08 May 2011

Mother's Day

Today in the United States we celebrate the miracle of childbirth  and importance of motherhood by buying things. Back during the spring equinox, I watched a series of childbirth videos from various mammals. (It seemed appropriate.) It's certainly an interesting process, more dignified in some animals than in others. The elephants just fell out like large...droppings. I tried to find a video that made human childbirth look beautiful, but the only clips I could find which didn't leave me staring at the screen in horror were those which involved water birth. Out of curiosity, I wondered how chimpanzees managed things, and learned that this one at least tried giving birth while upside down.

07 May 2011

A Man in Full

As a kid I took the future for granted. I assumed that I would grow up, go to college, and find my place, or at least a place, inside society. I grew up in the late eighties and early nineties, though, when the economy was roaring and gas stayed below $1.40, sometimes even dipping below a dollar.  Even though my parents were thoroughly working class and didn't have much use for intellectual arts, the world of the intellect and high culture appealed to me. I had no interest in learning a trade, and certainly not my father's vocation of automobile repair. My future didn't involve work coveralls and a day of dirty labor: I would wear clean clothes, have soft, clean hands, and would work in an office somewhere. I thought this was the way things should be for everyone, except for people who wanted to work on cars for whatever unfathomable reason.

That has changed. Part of it, surely, is simply the aging process. That complacency belongs in the mind of a sheltered child, but as we grow older and learn from experience, we realize that the future does not drop into place for us. We have to apply to colleges, apply for jobs -- we have to be active about our futures. But I've also been influenced by my studies these past five years -- freethought, social criticism, Stoicism, anarchism -- and their combined effect in enriching my sense of humanism. I don't mean humanism in the most modern sense,  this excellent belief in ethics based on reason and compassion and emphasis on improving and enjoying the here and now. I mean it as in humanitas, as Cicero would have used it -- as the cultivation of the best in myself, in my humanity.  I wish to live gloriously -- not to be gloried, but to fulfill in part what I find so wonderful about human potential, to lose myself in the ecstasy of being human.

I can no longer be content playing a normal role in society, in being so dependent on the system. The universe is change, and I want to be quick-footed enough to respond to those changes. I want to be able to roll with the punches that life will surely send my way, to spring up time and again ready to engage. In recent years, and most particularly in the past few months, I have experienced a growing desire to be potent.  I want to be capable of doing things. I want to be able to cook, and cook well: I want to be able to repair an automobile, to use weapons, to fix and even create furniture, to effect household repairs, to take care of a garden and create both beauty and food.  I'm pretty good at being an intellectual, but I feel as though I have pursued only half my potential up until now. There are a great many people who have the skills I desire, but scorn intellectual liberties. We are both impoverished. I want to be a Renaissance human -- developed intellectually, physically, philosophically, morally -- a man in full.

The Discus Thrower, Myron.

I am enraptured by human potential, by the beauty of action. I want to be self-reliant not only because it's the wise thing to do, but because the idea of self-reliance resonates so strongly with my perception of what humanity is capable of. We're such versatile creatures. While we may admire a cheetah for its speed or a bear for its strength, our hands and brains make us beings of near-unlimited potential. I take pleasure when I explore that potential.

I have a recurring vision of a man in deep emotional distress who has lost everything, but he holds his two hands up before him and weeps. "With these two hands," he cries, "I made all which I lost -- and with these two hands, I shall make it again."  I do not know where this image comes from -- whether I read something like it in a book, or if I simply dreamed it up. But I want to be able to say that of my own two hands.

01 May 2011

May Day

May Day is an international holiday created to celebrate the accomplishments and trials of the men and women who have, throughout history,  made the modern world possible.  I celebrate this day not  because of my own personal politics, but because of my basic moral outlook. When we celebrate the worker, we celebrate the majority of humanity -- for most of the world belongs to the working class.

On this day, I invite you to consider that  most everything you can see and touch around you was created by the labor of another human being not unlike yourself. We live in a world created by one another, and virtually everything in our lives has been touched by the lives of countless men and women across the world. The food you eat, for instance, was planted, tended to, harvested, inspected, cleaned, packaged, transported, unloaded, and stocked in the store by people. We are constantly connected to one another.  This is worth being mindful of.

We should also be mindful of the widening gap etween those who create the wealth and those who horde it, between the working poor and the idle rich. It is more present now than at any time in history, for the strength of the few has been increased against the many upon whose backs they are perched.  The reasons for this are many, but the solution is the same.  We must stand together and work -- organize, protest, and defy.  We do not enjoy the civil rights and political liberties that we do because the powerful kings of the past thought it  was the right thing to do: we enjoy them because men and women of the past asserted those rights, demanded those liberties. They used the one weapon which can never be taken away -- strength of numbers -- to force reaction.  Human progress is the story of courage's advance and tradition's retreat.

While there are many appropriate songs I could share today, the song below has the most meaning for me. Back in 2007, as a self-described social democrat, I searched for 'democratic socialism' out of curiosity. I heard Billy Bragg singing the Internationale, and I listened to it again and again that weekend. It spoke to my humanist morals,  to my idealism,  and has taken on a powerful significance. Translated throughout the world into various languages, it may be the most sung song in history. 

Other suggestions:
1. "Power in a Union", Billy Bragg
2. "Ludlow Massacre", Woody Guthrie
3. "Solidarity Forever", Pete Seeger
4. "The Internationale", Alistar Hulett (traditional English lyrics)
     No savior from on high delivers
     No faith have we in prince or peer
     Our own right hands the chains must shiver
     Chains of hatred, greed, and fear.
5. "Internationale 2000", Maxx Klaxon (even more modern lyrics with more of an electronic than a folk sound.)
     Turn off their televised illusions
     Stand up and look them in the eyes
     Declare your mental liberation
     Shake off the dust, and claim the prize. 

Stand up, O victims of oppression
For the tyrants fear your might
Don't cling so heard to your possessions --
You have nothing if you have no Rights.

Let racist ignorance be ended,
For respect makes the Empires fall               
Freedom is merely privilege extended
Unless enjoyed by One and All 

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
The Internationale unites the world  in song!
So comrades, come rally --
For this is the time and place
The International ideal 
Unites the human race.

Fall of the Berlin Wall, 9 November 1989

Let no one build walls to divide us,
Walls of hatred nor walls of stone
Come greet the Dawn and stand beside us
We'll live together, or we'll die alone


In our world poisoned by exploitation
Those who have taken, now they must give
And end the vanity of nations --
We've but Earth on which to live

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
The Internationale unites the world  in song!
So comrades, come rally --
For this is the time and place
The International ideal 
Unites the human race.

"Tank Man". Tiananmen Square. 4 June 1989. 

 And so begins the final drama,
In the streets and in the fields
We stand unbowed before their armor
We defy! their guns and shields
When we fight, provoked by their aggression
Let us be inspired by like and love
For though they offer us concessions,
Change will not come from above!

So come brothers and sisters
For the struggle carries on
The Internationale unites the world  in song!
So comrades, come rally --
For this is the time and place
The International ideal 
Unites the human race.