Harvest Festival Time

Yesterday was tough for Marta and me; work for me, family and work for her. We both wanted to collapse. But we’d been invited by our neighbors, Dave and Leslie, to the Ukiah Chili Cook-Off downtown, a fund-raiser for the Boys-and-Girls Club, and — according to Dave — one of the best parties Ukiah puts on. So we dragged ourselves out.

2015-09-11 18.01.57 HDRIt was, indeed, a sweet party on the green. The Mendocino Animal Hospital chose a Cat In The Hat theme — you see Thing One and Thing Two here. The Rainbow farm supply store chose a theme of turkeys, one booth had a New Orleans theme, and there was even a Mad Scientist theme, complete with a home-built Tesla coil (“Just a little one,” the owner said, modestly). The music wasn’t live, but was well-selected and well-mixed, the chilis were awesome, and there was plenty of beer and wine, as well as a free drive-home service for those who imbibed a bit too much.

As you can see in the pictures, the light is starting to grow heavy and golden, but the weather remains warm and dry.

It was a perfect way to shake off the blues of a long week.

2015-09-11 17.55.212015-09-11 17.59.07 HDR2015-09-11 17.57.09 HDR











This morning, Marta took me to breakfast at Stan’s Maple Cafe, and we walked over to the farmer’s market afterward. We spent some time chatting with the vendors.

We talked about lambs, sheep, and wool with the lamb merchant. Wool is made from the long-haired sheep, not the sheep they raise for slaughter. She said they can’t even give the wool from their sheep away. No one wants it. We bought some chops.

2015-09-12 12.24.34We bought oyster mushrooms from the mushroom lady, and listened as she explained to another customer about how they raise the mushrooms; the life-cycle and harvesting schedule. They’re beautiful: they grow in clusters with the gills facing forward, or at least that’s how they’re presented: perhaps they grow against a wall, then lay sideways on the table. Marta asked about preparation and collected some ideas. I asked about Chanterelles, which are wild and native to the area, and which I’d read about in Kate’s book on the wild oaks.

“Oh, Kate’s book!” the mushroom lady enthused. “I love her book. The Oak Woodlands, right?” But she had no Chanterelles, as they can’t sell wild mushrooms in California, by law. However, you can get them in various renegade markets in the area, and she said they are delicious.

“How do they get around the law?” I asked.

She shrugged. “They’re renegade markets. They sell all sorts of things.”

The apple merchant was intrigued by Marta’s story about my experience with Tyrolean apple soup, and wanted the recipe. We exchanged e-mail addresses, and bought a bag of fresh-picked Jonathan apples.

One of the produce farmers had various squashes, and Marta talked with him about recipes for the big orange guy shown above, which is a variety of Hopi Squash. The chili cook-off inspired her, and she is inventing new chili recipes in her head.

The produce farmer mentioned that he grows these in the traditional mounds of the “three sisters” — squash, beans, and maize — and I asked him if he minded a strange question. I asked if he could raise enough food to live for a year this way. He thought about it, then shook his head. He said, “You might raise enough food, but you can’t keep going. You need the full life-cycle, including animals. I looked into getting a cow at one point. It takes seven acres too keep a cow. Goats are better, but they still take land. You really need a village to survive on your own produce.”

We had a conversation about the village, and he said the natural size of the village unit is about thirty people, in which each person has his or her specialized job. He said they even need one troublemaker, or indigent — someone who didn’t do what was expected of him or her: the town drunk, the village idiot, the farmer who falls apart because his wife died. He said it teaches the village empathy.

2015-09-12 13.31.16 HDRI bought some local honey. I asked what pollen the bees had used, and he gave a long list: he told me the bees worked a particular piece of farmland that had all of those things. The spring honey was more uniform, and milder. As I write, now, I’ve forgotten all the details, but the vendor knew the bees, and the honey.

