Posts Tagged ‘ways to live’

I have been doing a lot of reading on ecology and indigenous peoples recently. It is very, very fascinating. How sad to think of all the time wasted in schools when we could have been learning how to grow things, study soil, how to fix and mend our goods, where our goods come from, how all things are connected. Instead we got a lot of computer classes, math quizzes, pep-talks about the new and intense global economy, and read lots of books by white men. What a bummer. Anytime we talked about indigenous peoples it went something like: “How sad they are all gone now. We should try to save the rainforest or something. Now let’s have a bake sale for the newspaper, drive over to the game twenty miles away tonight, and waste lots of resources!!”

Digression aside, I’ve come across all sorts of inspiring actions and movements I knew nothing about, such as the incredible International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers. They are wonderful.

Their lives and work are so phenomenal. All the bad news, the repetitive mantras of “economy, free market, deficits, Afghanistan, terrorism, security, unemployment, tea parties, filibusters…” it goes on and on and it doesn’t seem to stop. When I came across these women I felt a breath of relief for a moment. Here is something good happening. Here is something older than all of our fleeting concerns, here is something sustainable, here is something totally inspiring.

Here is the briefest of sketches: these women come from indigenous tribes, and they are the preservers of a wisdom which conflicts with much of our modern culture’s narratives. They apparently are the fulfillment of ancient prophecies among their respective peoples which speaks of the coming together of 13 grandmothers from all over the world. They speak profoundly about the loss of memory, the loss of much wisdom, about serving as guardians of the Earth, about the importance of prayer and connection to the land and our communities.

Here is their Statement of Alliance taken from their website:

WE ARE THIRTEEN INDIGENOUS GRANDMOTHERS who came together for the first time from October 11 through October 17, 2004, in Phoenicia, New York. We gathered from the four directions in the land of the people of the Iroquois Confederacy. We come here from the Amazon rainforest, the Alaskan Tundra of North America, the great forest of the American northwest, the vast plains of North America, the highlands of central America, the Black Hills of South Dakota, the mountains of Oaxaca, the desert of the American southwest, the mountains of Tibet and from the rainforest of Central Africa.

Affirming our relations with traditional medicine peoples and communities throughout the world, we have been brought together by a common vision to form a new global alliance.

We are the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers. We have united as one. Ours is an alliance of prayer, education and healing for our Mother Earth, all Her inhabitants, all the children and for the next seven generations to come.

We are deeply concerned with the unprecedented destruction of our Mother Earth, the contamination of our air, waters and soil, the atrocities of war, the global scourge of poverty, the threat of nuclear weapons and waste, the prevailing culture of materialism, the epidemics which threaten the health of the Earth’s peoples, the exploitation of indigenous medicines, and with the destruction of indigenous ways of life.

We, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers, believe that our ancestral ways of prayer, peacemaking and healing are vitally needed today. We come together to nurture, educate and train our children. We come together to uphold the practice of our ceremonies and affirm the right to use our plant medicines free of legal restriction. We come together to protect the lands where our peoples live and upon which our cultures depend, to safeguard the collective heritage of traditional medicines, and to defend the earth Herself. We believe that the teachings of our ancestors will light our way through an uncertain future.

We join with all those who honor the Creator, and to all who work and pray for our children, for world peace, and for the healing of our Mother Earth.

For all our relations.

Margaret Behan-Cheyenne-Arapahoe Rita Pitkta Blumenstein–Yup’ik  Aama Bombo–Tamang,,Nepal Julieta Casimiro-Mazatec  Flordemayo-Mayan  Maria Alice Campos Freire-Brazil Tsering Dolma Gyaltong-Tibetan  Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota  Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance-Oglala Lakota Agnes Pilgrim– Takelma Siletz Mona Polacca-Hopi/ Havasupai  Clara Shinobu Iura-Brazil  Bernadette Rebienot- Omyene”

I just can’t more highly recommend reading up more about what these women are doing, where they are coming from, and what they stand for.


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Earlier today I was writing about The System, and the behaviors which have led us into all our current crises. I was thinking about the enormous challenges facing humanity, about the common ostrich-desire to avoid these problems as long as possible, to get what they can while they can.  Why do people who think of themselves as good allow so many bad things to happen in their name?  Why do many of us seem to have an inability to think of the long-term? Is there something uniquely wrong with us?

Yes, and no.

I am going to talk a little about what I think makes people do “bad” things. It feels a bit naive on my part, but maybe that’s part of the problem. It may sound (and probably  is) too ambitious, or a waste of time, whatever. But well,  these are just my own insights and observations.

