Nothing You Do Matters.

The more I read it, the angrier I get. I had not read it until a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, but there’s a 2009 article in Orion Magazine by Derrick Jensen entitled “Forget Shorter Showers,” and it begins with this paragraph:

WOULD ANY SANE PERSON think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday, or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons, or that dancing naked around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”?

Silly environmentalists, thinking they could stop Adolf Hitler by dumpster diving!

First, pardon me for being more than a little skeptical of any article that begins with a mention of Nazis. I’ve been on the internet far too long. But second, this is so clearly a straw horse as to be almost invisible.

No sane person would think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler because no sane person could see any connection between them. No sane person would think dancing naked around a fire could help pass the Voting Rights Act or the Civil Rights Act.

The one has nothing to do with the other.

So when Jensen gets to the paragraph’s ultimate sentence, the one where he’s supposed to make his point? Be very suspicious. Because what he’s about to say is that your personal solutions have no impact on anything, ever.

Jenkins’s next paragraph is telling:

Part of the problem is that we’ve been victims of a campaign of systematic misdirection. Consumer culture and the capitalist mindset have taught us to substitute acts of personal consumption (or enlightenment) for organized political resistance. An Inconvenient Truth helped raise consciousness about global warming. But did you notice that all of the solutions presented had to do with personal consumption — changing light bulbs, inflating tires, driving half as much — and had nothing to do with shifting power away from corporations, or stopping the growth economy that is destroying the planet? Even if every person in the United States did everything the movie suggested, U.S. carbon emissions would fall by only 22 percent. Scientific consensus is that emissions must be reduced by at least 75 percent worldwide.

(Emphasis added).

Let’s stipulate to a couple of things. Let’s accept the section I’ve emphasized in its entirety. Further, let’s assume that the impact of reducing U.S. carbon emissions by 22% on world emissions would be only 5%. That’s a far cry from 75%.

Now, suppose that you’re shopping for a new car, and you get a phone call telling you that you have just been granted the gift of 5% off any car you want. You’d say “sorry, that’s too trivial to bother with,” and hang up. Right?

Of course you wouldn’t. You’d think “5% of $15,000 (sorry, I know most new cars cost considerably more than this, but I’ve never owned one that cost more than $12,000 new) is $750! Wow!”

So why is a 5% reduction in emissions something that we should ignore?

To be fair, Jensen’s point is actually not that we should all take hot showers until the water runs out. His point is that short showers aren’t enough, and that it will take concerted political action and sacrifice to get to where we need to be.

….At this point, it should be pretty easy to recognize that every action involving the industrial economy is destructive (and we shouldn’t pretend that solar photovoltaics, for example, exempt us from this: they still require mining and transportation infrastructures at every point in the production processes; the same can be said for every other so-called green technology). So if we choose option one — if we avidly participate in the industrial economy — we may in the short term think we win because we may accumulate wealth, the marker of “success” in this culture. But we lose, because in doing so we give up our empathy, our animal humanity. And we really lose because industrial civilization is killing the planet, which means everyone loses. If we choose the “alternative” option of living more simply, thus causing less harm, but still not stopping the industrial economy from killing the planet, we may in the short term think we win because we get to feel pure, and we didn’t even have to give up all of our empathy (just enough to justify not stopping the horrors), but once again we really lose because industrial civilization is still killing the planet, which means everyone still loses. The third option, acting decisively to stop the industrial economy, is very scary for a number of reasons, including but not restricted to the fact that we’d lose some of the luxuries (like electricity) to which we’ve grown accustomed, and the fact that those in power might try to kill us if we seriously impede their ability to exploit the world — none of which alters the fact that it’s a better option than a dead planet. Any option is a better option than a dead planet.

(Emphases added again). So what Jenkins is really saying is that we need to completely change the world. That’s fine. That’s good. He and I agree, to a point.

What he and I disagree on is whether what he calls “simple living,” and what I would call sensible living, is effective. Because he believes that 5% is roughly equal to nothing, Jenkins concludes that sensible living is totally ineffective (I am reminded of the H2G2 conclusion that the Universe is unpopulated (retried from

it is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in. however, not every one of them is inhabited. therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds. any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds, so the average population of all the planets in the universe can be said to be zero. from this it follows that the population of the whole universe is also zero, and that any people you may meet from time to time are the products of a deranged imagination.

