Monthly Archives: September 2013

9/11 Memorial Fatigue

Our town is embroiled in a debate about what to do with a piece of metal from one of the World Trade Center Towers. The cross-shaped beam is further decorated with a cross cut into the piece of metal.

Even though my religious background and affiliation is Christian, I am astonished, and even offended, that our mayor would consider using a Christian symbol to memorialize 9/11 victims. How do we know whether some of these victims were not Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, animists or pagans, to name but a few options? Atheists die, too, and possibly don’t desire posthumous conversion, so covering the cross in any and all religious symbols, even if the Darwin fish is added, still doesn’t hit home for me.

Honestly, I have 9/11 fatigue. Our nation has 9/11 fatigue. We are tired of the Iraq War and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. We have honored 9/11 victims again and again, and in a fitting memorial in the place where they died. Some were self-sacrificing heroes, indeed, and others had the misfortune to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, just as are victims of train wrecks. We have had national mourning and very private, family services and mourning. We did not turn the other cheek–through no fault of the innocent victims. But our government used their tragic deaths as an excuse to start war even when no WMDs (Weapons of Mass Destruction) were found in Iraq. We surely need to reflect on what continuing to turn the 9/11 attacks into an unending Holy War–exactly what the attackers would have wished for?–and what constructive actions we might take.

Is it time to remember other victims and perhaps provide a tableaux with the possible power to prevent future accidents of a different nature? If we must decorate our town square with twisted metal to be patriotic, a very charged word that seems to involve loving ourselves and hating others, surely not the Christianity or humanity we strive for, why not the charred automobile wreckage in which someone died because they or someone else was driving recklessly, or inattentively, or under the influence of alcohol?

There is hunger in the country, and big agriculture-chemical companies want to keep it that way. Monsanto keeps forcing its GMO (genetically modified food) onto people and farmers. Supposedly crop yields will be higher, but pesticide and herbicide application rates grow right along with crop yields, and cost farmers lots of money. Small farmers in the United States continue to go out of business at rapid rates. The rates are even higher for African-American farmers, so this is a matter of social justice as well as health. The two are often tied together.

Small farmers in India have been committing suicide for over a decade now, suicide by ingesting the very pesticides they have been sold because monoculture agriculture fails them, their crops fail, and they are unable to repay the ag-chem giants. Crop yields, even with high–need I say toxic?–rates of pesticide application eventually peak, and then taper off, or dry up, when the effects of other matters such as drought or flood, or insect or weed resistance to pesticides or herbicides occur. Monsanto is not the only evil giant, but it is the one that made Agent Orange and DDT, so possibly my least favorite. Monsanto is currently trying to get pro-Monsanto legislation pushed through, to put even more family farmers out of business. (If you don’t like this idea, check out the Sierra Club site, which is gathering signatures for a vote as early as this coming Monday.)

So I suggest a tribute and monument to wholesome food, which can only be grown on healthy, nutrient-rich soil, with unpolluted water, and in clean air. Put up a monument to organic food. Less use of chemicals will decrease rates of cancer and many neurological illnesses. In New Jersey, we might want a monument to corn, strawberries and tomatoes. In California, where the strawberries taste like water, and tend to have an unpleasant crunchy texture, what about a monument to lettuce and grapes, held up by the farm workers who tend and harvest them? Farm workers are also healthier without being exposed to pesticides. We can’t all afford to buy organic, but we can all voice an opinion in matters of public health.

There are many, many heroic people and many, many social ills that plague this country. 9/11 was a great and horrific tragedy. But a monomaniacal focus on that tragedy, to the exclusion of the daily tragedies of gun and auto deaths and hunger, does a disservice to the living, who must also be honored, and whom we are in a position to protect.

A Bouquet of Memories by Circespeaks

No Disinterested Act

No disinterested act is possible. No matter what we do, no matter how altruistic our actions may appear, we have our own best interests at heart. We can’t help it.

The return we receive for the time, effort, love, resources–financial and other–we invest to help others is sometimes obvious, and at other times veiled or opaque. It is obvious why we go to work and to school. We receive a paycheck, a degree, and possibly elevated social standing, as well as increased self-esteem, in return.

The same, minus the paycheck, is true of volunteer work. Volunteer work or charitable work is a particularly controversial subject. In order to volunteer to help others, we must live in a stratified society, where some people do not have the basics. Everyone should have health care, housing, food, access to a good education, employment opportunities, and–unless a violent criminal–freedom to live unincarcerated. Since this is not the case, a crazy quilt patchwork of volunteers and volunteer organizations attempts to help those who are deprived of life’s basic necessities.

