Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tramp Gramp

Dear Children:

It’s been more than seventeen months or so since a posting on these pages.

My intention was to blog the zany stuff that happened in the 112th Congress. Instead, we were treated to the most numbing disappointment possible. It no longer looked like any fun. Instead of law-writing shenanigans we got parliamentary shenanigans. Instead of enjoying the more colorful characters, we heard from the ideological and dim ones. Instead of the tax and deficit-reduction debate we were promised, we got a repeat of the culture wars fought in the seventies and eighties as well as well as contempt for the settled law of that period. Instead of tossing out Speaker Pelosi for her arrogance, we got a new parboiled Speaker. Instead of a lively debate turning on the role of government, we got buzz words and irrefutable proof that liars can figure.

Instead of a reverence for The Constitution we got the fifth grade Readers Digest version of The Constitution. It has been carefully bowdlerized for our protection. Instead of principled discourse about religion's place in the public square we got the Sunday school song version and a hundred-word-vocabulary rendering of the Judeo-Christian scriptures. Islam and Mormon teachings get less attention. We're burdened with bumper sticker insights, cruel jokes, inside snides, snark and a wink/wink mentality when it comes to polite conversation. Our public manners are atrocious.

Help! This is stuff we do not need. The language has gone all twisty and uncertain.

For those who are pathological on the left or right, let me hasten to add that all our political and religious wings have nurtured this nonsense and delighted in its fruit. We make up things our founders might have said if they lived in our time. We leech all context out of what our founders did say. In fact, every dead politician is fair game for those who have a point to make and don't care whose graves are trampled in the process.

Consider this singular fact: the buzz words we use come from the buzz word factory; mass produced in such quantities that they appear as if from nowhere and linger only for as long as they are needed. "Job killing legislation" leaps to mind. "The backs of seniors" qualifies as does "the right side of history". The marketplace of ideas has been replaced by a spigot of hot-button words.  Check that: it’s more like a fetid puddle of hot-button words.

Only the fringes of issues are supported. Whole industries have sprung up in Washington, DC and the state capitols to protect some corner of some issue and to influence policy, law and regulation. No assault however thin goes unchallenged. Positions are hardened and re-hardened to the point that only adherence to the most stringent formulations of the issue are permitted. By this time, if you want any representation on any issue, your only option is to sign on with the fringe. Do not try to find a middle-ground. There is none.

If you feel manipulated: congratulations. Informed people do not like feeling manipulated. It is also true that caring people will not enslave or be enslaved. Thoughtful people will cling to the hard kernel and practical applications of their faith; charity, honest dealing and worshipful decision-making. Strong people are servants to the weak.

So what? None of this is new. Political, ethical, religious and social thinkers have espoused these ideas for millennia. Unfortunately, caring and ethical ideas are rendered toothless by what passes for advocacy. Grasping for and service to power is both brutal and normative.

Just so, those same sages have discussed why an ideal in government and public business gets brushed aside so often. After all, these ideals are meant to be liberating.

We have come to the cruel understanding that it is good people trying to live their lives in peace who enable the cynical manipulators. Manipulators rule because concepts of peaceful order are messy and unreliable.

How sad. If it is true that the manipulated have a hand in their own oppression, what force can prevail in opposition? How can we both live our lives in peace and keep the manipulators at bay?

Consider the hobo; men who, during the first third or so of the twentieth century, looked for work all over the country. They got around by the dangerous expedient of empty railroad box cars. That was roughly all I knew about Hobos until I was given 300 cigar boxes

The ensuing panic about what to do with so many otherwise useless containers has led to an interest in so-called tramp art or hobo crafts. The jug band guitars, the purses, frames and such we’ve made recently is reflective of that. It has also led to the discovery of the wonderful world of cigar box illustration,"travlin'" songs, much of our rich chain-gang music and songs about heaven like "Big Rock Candy Mountain".

The hobos also left signs on buildings and fences for their brothers who followed behind. The signs were deeply practical like the one that means "judge lives here, you will be beaten".

One graffito in particular caught my eye. It was the sign of The Cross of Christ. This is a universal symbol of a faith community; followers of Jesus. In this context, the meaning is quite different and not-at all-subtle. It means "Religious talk will get you a hand-out". For some people, merely hearing the right words is sufficient reason to give up thoughtfulness and free will. After all, charity is a duty. Cooperation with a manipulator, on the other hand, is a breach of good sense.  Do you catch the difference?

As difficult and unclear and squishy as that is, take a lesson. Know when you are being shucked and jived even if the shucking and jiving makes you feel better. A manipulator may be at work.

I'm just sayin'