"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, December 15, 2014

Outrage! The Schizophrenic Down Side Of Too Many Good Causes

Blendy Harkins was in a state of perpetual outrage. The plight of blacks, women, Latinos, farm workers; the XL Pipeline, the encroachment of the seas, child labor, income inequality, perpetual racism…Not a moment of the day went by without an obsessive mood coming over him.

“When will they learn?”, he shouted to no one in particular over his morning coffee and roll. Anyone who knew Blendy had become accustomed to his rage knew that his outburst could be over any one of a hundred causes or issues.  The list grew every day, longer by the hour. Today it was glyphosate, one of the chemicals Monsanto’s popular weed-killer Roundup. “They’re killing us”, he shouted, this time so loud that even the Starbuck’s coffee-drinkers by the window looked up from their cellphones. “Slowly but surely, they’re poisoning us.”

It didn’t matter that the National Institutes of Health found no link whatsoever between glyphosate and human health, and that only the progressive claque of far-left online sites trumpeted disaster.  Blendy believed them all immediately and implicitly. He knew that if Wall Street was responsible for the insensate violation of the environment via their derivative loans to BP, Shell, and Exxon, then they were certainly complicit in the deaths of millions because of glyphosate.  What is worse, racism is at the bottom of climate change. Here he held up a copy of The Nation and read this paragraph aloud:

We can be quite sure that if wealthy white Americans had been the ones left without food and water for days in a giant sports stadium after Hurricane Katrina, even George W. Bush would have gotten serious about climate change. If Australia were at risk of disappearing, and not large parts of Bangladesh, Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be a lot less likely to celebrate the burning of coal as “good for humanity”…. And if Toronto were being battered by historic typhoons demanding mass evacuations, and not Tacloban in the Philippines, we can also be sure that Canada would not have made building tar sands pipelines the centerpiece of its foreign policy.

Blendy was was a happy sojourner in the big revival tent of progressive causes.  There, everyone knew that racism, Wall Street, materialistic consumerism, and fundamentalist, retrograde family values were responsible for the fragile state of the world, for the sufferings of people of color; and for the rape, abuse, and patriarchal subjugation of women.  More importantly all these insults were linked together by a vast conservative, capitalist conspiracy.  Grady Fanter, one of the leaders of the Universalist Movement for World Order  recently addressed this perverse symbiosis at the organizations IX Colloquium on Progressivism and World Order.

Friends and Neighbors, greetings! On a day so close to Christmas, it gives me great pain to be the bearer of such bad tidings, but I must.  Even the mythical Christ would be upset by the venality, greed, and impossibly brutal selfishness of our Captains of Industry who, with their lackeys in the Republican Party, and fascist associates in Europe, continue to despoil the planet, run slave plantations worse than those of the antebellum South, and amass huge fortunes on the backs of the poor.  The system is corrupt to the core, my good friends, as corrupt and evil as the stinking Lake of Fire.

Here Grady Fanter paused to let his words sink in.  He knew that it would not take much, for his seeds would be falling on fertile, prepared ground.  Although he was a committed atheist, one could not ignore the Bible, and he thought often of Jesus’ parable. “Maybe I should not be preaching to the converted”, he thought, “but to the sinners on thorny, rocky ground…”

He berated himself for brushing so close to organized religion which he had frequently criticized for its plantation mentality.  “Once a Catholic, always a Catholic”, a childhood friend reminded him.  “You were always a very penitent soul.”  So what?, he thought. Everything in Western civilization returns to the Bible.  Without understanding the parables, proverbs, and psalms of the Old and New Testaments, one would be totally lost.

The earth is being despoiled, raped, and savaged by corporate white interests – by the Captains of Privilege, the Simon Legrees, the Satanic forces of unheeding capitalism.  If there were more women at the helm of our ship of state, we would certainly be steering towards a happier shore. But no, the patriarchs of Wall Street and the American Enterprise Institute, have shut the doors to Elysium and kept armed Cerberuses at the gate.

Blendy Harkins went out of his way to hear Grady Fanter speak. There was no one who spoke with the passion, fervor, outrage, and commitment as Fanter.  He was one of the very few who understood the inter-connectedness of world problems and world solutions.

Blendy slapped his copy of The Nation down on the table and walked out onto K Street. “Look at them”, he mumbled, referring to the phalanx of lawyers headed to their offices. “Lobbyists, corporate lackeys defending privileged white interests, racist mongrels perpetuating the slavery of the black and the poor.”

Blendy never let up. His fires were never banked.  His brow was always moist with the sweat.  He was only amazed that with the signs of impending doom so clearly visible, so many people simply went about their business.

“I don’t have your passion”, said a Lefferts classmate of his, one who had tilled more familiar and economically productive fields, “and by the way, Blendy, you might want to watch your edges”, his smiling invocation of Mrs. Eakins, the wife of the Master of Ludlow House where they both lived as students, who always warned her children about knives, walls, curbs, beds – anything with an edge that could be dangerous. “You’re getting a bit too close.”

It was his friend’s nice way of saying that Blendy was going a bit around the bend, never mind the edges; and he might want to think of readjusting his heading.

