I write at my computer, presently listening to the random music of rain outside my windows and the passionate but precise and orderly sounds of Bach's B-minor Mass from my CD player, trying to make sense of the world I live in.
News of the New Year describes a world in a mess greater than any left by a hurricane or tsunami, a world littered with dead bodies and wreckage, rife with war, torture, environmental degradation, misinformation, fear, fascism and greed.
The US is again bombing in Iraq and planning to use land-mines in our arsenal of deadly weapons; television commercials are being aired claiming that WMD were found in Iraq and covered up; Bush authorized data collection about Americans and Cheney says the President needs that power to protect us from terrorists; two Iraqi women scientists, Rihab Taha and Huda Ammash have been released without charge after 3 years in prison.
The Ohio legislature debates stem cell research and "covenant marriage", local officials try to keep sex offenders from living in their backyards and prevent homeowners from feeding deer during culling season. Our courts are trying to deport to Germany a high school student whose grandfather hadn't filed the right paperwork 8 years ago, and an 85 year-old man to Ukraine who, despite his alleged Nazi past, is now no threat to anyone or anything.
We Americans have a quaint faith that all we need is one charismatic leader to save the nation, the world, or civilization. This illusion is extended by the conceit that whatever our government does is democracy, and amplified by the even grander notion that the United States is the benign hegemon destined to rule the world because of our noble beliefs in military might, market fundamentalism and individual responsibility, and because we hold all the cards of advanced technologies in transportation, communication, extraction, and weapons of mass or minor destruction.
Our presumptuous attempts to fix contrived future problems -- term limits, privatization, deregulation, spending caps, constitutional amendments, pre-emptive wars -- succeed mostly in fixing them in concrete, or in quagmires from which they cannot be extracted, and in which they will not even decompose. Other endeavors, like our wars on drugs, crime, poverty, or terrorism, fail, but create huge expensive systems that cannot be dismantled.
We go to lengths to confirm or legalize what powerful corporations want to do anyway: market deadly arms and military aircraft to anyone with money; control oil supplies; sell voting machines when the safest, cheapest, most honest and transparent way of voting is paper ballots counted in precincts.
We bend, twist, stretch, pervert, select and engineer our language, laws and news reports to promote policies or ideologies and to justify things we know are wrong: using human subjects to test pesticides, pricing health care and medicines beyond the reach of the poor, bombing civilians, kidnapping and torturing suspects, increasing profits to shareholders by robbing workers' pensions, killing miners for cheap coal.
A Newsweek reporter who had interviewed Dr. Huda Ammash before we invaded Iraq admitted "When Saddam was still in power, ... journalists reporting in Iraq simply assumed it was impossible to get a straight story out of his officials. Now we know Saddam's aides weren't the only ones spinning the truth. It's hard to know what to believe anymore."
Indeed. At this point I have little hope we can extricate ourselves from our messes. We are by nature cognitive misers, making decisions by spending as little as possible of our rational capital.. But the scope and complexity of human systems today demands both a very high level of cognitive performance from individuals, responsible and independent information systems from society, and transparent and accountable political processes.
Outside in the rain, under big oaks, beeches and old apple-trees in a vacant lot beside my house a lame doe and two half-grown fauns browse quietly. They come up from a wild area barely a half-mile away, where Fish Creek meets the Cuyahoga River. In the past 20 years the area has added three new housing developments, a huge golf course, and expanded a wastewater treatment plant. The deer are losing ground, literally. Two years ago I saw them here for the first time. Last year I had two or three sightings; this year they came before the leaves fell, and now come almost daily, nuzzling the leaf-mold for acorns, beech-mast and fallen apples.
The deer are doomed; there are no longer enough woods and fields to sustain them, and they cannot cope with the human world.
I'm not sure about humanity. Unless we do better in 2006 than we did in 2005, I doubt humans will have any better chance of surviving than deer.
Any salvation, I suspect, must be local and parochial. It will be messy, but the messes will be local and parochial, and the consequences will not kill millions or enslave billions.
I have few suggestions. Our nation is already far advanced into fascism, with a concept of freedom that is inherently violent: individuals are free to accumulate wealth and power regardless of the misery and costs for weaker, poorer or despised persons.
And I don't know how, with our corrupted politics and information systems, we will be able to determine what to do.