I think it’s time to start a jug of mead. There are no local brewing supply stores, and I’m debating whether I even want to buy a packet of yeast through Amazon. This is wine country, and the grape yeasts are everywhere. Vintners — some of them, at least — don’t add anything to their musts. No sulfites, no water, no yeast. The grapes are already covered with yeasts, and the grape juices will ferment on their own. I’m sure the yeasts suffuse the air, as well. You can smell the grapes; the harvest is already well underway, a little early this year because of the drought and the heat.

2015-09-12 15.09.31After the farmer’s market, Marta and I took a drive up into Redwood Valley, about fifteen minutes away, and found a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant with the best food. Then, driving back to town, we stopped at the Barra tasting room, where I bought a wonderful Pinot Noir and an even more excellent Muscat dessert wine.

It has been a beautiful weekend.

The Rise of Trump

25bb0430a01ae26b91e10d5868c6cc5eJohn Michael Greer had it pegged a couple of years ago, and Oswald Spengler a century ago. Civilizations and cultures seem to have a natural life-cycle, and while the cycle, like the cycles of individual human birth and death, can be tweaked, the final outcome is pretty much inevitable.

Empires rise. Empires fall.

For the last few years, Greer has been engaged in a project of watching our own culture go through its shifts, and he believes that one of the next stages is what Spengler called a “New Caesarism,” with the rise of a “strong leader” who will sweep away all the trappings of democracy in the name of “getting things done,” promising to bring back glory to a fallen nation.

These days, we don’t call it “Caesarism,” we call it “fascism.” Not the fascism of the childish name-calling spats that cause the ignorant to shout the word at figures like Ted Cruz or Harry Reid, but the Real Deal: the kind of fascism once brought into existence in Europe by Mussolini, by Franco, by Salazar, and — of course — by Hitler.

Fascists gain power by winning elections. I didn’t know that a few years ago, but that’s how it works. Fascism is a populist movement: fascist leaders are demagogues pushed into power by the people who vote them into power.

That isn’t to say the elections are entirely fair, of course. In fact, fascist movements are especially well-organized when it comes to corrupting the election process. They are usually a large minority party, and they use various tactics, such as intimidation at the polls, restrictive voting laws, and redistricting, along with the usual outright fraud of voting for the dead, voting multiple times, “losing” ballots before they are counted, invalidating ballots after they are counted, and so forth.

You’ve perhaps heard the expression, “taking names and kicking butts?” That’s another thing fascist organizations do to intimidate voters. They come to your door, or stop you on the street, and quiz you about your political views — the results of which are written down along with your name, or in these days of ubiquitous cell phone cameras, your picture. Should the fascists come into power, these lists re-surface as “allegiance rolls,” and if your name is on the wrong list — well, a simple butt-kicking is the least of your worries. “They’re taking names and kicking butts” is a way of saying, “Vote for our Cause, or we’ll make certain that you regret it when we take power anyway.”

Fascisms are nationalist movements. The word fascio in Italian, from which the word fascism is derived, has to do with a bundle of hay, and “fascism” could be called “bundleism” or “groupism.” Fascism is about loyalty to and sacrifice for the higher good of the group. This translates directly into the language of national supremacy, as in the Nazi motto, Deutchland über alles, Germany above everything — above family, above religion, above politics, above life itself. Fascism loves words like “fatherland” or “motherland” or “homeland” and extolls the virtues of those who belong in the homeland over those who do not; and there is always someone who does not belong. Fascism always has The Enemy Within, the traitors and saboteurs and criminals who are the reason things go wrong, and who therefore must be found out and eliminated. In Germany, it was the Jews who did not belong. In Spain, it was the Communists.

Fascist leaders tend to be narcissists, not in the common sense of people who think rather too highly of themselves, but true, clinical narcissists — people who, through genetics or trauma, are basically incapable of accurate self-reflection, of cultivating any measure of humility, or of possessing any but the most infantile levels of empathy. They are people who consider the world and the people in it their playthings, with emphasis on the word “their.” It belongs to them, and them alone. They see themselves as “great men whose time has come.” One of the first things they do with any power they obtain, however small, is to surround themselves with a loyal inner circle of sycophants who never question their leader’s destiny and thus protect their leader’s narcissism. Fascist leaders often feel they were “chosen by God” — not in the pious sense, but in the Messianic sense — and they don’t walk, they run down the path toward megalomania.