“No”, replied Bendy. “If I don’t speak out for the poor, the dispossessed, and the disadvantaged, who will?”

His Lefferts classmate was not the only one who warned him about his edges.  His doctor warned him many times that his high blood pressure was solely do to his outrage.  He did not put it exactly that way, but said only that his hypertension had no pathological origins.  In other words, relax, and your 180/95 will come down.

Easier said than done, thought Blendy. A leopard cannot change its spots; and if I have ‘socially-induced’ blood pressure, so be it. A work-related hazard.  Comes with the territory.

The problem was that the bolus of progressive causes was getting so unmanageable that he was beginning to choke on it. “Pick your battles”, said his long-suffering wife who said to her friends that she never signed up for a ticket on The Schizophrenia Limited.  When she met Blendy – Blenheim Charles Harkins III – he was the model of Main Line propriety and good taste.  Conservative in dress, opinion, and taste, he could be counted on for hewing a prosperous and respected line.  Twenty-five years after their marriage, the wheels started to come off.  Blendy’s office was no longer the quiet sanctuary of Persian carpets, wood paneling and Audubon prints that it once was; but became cluttered with newspapers and magazines, most of which she did not recognize. The Washington Post, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal were nowhere to be seen.  Instead there were screeds from Idaho, self-published Workers’ Party credos, and every publication possible about the Bay, racism, slavery, female servitude, and anarchic capitalism.  And that, she told her friends, was before the Internet.  “You can imagine what his inbox looks like now.”

“It’s not so easy”, Blendy said to his wife over pot roast and vegetables.  “They’re all interrelated, you see”, referring to the symbiotic or parasitic relationships among racism, misogyny, capitalist exploitation, homophobia, and Latino misery. “There is no way to disaggregate them.”  He paused and looked up from his plate at his wife. “No way to dislodge them, pry them loose”, he went on.

In his mind all these causes were rolled into a giant meteor plunging towards earth with the human clock ticking.  The meteor did not burn up as it hit the earth’s atmosphere but kept getting bigger and bigger in an unholy accretive process.

Not only was his political indigestion getting worse, but the Harkins bank account was nearing zero.  Not the mutual funds, of course, but the checking account; and Martha Harkins was constantly shifting and rolling over funds from secure investments to PNC Bank to cover expenses.  She saw that checks had been written in exorbitant amounts to Clean Water, Clean Air, Anti-Racism International, The Glass Ceiling, Buds ‘n’ Spuds, and One Percent, One World.

Buds ‘n’ Spuds referred to flowers, plants, and roots and tubers – all threatened by Monsanto, Dow Chemical, and Exxon Mobil.

Just when she thought that his cistern had been filled, and there was no room for any other progressive cause, she saw checks written to A Sane Nuclear Policy, World Pacifism United, and Peace Limited.  Blendy had diversified his portfolio yet again.  The military-industrial complex was at it again, he told his wife over dessert.  “Not only do we have a nuclear arsenal big enough to destroy ten Earths, but the money for it has been taken from the mouths of the poor in the South Bronx.

“And where do you think the radioactive waste goes?  Down the drain, into the water supply, into the Chesapeake, into oyster beds, and into our digestive tract and blood streams.  We are being poisoned by the Arms Industry!”

According to his wife, Blendy was becoming twitchy and unpredictable.  He got up at all hours of the night and worked in his study until dawn.  He was forgetful and increasingly random. No longer did he brush his teeth, shave, or bathe regularly; but seemingly when the mood struck him.  His meals became sporadic and his appetite indifferent.

“The children, the children!”, he howled one morning as he came down to breakfast. “How could Christ have permitted it?”, he said, referring to the questions of The Grand Inquisitor. “Why would Jesus have consigned innocent children to misery, starvation, and mutilation?”

“Finally he said something I could understand”,  his wife told me many months after she had committed him to a private mental institution in Hartford. “I could never understand how he could get exercised over so many predictable events.  When has the world ever been any better or any worse?”

In everything there is a spectrum.  Some people are very, very good; others are very, very bad; but most people fall somewhere in between.  There are optimists, pessimists, realists, and nihilists; but most of us fill up the cracks in between.  Poor Blendy was to be found nowhere on any rational scale.  His outrage had literally driven him mad.

There is no broad moral to this story except ‘take it easy’.  Our four score and twenty will be up before we know it, and we will each of us meet our Maker alone. Blendy’s incontinence was his undoing.  He gave too much and never thought about the result.  His fevered commitments were ignored by even the most zealous compatriots.  Nobody wanted any part of this apocalyptic madman.

Unfortunately America is filled with thousands like Blendy Harkins – well-meaning but entirely na├»vely passionate advocates for a better world.

“It was Father Brophy”, Martha Harkins said to me one day. “Blendy used to tell me about his fire-and-brimstone sermons – about the fiery Armageddon and Biblical holocaust which was coming closer and closer because of sinners like Blendy. How could he have become a rational man with that kind of upbringing.”

“His blueblood heritage didn’t help stanch the bleeding?”, I asked.

“No”, she replied. “Pardon my French, but the Harkinses were one fucked-up family.”

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