In other words, Jenkins sounds a lot like an economist. But this is no time for mere insults. Jenkins reminds me of the bird in an S. Mueller cartoon (which, alas, the Internet has thus far been unable to retrieve from the depths of the 1980s: a monstrous parrot shouting “Polly wants it all!”).

Yes, we need concerted political action. We need to change to world. A professor of mine back in college once told me how disappointed he was when the Beatles essentially came out against revolution (“But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow”). I do not want to tell you to put down the posters, or more specifically, to stop taking political action. What I want is for you to read the following paragraph from Jenkin’s piece:

I want to be clear. I’m not saying we shouldn’t live simply. I live reasonably simply myself, but I don’t pretend that not buying much (or not driving much, or not having kids) is a powerful political act, or that it’s deeply revolutionary. It’s not. Personal change doesn’t equal social change.

…and shout “BULLSHIT! “ when he gets to the last line. Because that’s what it is. Bullshit. Social change has never come about without personal change. And while I don’t buy into the notion that the capitalist system is an unmitigated good, I think that there are ways that personal change can send a message to the military-industrial-political complex that will lead to it changing. And you know what? So does Jenkins. His ultimate paragraph says as much:

The good news is that there are other options. We can follow the examples of brave activists who lived through the difficult times I mentioned — Nazi Germany, Tsarist Russia, antebellum United States — who did far more than manifest a form of moral purity; they actively opposed the injustices that surrounded them. We can follow the example of those who remembered that the role of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much integrity as possible, but rather to confront and take down those systems.

Let’s go back to the first paragraph. What caused the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to pass? Partly, it was Lindon Johnson, waving the bloody flag of a dead President. But the act never would have been written if those brave people of who Jenkins ultimately writes hadn’t been willing to engage not only in political action, but in inconvenient personal action. Like walking instead of taking the bus.*

The real danger with Jenkin’s perspective is that it tells people that the tiny effects they make by changing their lives are unimportant—it equates small with null. Because if you convince people of that, two things happen: the first is that they stop making those small changes, and those small (not null) effects go away. We lose (among other things) that 5% reduction in carbon emissions. The second is that because they believe they can have no effect, people tend to give up altogether. They become disempowered. Being told that they can’t fight city hall, they stop trying.

We need massive change, but we also need personal change. Indeed, I don’t think you can have the former without the latter.

Well, I suppose that if you bombed every automobile factory in the world, you might effect massive social change without personal change. It wouldn’t last. Or you could impose a Stalinist system (sorry, I have violated a corollary to Godwin’s law) and we’d all drive some kind of Prius/Trabant hybrid.

But if we all stopped buying gas guzzling monsters, and when our current vehicles were beyond repair, replaced them with small, efficient gas/hybrid/electric vehicles, you know what would happen? Manufacturers would start to build small, efficient, gas/hybrid/electric vehicles. Initially in smaller numbers, but over time, in larger numbers. But the onus would be on us to maintain that approach. Hmmm. Could the political be personal?

*I should point out that walking instead of taking the bus wouldn’t have stopped Hitler, either.

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Bored Now. Less than Ten years in Three Acts.


Last week, I got picked for Jury Duty.  This morning, we all gathered, and nothing happened.  Apparently there was an issue which the judge will (or will not) tell us about later (sometime after 2:00).  Right now, it’s 12:42 and I’m sitting in a cafe on Orange Street.

So I need something to write about.

What presents itself is a weird theme in three parts.  A memory–a set of memories-that flashed by me early today.

PART I:  Summer Camp

When I was around 10 or 11, my parents shipped my brother and me off to summer camp.  It was a camp run by the YMCA about 40 miles from my folks’ house, and it was fairly typical.

There were sing-alongs, arts and crafts, and the piece de resistance, an overnight camping trip.

It’s the last that sticks in my mind.  We were equipped with large canvas backpacks with leather straps (this was the ’60s, remember), loaded with gear, and we hiked about ten miles.  The ten miles is what I remember being told, anyway.

We camped in a little clearing among trees and bushes, not terribly far from any road, but it was nice, except for the mosquitoes.  For dinner, I think we ate hotdogs and had smores.  The next morning, we cooked up some kind of farina (I think it was actually Malt-O-Meal) and put a can of pie filling into it, creating in me forever a fondness for improvised cuisine.