As I have looked around the world, I have noticed a few constants. First, most people want to think of themselves as good. Second, most people value themselves more than others. I guess that’s natural, whatever ‘natural’ even means. Third, as much as people want to think of themselves as good, they also want to be liked, usually by as many people as possible. People like to be impressive. That’s also normal, I guess. But the second and third things can lead individuals to do absolutely rotten things, and they will excuse it under the fact that they think of themselves as good. They will push away anything which challenges the status quo or their self-perception.

I’m lucky in a way most people wouldn’t consider lucky. I grew up with, let’s say, ‘interesting’ parents. They certainly didn’t value money or power or popularity, and they had all sorts of funny ideas. As for me, I absolutely loathed bullies. I was shy. I was empathetic to the point of feeling paralyzed by embarrassment for another classmate, or sadness for others. I would see children at school do vicious things to fit in; sometimes to me, sometimes to others who lacked a killer instinct, or were awkward, a little too smart or not-quite-smart-enough. I had no desire to retaliate, but I desired to protect all the other misfits. I learned quickly that not conforming can be extremely painful. Most of the kids grew up and chilled out. But as I’ve gone through life, I can’t help but remember that so many kids were ready to humiliate, to spread malicious lies and rumors, to make others miserable. The rest just stood by and watched; better us than them. There were others who rejected the whole system didn’t have chance, rougher kids who had dirty mouths but far more decency.  As for me, I know there are reasons why people are cruel or selfish, and those people should be met with love, knowledge, and ultimately forgiveness.  Though, personally, I still do try to avoid being good friends with assholes.

Witnessing and enduring that sort of suffering made me think about the small horrors people are capable of. I don’t feel like a victim in the least, but I do feel a need to protect others. It also taught me the value of self-examination.

Most people do small, petty things at various moments in their lives, but they excuse themselves in the grand scheme of things because it’s much more comfortable to think of yourself as a good person. This is one of the basic facts of human existence. The big wrongs happen when this seemingly small trait is manifested on a much larger scale. There’s a video somewhere of  environmental protesters who showed up at an oil executive’s house in England. The protesters were doing their thing, and the very polite couple came out to talk to them. They were accessible and reasonable, explaining they were just two people in an enormous system. They weren’t criminals, but normal kind people who wanted to live in peace and be happy. They were very calm facing the anger of the protesters, and nearly seemed to want to offer them milk and cookies.

But that’s the huge problem, this is what I am talking about in regards to ends and means. Well-intentioned people work in the office all day, go home and play with their kids, give money to charities. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats. They also work for a system which puts profit before all else. John Calvin, who wrought some great evils himself, once said the human heart is “a perpetual factory of idols.” He wasn’t wrong about this. I use the word worship in the sense that though many say they do not worship God, nearly everyone has their own personal idol. Some worship the good. Some worship humanity. Some worship intelligence, some worship cynicism. Some just worship having fun.

Most idols seem dangerous to me, because attachment to an idol excludes an ability to remove one’s passions and view what good and evil the idol is capable of in and of itself. It leads to an inability to empathize with those who go against one’s idol. Think of those who demonize science because of their religious fundamentalism. Or, to risk my head, those who attack religion as the greatest evil in the world because a good many religious people are ignorant assholes. The world is, for the most part, not made of saintly religious people or saintly scientists. Similarly, Republicans and Democrats demonize one another. Some idols may be better than others, but nonetheless our idols can make us do evil things because we have made something more important than people: an ideology (and yes, pleasure-loving is an ideology too, it’s just an extra stupid one). In the worship and identification with an idol, all that is Other loses at least some of its value . “I love democracy, it is the most important thing in the world, so whatever I do for democracy must ultimately be good.” Democracy is now a little bit more important than people, and it is a little bit easier to defend bad things because they have a seemingly good end.

The most common idol, to me, seems to be plain old self-interest-I-look-out-for-me-first-life-is-short-and-I-want-to-have-fun. Some of those people really could not care less about the results of their actions. They want money to buy luxury, they want to be entertained and served, and they don’t care about the consequences. Some of them just want to have a pleasant life and don’t mean to intentionally cause harm, and so refuse to acknowledge that their actions have consequences. But whatever their intentions, other people lose out, because other people are the means to their ends.

The banality of evil. The insidiousness of that sort of mindset.