Donald Trump appears to be all of these things: a reckless narcissist, a white supremacist, a nationalist who is thumping the drum of “restoring” the glory of a fallen nation by kicking out “the enemy within,” which happens at the moment to be the so-called “illegal aliens” from Mexico. Should he gain power, that target will certainly expand.

Donald Trump is a fascist demagogue. He’s actually quite good at it.

The real question is whether the United States has tipped over the edge into actually wanting fascism over democracy.

As Greer describes the process, the desire for fascism comes about when the political machinery locks up and stops functioning, and people get angrier and angrier about declining opportunities within their own nation. In the Weimar Republic of Germany prior to World War II, the German government accepted all of the economic sanctions placed on it after World War I. There arose a severe “wealth gap” between the well-positioned and everyone else. The complacency of the rich was matched by concern, worry, then desperation among the people who started to sink into poverty under the sanctions and the consequent economic collapse. There was no court of appeal in politics or legal process, because the government was part of the process. So people eventually accepted and voted for a demagogue who promised them a better life. That man was Adolf Hitler.

Does any of this sound the least bit familiar? It should.

In our case, I think the analogue to the Weimar economic sanctions are the corporate deregulations and the various international trade agreements our Presidents have been pushing, starting with Nixon and running continuously through both Republican and Democratic administrations and congresses. These policies favor an ungoverned corporate oligarchy that ships work out of the US in the effort to reduce labor costs and put the profits into the pockets of the ownership and investment classes, as well as to put American workers into competition with each other rather than coming together to improve their own lot: this reduces opportunity (for everyone but the wealthy) within the country, causes concern, worry, and desperation among those slipping into poverty, and robs the young of any reason to invest in the status quo.

Since Reagan, there has also been a continuous propaganda assault on our Constitutional political process — “Government is not the solution, government is the problem.” It has reached the point, now, where “everyone knows” that politics is hopelessly corrupted by big money, and there’s no point to looking to our Constitutional process — I’m not talking about the second amendment, I’m talking about the Constitution — to seek redress against a government that is off the rails. Government is unresponsive to the public, is obsessed with social issues that are none of the government’s business, neglects its most basic duties to the welfare of the nation, and is incompetent when it tries to perform those duties. There is nothing we can do about it, because government is broken and cannot be fixed.

This is all common knowledge, because it’s been repeated so often. It’s not true, but everyone “knows” it to be true because any lie, repeated often enough, is taken as truth.

The ground is well-tilled and fertilized for fascism. The Donald is applying for the position of Fearless Leader.

It’s one more reason I support Bernie Sanders, because he represents the only real way out of our current plight: an opportunity to skip over the fascism part — the glory-seeking world wars, the interment camps, the police state, the eventual horrible bloody collapse, followed by the multi-generational shame and reparations to the victims of the inevitable loyalty purges and witch hunts — and move straight to where we need to go after our nationalist tantrum to solve the actual problems that created this mess in the first place. Or if not solve them, then at least bring them back under some measure of restraint.

That’s what Bernie’s “political revolution” is all about: fixing a government that has become the problem. And it’s actually quite fixable.

If we don’t solve these basic problems, the US will only continue to grow riper for fascism. We might manage to keep The Donald out of the White House by main force in 2016, but he’ll come back in 2020. And then in 2024. And again in 2028. When he (inevitably) loses his curb appeal, or if he (unthinkably) spends himself into penury, he’ll be replaced by another demagogue, running the same story line. And then, another.

This is why I won’t vote for Hillary. She is as status quo as they come. She doesn’t seem to understand what a below-fifty-percent-and-declining voter turnout, and the rise of an overt racist demagogue like The Donald represent when taken together: a vote of no-confidence in the United States, and the shadow of coming fascism, brought on by precisely the kind of government she represents.

