Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Globalism vs Community: Food.

1:09 PM Posted by Patrick 6 comments
If I wanted to oversimplify things grossly, then this is the part where I would tell you there were two kinds of conservatives; the right kind and the wrong kind, my kind and their kind. I could tell you that there is only one kind of conservative, and then proceed to shock you by telling you that the trademark of a true conservative is conservatism. Not all those, I would say, who stand under the banner of the VRWC are actually conservatives. I would be going somewhere with this, and I might even ask you to bear with me.

I stake my claim to conservatism on the grounds that my philosophy and outlook on the world might actually be described as conservative. My worldview is two nuanced and multifaceted--ok, so its a Hydra--to say that there are just one or two elements which define my world, but there are a couple dominant threads in my political thought. In the first place is a healthy respect for things received. Being the thoughtful student of history that I am, I understand that the mores, customs, and laws of a people do not come about by accident, but in order to prosper and knit together the community. Note, however, that I do not say that I hold these things in reverence. The customs of men are always flawed, and will require adjustment from time to time, especially as the community changes.

The other dominant thread, which defines my outlook as conservative--and puts the lie to many pretenders--is moderation. Just as we do not engage in ancestor--say Founding Father--worship, it is also foolish to rush into any change without first considering all of the possible consequences.It is, after all, the mistake of an enthusiast to confuse the intent of an action with its consequence.

This definition of conservatism could actually accommodate any number of minor political opinions and persuasions, but I feel that it should stand as something of a rebuke to the reactionaries, who would claim conservatism as they tilt at windmills.

It is my opinion, however, that the ideas above must necessarily stand in stark contrast, and opposition to, globalism. How can I mean such a thing, and why do I deal in such vague general terms? No, you are right. Let us begin with something we may all agree is evil, and I will develop my point from there.

Of all of the things which we have received, not one of them is greater than the earth. That might seem obvious, but with our modern attitude toward the earth, it seemed to need restatement. It is our home, our means of subsistence, and the inheritance that we will leave to our children. It is also beautiful, and, as a certain Someone once saw, it is good. Amongst the greatest duties of man is the careful cultivation and tending of the earth.

I am not an environmentalist, I am a conservative. The earth is something good that we have received, and which it is our duty to preserve for our posterity. I also understand that the wellbeing of men is tied up in the wellbeing of the land. That is not to say that we should ever value the land above the people, but that we should understand the importance and dependency of the one upon the other.

Our global orientation has no consideration for the land. The commercials on the radio advertise that best poisons, for both pests and weeds, so that farmers will get the maximum yields. And since those alone are not enough, they also should use--and almost without exception do use--petroleum based fertilizers, all in order to get the maximum yields.

But these yields do not mean much for the farmer, because the farmer is essentially a share cropper for an Agra-industrial conglomerate, like Mon$anto. The farmer scrapes by, and bulk agricultural produce sits in silos and waits for what is left of its lessening nutritional value to deplete, at which point it will be shipped over seas or turned into microwave dinners.

No matter what the other effects, things never look great for the farmer. The prices he sells his grain for must be competitive, not just with his neighbors, or with the surrounding countryside, but with the whole world. He must sell his product cheap. There might be some who say, good, that means cheaper prices for the consumer. I will remind you now: you get what you pay for.

In order to scrape by each year, the farmer is using genetically modified crops, which certainly produce more, but which deplete the soil faster. Instead of rotating crops and allowing fields to lie fallow, which responsible farmers have been doing for millennia, he must use all of his land, every growing season. He continues to pour poisons into the ground, even as the crops he grows diminish in nutritional value, and the soil is stripped to the point of exhaustion.

This process, the demeaned position of the farmer, the destruction of the land, the degradation of our food, is carried out to feed the needs of the global market.

