I last left off on my way to Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is situated in the shadow of several wonderfully snow-covered peaks on a plateau about 7000ft up or 2133m so it’s pretty chilly at times.I was couch crashing with some students from North Arizona University and having a whale of a time. On my first day there, we ended up watching Battlestar Galactica and playing Mario Bros. Wii because why the hell wouldn’t we? It was practically the first videogame and bit of actual television I’d watched in weeks. Carrie was a huge BSG fan and she was working her way through the always-exciting fourth season and loving every minute of it.
Back In The Groove That I Never Really Had
It felt good to back in familiar, Western territory again. Everyone was speaking English, I could read the newspapers and visit bookstores and talk to random strangers with more success than in the ol’ Spanish speaking lands further south. It was a great relief somehow, though I wasn’t even aware that I was in want of it.
There are some really pleasant hikes in the nearby area, so I went out for a jog one afternoon after picking up that book I mentioned earlier called Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? I made my way to the north of the town, up a hill, through the snow (which I haven’t scrunched around in since January 2009 in Finland) and the gorgeous pine trees until I found a fallen log to sit upon and disappear into the book. There I was, sitting pleasantly, with a great overlook of Flagstaff below me, when I heard a little sound and the crackling of snow. Six deer were about two metres away from me, ignoring me in my motionless repose. I looked up. Then they spotted me and took flight, gambolling off into the woods with their usual grace and elegance. I returned to my book with a great smile.
Justice is a wonderful book. Harvard professor Michael Sandel puts forth a great introduction to the concept of justice and the evolution of thought on the matter. This is why I put no stock in the teachings of all the major religions: we’ve simply advanced far beyond that and the concepts are antiquated and no longer applicable. Would you argue that Abrahamic justice is more righteous than utilitarianism? No. And utilitariansim is less righteous than Rawls. And where we are now with justice is beyond that still. With books and people like this, we may have that bright shiny future of justice and beauty for all.
It’s a future that one day I’d love to help deliver… if I can’t actually give birth to it.
Ladies 80’s: the AntiFashion Party
Every Wednesday in Flagstaff, they have what is known as Ladies 80’s. This is a classic party theme everywhere in the Western World. It’s where we try not to forget how bad society can really get by dressing up like lycra-wearing fools smiling awkwardly in a video for a workout that can be done by lazy people in the comfort of their own couches. I was alive for about two years of the eighties, thankfully before my brain started to consider seriously remembering things. That was a crappy, crappy decade. Apart from the Reagan-Thatcher screw-everbody policies, the constant threat of nuclear war, the coekd-up professional classes, terrible hair, excessive leather, horribly aged film special effects and generally horrible existence for five billion people, the ’80’s does have some redeeming features. Pink and white shirt, short shorts, blue bandana, terrible pop music and novelty dancemoves. Oh yes. That was the most ludicrously brilliant night out I’d had in weeks. Great crowd, great company, shitty shit music and a perfect opportunity to flail like a numb gorilla juiced up on taurine.
I went to a poetry slam.
But to continue. Ahem. The folks I was crashing with were into the poetry scene in Flagstaff. Their roommate Brian was a Navajo who performed some of the best damn poetry I’d seen and he was scheduled to perform in a slam. I had never been to a slam before and had wondered if I’d be able to participate. I probably could have, but to perform without ever having seen one would have been a little odd to say the least. My background is in debates and speech, not performance poetry and flourished metaphors. It’s inspired me, though and I’m going to write some poetry sometime soon (probably after I update this blog so it could some time).
Poets got up on stage and let their emotions bleed out like the heart valves from David Lynch’s Dune. Poets got up and talked about the storm and static in their chests as they bemoan the loss of their father to the addiction of alcohol. One of them had come out of the closet at a slam last year and declared his love for a guy in the room while the guy’s girlfriend was there and read out the letter he’d sent to his unwelcoming target via MySpace. Another had this marvellous poem about Spanish colonialism that included the line: “we are the survivors of your genocide!” Then there was this very strange fellow, much older than the rest, who talked of divorce, his mental illnesses, his loneliness with a routine that involved really dark humour and screaming.
It may sound like a parade of extremeness and personal instability. But it was so much more than that. It was odd, it was funny, it was full-on-wtf, it had moments of clarity and political allegory spiced up with mixed metaphors and deeper meanings. It was much better and much more involved than I expected it to be. Some of that poetry is powerful stuff and it really had an impact on me.