We live in a world with so much suffering partially because of idol-worship. Also because of the way we define evil actions to ourselves. First, we save the word evil for really really bad things, like murder. But even here, we leave ourselves a little wiggle room. Not all murders are created equal. Then, we distance ourselves from things. Evil is an aberration, it is a monstrosity. It is something that is Not Us. Evil was the slaveholders, evil was the conquistadors, evil was cannibalism and human sacrifice, evil was the Holocaust, evil is utterly other from who we are.

Not true. Evil is the act of self-interest magnified. It is the act of creating and defining an “other”, and using and manipulating it for one’s personal gain, or destroying the other as an act of loyalty to the idol which gives the self meaning. Evil is banal. It’s not the horror movies we watch, or the sociopaths who turn into serial killers. Monsters aren’t real, and sociopaths suffer from mental illnesses. But there are people who think they are good, who have outsourced their evil, who rely on impersonal evil acts which cause great suffering to sustain their lifestyle, but refuse to accept responsibility. To refuse to know, to choose ignorance, is an act I would consider evil, bad, wrong, whatever you choose to call it; just don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. If you disagree, think about those who knew the Holocaust was happening and did nothing. Also, please realize I seek not to condemn this sort of wrong because I have some wish to show that we’re all hopeless assholes, but to give it the proper name so we can stop pretending it doesn’t exist, and start trying to address it.

Sometimes evil happens in a flash, sometimes we can point with ease to those who wield the weapons.  We can all recoil in horror at mass murders (well, most of us can). Sometimes we can look at the horrors of history and they’re quite obvious. Other times they’re not, because the evil is so subtle and pervasive, is so much a part of our society that it’s hard to identify where the root lies. I think the difference between obvious, specific evil and the more common sort is the reason why World War II is of far more historical interest for most people than World War I. World War II is this clear-cut battle between good and evil for us. There was evil, here was good, it was a battle against an absolute monstrosity. We could condemn with ease. But life is rarely so simple, and these black-and-white classifications actually do harm in the long run.

How many times have I heard that the nazis were utter monsters, devoid of any semblance of decency, the scum of humanity. Absolutely: yes. But to end the discussion there is to avoid how it happened, and so it has happened again. Most nazis didn’t consider themselves to be monsters. They had wives and children they loved, books and music they cherished. Murderous thugs, true, but some of them really thought of themselves as being upstanding citizens. Then there were millions of people weren’t nazis at all, but they didn’t speak up against what was happening. In the end they grew accustomed to silence. Others died fighting them, or risked everything to protect a stranger’s life. There are people in this world, I like to believe, incapable of doing harm to others. The vast majority of us, though, have the capacity for good and bad. To deny many of us in that situation would have been complicit, or worse, perpetrators, is to live in ignorance of ourselves, and so to rationalize whatever we do. If we refuse to believe we can do truly bad things, then we’ll justify everything because we can’t shatter our self-perception. To refuse to examine ourselves is to make small atrocities okay, to not call them by their name.  Goodness is not a label we give ourselves or a thing we are born with or a religion which makes us infallible, but a choice we constantly make.

In World War I, millions and millions of people were killed… for nothing, we think. Pointless waste. But there were reasons; they just happened to be awful ones. The greed of the wealthy, the armaments build-up, the race for colonies in Africa, nationalism, imperialism, all idols in which people were not as important as the money, power, and lifestyle desired by some. These things all still exist in our world today, but we ignore or rename them. Perhaps there won’t be ever be another war like the Great War; it’s difficult to imagine we’d stand for it. But our economic crisis could become far more devastating, our oil will one day be gone, our environment may become unable to support billions of people. We persist in thinking that what happened in the past can’t happen again, instead of learning from the past to prevent a different, but equally devastating, sort of catastrophe. Murder scenes aren’t identical, but some of the details are. Death and destruction.

The evils of war are, or at least should be, easy to condemn. The things which create war endure. They are the evils of nearly every society, and unchecked they can cause immense suffering. Sometimes they lead to more wars, more land grabs. Other times they create a society in which a large portion of the population exists only to serve the wealthy. Where a democracy is built upon slave labor. Where the wealth of one continent is based upon the pillaging of another. Where some children are born into a life of ease, and other children are born in order to mine coal, to make sneakers, to work as sex slaves. Where genocides happen overseas, but we go on eating our dinner. Where our government does things we would condemn in theory, but which we implicitly bestow our consent upon.