Then we packed up and hiked back to camp.  Along the way, we paused at an A&W and the counselor bought us a gallon jug of root beer.  Now, I had never had Root Beer in my life.  Like “eggplant,” it was something that sounded just too awful for words.  But when the jug reached me, I sipped, and then gulped.  I had never tasted anything so good!  Our little gang lay on a hillside and drank that gallon down, and then continued on our way.

When we got back, there was a ceremony, and a little plaque was affixed to the camp’s history board.  It was a little shield, and it had the names of each of the cabin’s residents on it.

PART II:  Diabetic Camp

When I was 13, I was diagnosed with diabetes.  So my parents did the best they could for me, and that included making me self-sufficient, something for which I will always owe them.  When I was 14 they shipped me off to–surprise!–the same camp.  I remember visiting the history board, and seeing that same shield.

However, my parents had not counted on what was going to happen.  I did not spend the week learning about diabetes care.  Instead, early the second morning we were all chased down to the camp’s main square (we had been cabined on the far outskirts) and told to get on the bus.  We were off for a week-long canoe trip.

It was wild.  The river was higher (and faster) than usual, due to a heavy rainfall in the area that spring.  On the first day, we actually broke the keel of one aluminum canoe going through a rapids, which flexed like a waterborne banana for the rest of the trip.  I think all of the canoes got overturned, and all of our food and sleeping bags were soaked.

That first night, we broke into an abandoned house, made a fire in the fireplace, and tried to dry things out.  I think we had Vienna sausages and crackers for dinner; the spaghetti that the counselor had packed had gotten wet, and turned into a solid brick.  We were not the first visitors, we learned from certain scatological evidence, so we didn’t feel too guilty.

The trip continued, with rapids, dunking, and rain–lots of rain–for the rest of the week.  I remember two more things.  The last night, it was once again pouring rain, so we slept on picnic tables, in our ponchos–some of which had been burned or melted in various campfires–under sheet metal picnic shelter roofs.  It was horrid.  We were all dirty and disheveled and it was just awful.

So the bus picked us up and took us back to camp and we were fed.  And nobody cared that we were diabetics–there was SO MUCH FOOD.  I think there was a moon landing on the TV in cafeteria.  All I remember clearly is food, including strawberry shortcake.

Then our parents picked us up, and I learned that I had received my ham radio license–WN0IKW–from the FCC while I was gone.

PART III–A Fine Romance

When I was 17, I was on the same grounds again, and saw the same shield plaque again.  As an honor student, I had been nominated to go to something like “Boy’s State,” but I took second place, and so was routed to this thing, run by some group like the Kiwanis club.

I don’t remember much about it other than that it was a weekend long, and that it had one major advantage (from my perspective) over Boy’s State:  it was co-ed.  At some point during the day, I fell in with a girl name Kathy from another city.  She thought I was creative and funny, and I thought she was cute.  And smart–she had to be, to appreciate me.  Right.

We had a great time; there was a dance that night in the rec hall, and we were exclusive.  She was impressed when I sang out the words to Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”–not great dance music, but that’s what we had.

Later that night we slipped away from the dance and made out on the steps below the rec hall.  I walked her back to her cabin in a daze.  We hung out the next day, too.  It was a Sunday and there was a priest giving communion and since Kathy was Catholic I got in line with her and took the wafer.  No big deal.

And then on Monday we all went to the state capitol for a tour and then it was all over and I never heard from or spoke to Kathy again.  Ironic, because the first thing I did when I got back was to break up with my then-girlfriend because of Kathy.  Ouch.  And so it goes.


I don’t know why Camp ___ popped into my head this morning, but it did.  It’s also funny that although all of the events I’ve described here took place within a period of less than ten years, I can’t make the chronology fit.  I have always thought that I was 13 when I went to diabetic camp, but that doesn’t work because there was no late-summer moon landing the year I was 13; I also thought I got my first ham license in 1971, but that would make me 13, and that doesn’t fit the moon landing.  I also remember talking politics involving McGovern and Eagleton, which makes 1971 hard to fit.  I guess things tend to blur over time.  I wonder if that plaque is still there.  I wonder if Kathy ever thought of me again.  I wonder about all the other campers.  I wonder if anyone else flashes on old memories the way I do…

Some questions, even the internet can’t answer.

