Action and Non-action at a Distance, versus Moral Magnetism

Americans are fascinated by and obsessed with guns because they give the illusion of allowing one to work one’s will by action at a distance.

Americans are mesmerized by and obsessed with handheld ‘telinternet’ electronics because they give the tenuous illusion of shielding one’s non-action, and of being insulting, from a distance.

Both of these fetishes are indictors of the lack of social cohesiveness among Americans. We separate ourselves by fear and shame. Hence, our society is fractious, disunited, weak. Our politics fully conforms to Ambrose Bierce’s definition of that word: “A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.”

It is then no mystery why, as Daniel Warner bemoans (https://www.counterpunch.org/2021/10/25/collective-responsibility-and-our-moral-compass/), random collections of Americans are consistently morally irresponsible by failing to stop injustices occurring right before their eyes.

Behind the belief in an ability for action or non-action at a distance rests the illusion of having a store of personal power: each of us a little Zeus with a quiver of thunderbolts to hurl at offenders from our safe remote clouds. We cherish this illusion because it is how we stifle the voice of gnawing fear at the root of our behavior: in truth we are powerless individuals among uncaring people in an uncaring world.

While it is comforting to complain about being in a “99%” victimized by the leading actors in our national political stage play, the soap opera they put on accurately reflects our consensus about what kind of society we are willing to accept, and what kind of individuals we allow ourselves to be. While American democracy is blocked from implementing the populist socialist aspirations of the American public, by the Fort Apache attitude of our political advantage-takers, it is still true that American government reflects the general character of that American public. In this regard our government remains representative. So, we both are and are not victims of our political managers.

Individual reactions to our societal mediocrity can include: charitable action intended to ameliorate suffering and inspire wider imitation; activism intended to promote greater justice and inspire others to similar activism; a disdainful loss of pity for the crowd because its individuals are seen as too easily and ignorantly allowing themselves to be exploited and enslaved by their political gullibility and lack of social solidarity.

Fortunately, there remains a portion of the population that is clear-eyed about our fractious social reality and yet makes the individual effort not to acquiesce to it but instead “do the right thing” as a matter of principle, and of personal pride, even if convinced that life is intrinsically absurd and the idea of any future “triumph of good” is an illusion. Probably most of us think we are in this group, but of course most of us are not (as our society shows). Probably all of us can recall some instance in our lives (and perhaps many) when we have been lovingly and generously touched by the consequences of kind acts by people, known or unknown, who were trying to inject goodness for others into our times.

In his article, Daniel Warner repeats the falsehood (widely publicized by the New York Times in 1964) that the assault on and murder of Kitty Genovese proceeded without anyone seeking to stop that crime while it was in progress. From wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Kitty_Genovese):

“In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender, was stabbed outside the apartment building where she lived in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens in New York City, New York, United States. Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times published an article erroneously claiming that 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack, and that none of them called the police or came to her aid.”

For the full story about the tragedy of Kitty Genovese, the responses of neighbors who tried to help, and the disgusting duplicity of the newspaper writers who jumped with alacrity to social criticism — “the bystander effect” — while ignoring investigation of the facts, see ‘The Witness’, the 2016 riveting documentary movie produced by Kitty Genovese’s younger brother, William (http://www.thewitness-film.com/).

I lived in Jamaica, Queens, just east past Kew Gardens until 1962 and then further east in Suffolk County into the late 1960s. I remember the shock, dread and sadness of the Kitty Genovese murder as a local current event, and always thought about it when the Long Island Railroad train I was taking to or from Manhattan would stop at the quaint Kew Gardens station whose small parking lot was where Kitty Genovese had left her little FIAT sports car, which she never returned to after the early hours of 13 March 1964. Kitty Genovese bled her life out in the arms of a neighbor woman who rushed to her aid while waiting for emergency services to arrive.

While I believe that American society is corrupt, and perhaps even irredeemably so, I also believe we will always have individuals who will instinctively embody goodness and selflessness for the sake of others overwhelmed in crises of pain and sorrow. This is taking action at hand, of human connection and of solidarity, without concern for feeling powerful.

The natures of our national and world societies are reflections of the (deficient) proportions of their populations who take the risk of adopting that altruistic attitude. The “risk” to the individual, of trying to live by some standard of communal altruism, is of failure at advantage-taking, as evidenced by the counterexamples of “the winners” in our world, who achieve their “successes” (money, status, de facto legal immunity, the envy from the multitudes) by taking the exact opposite attitude: being parasites.

Daniel Warner quotes Virginia Held, that “a random collection of individuals may be held responsible for not taking collective action,” and he concludes that “a universally accepted institutional moral magnet no longer exists” for remagnetizing the failed moral compasses of a people who in random groupings fail (or will fail) to take collective action to stop moral outrages that erupt directly in front of them.