Corporations like Monsanto are not particularly concerned with the state of the land; they hold no affection for it, and so long as you can force the sufficient quantity of metric tons out of it, they will never see any reason to change their practices. Indeed, at the point that they see lower yields, they will probably resort to stronger chemicals.

I might demonstrate this with other areas later, but I believe--in congruence with my conservative tenants--that the care and maintenance of something requires understanding and respect. These are categorically impossible at a global level, and so the only truly sustainable and healthy economic and political arrangements are found at a local level. I might look at our government structure and the development thereof as an example later.

But I think the most important, quite possibly, is a local food economy.

Examine the farmers markets which have sprung up in Fort Wayne, and which do a relative bustling trade. Nothing like what we need, but a start. For prices competitive with those at the grocery store, we buy unpolluted, nutritionally superior food from local farmers. The difference for these farmers is that the entire profit from their yields is their own. The corporate farmer is splitting their share with two middle men, their Agra-industrial handler and Kroger. The local farmer can make more money on a smaller yield, and so, does not need to abuse his land. In the meantime, these farmers markets lend to an almost festival air, one sees familiar faces at the local farmers market, and one develops relationships with the vendors. There is dignity. There is community. There is a genuine love for the land.

The global has no consideration for the local; it cannot. It is a large sum game, and quantity must always trump quality, to say nothing of decency.

As a conservative, I also recognize that we probably cannot legislate our way out of this hole. What would we do? Tell a farmer how much of his land he is allowed to use? Do we own his land? Has he not lost enough of his dignity that we should also set ourselves over him? Do we outlaw fertilizers and pesticides and watch in horror as tired soil no longer produces sufficient yields to make our microwave dinners, let alone enough for global export?

No. Like most things, sudden change would not be beneficial either, and it is not wise to force such a thing. The only answer to this problem is for people to change the way they live. People need to turn their eyes to their own communities and buy local goods and local produce. I do not speak of "the market" as some talismanic force which will set the world to rights, but behind that word is the reality that all movements start with individual choice.

Healthier communities and healthier food are not going to come from global initiatives, which understand neither the land nor the people, but only from the concerted effort of individuals, who are willing to give of their time, talents, and money in order to bring about a more morally sound and sustainable system. Communities do not come about by fiat. They are necessarily organic; they intimate knowledge, care, and the active participation of individual members.

It takes more time, and it takes more effort, but the essence of conservatism lies in patience, moderation, and respect. But to what end? A community is a small thing and delicate. It cannot make war. It cannot change the world. It cannot even forward the aims of peace and democracy.

No. It will not be able to do any of these things, and it is not going to be a paradise, but, at the very least, it might just tend its garden.

It is insufficient for such a topic, but I suppose that is enough for now. I'll write about another facet later.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Sunday Evening.

10:52 AM Posted by Patrick No comments
Last night, I got home, I ate, and I crashed into bed about 2 hours earlier than I am accustomed. What rendered me inert? What brought such a fine specimen as myself to total exhaustion?

It might have had something to do with work.

Yesterday was the last day before Fort Wayne Community Schools went back into session. It was all but guaranteed to be a pretty wild ride. From the time I got there I could see that it would be a long and busy night. The tops of the tables had already been reduced from neatly folded piles to heaps, and I did not see nearly so many coworkers as I had hoped. To make matters worse, the two guys who were supposed to arrive at the same time as me were not there yet, and the lines were long enough that I could forget about helping customers or cleaning up: I would be running register.

The situation did not get better from there. We continued to be crushingly busy until about an hour and a half before close, at which point we were still busier than we are on a normal week day. The two gentlemen I mentioned never showed up, and to make matters worse, they were not alone. Nine people failed to show up that evening, knocking our numbers down from being woefully understaffed to absolute skeleton crew. The lines were long and crabby and under-prepared customers became even crabbier. I did my utmost best to keep a smile and perform my job as well as was in my power, but it really wears on you, and, under the surface, my attitude was not helping things either.