The disparity between those who have, and those who do not, continues to grow in the United States. Thus, to be in a position to provide charity to others, we must have, somewhere along the line profited by inequality. My grandfather was wealthy, so my father was born wealthy. Not extraordinarily wealthy by any means, but wealthy enough to attend a university, and thus to enlist in the Korean War and immediately be granted the rank of captain, and a pleasant service in New Mexico. He did not go to Korea and freeze to death, or I would not be here today. Eventually, with some help from his parents and the G.I. Bill, my parents bought a home in a safe place with good schools. We were financially strapped–Thomas’s English Muffins were the basis of many a meal–but we were not hungry and lived in a safe environment.

In many another country we would now be comfortable and saving for retirement. Instead, we eke out tuition payments to an out-of-state university. We have not put a dime into retirement savings in six years. I have placed my bet, instead, on my sons: they should be able to attend college and graduate debt-free. If not, they would be the first generation burdened by student loan debt at an unreasonable interest rate. The government profits doubly by our actions. No income is sheltered from taxes in our retirement account, and we are providing society with two graduates educated in the sciences. (Not quite yet, since one son started his university education less than a month ago!) We just hope to die young. No, I am not kidding. But it is natural, and not noble, for people to put their children’s interests ahead of their own.

Those who work to promote social justice, to convert others to their religion, to protect the environment, to risk their lives protecting the lives of others, to care for their children or aging parents have objectives for the society in which they live. They also have the resources to put their beliefs into action. One cannot participate in unpaid work when bills are unmet. The preponderance of women doing unpaid work in our schools– to cite one possibly controversial example — arguably does disservice to women, while, at the same time, promoting the interests of their children, and possibly their own social standing in their community. These women are, however, not amassing social security, pension, retirement benefits or job experience which they may later need. Meanwhile, their male peers are working in the traditional economic sphere, in which such benefits are collected and amassed. Younger and middle-aged men working in the sphere of economic power are able to capitalize on their work in many concrete ways, while younger and middle-aged women continue to work in the highly rewarding, but unpaid, volunteer sector, are not.

Are Bill and Melinda Gates saints? Certainly they are preferable to Donald Trump, who is clownish in his bombast and self-interest. They are, most would agree, “good people,” doing more for others than is strictly necessary. But having amassed their fortune, why wouldn’t they want their children to grow to adulthood in a world plagued by fewer diseases, and in which more people are grateful to the efforts of Americans?

I am now on my way to pick vegetables at our local, organic CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm. Not so short-sighted as to want to consume organic produce only for the sake of my own health–I do breathe the same air, drink the same water, and walk on the same earth as all other living creatures–it is more for the precious earth, to spend time outdoors, to protest all things Monsanto, and to help a small, organic farm to succeed even in hard times that I go.

And since I have my own small, organic garden, I go for inspiration. But more than inspiration–I will stick with easy crops and let the farm family struggle with managing the difficult ones–I go to be close to the earth and the food. I also go to make a small stand on the issue of division of labor. Not wanting to deprive workers of their jobs, I still want to participate, side-by-side, at getting down in the dirt. And, yes, unless I must do this in order to feed my family, and unless I must do this five-to-seven days a week, it is really only a symbolic act. Symbolic acts, as sociologist Pierre Bourdieu pointed out, perpetuate and reify the existing social order. So maybe I do more harm than good. I have not thrown in my lot with farmers or farm-workers, but I have a son who thinks he would like to be a farmer. My son’s interest in sustainable agriculture is a recent development, subject to change. We have participated in the same CSA farm for many years, both the good and the bad. This has been helpful to the farmer, but it has not been a disinterested act. I fear for the future of the earth, the health of my own children, all children, and future generations if the agribusiness industry continues to have its way with us.
When I make a bi-monthly pilgrimage into local fields, in good weather and bad, I am closer to the earth I love to smell and touch, and also make a small, quiet political statement, and an attempt not to become “Comfortably Numb” (Pink Floyd, 1979.)

The tomatoes we eat, and, more than anything, the flowers we pick, feed my soul. Today, together with other family members, I visited our family memorial garden. The pink cosmos, purple verbena, feathery yellow and red celosia, and globe amaranth, red, pink, and purple, now decorate the site where my father’s ashes are spread. Carefully selecting each flower in the field, sharing them with family members, and gently placing them where my father’s physical remains lie, was a powerful, loving ritual.

A Bouquet of Memories by Circespeaks