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Here We Are, In The Calm Before The Storm

There was a time when we had an idea
whose time hadn’t come
They kept changing its name, so we could still pretend
it was not really gone
We heard our screams turn into song
and back into screams again and here we are again
Here we are in the calm before the storm, oh

–Lou Reed/Ruben Blades

(I will be returning to my promised discussion of good and evil fairly soon.  But (besides the need to repair my keyboard, now accomplished) other things have intervened.  One of them is the realization that however much things have changed, things haven’t really changed.)

This morning on the radio, there was (yet another) a discussion of the need to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  This rings especially powerfully for me because I was there.  Honestly don’t think the idea of nuclear weapons resonates for a lot of people.  It has been almost a quarter of a century since the collapse of the USSR, the state against which the US built a nearly unbelievable arsenal of nuclear and thermonuclear weaponry.  Most of the people who browse the internet, I suspect, were either not yet born or not yet conscious of the implications.

I was perhaps fifteen when I realized that we weren’t having tornado drills, but bombing drills.  I’ve discussed my fondness for apocalyptic stories before, so  it should come as no surprise that I was constantly cognizant of the possibility of immolation on 20 minutes’ notice.  And I started to try to do something about it.

I wrote letters.  I marched.  I participated in meetings and conferences.

And then, the teetering balance between the US and the USSR

stopped teetering.

When the USSR dissolved in 1991, we heaved a sign of relief; it was as if the world had changed, and it had, in many important ways.  Two years earlier, Nelson Mandela had been released, and South Africa was changing.  The Gulf War came–and went–without nuclear exchanges, and indeed, with the then-tottering USSR trying to calm the situation and restrain Baghdad.

We heard our screams turn into songs

The world felt like a much safer place; for about a decade, it was possible to believe that we were going to escape the WWIII of fiction, the “Flame Deluge” of Walter Miller.

Then came 9/11.

And back into screams again

But this time, we had been attacked, we had a noble cause.  And we went and destroyed the “enemy.”  Or did we?  Mission accomplished.

But far more important, we gave our military-industrial complex a new lease on life.  And I suspect that that may have played a role (though it really doesn’t matter) over the past decade and a half of the increasing bellicosity of the “Former Soviet Union,” i.e., Russia.

But now, Russia is only one of a number of nuclear states, and countries like North Korea and Iran would, if they are not already, very much like to be.

And back into screams again

How did we get here?

Well, neither of those states was on particularly good terms with the US to begin with.  But when the US reached out and smashed another country–or what was left of another country–I suspect that things changed.

Because nuclear weapons, since the time that the Soviet Union developed them, are not weapons of offense.  They are, ultimately, weapons of suicide.  Suppose that Iran developed nuclear weapons.  Suppose that it then used nuclear weapons on, let’s say, Israel.  Is there any doubt in anyone’s mind that Israel would retaliate with nuclear weapons?  Or that, assuming that literally nothing was left of Israel, that the United States would so respond?

And back into screams again

Do you honestly think that the leadership of Iran–or for that matter, anyone in Iran–is that insane?  Or better, that we are any less insane?

Once the nuclear monopoly ended, nuclear weapons were useful only insofar as they were not used.  They became guarantors of non-aggression.  A state with a nuclear arsenal, however small it may be, is like a Fugu Fish.  Nature says “don’t touch.”  Iran wants nuclear weapons–I think–not so as to be in a position to threaten their use against Israel or the United States, but so as to be secure against invasion.  North Korea, for all of its sword-waving, is likely operating in much the same way.

And back into screams again

Nuclear weapons are not going away.  Not until we change the world in such a way that states need no longer fear invasion.   There is a related point:  nuclear weapons are far less useful against internal revolt or revolution.  They can be used to end a revolution only at the risk of ending everything.

Maybe these are the ramblings of an old man who never thought he’d see thirty.  Or maybe they’re not.

But I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in the calm before the storm.

It may look like I’m exploiting fear here.  But I’m not telling you to live in fear–and certainly not to avoid change because of fear.  I’m telling you there might be something better.

Let’s go find out what it is.

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y blog entry about a proble with y coputer

This blog is brought to you by the letter “” and the  nuber $45.

Today was Saturday, one of the rare Saturdays when I don’t have to be anywhere else. So I started the day by sleeping in, then went downstairs to work on a blog entry.


I opened up y notebook, and a key fell out into y lap. The “” key.

I figured I ight be able to re-ount it, but that proved frustrating. It looks like the underlying switch is soehow broken.

