Tending The Kindling
This morning finds my mind a quiet murmur of thoughts. An essay about losing the last five—seven, really—pounds is scratching away at the brain’s back door like a house cat left out for the night. I know I’m going to have to let it in, it would be cruel otherwise, but I really can’t be arsed to get down into the fat of it at the moment.
I just want to enjoy this cup of slowly cooling, overpriced but smooth North Carolina roasted coffee for a while without wrestling any personal demons.
So I turn my baleful eye towards the [rather raw, oddly lovely essay Quinn Norton put up yesterday] on the occasion of the release of The Internet’s Own Boy: the Story of Aaron Swartz. It’s clear in both the film and Norton’s essay how wounded she is by Swartz’ death, and it is so rare to see that depth of emotion portrayed so clearly in print.
That’s not why I’m thinking about it. I’m thinking about how she says she doesn’t blame the government for his death so much as she blames all of us—the American people who let the government get away with horrors. I can’t help but think that she’s not wrong, but that there lies a point of view that doesn’t help anyone.
Demanding outrage and action from people who are just trying to get by in a system that has been set up to destroy them is a kind of privileged perspective, from where I sit. I’d wager that most Americans don’t believe they have the power to change anything, a belief they’ve developed over a lifetime of having their hope ground out of them. Of finding solace in the scraps—materialism, old time religion,foodie festishism—that are left for them to make meaningful lives out of.
I reserve my rage for those who are farther up on Maslow’s self-actualization chart. Those who aren’t struggling to make their car payments and keep the student loan people off their backs. The shitheels who post their bar tabs on [Rich Kids of Instagram], a Tumblr blog dedicated to celebrating the material excesses of the children of the 1%.
Then I save a little for myself, because I know that Norton’s right when it comes to me. I could do better. I might be saddled with credit card debt from the years when I was unemployed and I tried to create my way out of poverty—when I wasn’t eating and drinking myself into depression—but I let my feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness get the best of me. I lose faith in others because of how many times I or my family got caught in the gears of the system.
I grew up poor, on welfare, raised by a single mother with mental health issues. Starting out I was as familiar with the layout of the county medical center as I was my own elementary school. By the time I was seven I could direct anyone to the Social Security office from anywhere in Contra Costa County. I had a rat’s eye view to the American social safety net at the very time Ronald Reagan’s goons were happily cutting holes in it to let the money flow freely into their own pockets so it could then trickle down—like piss—to the rest of us.
Norton’s right to be angry with us, from one perspective, but I’m also right to grieve. Grieve for a people who have had the shit kicked out of them for so long they don’t even know they’ve got any fight left in them. Who when they are led are usually rounded up by myopic, utopian addled dunderheads who care more about ideological purity than they do about doing the most good they can.
Anyway… almost like I said. A jumble of thoughts. Just maybe not as quiet anymore.
(Thanks, Quinn Norton, for agitating the old brainpan.)