I started out talking about inevitability. While I think the rise and fall of empires is inevitable — there’s not yet been an exception in the last 10,000 years — I’m not sure the fascist or New Caesarist phase is inevitable. One of the biggest reasons we might avoid it in the US, in my mind, is the fact that we aren’t really a nation to begin with.

In the early twentieth century, European nations had centuries-old national identities that the fascist demagogues could exploit. When Hitler spoke of German virtues, German ideals, the German Fatherland, every German knew what he meant, even if they disagreed with his politics. They knew they were different from their neighbors, the Czecks, the Poles, the French. They spoke different languages, ate different foods, used different currency.

In the US, there’s less consensus regarding what “American” means. For one thing, it’s an ambiguous term: Canada is “American,” as is Paraguay.

Even within the confines of the United States, however, the “(US) American nation” is akin to the pastiche nations that Europe created in the aftermaths of WWI and WWII, like Iraq and Yugoslavia, which never really coalesced into a single people. Within the contiguous United States, we have between six and eleven different historically, politically, and ethnically distinct nations. To a large extent, the Great American Experiment has been about trying to keep this mess together at all. It almost fell apart in the 1860’s, and while the Union was ultimately preserved, it’s been an angry truce, not a true peace.

If there is a successful attempt to forge a Fascist State of America, I think it will fall apart in short order over regional issues. I suspect it won’t last even as long as the twelve years that Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” did.

So I think — I hope — The Donald will prove to be a premature and failed expression of the growing desire for fascism in the US. While I do feel a teensy bit sorry for the way Trump is destroying the Republican Party, they made a deal with the Devil back in the late 1970’s, and now the Devil has come back to claim their souls.  Or to use a Biblical metaphor of the sort Republicans are so fond of quoting, they have sown the wind, and are now reaping the tornado. We can only hope it doesn’t turn into a Class Five monster.

I don’t think there are any guarantees.

Summer Symphony, First Movement

1806200-bigthumbnailThis has been a momentous year for me, and a challenging one in terms of absorbing change. As you all know, Marta and I moved to California in June, and while it’s been a wonderful move — we love it here — everything is different. Well, not everything. But a lot.

I also changed employers, and with that change, ran headlong into a major project with difficult deadlines that has had me climbing walls learning. Even things I used to know are no longer useful: they switched from Linux Centos6 to Centos7, and that threw everything I thought I knew about starting boot processes on Linux right out the window.

On the musical front, I’ve been learning to play a whole new orchestra. None of my old chops are of much use, and while the instruments are better-sounding overall (though the oboe sucks), they are less forgiving. That has lead to reading a book about real sound mixing — which is an utterly overwhelming black art. Comb-filtering, anyone? And what is multing, exactly? Now, I could tell you. A lot of the thousand-and-one buttons in my digital audio workstation have suddenly been demystified. It will take time to develop any skill, however.

Anyway, I’ve gone as far as I can for the time being as a nØØb (“noob” == “newbie” == “bloody amateur”) with both the new sounds and my very rudimentary mixing skills. My endurance has run out.

So here (on the music tab) is the first movement of the Summer Symphony, my first (hopefully, not last) symphony for full orchestra. I’ve decided to release the music in installments, one movement at a time, so there are three more movements to come. All written, mind you. Just not mixed to anything like my satisfaction.

This movement is a summer’s day. Close your eyes, lean back, and let the music take you deep into your memory and imagination. Enjoy.

For the musicologists out there, there’s plenty to find. One of the things I didn’t even realize until a month or so back is that there’s a reason I’ve never been able to decide what key this movement is in. As it turns out, it isn’t in any key.

The Greeks had a number of different scales, and these were adopted into the Western tradition as “modes,” which can be illustrated by taking a C-major scale, then starting the scale on each of the notes in turn.