Next, I looked up inforation on how to replace the keyboard. It looks easy-peasy (and thanks, Lenovo, for aking a achine that’s easy to work on). Then I went and looked at possible sources of keyboards (I did uch of this by grabbing the issing “” fro a web page and pasting it in whenever I needed to type that character, but couldn’t.

I ended up paying ore than I ought to because I wanted to speed things along, so a refurbished keyboard should be arriving on onday, just in tie for y birthday (!).

y son, who is also a geek, will be coing down fro Boston with his spouse, and so part of y birthday is going to be putting in the new keyboard.

So that’s really all I’ve got to say. So reeber, as Annie (so far as I know, in all versions of the usical) was wont to say:

“The sun’ll coe out—Toorrow!”

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Living in the Past

A few months ago, I mentioned a guy named Richard Thompson.  I was first introduced to Mr. Thompson through the purchase of an album called Fairport Chronicles, which chronicled (appropriately) the work of the band Fairport Convention.

So I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a terrifically important part of Fairport Convention–Sandy Denny:

Sandy Denny was a remarkable singer and songwriter, and Fairport Convention’s best-known vocalist.

The more I learn about her the more I compare her to Janis Joplin, and the more I think she was a forerunner of people like Stevie Nicks,

Oh yeah–and she performed with Led Zepplin.

She died in 1978.

I write about Sandy now because a very well-written biography of her has just been published:  I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn by Mick Houghton.

I’m not going to link to videos or music here, because I think she’s worth hunting out.  It’s not difficult.  So take the trouble.  You’ll be glad you did.

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Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?


I’d like to invite you to take a look at my other blog while you’re here.

I’m reasonably pleased with the current entry.



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Gentle ladies, gentle men
Waiting till the dance begin
Carefully we come to speak the word for all to hear
If you listen, if you should
We won’t be misunderstood
But don’t expect the words to ring too sweetly on the ear
Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear
In the gutter, in the street
Off his head or off his feet
Listen to the scratchy voices eating at your nerves
Pencil ready, paper dry
Shoot the girls and make them cry
Run for cover, things are bad but now they’re getting worse
Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear, live in fear
Is it painful, is it right?
Does it keep you warm at night?
Fool your friends and fool yourself, the choice is crystal clear
If you break it on your knee
Better men might disagree
Do you laugh or do you stick your finger in your ear?
Live in fear, live in fear, live in fear, live in fear

–Richard Thompson, “Roll Over Vaughan Williams”
For some days now, I have been mulling over writing a post about good and evil. The impetus came to a point recently, but it’s been brewing for some time because of my scarf* and some things I’ve been reading. And we’ll get to that later—probably next post. Because this post is going to be about something else: fear.

Not long ago, I was sitting in church. It was a Fast Sunday (or “Fast and Testimony”) meeting.** One of the speakers was a woman who described watching a video with her children that involved birds, who were wary of the cats below them in the yard, but insufficiently wary of snakes creeping along near-by branches. I couldn’t find the visual version, but I’m 99% certain it derived from this talk.

Such talks are common. Here’s another example:

What these talks have in common, and what they have in common with many other videos, not only those from the LDS church, is that they teach us to live in fear. But this is not only a matter of religion; political figures, similarly, trade on fear. So do manufacturers of commercial goods.

Fear is powerful–I well remember the sheer paranoia that struck us all following 9/11. The day of the attack, the president of the software company where I then worked sent us all home to be with our families, and I remember riding my bike homeward, noticing on an isolated bridge an uncapped plastic milk bottle full of some pale yellow liquid (it could have been urine, but this was Wisconsin, so it was more likely beer or lemonade). I remember mulling over the possibility that the bottle might contain some nerve agent or toxin or disease, ready to be casually knocked over and dispersed through the Western Wisconsin area. Yeah, right.

When the Anthrax letters appeared, even my eminently sensible spouse seriously contemplated microwaving all envelopes to destroy any biological agents.

Fear is powerful.

FDR wasn’t kidding when he said “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

As a kid, I was constantly afraid. Bad things could happen to my parents; I could get beaten up at school; planes would crash, towers would fall. In junior high, I started to read books like Alas, Babylon. The charismatic end-times religion in which I invested myself in high school told me that the end of the world was imminent. I told my parents that I didn’t think I was likely to live to see 30. I was psychologically ready for disaster. I vividly remember a dream in which I was shot for my beliefs. Indeed, I was ready to die.