I see the failure to ‘take collective action’ against the moral outrages of the obvious victimization of others, and the evasion of responsibility to do so, as the unspoken design criterion of American society. It is a labyrinth of advantage-taking designed by and for moral evasion. My attitude here is like that of Jonathan Swift: I can condemn human society as a whole, as a fractious collection of competing parasites, while simultaneously prizing those many individuals — few of whom I can ever know — who contribute what goodness and beauty and compassion and connection are available for experiencing when we need them.

Also, a ‘universally accepted moral compass remagnetizer’ does exists. Put yourself in the place of the victim you see before you and ask: minimally, how would I want those who see me in this crisis, to help get me out of it? That then is the personal remagnetization challenge. It is for me, too.

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The E Terminal Return

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Everyone wants to be heard, even me. Nobody wants to listen, even me. Everyone wants change, even me. Nobody wants to change, even me, but I will as needed to go on just to see how it all plays out though I already know. I am redundant except to pay, my audience gone, my knowledge old, dustbinned by new that recycles yet again, its drama riveting, the same suspense intact, pyramids ever built up as ever they crumble, linear thrusting of insect minds, of viral compulsion, detached blind in a field of light unseen. Watts happening? Refrigerate the drought to dry ice? Compress it to stone?, to diamonds? Sublimate it once again in viral aspirations?, pyramidal masturbation? Vanity dreaming its blackness mirrors light imagined endlessly returning. I watch. Symbolist Melville’s Moby-Dick turns once again ramming through our implacable fragility. Cold darkness rolls over the sinking wreck drowning all memories even God’s. I’ll go on. Failure is certain, Sam Barclay assures, but don’t quit. Just don’t say anything. It’s hopeless. Aye, O’Flahertie, the only worthwhile company is oneself. Keep on talking to yourself. Someone might overhear and tell you to shut up. Success! This castaway Ismael floats on coffined history knowing no Rachel is destined to sail its white-winged grieving heart’s succor by. But at least I’ve seen, and know. That is all.

Phillip appeared:
I see you’re a modern married man.
How can you tell?
Your clothes are wrinkled.
That could be true for a bachelor.
No, they pay for wash-and-fold by the bag.
They could be poor.
No, vanity is totality, appearance obligation,
they laundromat it themselves,
you machine wash at home and get brainwiped from drying.
I hang it on a line outside.
Yes, except when you forget because listening is required,
you wear the wrinkled badge of courage
of the modern feminist man.
Sometimes I rebel.
Harmlessly, when your socks mismatch.
What should I do?
As you are, why add more suffering?
I see: say nothing and drink alone unseen.
Its best, love disguised as peace.
The indeterminate illusion of eternity is finite
even when you see through it.
Enjoy, why not?

I want a dinner of sautéed mushrooms and Veuve Clicquot,
cioppino and Pouilly-Fuissé,
Renoir and Chateau Margaux,
Mozart at midnight.
Breakfast eggs fried over bacon at dawn’s riverbank sandbar
campfire by the hauled out canoes,
fresh coolness beckoning another paddle
down the shimmering burbling ribbon to light’s wide horizon,
somewhere beyond nightfall,
behind the thrumming of crickets,
prophesying.

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An October Sunday Reflection

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The striving to inject beauty, truth and peace into the world is the noblest of ambitions, and deserving of our appreciation even of those who despite their best efforts in this regard fail miserably to achieve their lofty aims.

On the other hand, success in the ambition of gaining money wealth is no more worthy of admiration and praise than is the abject failure to do so worthy of condemnation. In general, you can make more money in screwing people over than in helping them. This does not speak well for the economics of our society, nor its politics, which both come out of our collective moral character.

We cheat ourselves of experiencing the fullness of life if during the brief spans allotted to each of us we make an idol of material advantages, and our fear of being inadequate for lack of them, and call it God.

Success at being a life is an internal experience unseeable by the external world and thus despite the judgments it paints on you, and despite the disregard it dismisses you with. Thinking this way is how I see continuing with confidence and without apprehension about understanding some ultimate purpose. It is also a sense of solidarity with billions of anonymous souls, here and gone. For me, that is the actual experience of eternal life, and I would wish it for everyone.

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The Nature of Sadness

“All jealousy is lack of love.”
All envy is lack of self-worth.

“Everyone has damage,” she said. And from all I have seen these many years, I know that is true. It is the source of our self-absorption, and the cause of our judging.

Deep down, I think that all my politics and all my moralizing come out of one simple idea — really a feeling — that: no person should ever have to live with desperation.

I think that all my socialism and all my schemes of social engineering come out of an intuitive response to that realization, simply that: human civilization should be a network of person-to-person interactions of appreciation and mutual help, with everything else being incidental.

Each of us should have our quiet, comfortable refuges of solitude, without ever being shunned into lonely abandonment.

Our civilization is very incomplete and wounded. It remains an idea orphaned by neglect. And that is the nature of sadness in our world.