Someone else is evil, but we never are. Slavery was evil. It is thought, though, that there are more slaves on the planet today than at any other point in history. We don’t see them. We also don’t count the other sort of slavery, the type that doesn’t bear the name but is a form of nearly inescapable servitude. We still don’t make our own clothes or grow our own food or build our own furniture or make the plastic junk which fills our lives. Someone else does, and they get paid shit for it. They can’t escape. But we do not want to know. Because we don’t see them, we deny responsibility. I would argue this is the most common sort of evil in the world, an evil more pervasive than the bureaucrat “just doing their job.” It’s the evil of not wanting to know the results of our actions, of choosing to deny evidence when presented to us, of being too lazy to change. An evil which would like things to be different, but accepts the way things are as long as it is left alone. An evil which accepts there is some suffering which is not a fact of life, which is preventable… but does not want to be inconvenienced.

The evil which rationalizes other evils in order to not be disturbed, to maintain the status quo, to have its lifestyle protected and enhanced: that is the basic human sin. The ancient sin of selfishness, of Me First. It starts with small things and can’t stop. It’s an absence of goodness, a nothingness, a corrosion. In its search for personal, perpetual ripeness, its soul is devoured.

That is the problem we face. We have met the enemy, and it is us. That boring old Golden Rule, requiring so much from us. How naive. Much better to just eat, drink, and be merry.

Despite the enormity of the problems we face, of the Herculean task of changing ourselves, we must not become pessimists, or lose our humanity by wasting time on blame and punishment. To live with hate or anger at other people would be to miss the point entirely. Rather, let’s rage at the way things are, and then get busy fixing what we are given time to fix, loving more so we need less. What was that old saying, kinda helpful? Oh, I remember:

A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another.

If we decided to live by that, with all its implications…

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Glenn Greenwald is a very good writer. He is responsible, thorough, and unswerving. I read him semi-regularly, but I always feel a little sad after finishing one of his essays/posts. This is because as persistent as he is in calling for justice, as often as he lays the facts out, it won’t happen, and the underlying cause of the situation will persist. On the one hand, writers like him have kept the debate about torture alive. By pressing the point he has kept vital matters from being swept under the rug. Thank God for people like him who take the time to deconstruct right-wing talking points, who endlessly research and pull facts together and present them to the public. We need many more Glenn Greenwalds.

But I do get sad, and one of his posts this week provides a very good example of why. Here is an excerpt:

The interrogation and detention regime implemented by the U.S. resulted in the deaths of over 100 detainees in U.S. custody — at least.  While some of those deaths were the result of “rogue” interrogators and agents, many were caused by the methods authorized at the highest levels of the Bush White House, including extreme stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation and others.  Aside from the fact that they cause immense pain, that’s one reason we’ve always considered those tactics to be ‘torture’ when used by others — because they inflict serious harm, and can even kill people.  Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions — that we Look to the Future, not the Past — are thus literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder.”

Of course they are advocating that people get away with murder. This is not surprising in the least. Take a long, hard look around. This is a society where it is perfectly acceptable that men who sit at desks and lunch at Charlie Palmer’s make hundreds of millions of dollars a year. It is also perfectly acceptable that people who work 2 to 3 jobs as janitors, housekeepers, construction workers can’t make enough to pay their bills. We are okay with punishing the Bernie Madoff’s of the world, but we do not examine the system which enables and encourages people like him. We reward people who do not make things except illusory wealth, and we punish people who are vital to our system’s functioning. We rationalize their poverty and say that if they would just pull themselves up by their bootstrap, maybe some wealth will trickle down to them. We can’t have government hand-outs or socialized medicine helping these people out, after all.

We are okay, perfectly okay, with bombing and targeting civilian populations. We have been perfectly happy to overthrow democratically elected governments and install mass murderers who use torture to keep the population quiet. We are okay with jailing drug users instead of providing treatment. We are okay with global warming because we need to drive our cars to the movies right now. People go to fundamentalist churches where they learn a fetus is more sacred than a woman, where the guilty need to receive divine justice in the form of lethal injection, where countries with terrorists deserve to be bombed, and it doesn’t matter that the lives of the innocent are made miserable if they are not outright destroyed.

We are okay with this because we put ourselves first, always.

The cults of corporate “greed is good” capitalism, the “technology will save us we don’t need to change anything” faith in material progress are okay with these things. We have been taught to put out of mind that which teaches us empathy and compassion. We have been taught to focus on what is new and not what is best, and we have learned if we must ask questions at all, we should always ask “how?” and never “why?” As much as we say we deplore the things that take place in our name, we eat the same, we drive the same cars, we buy lots of oil, we need our computers, we have to have nannies, we just can’t take care of grandma so put her in a home, etc. There are some very real solutions to the problems facing us, but we don’t want to hear them. We can’t imagine having less, traveling less, doing less. We can’t imagine forming more life-long relationships in our communities, because it’s not as cool as going everywhere and seeing and buying everything. Because of that, we need material products and technologies which make that possible. In turn, there needs to be an underclass of people forced to accommodate us (but we do not call them slaves. slavery ended and people are all free now … right?), and our government has to have access to the resources which create these products and enable our lifestyles.