What I wasn’t prepared to do was to live.

Perhaps that’s why Frank Herbert’s Dune and the Bene Gesserit “Litany Against Fear” struck such a powerful chord in me as, after high school, I moved increasingly toward skepticism:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

The Litany was the start for me of transcending fear, and while I am still a fearful person, I am much less worried about the future than I once was. And so I turn to analyzing the nature of fear. And we begin at the beginning: What is it that we fear?

I would argue that what we fear is precisely what we don’t know. Some examples may be illustrative:

Consider the famous Reagan/Bush “Bear in the Woods” campaign ad:

The subtext, is that since you don’t know, you have to “prepared.”   Ironically, it was the the bear that would come to the US with a realistic proposal that would have led to complete nuclear disarmament. And it would be the US insistence on a not yet developed antimissile technology (“Star Wars”) that would derail that proposal.

The other week, I had lunch with a woman who was interviewing me for a position with a non-profit (my preferred kind of work, but work in which I’m so far inexperienced). We met at a convenient spot—Ikea’s cafeteria—to talk about the position over meatballs. What struck me was that as we were getting lunch, she carefully put her utensils on top of a napkin, and mentioned that she always did that because she didn’t know how well they cleaned the trays.


Interviewing for a type of position I’d never had before, I felt a different kind of fear.

Job changes, moves, roller coasters, the possibility of disease—all of these things hold fear, but it is not because they in themselves are threatening. Indeed, waiting for a diagnosis of disease is, in my experience, far more unsettling than a knowledge that you have it.

What all of these have in common is that they present us with black boxes. We go in without knowing what we will find and we assume the worst.

But why should the unknown fill us with fear? Why not exhilaration? Imagine if the crew of the NCC-1701 had been like most of us—the Enterprise would have huddled in near-Earth orbit for five years.

To boldy go where no one has gone before!

In spite of the split infinitive, it suggests something. It suggests that what we do not know might not be worse than what we do know, but perhaps only different or—maybe—even better!

So let’s look briefly at why organizations—I’m looking at you, churches, at you politicians, and at you, advertisers—tend to use fear. I think the answer I’m contemplating should be pretty obvious from the last paragraph:

Organizations train us in fear so that we do not contemplate other possibilities. Because other possibilities might be better. Don’t like your church? You might find the one down the street more to your liking or—zounds!—maybe you’re more inclined to be an atheist! But you’d better not try. The folks down the street are Catholics; and if you’re an atheist, you’ll burn in hell. Different is bad. Indeed, Apple Computer, which once told us to:

ThinkDifferentreally meant, “Buy our stuff.”

Organizations use fear of the different to keep people in line.

I’m not saying that all fears are unreasonable. It’s unlikely that a world blasted by nuclear war would be better—or even simply different—from the world in which we live now. But I am saying that it’s fear of difference that tends to keep us where we are, chained to the present instead of contemplating the future.

In Ray Bradbury’s short story, “The Toynbee Convector,” a man travels into the future, records it, and shows it to people so that they can see that the future will be better than the present. Stripped of fear of the future, they eagerly turn their hands toward building that future. It is only at the end of the story that the time traveler reveals that it was all a sham: he built the future out of papier-mâché and cardboard (this was before Photoshop) because he knew that his contemporaries feared the future. Shown that it was not to be feared, they built it.

How many of us struggle with the same problem? The devil we know is better (we think) than the devil we don’t. We live in fear.

We are encouraged to fear. We encourage ourselves to fear. And, as we shall see in my (hopefully) next blog entry, much of that fear has to do with notions arising out of the way we divide up the world. We believe that good implies evil; that because Gryffindor exists, so must implies Slytherin. That the Shire implies Mordor.

But does good (always) imply evil?


*It’s a University of Minnesota striped scarf, which gets mistaken for something that a Harry Potter fan might wear. I’m serious. I was visiting my old stomping ground a few years ago when I heard a guide telling prospective students that one of the cool things about the U of M was that you got to wear a “Harry Potter” scarf. Magical herbs, anyone?

**I’m a Mormon. For the benefit of non-Mormons, Fast Sunday, ordinarily the first Sunday in a given month, is an opportunity for members to spontaneously speak (briefly) about their faith in the Church or on whatever other topic upon which they feel moved to discuss. It’s also a day on which members are supposed to fast for two meals and donate the money not spent to help the needy.

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