Calhoun’s Cannons, The Bay News, Tolosa Press, SLO, CA, for January 2,2009
End with farce, open with promise
Instead of the Lord of Misrule being driven out of the Great Hall with a hail of rotten potatoes flying after him, we got our final farcical ending in the form of a TV clip of an Iraqi journalist hurling his shoes at President Bush during a Baghdad press conference, part of Bush’s photo-op stealth “farewell visit” to Iraq. The shoes, a profoundly powerful insult in Iraq, came with a cri du coeur: “This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.”
The President noted that the shoes were a size ten and said, “So what if a guy threw his shoe at me,” a trivialization that was perfect in its obliviousness, an attitude of stunning indifference that can be summed up in two words he uttered to an interviewer who finally got him to admit that, contrary to what he’d said during the falsified run up to war, Al Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq and hence a reason to invade; they arrived after we got there. Replied Bush, “So what?”
“So what,” and a hurled shoe, the perfect boffo comic ending – the palace lies in ruins, the countryside has been laid waste, the kingly coffers are bankrupt, but . . . So What?
Well, it is the perfect slogan to define this obliviously catastrophic era. But amidst the gloom, it’s possible that there may be many silver linings on the way for one simple reason: Big change seems to be impossible without big catastrophe because human beings run on the philosophy of “I’m All Right, Jack.” When enough people can no longer say that, then real change can come.
Take for example, what passes for our national medical health system. For years, a sufficient number of people were “all right.” They had health coverage as part of their work benefits, and any attempt to get some kind of national health insurance program was always killed in the crib by the combined forces of insurance companies, the AMA and other major players. But as our economic system changed, as jobs were outsourced and businesses raced to the bottom on wages and lower-to-non-existent benefits, more and more people found themselves NOT “all right.” Add in millions of lost jobs and suddenly a whole lot of people finally understand the real meaning of the words, “prior existing conditions,” as they join the ranks of the uninsured and uninsurable. And doctors, strangled by a morass of insurance forms and restrictions are now urging the public “do something” about reforming health care, while employers have finally realized that they’re now left holding the bag on medical costs, thereby reducing their global competitiveness.
In short’s it’s been the perfect storm of not all-rightness. But storms can finally force needed repairs to the roof and there’s nothing like a flood to make clear that what you needed all along is a big levee, all of which are expensive repairs and preventive projects, but the disastrous alternative can now be seen more clearly. Dark cloud, possible silver lining.
And with millions of jobs gone, and millions of people suddenly no longer “all right,” what better time to switch gears and jobs and thereby move the economy to serious “green” mode which will finally change the way we live in the world? Making changes to help slow and/or adapt to the effects of global warming will cost a lot now. But it will cost a whole lot more later.
And such change can come very quickly. For example, the fast run up in gas prices actually saw huge numbers of people making changes in their lives that had real potential to shift our car-buying and driving habits. If we finally understand that “cheap gas” is a very expensive delusion, are we now ready to cap and tax old “carbon based energy” to finally reflect its real costs?
If so, then perhaps we’re finally ready to reboot all our paradigms: How we live, where we live, how we get around, how we grow and manage our food, how we organize our communities, what kind of social safety nets we want, how we want to care for one another and how we will move in and with the rest of the world.
We now know what “So what?” got us. Maybe in the new year, it’s time for, “What now?