I won’t pretend I’m immune. I am as much a part of this as everyone. But it’s important to try to lose our illusions so we can maybe improve this situation. I do not think it’s impossible to keep many of the good aspects of our society alive; but some stuff does have to go. Which it will, whether we like it or not: it simply isn’t sustainable. A society which pays so little to the people caring for people (to caregivers, daycare workers) and the people who clean up after us, who teach us… it will have to change. A society which is more interested in building prisons than schools shows us the kind of faith we have in children. The middle-class and rich send their kids off to private schools, and the children of the poor can have their crumbling facades and ancient textbooks. We’ve set up an apartheid system of schooling in our country which basically still determines a person’s fate based on where they’re born and who are their parents.

As long as we refuse to acknowledge the underclass which lives amidst us, as long as we bomb and kill children in foreign lands and refer to them as “collateral damage”, there will be torture. As long as women do not control their bodies and are slaves to zygotes, we will be okay with punishing the living. As long as we worship wealth over work and those who have over those who do, we will continue to rationalize greed. As long as we value justice more than mercy, as long as we seek not to understand but to condemn, as long as we put ourselves before others, there will be torture. It is the logical conclusion of a mentality in which other people are not as important as one’s lifestyle. It is the outcome of not identifying with other people, of a mentality which seeks to possess and not to be. It will happen as long as other people are not important in and of themselves, but as means to our own ends.

I am not surprised at all that those who tortured and those who condoned it are going to get away with it. I’m grateful Glenn Greenwald and people like him are outraged and are still speaking out, and I hope they never stop. If there is any sort of justice, it will be because they never quit pointing out what is wrong. The Glenn Greenwald’s of the world are in the right, absolutely. But the people they are talking to just aren’t going to listen, because not-too-deep-down, they are okay with the way things are. They are okay with torture being used in the ticking time bomb scenario. They are okay with thinking only in terms of this moment, and not in terms of the past or the future. They are okay with children being crippled and murdered in Afghanistan and Iraq, because it isn’t them or their children. It’s obviously okay to love your own friends and family most in the world, but it is wrong to punish the innocent for the crimes of the guilty, and it is wrong to justify it, and it is wrong to not call it what it is: murder. It is wrong to glorify those who kill, and it is even worse to justify and worship our leaders for making these decisions. But worst of all is this: perpetuating the disconnect between those who commit great crimes and those who created their possibility.

The most horrible crimes in our modern world have happened because it takes only one person to push a button or pull a trigger, and so all the other people involved are able to deny their own culpability. This is wrong. Those who torture and kill directly are responsible for their actions. More so are their commanders, more so the people who make the decisions to employ these strategies. Most of all, us. Those of us who elected the men and women who do these things are responsible. Yes, most of us say we do not want it. But we do not vote them out of office. We make some of them villains (and of course they usually are) so we don’t have to acknowledge our role in why they do what they do. We turn others into heroes; we think they will fix everything so we don’t have to, and we refuse to acknowledge the wrongs they do too. We keep voting for the same two parties, we keep purchasing products from the same corporations, we are tired and overworked and overwhelmed and we just want to relax for a little while. We didn’t make this situation, we too were born into it. There are injustices we hate, but we didn’t want them. We can’t all change the world.

But I can change myself. I can do whatever possible to never make other people the means to my end.

Maybe there will be reform, maybe there will be some justice, as there should be. Maybe we can avoid another Iraq for a while, maybe we can have some small efforts at global warming. Maybe we can stay off the devil for a bit longer. But it will happen again. It always will, until the day we stop asking anyone to serve us, until we decide to try to change ourselves first.

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this is a good man.

this is a good man.

Let me begin my first real post by discussing a human being I truly adore: Haruki Murakami.