Chasing the Greyhound
I took a Greyhound from Flagstaff to Las Vegas on Saturday night. I was warned that Greyhounds were full of crazy people and crack addicts. I didn’t see any, but I still have to say this: f**k you, Greyhound Buses. Not only are you a mockery of a monopoly in a bloody capitalistic free-enterprise economy who charges too much for your tickets because you have no competition, but your buses are crap, the seats are uncomfortable and your staff are overworked and underpaid.
I stopped in Las Vegas for about forty seven minutes where I was hit on by a gay Puerto Rican called Pasquale. He said it was odd seeing someone well-dressed and good looking in a Greyhound bus terminal to which I replied that it’s also odd to be hit on by a gay guy at 6:30 in the morning.
I have no intention of visiting Las Vegas. I believe Dante Alighieri wrote about it some six hundred years ago back when it was called the 4th Circle of Hell. It was made up of the same people then as it is now, except instead of eternity they also let people in for the weekend, too.
Warning: A Lot of American Politics Ahead!
Tea Parties Are For Little Girls With No Friends and Over-active Imaginations
One of the main reasons I made my North was so I could explore the political along with the natural landscapes. I spend quite a bit of my spare time sorting my news and information through the wonder that is Reddit.com, along with the BBC, Reuters and the New York Times as straight sources. I use these to keep me informed and up to date with the world. I find it fascinating. The workings of nations, the diplomatic efforts, the wars, the economics, the social movements, the political forces, the cultural clashes. As an impartial observer watching through my laptop screen, I have watched all the major events of the past few years and would consider myself pretty up to date on many affairs of the states.
I do not care if I am rich in this life. I do not care if I am of high social status. My main concern is to be an individual of advanced ideas and wide, deep knowledge.
This is America and If You Don’t Like It, Then You Can Get Out
The American political scene is often far too entertaining. For starters, it’s a highly polarised nation of 200 million people represented by two political parties that often hate each other. This means that most politics is an uproariously vicious sparring match between them as they trade blows, pull punches and shadow box in a semi-transparent public arena. I know more about American politics than I do about European, British or Irish politics. That’s mainly because none of those are as fun or as engaging as American politics.
But I have often wondered what it’s like to live American politics. So much of it makes very little sense out of context. I feel that urge to investigate for myself and really get stuck into the middle of it. With my diet of info mainly consisting of second hand sources and analysis from professional writers and journalists analysing events and putting their own spin on it, it’s hard to read the news from America without a strong sense of being conned. Since it’s hard to know what’s real and whose job it is to protect the Corporate Plutocracy (or so I’ve been told by journalists who assure me they’re not), I was itching to get in and talk to the actual people involved.
Would You Like Some Bitter Irony With Your Tea?
I had that opportunity in a little town called St. George in Southern Utah. With a mostly white, middle to upper-middle class Mormon population, the town is as conservative as you’d expect. In the ’50’s, the town was smacked pretty badly with the fallout from a nuclear test in the Nevada desert. The US Government really had the townfolks’ back on that one.
It’s got naturally red rocks and a beautiful surrounding environment. My main reason for being there was so I could try to hitch a lift out to nearby Zion National Park for a night or two. Zion is meant to be one of the most beautiful areas in the Western United States and I was really looking forward to going there.
But then I heard of the Tea Party Express coming. Oh, how excited I got. So I abandoned my dream of heading out to Zion and camping in the valleys and under the desert moon. The Tea Parties one of the most fascinating political movements of recent times, sprung up out of the loss of the executive branch to Obama and the Democratic Party. They claim to be anti-tax, anti-progressive constitutionalists or something like that.
It’s funny how anti-socialism they all are considering the Mormon Church’s deep seated tradition of social welfare, hand outs, missionary work, charity giving and in-church wealth redistribution. The Mormons I talked to consistently talked about kind and helpful they are to the less fortunate. I asked what the difference between that and socialism, if not communism, was and that made them slightly angry. The truth is there is very little difference. Most religions defend their existence by pointing out all the charitable work, free education, public projects and donations they give. If that’s not socialism…
I think the Tea Partiers (Teabaggers) are thoroughly misinformed. I’ll explain why later.
