Something has gone wrong with this country, and I don’t know how or exactly when.
Part of it is the necessary disillusionment following various forms of hype; for example, that the internet was going to be a great liberating force.
I never really believed that, but it seemed a lot of people did. I was distracted by the discomfort I feel when I see so many of us intently focusing on their iPhones in every imaginable situation: cafes, family gatherings, readings. About the only place now where the phones don’t come out is in church—at least not yet. And then the mad scramble to buy the latest version.
But my discomfort with this new social habit really has little to do with the devastating effect of this technology.
It can’t possibly be liberating when Google at 97% and Microsoft at 90% control the market.
This is as rich an opportunity for people control, and vast profits, as the great oil, steel and tobacco trusts that destroyed competition and built addictions early in the last century, before President Taft enforced President Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting legislation.
There is no trust-busting of the monopolies that control our information services, which are not information services at all but tools of indoctrination.
Likewise Wikipedia. In my hurry to find answers for research questions pertaining to my next book, a biography of Doris Duke, I’ve fallen into the habit of consulting Wikipedia without giving much thought to the source of all these tidbits of information—without wondering about their accuracy, or the point of view they must represent.
In the same name of haste and convenience, I occasionally order books from Amazon—who can resist that one-click buying?—although my local bookstore is being driven out of business by my, and our, obsession with ease and convenience.
And, when I last taught, I didn’t know that 41% of the faculty at the college, like 41% of the faculty at all colleges and universities, is now termed adjunct, as I was, laboring for almost no money and no benefits while shouldering the teaching burdens of tenured faculty—themselves an endangered species.
I was much impressed by a speech recorded on the invaluable Alternative Radio, really the only source of news with relevance and integrity, given by Robert McChesney. His speech is titled, “The Internet, Capitalism and Democracy” and it is the source of some of my facts. What struck me forcibly, though, was that McChesney dares to question whether capitalism itself is the cause of our problems.
In positing some form of socialism as a better alternative, he admits that the very thought is “Marxist” and therefore cannot be mentioned, as though we are still stuck in the cloud of distrust and mental confinement generated by the Nixon witch hunts.
And perhaps we are.
Our obsession with romance—notable in a feeble movie called “The Invisible Woman,” where Charles Dickens’ mistress’ assertion that she doesn’t know the freedom men know seems almost shocking—blinds us to systemic problems.
If we can just find the right romantic partners, nothing else will matter, not the wretched minimum wage, the highway robbery of chains like Wal-Marts which underpay their workers so that they will only survive through government programs, the poverty of a state like my New Mexico, not only the driest but now the poorest in the union, with the highest percentage of children living in poverty—and this is the same state that supports a “world class” opera with all the trimmings of taste and privilege—I could go on and on.
But perhaps the presence of teachers, whom I spoke to Sunday as part of the Tecolote program offered by St. Johns College here in Santa Fe, is in fact our only hope, our only example of what sheer persistence and hard work mean. Poorly paid, hobbled by the ridiculous restrictions of No Child Left Behind, dealing with many of the children and young people we of privilege seem to want to know nothing about, these men and women may be our only heroes.
Laboring in a culture that has lost whatever integrity it once had—but laboring.