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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The throwaway society

In the early 90s I worked as a substitute teacher, and one day I got called to sub for a math teacher in a predominantly “African-American” junior high school. I didn’t do much teaching, since the teacher had tests prepared to give to the classes. In one of the afternoon classes, while I was sitting at the teacher’s desk doing not much, a student came up and asked for help doing an extra credit question. He took me by surprise, because he was polite, calling me “Mr. Hamilton,” was neatly dressed, and was wearing a tie. He had very short hair, and I assumed he was being raised in the “Nation of Islam.”

The problem went something like this: Tommy’s father’s age is 4 times Tommy’s age. In four years, Tommy’s father’s age will be three times Tommy’s age. How old is Tommy, and how old is his father?

I looked the problem over, and was trying to figure out a way of explaining it without giving the answer. A girl in the class yelled that I didn’t know how to solve it, and things were getting a bit unruly. I asked the student if he knew any Algebra, and he said no, so I told him I would just do the problem algebraically, and I assured him that he would learn the method the next school year.

I said something to the effect of “Let X be Tommy’s age, and Y be his father’s age. Since Tommy’s father’s age is four times Tommy’s age, we can say that Y=4X. In four years, Tommy’s father’s age will be three times Tommy’s age, or Y+4= 3(X+4), which can be multiplied out to Y+4=3X+12. This can be reduced to Y=3X+8. Substituting 4X for Y, we get 4X=3X+8, which is the same as 4X-3X=8, or X=8, Tommy’s age. Since Y=4X, Tommy’s father’s age is 32.”

He was stunned at the ease with which I solved the problem, and thanked me. The class became less unruly, and I felt like I had accomplished something.

This is the kind of moment teachers live for. A willing and enthusiastic student who is polite and respectful, an opportunity to actually teach something, and a result that might be an inspiration to not just one student, but possibly the entire class. Moments like this were rare, with babysitting and disruption being more often the case. I'd like to think that this student went on to be a rocket scientist at NASA or a theoretical physicist at Caltech or Berkeley.

It's nice to be appreciatedI’ve done substitute teaching off-and-on for many years when things were slow at my regular job, and sometimes it was steady enough that it was my only job. I was better at it when I was younger, and the students were more accepting then. I finally gave it up a couple of years ago. The schools have become more out of control, and the danger level has gotten more serious over the years.

The school district I taught in recently is predominantly “white,” in a small town near Madison, where you would think the situation would be vastly different. It was different, but not vastly. The same problems exist, but to a lesser degree. There are drugs, gangs, violence, underachievement and alienation, like in the big cities. Cable television is the same everywhere, and the same video games are available, so children throughout the “United States” are exposed to the same “youth culture” pressures and temptations. Holographically, the part revealing the whole, it is safe to say that “American” society is in a state of deterioration, of decline.

The deterioration in “inner-city” schools is much worse. I watched a segment of “Nightline” a few days ago, which focused on the HBO TV show “The Wire.” The show is about a school in Baltimore, where the students don’t have much to look forward to, and the threats of violence and drugs make their lives pretty bleak.

Then they graduate. School is over, and it’s out into the adult world of employment and citizenry. For the youth of Baltimore the poor educational experience is followed by poor job prospects and the attraction of a life of crime.

The results of this pattern of failure nationwide can be seen on a daily basis here in Madison. Madison’s downtown is inundated with homeless men, “black” and “white,” often inebriated, aggressively panhandling for money, and many of them menacing and violent. Over the past several months there has been a rash of vicious muggings and rapes, with the few who have been apprehended being among the homeless population.

Near where I live there is a park where homeless “African-American” men hang out. They sleep in the park shelter, and as the weather gets colder, they make campfires from tree branches and palettes they find. A bicycle path weaves through the park, and whenever I ride through there’s a ruckus going on, but they know better than to bother people using the park.

Recently a number of arrests have taken place in the park, as suspects in the muggings have been identified. I haven’t been by there lately, but the days of unrestrained camping are likely over.

This is not a meaningful way to run a country. One thing I noticed above all else about the men in the park is that, by-and-large, they were able-bodied, strong-looking individuals, capable of doing productive work. No doubt they all have been through the criminal justice system in one way or another. “American” life has passed them by, and they are simply human refuse, much like so much else refuse in this throwaway society.

The “conservative” answer to this problem is of course arrogant and callous: It’s their own fault. I have heard this argument time and again, in the mass communications media, and in person, from a wide variety of people, most of whom are otherwise decent human beings.

My response to this argument is pretty simple. In tribal “Africa” there was no unemployment. There were no throwaway people. Everyone had a place. These societies may not have been idyllic, but they were functional, and they existed in harmony with their environments.

Something happened between tribal life and advanced mass industrial civilization. For tribal “Africans,” the first thing that happened was kidnapping and slavery in the “New world” of the Western Hemisphere. When slavery was abolished, the former “Africans” were not returned to their homelands, but remained to fend for themselves, with varying results. In the “United States,” some have found “success,” mainly in sports and entertainment, but also in the entire gamut of modern life.

But they are the underclass, considered inferior by their lighter-skinned compatriots, and a higher portion of them are completely left out of the “American dream.” We may not like to admit it, but the system is set up that way. A mass industrial corporate society inevitably leaves people out. As long as there is corporate dominance of the economic system, people will be throwaway.

I got thrown away last year, along with over 400 other people at my place of employment, which closed. Though it hasn’t been easy, I have managed to get some retraining and have been able to find other employment, though without benefits. I’m one of the lucky ones. Unlike the dark-skinned people at the park shelter, I have a lot of “education,” a decent work history, skills, and know how to use the “system” to find work. I can quit working altogether next year if I want to. I won’t have a great living on Social Security and my paltry IRAs, but it’s something, and I won’t be on the streets.

We are having an election in a little over a week. If this country has any hope of saving itself from further decline and collapse, then our only hope is to rid ourselves of the criminals who currently run the various governmental bodies. That means get rid of all “Republicans.”

That is only a start. The “New Deal” of Franklin D. Roosevelt needs to be revived. Progressive taxation, an employment program like the “WPA” and the “CCC,” a sensible housing program, a national health insurance program, and an education system that educates would all be part of the new “New Deal.”

Criminals would be punished, starting with the Bush crime family and working from the top down. Tobacco profiteers. Weapons profiteers. Halliburton. Bechtel. Chemical polluters. Pharmaceutical parasites. Global warming mongerers, starting with the executives of major oil companies and the auto makers. And so on.

Unrealistic? OK, then let’s keep doing what we’re doing now, and see what it gets us.

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