I was seething. I was so angry that I felt like delivering two weeks on the spot. I nearly did. Human Resources continues to hire candidates that raise all manner of red flags with the rest of us, and retains employees that should have been fired a long time ago. In addition, no help was brought in after everyone called off. This is not merely an aberration, but the culmination of ongoing failures in management. In addition, our software--and hardware, really--is so outdated and undependable that it easily doubles the time it requires to perform simple tasks, like, you know, check the customer out.

But I didn't walk out. Why? Because my coworkers still would have been stuck there, along with the managers who have no control over the issues. It would not be fair to saddle Michael, Amanda, and Laura with that much more of the work.

Which only made me fume that much more at the...people who didn't show. They knew that not coming in would cause the rest of us stress. They knew that they were letting us hang out to dry on what was slated to be a busy and not terribly pleasant day.

I was furious, and you know how tiring it is to be angry? I managed to get my outlook under control and relatively positive by the time the store was closed, but I was already fried. I hadn't eaten in about seven hours and was about as far removed from any caffeination, and I had heaped up all of my tension on top of that.

I think I kind of knowingly fed it too, allowed myself to brood on it, which was completely stupid. Anger is never worth it. The petty satisfaction is far outweighed by the negatives, and last night serves as a reminder. I have worked much longer shifts, been much busier, and still come out the other side with energy. The difference is attitude. You can leave as a grim survivor, or a conquering hero. Or, you can get to a place where you no longer give a shit. I thank God that I am not there, and pray for the fortitude never to go there, but I think it is time for a change. My self control is decent, but why keep pounding my head against the wall, especially when it is not my only option.

I guess I took a few lessons from last night, but the most important was self-concerning: do not give in to anger, that leads to the dark side. I could have walked out of there last night and been ready for my evening to begin. Instead, I walked out feeling much wearier than my body has any business to feel. I had help, but I did that. I don't think I shall let it happen again.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Back to School.

11:09 PM Posted by Patrick 1 comment
Every year, about this same time, the unwashed masses descend on my place of work, and trash it righteously. They are not buying presents this time, oh no, buying presents would not make them quite this angry, or not all of them. The seething masses are angry because they are spending their money on their children (again!). That's right, all of this money, all of this clamor, just so little AJ--gender unconfirmed--can be ready for school.

A great number of them are incensed that they have to buy to fulfill uniform requirements, of all things, and that AJ can't just wear his Nike shorts and tank tops. Many of the rest of the parents are enraged, because their AJs have a preference for Nike gear, which is so derned expensive.

AJ's and AJ's parents agree on one thing, however: it is almost worth it, since that little rugrat will soon be out of their hair.

I wonder how many of this actually feel this way, or whether it is all the same false, callous, bravado of 13 year-old boys speaking of girls in the way the imagine men speak. Not to say that many men do not speak as they imagine, but just that they are putting on an act. Is it the same amongst parents? Are they merely playing the part of the super-consciously long-suffering parent who is glad to see the kiddo go? Or is it just what they think they are supposed to say. Minutes ago I was reflecting on poserdom, and perhaps there is some in this. Perhaps these parents are showing me some of what they think I expect to see: what someone like me might type as normal and healthy. They are so interesting and busy and important that they will be glad to be rid of the distraction posed by their children.

As to the expense, I have seen many of them before, and often spending much greater amounts on their own clothing, and in some cases on a regular basis. If they begrudge the expenditure, they clearly do not begrudge it to themselves, but only when spent on others. They do not stress at spending money, just at spending money on school clothes. I could spin this a couple ways. In one case, perhaps the worst, the are merely frustrated on spending money on clothing which is not for them, which might be true for some. Or else, it might be that they are frustrated with spending money on clothes which will not fit next year; highly possible. It could be that they are just so busy, that the extra effort and expenditure are a bit much. I like to pretend, sometimes, that one of the contributing factors to their stress is that they are going to miss their children. Hey, you never know.