  • Ionian (major) – start on C
  • Dorian – start on D
  • Phrygian – start on E
  • Lydian – start on F
  • Mixolydian – start on G
  • Aolean (natural minor) – start on A
  • Locrian – start on B

Each mode has two half-tone intervals, and five whole-tone intervals: the half tones are separated by two whole tones on one side, and three on the other. Most Western music since the Renaissance has been written in either Ionian mode (also known as a “major” key), or the Aolean mode (also known as the natural minor key).

Using the C-major scale as a reference is just convenient to illustrate the idea. Not everything in a major key is written in C — you can easily have F# major, and you could just as easily have F# Locrian. What is important is where the half-tone intervals fall, but in all cases, they will be separated by two whole-tone intervals on one side, and three on the other.

[There’s one popular variant called “harmonic minor,” or sometimes “Hungarian minor,” where the seventh note of the Aolean (natural minor) scale is pushed up an additional half-tone, giving you three half-tones, and one tone-and-a-half.]

As it turns out, this movement — or the principal theme, at least — is written in a completely different mode. Like the traditional Western modes, it has two half-tone and five whole-tone intervals, but the half-tones are separated by one whole tone on one side, and four on the other.

So if you start with the C-major scale, as above, you would flat the A and the B. The overall quality is to make the lower half of the scale feel like it’s in a major key, but the upper half of the scale feel like a minor key, and contributes a kind of joy-in-sadness, or sadness-in-joy, to the melody.

I have no idea if this mode has a name, and it’s going to be a pain to score — it will probably be probably a-minor with C#’s running loose everywhere.

It turned out pretty nicely for the ear, however.


Idle Hands

I’ve gone to a Colorado mountain festival called Dragonfest since 1996. It’s a Pan-Pagan gathering in the woods: a giant camp-out for five days in early August.

When the festival was started back in the 1970’s, it was much, much smaller, maybe twenty-five or thirty people, and the founders discovered the magic of shared labor — the idea that not only do many hands make light work, but that sharing the necessary work is actually a good way to have fun. It builds connection between people, it feels good, and it gets the necessities out of the way.

As the festival grew, this practice of shared labor became institutionalized as the Workshift, a two-hour duty required of all participants.

In 2001, I registered and sent in my money for Dragonfest, but then chose at the last minute to not go for entirely personal reasons (yes, it involved a woman). Come early Spring of 2002, when I was excitedly expecting news of ticket sales for the 2002 Dragonfest, I instead received a nastygram informing me that because I had failed to do my required Workshift in 2001, my registration fee would be doubled in 2002, and if I failed to do my Workshift again, I would be Banned For Life from the festival.

I wrote back to the Dragonfest Board of Directors and explained it had proven far too difficult for me to do my Workshift in 2001, given that I wasn’t there. I received a second nastygram, requesting that I prove that I had not been there.

By that point, it had become a sad farce. They eventually backed off, but the experience permanently broke something precious in my relationship with the festival; though I have continued to go, most years, it’s never been quite the same.

Entirely apart from the obvious issues with this unnecessary little drama, there has always been a deeper problem with the Workshift.

At its height, Dragonfest hosted nearly 1000 participants, and because it is a five-day event that spans a weekend, a lot of participants show up late Friday evening or Saturday morning — they have day-jobs, and many of these are jobs that don’t give them much flexibility with time off. They can — or could — even get a discounted Dragonfest “day pass” for Saturday-only attendance.

Let’s do the math.

The festival starts at 10:00 am on Wednesday, and ends at noon on Sunday. If we consider two-hour shifts scheduled from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, we have five shifts on Wednesday, six shifts on Thursday through Saturday, and two shifts on Sunday, for a grand total of twenty-five shifts.

With 1000 participants, that means we need, on average, 40 different jobs for each shift, just to ensure that everyone has a work shift (40 x 25 == 1000). But if we assume that half the people show up on Wednesday, and the other half on Friday night, we really need 62 jobs (500 people spread over 8 shifts) on Saturday and Sunday, and only 29 jobs (the other 500 people spread over 17 shifts) on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

We can debate whether we have even twenty-nine jobs that need to be done. I can get to a dozen easily, and to about eighteen if I really stretch. I can’t come up with twenty-nine, much less sixty-two.

