The Making of an Apolitical, But Altruistic, Old Hippy Artist
When I was kid, growing up in a very rural, agrarian and simplistic environment, I was taught the old, “All American” virtues of honesty, tolerance and humility. And, you could throw in a decent amount of respect for a fair level of intelligence. There were things that were right and things that were wrong. There were good things and there were bad things. At least that’s what I was taught, and I believed, as a youngster. In a nearly unanimously Roman Catholic neighborhood of third and fourth generation orchardists and truck farmers (the descendants of northern Mediterranean immigrants) things were pretty much black and white and never really got too complicated. It seemed that pretty much everyone was in agreement with a simple and direct way of looking at things.
I was a “goody-two-shoes” sort of a kid, wide eyed, unquestioning, always ready to please. I avoided conflict and arguments at all costs, recoiling from such hassles like a wet finger touched by a highly charged electrical wire. To some extent, the other kids I grew up with, were of this same ilk, though perhaps not as extreme as me, and a few, even more so, than me.
However, as we transitioned from the rural, elementary school background to the suburban, secondary school years, we were confronted by a sort of personage which we totally unprepared to deal with. These were the confident and brash kids of the families who had moved into the new Almaden Country Club, with it’s plush, well irrigated golf course, sparkling swimming pools and plush, gorgeously landscaped mini-mansions lining the very wide, newly paved roads that had no sidewalks, as there was so much extra black top and so little traffic on these rich man’s roads. From our farm kid perspective, these boisterous and overly confident loud mouths were nothing but a whole bunch of out-of-control brats. When we got to school each morning, we’d hear these hellions brag to each other about how they had broken into the golf cart garage up the Club (the Country Club) and run the golf carts all over the moonlit fairways until the batteries ran out of juice. They would count up how many divots they dug into the impeccably kept greens at the end of each fairway, how many carts they rolled over in the sand traps or into the creeks that lined the different fairways spread along the foot of our hills. Then we had to listen to them recount how many guys they kicked in the balls, underwater, at water polo practice, or maybe how many jaws they elbowed at basketball practice.
This sort of barbarity was just so damned foreign to us country bumpkins. We burned up our energy and got rid of our aggression by bucking bails of hay, loading tons of fruit or steadying the heavy controls on our worn out, old trucks or pulling the steering levers of the big, huge tractors, so very long lived, so overly used and fairly maintained. Our work was rough, dirty and very taxing. It was our sun primed sweat that washed the field dust from our tanned backs and arms. When we were done with this sort of work, there wasn’t a whole lot of energy left over for flamboyant and wanton delinquency. And, certainly, there wasn’t any time left for us to lay one’s self out on a chaise lounge for motionless, unproductive hours, slathering the body with a high “SPF” sun tan lotion, in order to put some healthy color onto one’s skin.
Of course, this isn’t how these country club people saw it, at all. They were folks of wealth and leisure, basking in the ease and luxury of their success. They looked down, from on high, at us bustling, scrubby clothed, worker bees, ignorantly and dumbly gathering the fruits of our labor from the budding flora and fauna of the neighborhood. We were no more sophisticated than the bustling bees in any honey filled hive, whether natural or keeper maintained. They paid no more attention to us, nor gave us any more consideration than they did to the crackling katydids or buzzing honey collectors in a nearby hay field, lazily wafting in the hot, summer breeze. Such things were simply incidental to the haughty perspective of the self confident and “successful” leisure class. Their success was measured in the terms of the “real,” wild world of business, politics and finances, a complex and multifaceted world of which we simple folk knew nothing.
Such widely divergent perspectives these were. Would they ever be reconciled?
As I neared the end of my secondary schooling, preparing myself for the more strenuous academics of the upcoming college years, I developed this desire to become more worldly and maturely responsible to the onus demands of adulthood. It seemed to me I should develop my own perspective about things like religon, ethics, politics, economics, so on and so forth. Rather than simply follow the lead of the neighborhood elders, as was the tradition all about me, I thought to develop a rational, educated and informed perspective about what I should be doing in the cold, cruel, adult world I’d soon have to face.
Before graduating high school, we were required to attend a couple of civics classes, which would enlighten us as to the workings, ways and goals of the American political system. As usual, I took this stuff pretty seriously, without question or reservation.
