly and recklessly in this world.  So much so that we have almost done with destroying it.

I could carry on with the endless list of unintended collateral damages caused by our society’s “system” as nearly everything we do is connected to the next thing.  But we have been largely blind to this reality and so have gone as the proverbial bull in a china shop, and wrecked nearly everything we have touched.  The Midas touch of consumerist mania.

Yes, we and our society are insane.  All of it.

 

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Wichita Vortex Sutra #3
I’m an old man now, and a lonesome man in Kansas
but not afraid
to speak my lonesomeness in a car,
because not only my lonesomeness
it’s Ours, all over America,
O tender fellows—
& spoken lonesomeness is Prophecy
in the moon 100 years ago or in
the middle of Kansas now.
It’s not the vast plains mute our mouths
that fill at midnite with ecstatic language
when our trembling bodies hold each other
breast to breast on a mattress—
Not the empty sky that hides
the feeling from our faces
nor our skirts and trousers that conceal
the bodylove emanating in a glow of beloved skin,
white smooth abdomen down to the hair
between our legs,
It’s not a God that bore us that forbid
our Being, like a sunny rose
all red with naked joy
between our eyes & bellies, yes
All we do is for this frightened thing
we call Love, want and lack—
fear that we aren’t the one whose body could be
beloved of all the brides of Kansas City,
kissed all over by every boy of Wichita—
O but how many in their solitude weep aloud like me—
On the bridge over Republican River
almost in tears to know
how to speak the right language—
on the frosty broad road
uphill between highway embankments
I search for the language
that is also yours—
almost all our language has been taxed by war.
Radio antennae high tension
wires ranging from Junction City across the plains—
highway cloverleaf sunk in a vast meadow
lanes curving past Abilene
to Denver filled with old
heroes of love—
to Wichita where McClure’s mind
burst into animal beauty
drunk, getting laid in a car
in a neon misted street
15 years ago—
to Independence where the old man’s still alive
who loosed the bomb that’s slaved all human consciousness
and made the body universe a place of fear—
Now, speeding along the empty plain,
no giant demon machine
visible on the horizon
but tiny human trees and wooden houses at the sky’s edge
I claim my birthright!
reborn forever as long as Man
in Kansas or other universe—Joy
reborn after the vast sadness of the War Gods!
A lone man talking to myself, no house in the brown vastness to hear
imagining that throng of Selves
that make this nation one body of Prophecy
languaged by Declaration as Pursuit of
Happiness!
I call all Powers of imagination
to my side in this auto to make Prophecy,
all Lords
of human kingdoms to come
Shambu Bharti Baba naked covered with ash
Khaki Baba fat-bellied mad with the dogs
Dehorahava Baba who moans Oh how wounded, How wounded
Sitaram Onkar Das Thakur who commands
give up your desire
Satyananda who raises two thumbs in tranquility
Kali Pada Guha Roy whose yoga drops before the void
Shivananda who touches the breast and says OM
Srimata Krishnaji of Brindaban who says take for your guru
William Blake the invisible father of English visions
Sri Ramakrishna master of ecstasy eyes
half closed who only cries for his mother
Chitanya arms upraised singing & dancing his own praise
merciful Chango judging our bodies
Durga-Ma covered with blood
destroyer of battlefield illusions
million faced Tathagata gone past suffering
Preserver Harekrishna returning in the age of pain
Sacred Heart my Christ acceptable
Allah the compassionate one
Jaweh Righteous One
all Knowledge-Princes of Earth-man, all
ancient Seraphim of heavenly Desire, Devas, yogis
& holymen I chant to—
Come to my lone presence
into this Vortex named Kansas,
I lift my voice aloud,
make Mantra of American language now,
I here declare the end of the War!
Ancient days’ Illusion!—
and pronounce words beginning my own millennium.
Let the States tremble,
let the nation weep,
let Congress legislate its own delight,
let the President execute his own desire—
this Act done by my own voice,
nameless Mystery—
published to my own senses,
blissfully received by my own form
approved with pleasure by my sensations
manifestation of my very thought
accomplished in my own imagination
all realms within my consciousness fulfilled
60 miles from Wichita
near El Dorado,
The Golden One,
in chill earthly mist
houseless brown farmland plains rolling heavenward
in every direction
one midwinter afternoon Sunday called the day of the Lord—
Pure Spring Water gathered in one tower
where Florence is
set on a hill,
stop for tea & gas