I was (and still am) a devoted reader of Iris Murdoch, who I plan to rave about later on. Iris Murdoch, for those of you who don’t know, wrote 26 novels. As a young lady I would seek her books out, going from store to store to see which ones they carried. Right next to Iris were Murakami’s novels, which are always an impressive collection as well. Time and again I would pick up a book of his and debate whether it was time to make the plunge. No one I knew had read anything by him, and I had little to go on but my own instincts. I would fall in love with a phrase, then find myself in weird waters and decide to wait. I gave in two years ago and bought Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. It was fucking amazing and I entered crazy-devoted mode where I find everything by a certain artist and obsess over it (I do this a lot; with some things like Broken Social Scene it never stops).

So, why is Haruki Murakami so phenomenal? Like his books, it’s not so easy to sum up. He’s dreamy and all over the place. There’s magical realism, there are long digressions on music, and the protagonists love to sit around and cook some pasta while thinking about the world.  His female characters are unlike the mommy-saints or shrews littering so many of the novels and movies made by assholes: these ladies have their own lives and issues which do not resolve around the whims of the men they love. His protagonists are anxious outsiders who try to stay calm but are driven to figure out how to live in the world. That’s a pretty basic plot in literature, but the way Murakami writes it feels timeless.

To read Murakami is to know he is not a man who gets too concrete about things, which is why I highly recommend reading this gorgeous speech he gave in Israel earlier in 2009. In this speech he offers some insight into his own philosophy, specifically a breathtaking metaphor on The System, something his characters run up against in many of his books.  He sums it all up with this statement:

“Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

I think in a world more interested in bailing out Wall Street than people who are losing their homes this is astute. I think in a world where tanks and armies are used to keep down those who want the people to have more control than dictators or corporations this is a sentiment which needs to be heard more often. Every time I walk past a television set to a cable news station I think something like this myself. Every time I listen to someone defending invasions and occupations, or arguing for the death penalty, or telling me why the poor deserve to be poor, or why certain people don’t deserve to govern themselves, I feel what Murakami said there. All of my reading and all of my learning have shown me that there’s not much hope for the poor, lonely and forgotten of the world. We live in a society where some of us have endless opportunities. It’s easy for this group (of which I am very much a part of) to spend their time on self-fulfillment: to travel endlessly, to spend our time seeking out new music, watching new movies and documentaries, making art and reading books and learning to cook and generally developing ourselves. Sometimes we may come up against The System, but generally we’re allowed to navigate our way through this life.

But there’s a whole other group of people in our world who are sometimes referred to as “surplus humanity” or “disposable people”. They live behind the wall in Palestine and they live in Southeast DC. They live in the slums of India and they lived in the ninth ward of New Orleans. They are all over the world, and they don’t get to choose of a life of personal development. Sometimes some of them get to have jobs where they work horrible hours and ruin their bodies so I can own nice jeans. If they’re ‘lucky’ they get paid the equivalent of a few dollars a day, or get a bathroom break, or don’t have to work 14 hour days: then we can say they don’t work in sweatshop conditions and feel better about ourselves! It’s an improvement over being forced into prostitution or begging for food, absolutely. But such a lifestyle doesn’t offer a lot of chances to read great books or move on and work at a meaningful job doing something you love.

So while I write here, talking about the music and books I love and the causes I’m passionate about, it’s vital to remember that I was given the opportunity to feel and live this way. My lifestyle is utterly dependent on others who will never be able to pick up and move to a new city, or travel around their country in the summer. Everything we have and everything we do is bound up with those who have no choice but to struggle through their lives. Not so far away from each of us are those who are born into devastating poverty. People for whom college is not an option, people whose early childhood abuse has forever limited their IQs to 50 or 60.  People who mean well and are capable of love are born into drug addictions; as the pitiful opportunities for work present themselves they may turn back to drugs. People who are born behind real and figurative walls who watch their loved ones die in hospitals because medical supplies can’t get through. People who have no interest in politics or literature or great causes but only want to be able to live and love and die with some degree of peace. Our media doesn’t like to remember them, so it’s up to us.

So, as I move on from here and start writing more about all sorts of shit, maybe gathering some readers, here is the end of Murakami’s great speech. I think these are words worth remembering.

“We are all human beings, individuals transcending nationality and race and religion, fragile eggs faced with a solid wall called The System. To all appearances, we have no hope of winning. The wall is too high, too strong – and too cold. If we have any hope of victory at all, it will have to come from our believing in the utter uniqueness and irreplaceability of our own and others’ souls and from the warmth we gain by joining souls together.

Take a moment to think about this. Each of us possesses a tangible, living soul. The System has no such thing. We must not allow The System to exploit us. We must not allow The System to take on a life of its own. The System did not make us: We made The System.

That is all I have to say to you.

-Haruki Murakami 2/17/2009

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