But, wouldn’t you know it, this wasn’t the simple, black and white reality that my parents and their contemporaries embarked upon a generation earlier. Nope. My parent’s generation had it pretty simple, it seems to me: there were the Nazi bad guys and the European and American good guys. Let’s get rid of the bad guys and let’s get the job done ASAP!
However, as I was growing up, we had the cold war, with it’s potential, ultimate terminus having us enshrined in the mushroom cloud of nuclear war. There was the assassination of a president. Then there was the civil rights hullabaloo. And just as I was coming into my own, there was the Viet Nam war and all of its many machinations and hallucinations. Nope, things just weren’t that simple for my generation. There were no “black and white” easy answers.
And here I was, wanting to look at things around me, hopefully, in an educated, intelligent and enlightened way. Ha! Good Luck.
At first, I wanted to believe that the Viet Nam war was good and that the protesters were bad, just as the neighborhood elders proclaimed. These elders were the guys that had fought the Nazi and “Jap” bad guys a generation ago. They were sure that their government was right about this 1960s stuff, just like before, a generation ago.
However, in my quest to be intelligent and enlightened regarding such things, I delved into the different points of view and attempted to weigh them out. Indeed, these things were very complicated. Everything the government said wasn’t exactly true, and everything that the protesters said wasn’t exactly all that false. The further I went, the deeper I dug, the more and more mixed up things became, the more complicated it became.
I watched the news every night and tried to pay attention to all the things that different people said. Then I started watching a couple of different news programs each night and started seeing differences in what different reporters were reporting. Becoming somewhat suspicious, I started watching news that no one else in the neighborhood watched, like the news from Public Broadcasting stations. The more I dug, the more suspicious I became.
It all came to a head when I took on a special, personal project. The Viet Nam debate had been developing for a very good while. I have no desire, now, to rehash this fifty year old history, but this project left me with one very long lasting and personally defining truism: politics are bullshit. As necessary as it is, ultimately, it’s bullshit I want no part of.
When I was young and trying hard to groom myself to become a responsible voter, I focused on two relevant voices for either side of the Viet Nam debate, William F. Buckley on the pro war side, and Tom Hayden on the anti war side.
I’d watch Buckley on his television show, Firing Line, and he would lean back in his stuffed chair, so calm and sedate, nearly always, at least half grinning, so confident and smug. No matter what was discussed, the master debater always seemed to win the arguments. He appeared to be the classic “consummate intellectual” who knew everything, constantly and consistently having all the facts and figures immediately available to support and prove all of the statements and arguments that he made.
On the other hand, there was Tom Hayden. He was one of the founders the Students for a Democratic Society, the infamous anti-war organization, popularly known as “SDS” back in those days. Hayden would go on to marry Jane Fonda for awhile, and then become a California state senator. Hayden was the consummate anti-war organizer and a very active political activist. To my sensibilities, while he was so very passionate about the causes he supported, he wasn’t the polished and glib debater that William F. Buckley was. In opposition to Buckley’s calm and “Cheshire cat” demeanor, Hayden was emotional, passionate and sometimes you could see him get befuddled when cornered in an argument. He didn’t seem to have that ability to call up facts and figures pulled out of the air to substantiate his position like Buckley could.
At first, I copped to what Buckley was selling. This was a really smart guy, he really knew his stuff, he was always right on the money. But once again, wanting to be responsible, I finally started checking out the facts and figures, the names and dates, that Buckley so smugly used to defeat his every opponent. As it turns out, while Buckley was as smug and calm as a wily, smirking fox in the hen house, he wasn’t nearly as all-fired correct and complete as he’d have you believe. After close scrutiny, I found that much of the information he referenced was out of context, incorrect, irrelevant or just, plain fallacious. No matter how valid or invalid this stuff was, it was his presentation that made him appear so absolutely correct and secure. What a grandly believable and impressive presentation it was that he presented, being so aloof and sure. But now I came to resent the presentation for its thinly veiled invalidity. It didn’t take much to distort and crack apart this presentation, these theatrics. Yep, I really came to resent and disdain such falseness masked behind the smugness and haughtiness of the leisure class, of which Buckley was, blatantly and unabashedly, a member of.