What they do, of course, is to pad the employment rolls. All the jobs are at least doubled up — and it’s admittedly nice to have a partner for company when you’re on gate duty on a slow Thursday afternoon. Where one team could do the job, they assign six teams. Then they make up a lot of extra jobs, just to keep people busy doing something for their requisite Workshift.

Even padding the employment rolls, my experience over the years has been that if you show up late on Wednesday afternoon, most of the Workshifts (and all the most popular ones) have already been filled through Sunday. If you show up on Saturday, there’s no point in even looking for a Workshift.

There simply isn’t enough work at Dragonfest for everyone to do a two-hour Workshift.

But it gets even more interesting: there’s a perpetual and simmering resentment between the Operations Committee, and the general attendance.

Organizing an event for 1000 people is not trivial: there’s contracting with the site, arranging for porta-potties, notifying the county sheriff (in case someone has a heart attack and needs to be airlifted out), and I’m sure a long list of legal niceties to be negotiated. There are festival events to coordinate, fliers to print, tickets to sell, money to collect, signed waivers to cross-check, websites to maintain.

Infrastructure expands to accommodate more people and provide for their safety and comfort. For instance, in the early days, people chopped wood and made fires at night, but that was only two dozen people huddled around one fire. With forty times that many people, combined with pine beetle kill and severe fire danger in the Colorado mountains, we found that propane fire rings were safer and actually more enjoyable (all fire, no smoke). So as a safety measure for the whole community, as well as the surrounding forests, the organizers started to provide propane fire rings for the big circles. Infrastructure expands.

There is, in short, a whole lot of coordinated and specialized preparatory work that has to go into making the festival happen at all. There is also tear-down after the festival is over. Finally, there is the “authority-based” work during the festival: work to be done by the people who will step forward when someone says, “Who’s in charge here?” People-in-charge who get pestered at all hours of the day (and night) for instructions on how to handle this situation, how to deal with that individual, how to take a piss in the dark.

They call this collection of people who do this work the “Operations Committee,” and they’re always hungry for volunteers. I worked setup/teardown one year: two ten-hour days of hard physical labor: a very poor exchange for the dubious privilege of getting first-pick on prime campsites a day early.

Ops doesn’t get to enjoy Dragonfest very much, particularly those who are officially (or unofficially) on duty through the festival. So there’s a definite opportunity for them to resent the “lazy” people who just pay their fee, show up, and want to unwind in good company for five days. The required Workshift becomes, not a sharing of the necessary work — most of the necessary work is already done, or can’t be done until everyone has gone home — but instead a kind of surrogate punishment.

If I have to work twelve-hour days at Dragonfest, the least you can do is your damn two-hour Workshift, and not whine about it.” I’ve heard those resentful words many times, in many variations, from people who served on Ops. Since the Workshift is now a punishment, it’s resented by the general attendance. All the magic of shared work is gone.

Authority eventually passes into the hands of individuals who value process over people, and power over service, and tradition over common sense, and the simmering resentment boils over.

Then you get Banned for Life for missing your Workshift.

Now, I’m not really bashing Dragonfest. I’m observing a microcosmic example of something we are all living right now, on a much broader scale.

There isn’t enough profitable work in the US for full employment.

This statement turns around the word “profitable.” There is plenty of needful work. But one of the peculiarities of our time and culture is that we will neglect prudent, and sometimes even necessary work, in order to pursue frivolities that are profitable.

People complain about this from time to time. “Children are starving in America!” they cry, “We spend next to nothing on them, but spend billions to put violent comic books on the big screen in the movie theaters.”

People go through all kinds of mental and moral yoga positions trying to justify this. “Movies give people hope!” they say, or something equally inane.

The reason we make movies, and we don’t feed starving children, is quite simple — we make movies because they are profitable, and we don’t feed starving children because it is not profitable.

What does that even mean? Profitable?