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BEST U.S. R&R BANDS

I was asked my opinion on “the best U.S. rock-and-roll bands.” My answer:

‘The Band’ was ‘built’ around Levon Helm, from Arkansas, and the mythology it plumbed was all country-blues, country-folk, Levon’s canon of music. By “best” I mean most connected to the spirit of the people, coupled with absolutely superb musicianship, lyrical insight, and ever captivating ‘listenability,’ all equaling pure songwriting and pure performance.

What I DO NOT mean by ‘best’ is flamboyant sonic showmanship — though I have enjoyed much of this as well, as with Hendrix and the Allman Brothers (with Duane). Sly and Santana were good, mainly for dancing. Dylan and Aretha were superb, each in their own idiom, but they were showcased acts fronting cherry-picked studio bands, though I’ll give Dylan credit for sometimes blending into the bands who backed him (The Band, with the ‘Basement Tapes’, and George Harrison’s ‘Traveling Wilburys’).

For me, ‘best’ is a musical ensemble that is a song-expressing integral unit that has achieved a timeless recorded body of work; and for ‘American’ that has really tapped into the spirit of its people both on its light and dark sides.

My three favorite (‘best’) American Rock and Roll bands are:

— The Doors (especially albums 1,2,4,5),
— The Band
(‘Music From Big Pink’, and ‘The Band’ being to me two halves of one double album), and
— the 1969 band in Memphis, TN, that recorded ‘The Memphis Tapes’ with Elvis Presley, his absolute best work ever.

*If the pure ‘American idiom’ were the #1 criterion, then ’The Memphis Tapes’ band+singer rates #1.

*The most underrated Doors album is #4: ‘Morrison Hotel’, which is their most unified (a favorite).
*The most avant-garde Doors album is #5: ‘L.A. Woman’.

*The ‘best’ (favorite) Band song is ‘King Harvest Has Surely Come.’
(Steinbeckian musical mythology).
*The most ethereal song of any Rock band: ‘Whispering Pines’ by The Band.

*Best stoner album: ‘Blonde on Blonde’ by Bob Dylan
(+ real musicians, one from The Band).
*Best Dylan albums: ‘Highway 61 Revisited,’ ‘Bringing It All Back Home,’ ‘Blood On The Tracks’.

*Best Hendrix song/track: ‘Little Wing’.

*Best Janis Joplin song/track: ‘Me and Bobby McGee’
(Kris Kristofferson song).

*Best Southern Rock band: The Allman Brothers
(with Duane Allman).
*Best Duane Allman + Dicky Betts track: ‘Little Martha’.
*Most popular Duane Allman solo: on ‘Blue Sky’
(Dicky Betts’s non-blues balladic song).

*Best ‘supergroup’ band: The Traveling Wilburys (1988)
(also, best ‘old man’ band).

*Best Dance Band: ‘B-52s’.
(most creative song: ‘Rock Lobster’).

*Best Beer-Drinking Night band: ‘Hoodoo Rhythm Devils’.
(their best ‘American mythology’ song: ‘Red Pacific’).

*Best ‘generation II southern rock band’: ‘The Doobie Brothers’.
(with Tom Johnson, and pre Michael McDonald).

*Best soul singer: Aretha Franklin (obviously).

*Best female rock-pop-country vocalist: Linda Ronstadt.

*Most idiosyncratic: ‘Captain Beefheart’, a Howling Wolf imitator
(considered a genius by his afficionados, an acquired taste, not mine).

*Most Puckish: Ry Cooder
(especially his ‘Paradise and Lunch’ album: his best?)
(a favorite, especially ‘Married Man’s a Fool’, delicious guitaring).

*Best band for wallowing in depression: ’The Velvet Underground’.

*Best frenetic unhung rock band: ‘The New York Dolls’.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

*Best album for spending the night with your girlfriend in the dormroom:
‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’.

*’The Rascals’ (or, ‘The Young Rascals’)
(‘Good Lovin’’ best cover ever).

‘Lovin’ Spoonful’
(‘Do You Believe In Magic?’, ’Summer In the City’)

*’Creedence Clearwater Revival.’
(their groove is all in their pacing).

*’Steppenwolf’ (best white trash stoner band)
(’Easy Rider’ soundtrack).

*Best Country-Pop: ’The Carpenters’
(sorry, Dolly)

*Most soporific on long roadtrips out West: ‘The Eagles’.

*Most ‘70s coke-hip cool: ‘Steely Dan’ (eh, for me).

Most amusing gen-II ‘Dolls’ style (with less chops): ‘The Ramones’.

Best Disco: an oxymoron.

CATEGORIES NOT INCLUDED HERE:
Blues, R&B, Soul, DooWop, ‘Detroit Sound’, JAZZ, Gospel, ‘50s R&R,
(Black music from which White R&R was sourced)

NON U.S. R&R Bands:

*Most appealing rock band ever, and best all-around: ‘The Beatles’
(and from the working class).

*Most pretentious rock ban ever: ‘The Rolling Stones’
(and most Tory-decadent rich hypocrite appropriators of American R&B)
(my favorite RS song: ’No Expectations’, last with Brian Jones).

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