A great deal — if not most — of the flashfiction pieces I create come about through the inspiration or influence of a particular song or lyric. Similarly, a large number of these blog posts owe their inspiration/influence to something I happen to have read earlier in the morning…
Kinda like today.
The article I read was a screed against the “buy local” movement. Actually, it is nothing so organized or profound as a movement, it is rather an impulse…almost an instinct, really.
As I write this, I am sitting in a small coffee place owned and operated by a local entrepreneur, staffed by local residents. The coffee I am drinking was, of course, roasted in the “big city”…the city that is all of an hour away. The baked goods I try unsuccessfully to resist are made just around the corner from this little shop.
Before I moved to Yellowstone, I lived in the “Napa Valley of beer” in northern Colorado. The taprooms in which I wrote were owned by local folks who spent their own blood, sweat and tears to get the operations off the ground. The beer was poured by local residents with rent or mortgages to pay.
At my favorite local place I can play chess on a homemade Star Wars set. I can lose several (hundred) hands of cribbage to the old guys pretending to teach me. I can get randomly tackled by a posse of over-familiar great danes. I can, even, argue economics and politics with guys who will buy me a beer and have my back in any fight that follows.
I would rather have my four bucks for coffee and a bagel go to Anna and Alex and everyone at the Tumbleweed — and my beer money go to Don and the folks at Grimm Brothers — than to any faceless, anonymous outfit worried more about stock prices and investor relations than the personal and financial wellbeing of their staff and customers. I would rather, in the end, see my friends prosper than go to some bigbox — or go online — in order to save a buck or two.
If you think the urge — and, yes, I will call it the instinct — to “buy local” is somehow nefarious, foolish or wrong…well…then…
God help you, because I can’t.
That article was to me an unfortunate, miserable symptom of the greater condition that is currently killing us. That condition is the corruption and death of the one thing that truly lies at the heart of civilization and society, the one thing that truly defines, well, us: community.
We have killed community. We have more than killed it — we have poisoned it, hung it, shot it, burned it, then buried it under the bleachers of the bloody gladiatorial show with which we have replaced it.
The most obvious destruction is of course in our politics. No longer are the various sides adversaries, opponents even, they are now enemies. It is no longer about beating an opponent, about one idea and viewpoint taking its (temporary) position at the top. No, now it is about destroying the enemy.
Politics no longer holds any form of hope or help, it holds only hate and vindictiveness. That is true for both sides, I should add.
We no longer live in true, natural communities. We no longer live among neighbors different from us. We no longer hold dear the fellowship and support of friends who have their own opinions, and their own worth.
No, for far too many of us, “community” has come to mean living and socializing only among those with whom we agree. We read only the news that reinforces our own beliefs. We visit only those websites that mirror our views. We shop only at stores that openly display the “proper” allegiances.
We pay lip service to diversity of thought and opinion, and to the inherent value of those who believe differently…but it is just that, lip service. Five minutes after saying that all views should be presented, we will send our kids to schools that admit only one viewpoint. Five minutes after saying that all views should be heard, we will seek to remove a book, or silence a speaker, or walk away from a conversation, because they are “out to destroy us.”
If you admire UC Berkeley and refuse to listen to a Ronald Reagan, or to read a Jonah Goldberg, you are guilty.
If you admire Hillsdale College and refuse to listen to a Ruth Bader Ginsberg, or to read a Noam Chomsky, you too are guilty.
If you throw up your arms and condemn others as worthless or evil or out to destroy, you are guilty.
And, yes, I am just as guilty.
I am guilty of harming our community — of damaging that which should hold us together. I have thrown up my arms and yelled at the words, both written and spoken, of those who I condemned as idiotic and nefarious and and destructive. I am guilty of refusing to listen to, and to read, those who I find repugnant and hate-filled. I am guilty, even, of shying away from interacting with — of sharing community with — those to whom I don’t want to listen.
How do we fix it?
That’s a big question. No, really, that’s a properly big fucking question. That’s the kind of question a writer can spend a million words trying to answer, and still not get his arms all the way around the solution.
It is, in part, an answer of faith. Not of one faith, but of all faiths. The Christian must learn from the Hindu, the Muslim from the Buddhist, the Jew from the Taoist.
But it is more than that.
It is a thing of hope, of that which which draws us together rather than that which divides us. We must celebrate those (few) ideas we still have in common.
In the “old days” we shared a common language of entertainment — we shared stories and songs, movies and shows, even teams and sports, that we could all embrace and celebrate. Now? Now we have Balkanized into tiny fiefdoms separated by uncrossable chasms.
In the past, we shared holidays and the turning of the seasons in common. Now, even the calendar causes dissension and anger.
We have to get past that. We have to get past all of that. We have to do the hard work of actively looking to find and celebrate the ties that bind, rather than follow the easy path of cultural and political tribalism. The tribalism I hear in so much of what my friends and family say and do — the tribalism I hear in so much of what I say and do — is going to destroy us.
The cynic in me says the path down to hell is steep. It says we have fallen so far into the pit, we can climb out only through the blood and death and disaster of war and strife. The little kid in me, however…
That little kid says we can still change. That little kid says — hopes, anyway — that we can still listen without screaming “Socialist!” or “Fascist!” at each other. If we cannot…
If we cannot, that path to hell is one way.