The Rally in Bluff Park
I went for a quick hike in the morning over the red rocks and nearby canyons to clear my mind and soul from the burrito I ate the previous night. St. George is in a truly wonderful location. It doesn’t get too hot or cold, despite the desert conditions. It is also possible to see the mountains quite clearly from anywhere in the town. I came back to the downtown area around lunch to call home and then went and picked up a large poster and a permanent marker from a supermarket. I strolled confidently towards Bluff Park with the empty poster in my hand around 15:30 and the rally was already kicking off with some local conservatives getting the entirely white, mostly aged crowd going. Stalls were set up all over the place, some giving out free badges, others showing what t-shirts they had to sell but they were unable to sell them because they didn’t have a license. Damn government regulations interfering with their right to make a quick buck.
I found a free table next to the free badge guy in a “Certified Right-Wing Extremist” t-shirt. I picked one up that read “Impeach Everybody!” – something I actually agreed with. I began to write my sign. I started talking to the old guys next to me. I asked whether I should write “Respect the Constitution” or “Honor the Constitution”. I chose the former and wrote underneath: End Lobbyists & Honor the Law; Liberty For All & Justice For All; End Lies, Hypocrisy and Greed in DC; Fire Congress & Arrest the Pope.*As soon as I had finished, some guy requested my pen. I gave it to him. Two minutes later he gave it back and walked off with a large, poorly scrawled sign that read: “I’m not a racist, I hate his white half, too!”
Many people had signs. Many did not know how to spell constitution. Many didn’t make any sense. Many were just downright offensive. I received many compliments on my sign. I had affected a fake accent for the day, so as to not appear European. I put on a fake southern accent and said I was from Louisiana. Then I decided that that was too difficult an accent so I went for a New England accent and said I was from Connecticut. I lied about that part, but not about my politics. I was there to find out information, not to argue and debate with people. I didn’t lie to them, but I was pretty damn far from honestly saying what I believed in. I had to bite my lip frequently to stop myself from correcting a flat-out falsehood from the Teabaggers. But I didn’t want to blow my cover.
I truly believed that people should respect the constitution. I was interviewed by Tea Party Express.tv after the rally and I said (paraphrasing, I can’t find the video online): The US constitution is one of the greatest political documents ever written by men, by Americans, by the greatest Americans who ever lived. It is the practical application of the finest Enlightenment beliefs made concrete. It should be respected and honoured at all times.” I said more, but I can’t remember properly. I received polite applause, anyway and several people came up and talked with me afterwards. I believe what I said. The US constitution was written by some truly great, enlightened individuals who made sure not to include too much reference to God and to not repeat the mistakes of the British Empire. Except for the part about guns, it’s held up impressively since then, but I hope that the massive wound it received from the past few administrations does not deepen.
The Tea Party in St. George was quite strange. When the actual Tea Party Express arrived, they put on quite a show. There were no questions. There was no personal interaction with the crowd. It became an event for spectators. The first forty minutes were primarily stories of the military, taking pride in the US militarism, patriotism and praying. Preach to the choir, praise the military, massage the veterans, they have their techniques of influence nailed. There were songs and dances to get people into that oxygen-deprived sense of elation that evangelicals know how to manipulate oh so well. Then they give speeches and talk shameless populism for a while, telling the crowd precisely what they want to hear without promising much and without really talking pragmatically about anything. They praise the American Way of Life and curse anyone who would even question it. They attack what they perceive to be socialism.
They attack Obama. Repeatedly. They attack Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, the two top Democrats. They praise little other than the nation, the military, the constitution that they know little about and a few key figures in the movement. The Tea Party Express is an opposition that is not providing an alternative.
A woman in her sixties asked what I was doing. I said I was asking people to respect the constitution. She responded: “It is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Handed down to us by God – you believe that God gave it to us, right?”
“I believe people gave it to us. I believe in people and not in God because people have something that God will never have: accountability. ”
She was impressed. I talked libertarian politics with her, the rights of the individual, the moral underpinnings of Western Society. She praised my parents for bringing me up right after I said that “I know that I am free because I know that I alone am totally responsible for my actions”, paraphrasing a popular atheistic/libertarian. She agreed with the statement, even though it clashed heavily with her world view because she truly believes her Christian God intervenes in this world regularly. I believe humans are free to make their own legacy and the interference of Gods diminish our contribution as a human.
