Saturday, March 09, 2013

Of Moxie and Farmers as the Pillar of Civilization

Houses falling into the North Atlantic after a winter storm, the election of a new Pope, the likelihood that multi-vitamins don't do anything, the apparent epidemic of erectile dysfunction (judging from television advertisements for erection pills), the stock market breaking a record, capitalism in general, our grotesque and absurd gun culture, the new Wrigley gum that has caffeine in it, the woman who threatened me after I said, "good morning" to her when I was in Whidden Hospital, and the subsequent fight it produced on August 21 of last year...they all have something in common. I don't care about any of it. It doesn't matter to me. They can all go piss up a rope, as my maternal grandmother used to say. Trying to make the world better is like shoveling shit against the tide, another one of her colorful expressions transported from a farm on Prince Edward Island to Boston.

Something else is on my mind today.

This isn't meant to be callous or indicative of nihilism or misanthropy. While I'm an existential nihilist, I really do care about people and the moxie required to live, and live well, and be compassionate. Our grace, empathy, sympathy, and compassion are the most important traits we can possess. And those qualities can be difficult to exhibit, particular in the world as it is today. The world as it is seems almost designed to reward cruelty and stony indifference. Our inclination, as human beings in a world dominated by incredible technology and unforgivable ignorance in parallel, is to be apathetic. Yes, I'm speaking in generalizations, which are, by definition, inaccurate. But I don't care. It's what I see most of the time, and that has shaped me. Here I go to the real subject of this rant.

It has changed me from what I would have been if I lived in a world of 100 million hunter-gatherers instead of almost 8 billion consumers, most of which don't know where their food even comes from, who mock those who use their hands to make a living. I'm going to say that again. Drink it in. Moment of Zen, as they say on the Daily Show.

We live in a world where those who work the hardest to grow our food and feed people are derided as stupid, uneducated sots who should go to school so they can learn how to make video games or become a lawyer. Another fucking lawyer. 

It's not easy to take this world seriously, which is probably good, except when it leads to disdain. There's no spine to it. That's something I care about, because I don't want to feel that way about my brothers and sisters on this planet. But I care about eating and surviving, because I love my brother and wife and father and need food to live to enjoy their company.

Someone has to grow the food. It's hard work. It requires intricate knowledge and experience. It's not a mystery as to why so many people take a superior attitude towards physical laborers like farmers; they are taught to, pure and simple. And it's easier to work in an office (and that's hard, too) than it is to put hundreds of acres of land to bed for the winter, rotate crops, know when to plant wet or dry, maintain nitrogen levels, and worst of all, deal with an economic system that is designed to take advantage of such people.

Here's a little ditty. Did you know that the purely economic impact of monopolies like Monsanto selling genetically modified seeds, that are far more expensive than naturally occurring seeds, is that farmer's will be practically broke at the time of planting, while Monsanto is already counting money from a massive profit. Before the crops have even come in.Why? Because Monsanto has international property rights for seeds that are pest resistant and wonderful. This creates a seed shortage, increased competition between farmers, and in the end, that Monsanto will own the very farms they claim to be helping. If you're of a mind to, check out this paper, written by William Freiberg.

Everyone makes money from farming except for the farmer.

Farm subsidies create the perception that farm states have political influence, and use it to get a hand-out. If they didn't get that, "hand-out," you'd be going hungry. You might even starve.

I'm the product of a world where people speak of a,"21st century economy." In such an economy, it's clean and no ugly slaughterhouses or factory eyesores. And there are no farmers and no industrial workers. Because who the Hell wants to do that? I don't. But if the whole world, all 8,000,000,000 of us, embrace such an economy, where the fuck will our food come from, our cars, our telephone toys? Right now, we have farmers who cannot function in a free market, who require Socialism to survive. A fascinating subject to kick around. Capitalism cannot sustain the farms that keeps us alive. Industrial jobs? Capitalism cannot create the products we use and pay a living wage to the workers who make them. We need slaves. Also called low-wage workers. Wage slavery.

Maybe I'm batshit insane because I'm aware that I live in such a ridiculous world, or think I do. Maybe we are all on Prozac and Zyprexa and Smirnoff because we're aware of this situation. And there is always, always the possibility that I'm totally wrong and full of shit. That goes without saying. But I don't think so.

This gets emotional, however. I think of Nancy's grandmother, who grew up and lived on a farm all her life. I talked to her for precisely one hour and a half, when we visited her last summer. It was not easy to get to her, just over the border of Minnesota, in North Dakota, living in an assisted living facility. She was 94, and died about three months ago.

My honest impression of this woman, as a useless lump of fat produced by my own weaknesses and a world that doesn't mind them, is that she knew something that I'll never know. That I can't know. She was Atlas, holding up the world, part of a world most of us never think of, the world that feeds us. A world most of us do not want to be a part of, and that includes me. Because feeding the world is hard work. Very hard work. And wisdom that doesn't involve Google or hard drives or erection pills.

I'm pointing fingers this morning. But mainly, I'm pointing the finger at myself. I'm a taker, not a giver, and perhaps that is why I need pills to accept my own wretched existence. Nancy's grandmother's name is Alice. We spoke of grackels, the old days (with pictures, she kept a photo album nearby), how the harvest looked that year, playing the piano, pumpkins bigger than a car, and a world that is gone. I was never a part of it, and I miss it. And I know that we desperately need what is left of it. Perhaps I'm romanticizing, I tend to do that.

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