From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2011
More and more, living in America seems like
living up in a badly dysfunctional family. I sometimes imagine the
Republicans as being a collective version of an alcoholic, abusive
husband and father while the Democrats are the battered but completely
submissive spouse. And the rest of us are the mistreated, powerless
But as some in such situations learn, one is not
powerless. You are weak but not helpless. You have to find ways to build
a new rational reality, something that can happen even in the midst of
madness. Neither one's father nor mother - not Rick Perry nor Barack
Obama - will help with you with this. Your condition is not your fault,
but your response is up to you.
A good place to start is with
the fact that dysfunction is not normal. Test it out. Count in your own
community the percent of people as dishonest and irrational as many of
our leading politicians and other establishment figures. Yes, they're
there, but typically they're in jail, on probation or in therapy. They
are not dominating the whole culture.
Or read some history and be reminded how rare and frightening is our establishment.
was reminded of this the other day as I spent six hours at a community
agriculture and education center where I'm on the board, participating
in a planning meeting with five farmers, a university expert, and a
cooperative extension official. During that entire six hours nobody said
anything stupid, mean, meaningless, deceptive or destructive. They just
made good sense. As I sat there, I thought: if this were Washington I
would have been out of here long ago, angry, or sound asleep.
that's the way it has always worked, Roman emperors and British kings
could make life harder or easier for the average farmer, but it was
still the demands of nature and one's response to it that failed or
triumphed. Read 1984 and you'll find that only ten percent of those in
the book lived in the distorted culture that Orwell describes. The rest -
not part of the inner and outer party - lived the lives of 1940s
English proletarians. In East Germany only ten percent of the population
were members of the Communist Party. And a woman who had spent her
childhood in Hungary during the same period once said to me, "You know,
even during the Cold War our village was run democratically."
here we are with only a handful of national figures making much sense or
even trying to. We have a major media that has largely lost its ability
to think independently of this elite. And we live in a time in which
everyone's visual and auditory space is overwhelmingly filled with
images that are either commercial or political fantasy and largely
unrelated to the lives we actually live each day. The diaspora of
dysfunction has swept over our lives.
And nobody can change it but us.
Which is another reason why the occupier movement has been so remarkable. It reminds us that we still have choices.
each us these choices are different. Jesse Ventura says he wants to
leave the country, one of the few America celebrities to say such a
thing openly, another sign of what an uncertain time this is.
their part, the occupiers have chosen open confrontation not only with
the establishment but with its massive police state capabilities.
there are other choices. Simply witnessing your personal and political
values on a daily basis, for example. The choices of what you buy, where
you go, what you say and what you do. This is already happening with
banks, but there are numerous other possibilities such as discovering
the importance of cooperatives as an economic solution.
activist David Swanson recently suggested one: "Small groups (5-12
people) regularly meeting together in a format the Swedes call "study circles," to
reach consensus on the problems they face and what to do about them. . .
[Another] model permitting these study circles to knit themselves
together into an organization large enough to tackle the problems they
unearth yet supple enough to operate without bureaucracy, hierarchy, or
top-down control. This model -- "citizen's assemblies"-was
conceived by Thomas Jefferson and unearthed by one of his
African-American descendants, lawyer Don Anderson [who] wrote much of
the War on Poverty legislation."
Boycotts are yet another underused approach
And, for all our anger and distress,
there is still no music that grabs the time and gives it meaning in our
hearts as well as in our minds, as have happened so often in the past.
most of all, we need to rediscover the local … the local that doesn't
require national legislation, national television, or national
advertising and propaganda.
There are lots of reasons for doing
so. For one thing, it is ecologically sound. Humans were not physically
or psychologically created to live in the world of presidential
campaigns, offshore banking, or Hollywood or humans massed into six or
seven digit size. We were designed to live, help, and benefit from,
other real humans doing real things. We need an ecological movement to
save the endangered species that is ourselves.
thing, the local is politically sound. Despite what federally obsessed
liberals tell you, nearly all important political change has come from
the bottom up. And in a time when the elites of both parties are
destroying our environment, our economy, our schools and our democracy,
the local becomes the main fort of humanity. Explore it, test it, act
with it, join it, use it and then share it what you have found with
others on the Internet.
As with the children of dysfunctional
families, if we go by the rules of those with the most power, we become a
part of their madness. We must create - on a human scale - alternative
ways of being, alternative systems and alternative solutions. As we do
so, we will start to build a new America, one that is both decent and
In the near future, of course, we can not destroy the
madness at the top. We can, however, follow the lead of the beat
generation of the 1950s, once described by someone this way: "Our goal
wasn't to overthrow the establishment, but to make it irrelevant."
Not long after the beats the 1960s arrived with one the greatest era of political change in American history.
more irrelevant we make the establishment, its theories, its elites,
its media, and its attempt to invade every corner of our souls, the
closer we will be to saving and rebuilding America.