Another woman was talking about Barack Obama not being American. “He was born in Ethiopia! He’s not even an American!” I asked about the Hawaiian birth cert that they always show. She didn’t believe in it. I also asked why she thought he was from… Ethiopia… when his father is from… Kenya. She got very defensive and wanted to know why I was so in favour of Obama. I said I was just asking questions.
An old man planted his hand upon my shoulder and said with confidence and a grandfatherly smile:” We always get the best people here!” He was an elderly veteran of WWII and a school teacher. Mormon. Part of the Tea Party Express has a rap song sung by an African-American conservative. The old man said: “I’m glad to see the blacks on our side for a change. They’re usually all for them red policies.” He wasn’t a racist, but he certainly viewed the country as white. He said Obama had usurped the natural white male power structure of America and that he should be stopped before he brings socialist ruin to us all. His view was that it was okay to have a black guy around. That’s fine. But he’ll be damned if he ever accept a black guy as his boss.
The chant most often shouted at the rally was a big give away: “WE WANT OUR COUNTRY BACK!” There it was. It was so obvious to me; they didn’t care about taxes, the constitution, the law, socialism. These were sideshows distractions, reactions to a society that was moving forward without them. What’s really going on here is that they can’t accept that a black guy is in charge of the country, even if that guy is probably the most skilled, intelligent and coherent politician in years – it doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t fit with their idea of America being a White Nation. That was what I learned from the Tea Party.
My Understanding of the Misunderstood
These are people who have worked hard their entire lives. They’ve mostly lived the lives they were taught to live. They think they’ve lived correctly. And yet, something isn’t right. Something’s missing. They’re not doing as well as their parents. They have debts, they aren’t as financially stable. The country isn’t what it used to be and they’re not repositioning themselves fast enough to cope. Ronald Reagan, that corporate spokesman/conservative icon promised them so much and delivered so little, yet they still hope so desperately for his words and to become fact. Pity he was lying to them most of the time. And when he wasn’t lying, he was just telling them exactly what they wanted to hear while giving and receiving orders to the contrary.
Let’s look at the word conservative. Conservative comes from the Latin conservare which means “to keep, to hold, to preserve”. The very meaning of conservatism is the opposite of progressivism. It means that the world as it is should stop, but since that is impossible, they mostly just wish to slow it down. Conservatism is thus a retarding force on the forward march of humanity, it is the lead in our boots and nagging doubts in our subconsciousness telling us not to go for fear of the unknown future. That makes conservatives synonymous with retards. The Tea Party Express is mostly definitely retarded. It has been retarded by corporate forces so that any meaningful change will not alter the corporate oligarchy here in the US. It has been retarded by misinformation, scapegoats, half-truths and full-balls-out lies. It has been retarded by its members unrealistic desires, impossible goals, contradictory concepts and self-defeating, self-punishing ideas. It has been retarded by the fact that they’re fighting against many things in their own self-interest but they’re blinded to that fact.
When The Wave Strikes
Before a wave hits the shore, a few metres out, it has such power, such potential. There is a swell behind it, it crests, it is about to reach full power and energy. But then the previous wave hits it on its way back. The one thing stopping that first wave from hitting the shore with greater force is the preceding wave returning to the ocean. The same happens with each generation. Such force, such potential, slowed and dimmed by the previous generation on the way out. The Tea Party is the out-generation. This the clash between the waves, the competition between two forces moving in opposite directions.
Perhaps it is good that we have such people holding on to the tiller and stopping the boat from going too fast and decreasing the chance of a capsize. Perhaps we need people to say: hold on a minute, let’s think this through before we act upon it. Perhaps we ought to listen to their wise words as they are demonstrably more experienced than we are.
Perhaps. But few would listen and agree with the angry, racist Grandfather who has turned cynical and bitter in his old age, complains about how tea prices were so much lower when he was a lad, states publicly and audibly that all modern women look like whores while perversely leering at them through his crusty, cataract-filled eyes before forgetting what he has just said and then making something up to cover for it.
The Tea Parties are the whimpers of the suffering American people and they do not deserve simply mocking. They need to be realigned and redirected because right now they are conflicting with all the wrong ideals, clashing with the wrong people and directing their anger at the wrong sources. They have their goals all messed up.