In our current economic system, profitability hinges on two things: marketability, and ownership. The thing must be sold in a marketplace for more than it cost to produce it, and it must be owned by a person, or a corporate shell pretending to be a person. The fiction of ownership is what allows the owner to legally pocket the difference between the cost of production (which includes all the actual labor performed by other people), and the selling price, which is called profit.

Movies are owned by the copyright holder, and viewings can be sold. Movies are profitable.

Starving children are economically useless. You can’t own or sell them, at least not since the fourteenth amendment to the US Constitution; you can’t exploit them as cheap labor, due to child-labor laws; and you can’t make any money feeding them, because they haven’t got any money — that’s why they’re starving — and no one else has any economic interest in seeing them fed. Starving children are not profitable.

So banal movies are made, and starving children suffer brain damage from malnutrition and eventually die. [Of course, they don’t actually die, because the thieving government steps in and spends the profit it has stolen from the rightful owners through taxation, and wastes it on handouts to the starving children. Surely it’s better that they die and rid the world of surplus population. — the Ghost of Ebenezer Scrooge]

It’s the way our system works.

A brief check of the Internet shows that there are around 150 million non-farm payroll jobs in the US. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows only about 750 thousand agricultural jobs in the US, less than one million. So roughly half the US population (of 300 million) has no work, and no prospect of work. All positions have been filled.

About 23% of the population is under 18 years of age, and they are supposed to have parents who cover for them by working extra Workshifts. About 14% is over 65, and they are supposed to have worked enough Workshifts to cover their remaining years, with any excess years falling upon their children, or spread across the entire working population through Social Security.

That leaves about 13% who are Banned for Life. “Lazy bums” who finished last in our economic game of musical chairs.

You all remember that game, don’t you? Ten people circle around nine chairs while the music plays, and when the music stops, they all scramble for the chairs: one person ends up on the floor. That person is Banned for Life, a chair is removed, and the game resumes with nine people and eight chairs. This continues until there is only one person seated, who wins cake.

I cannot think of a more perfect metaphor for mercantile capitalism.

In fact, it can’t work any other way. In the 14th century, at the very start of mercantile capitalism in Europe, people hit a little speed bump called The Black Death, which resulted in massive agricultural labor shortages. The traditional system of hereditary serfs working the land broke down, and the land was instead worked by paid farmers, who — since there were too few of them — charged high prices. It broke the feudal system of Lords and serfs in half, and put wind under the wings of the merchant class.

If there are labor shortages — too many jobs — workers can demand higher wages, and the profit that the owner can put in his pocket from their labor shrinks. Eventually, if wages keep climbing, the business becomes unprofitable, and the owners close the doors.

If there is a labor surplus — too few jobs — workers compete with each other, and wages stay low. That makes businesses profitable, and so the owners pursue those businesses.

There can never be enough profitable businesses to employ everyone. If there were, workers would stop competing with each other, and would demand higher wages. The profit that goes into the owners’ pockets would vanish, and they would shut down some of the businesses, resulting in fewer jobs and the desired competition among workers.

It’s the way our system works.

I shrug when I say that, because there have been a great many ways of approaching wealth and labor, and our way isn’t inherently any worse than, say, being a subject (property) of the Emperor, who could decide on a whim that he needed one more rower for his galleys, and you — yes, you! — were chosen. I’ve recently been reading about the Khans, and while they had in some ways an extraordinarily fair system of government, especially under Genghis, you really didn’t want to be one of the conquered slaves who didn’t have some mad skills that Genghis admired.

But our system, good, bad, or indifferent, is coming to an end.

It isn’t something I’ve seen any economists take into account: the vast pools of natural wealth we’ve been consuming at an ever-increasing rate for five centuries, to support the concept of economic growth.

Let me propose a business for you. I will take money, burn it, and flush it down the toilet: I claim this will show a profit. The way I do this is by withdrawing — from a virtually bottomless bank account that I never talk about, and that you never think about — exactly five percent more money than I burn and flush. So if I flush $100, I withdraw $105, and at the end of my “business cycle,” I have shown a profit of $5.