Cars passing their messages along country crossroads
to populaces cement-networked on flatness,
giant white mist on earth
and a Wichita Eagle-Beacon headlines
“Kennedy Urges Cong Get Chair in Negotiations”
The War is gone,
Language emerging on the motel news stand,
the right magic
Formula, the language known
in the back of the mind before, now in black print
daily consciousness
Eagle News Services Saigon—
Headline Surrounded Vietcong Charge Into Fire Fight
the suffering not yet ended
for others
The last spasms of the dragon of pain
shoot thru the muscles
a crackling around the eyeballs
of a sensitive yellow boy by a muddy wall
Continued from page one area
after the Marines killed 256 Vietcong captured 31
ten day operation Harvest Moon last December
Language language
U.S. Military Spokesmen
Language language
Cong death toll
has soared to 100 in First Air Cavalry
Division’s Sector of
Language language
Operation White Wing near Bong Son
Some of the
Language language
Communist
Language language soldiers
charged so desperately
they were struck with six or seven bullets before they fell
Language Language M-60 Machine Guns
Language language in La Drang Valley
the terrain is rougher infested with leeches and scorpions
The war was over several hours ago!
Oh at last again the radio opens
blue Invitations!
Angelic Dylan singing across the nation
“When all your children start to resent you
Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?”
His youthful voice making glad
the brown endless meadows
His tenderness penetrating aether,
soft prayer on the airwaves,
Language language, and sweet music too
even unto thee,
hairy flatness!
even unto thee
despairing Burns!
Future speeding on swift wheels
straight to the heart of Wichita!
Now radio voices cry population hunger world
if unhappy people
waiting for Man to be born
O man in America!
you certainly smell good
the radio says
passing mysterious families of winking towers
grouped round a Quonset-hut on a hillock—
feed storage or military fear factory here?
Sensitive City, Ooh! Hamburger & Skelley’s Gas
lights feed man and machine,
Kansas Electric Substation aluminum robot
signals thru thin antennae towers
above the empty football field
at Sunday dusk
to a solitary derrick that pumps oil from the unconscious
working night & day
& factory gas-flares edge a huge golf course
where tired businessmen can come and play—
Cloverleaf, Merging Traffic East Wichita turnoff
McConnell Airforce Base
nourishing the City—
Lights rising in the suburbs
Supermarket Texaco brilliance starred
over streetlamp vertebrae on Kellogg,
green jeweled traffic lights
confronting the windshield,
Centertown ganglion entered!
Crowds of autos moving with their lightshine,
signbulbs winking in the driver’s eyeball—
The human nest collected, neon lit,
and sunburst signed
for business as usual, except on the Lord’s Day—
Redeemer Lutheran’s three crosses lit on the lawn
reminder of our sins
and Titsworth offers insurance on Hydraulic
by De Voors Guard’s Mortuary for outmoded bodies
of the human vehicle
which no Titsworth of insurance will customize for resale—
So home, traveler, past the newspaper language factory
under Union Station railroad bridge on Douglas
to the center of the Vortex, calmly returned
to Hotel Eaton
Carry Nation began the war on Vietnam here
with an angry smashing ax
attacking Wine—
Here fifty years ago, by her violence
began a vortex of hatred that defoliated the Mekong Delta—
Proud Wichita! vain Wichita
cast the first stone!—
That murdered my mother
who died of the communist anticommunist psychosis
in the madhouse one decade long ago
complaining about wires of masscommunication in her head
and phantom political voices in the air
besmirching her girlish character.
Many another has suffered death and madness
in the Vortex from Hydraulic
to the end of 17th –enough!
The war is over now—
Except for the souls
held prisoner in Niggertown
still pining for love of your tender white bodies O children of Wichita!

Allen Ginsberg, 1965

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