Just like that crusty old Grandfather, the Tea Party movement need to take their medication, put in their contacts, relax a bit, try not to be so bitter and find a hobby to make their time in a world they no longer understand tolerable. They need to stop being such a burden on the next generation and their passage into death will be a lot easier for everyone. Let the next generation take over and pay the bills, run the house and raise their kids in the way they see best. They need to realise the world has moved on, the power base has changed, the demographics have changed and there has been a major mentality shift.
Also, they need to stop being so incorrect on a vast number of issues.
Sorry, Ma’am, If I Could Just Mercilessly Demolish Your Argument For A Moment
I would now like to take some time to argue against the Tea Party platforms.
Teabagger Claim: Obama is a socialist. Just plain, straight up no he isn’t. Many liberals or progressives who voted for Obama are disappointed that he’s not being liberal enough. Well, just like at his treatment of the American economy: he supported a trillion dollar hand out to the big financial corporations who were “too big to fail”. That’s not capitalism, because you let them fail in capitalism because the market has deemed them unworthy of survival. When you hand out billions and increase the number of millionaires in the country by millions of people, furthering the huge inequality by squeezing the poor at the same time, you’re not a socialist. He’s a corporate Democrat.
Teabagger Claim: He’s going to raise my taxes/ No tax at all. Not true for most people there. They’re getting a tax cut. As for not paying any taxes, I would say clap, clap – you’re on a public park, paid for by taxes and accessed by public roads. Idiotic claims of not paying taxes don’t happen in Europe because we see our taxes go to good things like real health care, education, law and order, environment, social welfare and the generally high quality of roads and public spaces. Without taxes, the country goes back to muddy paths, disease, famine, death and chaos. Good luck with that wish, Anti-Taxers.
Teabagger Claim: Healthcare is Unaffordable/UnAmerican/Armaggedon. Might I suggest cutting your bloated military budget and taking away some of the power that the Pentagon has over the American Government? No? That’s unreasonable? Multi-trillion wars are okay but giving poor people a quality of life slightly better than third world is dangerous and bad? First, grow some morals. Second, stop being so afraid of everything. Third, stopping being so violent and militaristic for it will be your doom.
Teabagger Claim: Socialism is Destroying America. Okay, so President Bush comes into office with a massive surplus and has the largest deficit and debt ever when he leaves. Two wars destroyed the economy and killed over a million people. The Bush and Cheney War Crimes & Associates Organisation reduced your civil liberties more than anyone else in the last 100 years. They launched a war which made everyone else hate your government and, by proxy, you, making you less free and more vulnerable to attack in the process. The wealth did not trickle down. The financial system is in ruin because they deregulated the whole thing and made all sorts of ridiculous gambles that lost but they still make money on them through totally insane, convoluted derivative trading. The rich got really rich and poor got even poorer. Millions lost jobs because the social net wasn’t there to ease their employment transitions. Two thirds of bankruptcies were caused by health care expenses because people couldn’t afford insurance. The peasants are being dominated by the aristocrats and are voting against their own interests because they’ve been convinced that one day they can be rich by that poisonous American Dream.
Socialism didn’t destroy America. Irresponsible American capitalism destroyed America. The Teabaggers have misplaced their anger and fear (or more accurately, had their fear misplaced for them). The problem is not the government interfering in business. The single biggest problem is business interfering in government. Lobbying is essentially just bribing. The corporate system took over. The power of the American people is hugely diminished. Teabaggers, your anger is justified but please redirect it because you’re barking at the wrong cat in the wrong tree – please look behind and you’ll see a fatter cat, the real source of your white angst, goading you on.
I’m looking forward to living in Europe.
*I had to put that last one in because frankly the Pope should be arrested and most of the crowd were LDS so they didn’t care. The thing is, when you cover up, shelter and aid paedophiles, rapists and torturers, you deserve to be arrested. You deserve to be tried. You lose the right to make public, moral judgements and you should lose your liberty and be punished. The Pope and the Catholic Church should be abolished, abandon and deposited in the rubbish bin of history to smoulder with the ashes of all other poor ideas and failed institutions. This scandal is not a new thing. It’s not a surprise. We’ve been joking about paedophile priests for years now because sometimes laughter is the only response to something so truly horrifying as the thought of global, systematic rape of the most vulnerable and innocent members of our society. Right now, I would be ashamed to be Catholic, just as I am ashamed to be British after Iraq and all our other atrocities.