The attitude of the children is another thing entirely. While they are almost always happy that I start talking to them as well--you know, as if they were rational human beings, even if pint sized--they seldom seem to display much happiness at the prospect of going back to school.

While I do not exactly understand their situation, this always puzzles me just a little, since I am practically quivering with anticipation at the approach of classes--for a distraction, for learnings and stuff, who knows?--and would assume that I would find at least the occasional excited kiddo. Instead, I get a bunch of head shakes.

There are a few schools of head-shake as well, however. One--my favourite--is the head-shake followed by an impish smile. This one speaks volumes. Dijon's mouth says no, but his eyes say yes. They, perhaps like their parents, are giving me the answer that they expect me to expect, but there is too much excitement there for the answer to be entirely true.

The majority, unfortunately, are genuinely glum, and for this I blame our factory schools and one size fits all education (which nicely foreshadows a future possible rant post). These children dread school because it is a place of boredom and discomfort, interspersed with time to see their friends...which is what they just spent all of their summer doing.

Still, children can be drudgery and we are a selfish people, so the attitude that says it is glad to be rid of kids is to be expected. I think it is also basically true that conventional school is basically tedious and does little to cater to individual strengths and interests. Zum Beispiel: stick in in geology and social services courses rather than History and German...you could practically watch me shrivel. Granted, I would do well; partly because I have such a wide variety of interests, but mostly because I'm so terribly clever. Still, I would not be the same, and I do not know if I would maintain my excellence separated from the things I love. I kind of doubt it.

I have no idea where I'm going with all of this. I think I might have just wanted to muse on something which has so traumatized me over the last couple weeks. I really could do without back to school. I really want to get out of the mall, but I just don't see that happening soon. Can't I just do something outdoorsy until school is done?

Reading Fail.

10:21 PM Posted by Patrick No comments
I fail at pretension. Oh, yes. I know that may be hard to believe, but I definitely lost this round.

There I was, innocently sitting at Starbucks,trying to kill a couple hours and a half dozen shots of espresso before I left for work, studiously working my way through German adjective conjugation--gotta keep sharp, right?--when a flight of madness struck me. I put away my German and snatched up Foucault's Pendulum out of my bag. Eco. Good Author. Entertaining book. Such were y thoughts as I settled in to read.

Forty odd pages in, I had realized my grave mistake.

The book reads like it was written by the hand of an eccentric eighty year-old Italian academician-philologist-semiotician with an endless amount of literary knowledge and no editor.

I could keep up through the references to Borges and Nietzsche and St. Paul and other such, but exotic obscurities kept popping up, and by the time cabala came up--and I was still not sure what the story was--I resigned myself to never finishing that book. Very sad.

I simply lack the abstract knowledge and raw pretension to finish such a monolith, which the New York Times proclaimed "an intellectual triumph."

It is beneath the arches of this triumph that I meet my defeat. I cannot finish that book, nor do I even have the fuzziest desire. I may try again some day, when I myself am an 80 year-old lunatic and semiotician, but not yet. For now, I am chastened. The deep end is fine, but best to keep out of certain territories

I can be a little bit of a poser at times--I believe that Jonathan was making "tool" comments the other day...only in the most loving, playful, and outrageous manner--but there is a certain degree to which I think everyone indulges in poserdom. We adapt ourselves to the cultural norms and seek after what is generally acclaimed as being good. I hope, however, that I demonstrate the sufficient moral fibah to cast aside poserdom when it gets ridiculous, or outside what is practical.

Perhaps I kid myself. Perhaps it was just that this act of poserdom required too much work.

On a minor side note, this is the first novel which I have laid aside for the sake of its difficulty. I rarely give up on a book, and never because it is simply too much for me to grasp entirely, but this one did it. I am humbled, if but a very little, and I will resign myself to just watching TV in the time I would have finished that monstrosity. I will be much happier for it.