I came to view Buckley as the virtuoso supreme of the leisure classes’ smug self confidence.
On the other side of the coin, I found that Hayden, as well, arranged and adjusted his facts and figures to suit his arguments. What the hell, who’s right and who’s wrong? It was a hard pill to take, but I had to admit that the truth wasn’t the simple thing I always thought it was, the thing I wanted it to be. The harder thing to take was that politicians aren’t really that interested in the truth, not nearly as much as they’re interested in furthering their interests. This isn’t what they taught us in high school civics classes.
Pressing onwards, ultimately I came to realize that to really pursue the truth, the reality underneath all of the political rhetoric, was a full time job. This sort of truth was really deep stuff. My conclusion was that I didn’t want to partake of the constant unrealities of politics. Further, nor did I want to spend a great amount of the time and energy necessary to pursue the truths that lay beneath the politics and the politicians.
The one thing I did know is that I was an artist, and I felt what was right and what was wrong. The feelings came from my gut, not my intellectual quests and, honestly, I was quite confident about those feelings. I didn’t need a law or a law maker or a television personality to tell me that you shouldn’t lie, cheat or harm your fellow man. Screw the politicians and their conscious twisting of reality.
By the time I was into my collegiate efforts, I was pursuing the truth as expressed by other artists, those that I knew personally and those I studied professionally, and I was feeling quite content and satisfied with such a reality. No longer was I feeling the angst and frustration I’d felt attempting to make peace with politics.
So here we are, in July of 2016, on the eve a presidential election. It’s absolutely impossible to be awake in this country and not be constantly bombarded with poliltical calamities and trivia. So, no matter how hard I try to avoid politics, I’m losing the battle.
As a result of this exposure, I now find I must vent a few of my pet peeves in this boisterously political era, especially boisterous this time around. It is not even worth commenting about Donald Trump.
Despite whatever his political agenda is, I simply hate the person of Donald Trump, a pompous, rude, indiscreet, vulgar, self-glorifying miscreant who has no business even considering himself to be presidential material. He lies, he cheats, he brags and makes ridiculous, unfathomable claims from the back of his medicine wagon. The only thing that doesn’t make him laughable is that he has gotten so much support from the registered voters in this country. OMG (Oh My God)!!!!! Are there really so many hapless, neanderthal people in this country as to raise this foolish ass to the level of being an actual presidential candidate? If his ascendance should actually take place (and it has), then God help us non-neaderthals.
A shameful scourge is sweeping across the land. Perhaps the many movies and television programs lately, portraying the world being beset by zombies is more relevant that I should have ever imagined.
I dread to think of Trump being elected president. In such a case, North Korea’s leader would no longer be the most outrageous leader of a world power. Nor would Hitler be the only modern demigod to rally the hapless masses behind him.
Enough Trump bashing (though I could go on for hours).
What’s prompted me to get involved in this political bullshit, at all, was a series of comments made last week by conservative, some specifically Republican, politicians and media personalities, blaming the current president of the United States of America, Barack Obama, for the rise of “Black Lives Matter” movement, and an allegedly connected increase in the number of police “executions.”
OK, so I listen to these guys making these allegations about how the president of our country is somehow connected to the increase in the number of police killings, like the president himself is some sort of criminal. This makes me question the apparent rational and intelligent workings of this seemingly very sane president. Now, these right wing politicians have me questioning the sanity and sincerity of this likable, rational, U.S. president.
Gee Whiz, the President of the U.S. is a jerk, according to these Right Wing folks? So I go to bed with these questions on my mind.
So, I wake up the next morning, and I’m reading my morning San Jose Mercury News, half asleep, and what do you know, on page six of the newspaper, I read a headline up on the top, left hand corner of the page that reads the following:
“Data show fewer officers have been killed on job”
This article is from a Washington Post reporter, Chistopher Ingraham, and he quotes data provided by the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial Fund, certainly this is no maniacal, left wing advocacy group. A really key note from this article is that there were “80 deaths annually under Reagan to 48 annually under Obama.” Who am I supposed to listen to, the raving lunatics in the government or in the media spouting off personal prejudices, or the people who take the time to collect information and come to rational conclusions?
So, once again, just like before,
politics is bullshit