So long as my bottomless bank account remains bottomless, this will continue to work. The problem comes when my bottomless account hits bottom; when I try to withdraw $105, and I get $35 and change. Uh-oh.

The endless bank account for our global economy is Nature — our natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable. It is hitting bottom, and right at about the same time that our waste products, particularly CO2, are reaching hazardous levels.

I’m not sure economists have even looked at what happens to mercantile capitalism when the endless bank account of Nature starts bouncing checks. If they’ve considered it seriously at all, I think the only phrase they would use to describe it — economically — is The End Of The World.

For the rest of us, it’s just the end of capitalism. But that is going to raise some interesting issues.

The one that I’m thinking about at the moment is the question of what happens when a really, really large portion of the population is perpetually unemployed, as a permanent feature of life.

There’s a short view, and a longer view.

In the short view, it’s going to kill a lot of people. Not so much because they’ll starve because there’s no food, but because they’ll lose the will to live without work. We’ve been trained for so long, and so deeply, to equate self-worth with work, that a lot of workers, especially the older, established ones, will turn to alcohol and give up. I think that will be the swan song of my generation, or whatever generation is in play when this finally plays out.

Subsequent generations are going to have different attitudes, toward capitalism, toward work-as-virtue, and toward deciding what is worth doing.

The longer view is a lot fuzzier.

To see what this might look like, we can’t go back to rural America — that is an artifact of the early twentieth-century. Nor can we go back to the colonial plantations and farms, which were nineteenth century artifacts. There is no European influence in the Americas that was not under the sway of the ideas of mercantile capitalism. We have to go outside our modern Western tradition: to the native tribes and nations of the Americas; to Shogunate Japan; to the Visigoths or the Romans or the Celts; to the Mongols; to the empires of China; to the villages and cities of India.

When you do that, you start to realize something shocking: that there has never been a people on the face of the earth that has worked so hard for so little real happiness, as our own.




The Price of Winning

The pundits say Bernie Sanders has no chance of winning the Democratic nomination, much less the Presidency. The pundits say that Bernie Sanders is unquestionably going to be our next President. The pundits say that his age is a problem. The pundits say that his age is not a problem. The pundits say that it’s all a matter of money, or timing, or demographics. The pundits say none of that matters, if the message is right.

What the pundits are saying is that the Presidency is entirely a matter of winning it.

That is, of course, an appropriate concern of a candidate’s staff. Maybe it’s a concern for the pundit class as well, pretending to be Kingmakers or perhaps merely bookies. Maybe the ability to say, “I told you so,” actually generates revenue for them.

For myself, I don’t get a million dollars or a toaster oven or even an “Attaboy!” for picking the winner, or for voting for him/her. All I get is a tiny shot at giving voice to my political will.

Should I waste my voice voting for a candidate who I believe will make the world a worse place, just because I think she might win? And maybe make the world a slightly less-worse place (or maybe a slightly more-worse place) than the other guy?

Conventional (pundit) wisdom says the 2016 election will be a choice between Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Or, as in the Soviet Union that existed in my youth, a choice between Brezhnev and Brezhnev.

My political voice, reduced to two notes a quarter-tone apart, both outside my vocal range. That’s not a political voice — that’s a mumble of defeat.

No, I would rather voice my political intent and lose, than give up my voice and support a winner I didn’t want in the first place.

One thing I have learned about dealing with life is that if you don’t ask, you won’t get what you want: when you do ask, it’s surprising — to me, at least — how often you get what you ask for.

I’m going to ask for a nation in which too-big-to-fail banks are replaced by smaller community banks, where there is assurance that old age does not bring poverty, where health care is a right and not a privilege, where the drug war is over and the prison industry is defunct, where cops who brutalize and kill are prosecuted, where inflation is seen as the problem that it is, rather than a mark of a “healthy” economy, where there is a middle class that people can actually aspire to join. This is what I want to see.

I’ll get none of that with either Margaret Thatcher or Ronald Reagan.