Probably it was Chicago – that brain-raping week in August of ’68. I went to the Democratic Convention as a journalist, and returned a raving beast. For me, that week in Chicago was far worse than the worst bad acid trip I’d even heard rumors about. It permanently altered my brain chemistry, and my first new idea – when I finally calmed down – was an absolute conviction there was no possibility for any personal truce, for me, in a nation that could hatch and be proud of a malignant monster like Chicago. Suddenly, it seemed imperative to get a grip on those who had somehow slipped into power and caused the thing to happen. But who were they?
– Hunter S. Thompson, “The Great Shark Hunt”
As we bask in the glow of Lammas, its supermoon and its Perseid meteor shower, Missouri is burning.
Burn it to the ground.
Lammas is supposed to be one of the eight major holidays of the year, but I never find it to be much of a picnic. All the other holidays so far have held so much promise and joy, while serving as a reminder that things yet undone can still be accomplished if we focus and try. Not Lammas. This isn’t about promise and possibility, it’s about harvesting what we’ve planted and tended. It’s about the consequences of what’s already been done. There’s no time to catch up now. Autumn is more or less upon us. What’s done is done. What has been grown, such as it is, like it or not, is what we will eat. To paraphrase the good doctor, the ticket has already been purchased, and Lammas means the only thing left is to take the ride.
I mentioned last week that I’m not quite as plagued by guilt and self-doubt this Lammas about my personal position on the Wheel of the Year. I’ll be the first to tell you it’s as much to do with luck and good fortune as it is cleverness and discipline, but I’ll take it any way I can get it. I’ve flowed with the changing seasons pretty well this year. It’s not too late for blight to destroy my harvest – it’s never too late for that – but there’s nothing lacking in terms of sowing and preparation.
Of course, this is a sermon for all, and it’s not all about me. The world is filled with unpleasant fruits that are inalterably ours to harvest. We need to recognize not merely the poisonous nature of the fruit but trace the poison back to the seeds that were planted in the first place and those that planted them. If we really feel strongly about it, we’ve got to consider which seeds might yield different results if we’re lucky enough to have another in the future – if, that is, we’re not arriving upon the Lammas of all history, racing headlong toward the winter of the entire human race.
There’s an imagined world I have in my mind and somehow woven into my spirit as well, a world born of stories my wife’s told me about attending a Waldorf school until the 8th grade. Like I said, it’s an imaginary world. You’ve got to ignore all kinds of reality and have lots of money to consider it real in the actual world. I wouldn’t even be so optimistic as to consider it a potential world. It’s just an imaginary world, but even as such, it’s important enough to talk about it. Some days, I can’t get it out of my head, never mind my spirit.
It’s a world in which the police don’t kill people for no reason. They don’t hate the average person or see them as a a foreign population to be managed and subdued.
Schooling is an exploration of wonder where students are taught, over a period of years, in small forested schoolhouses, how to celebrate the world, how to understand it, and how to express oneself freely and fully within it. It’s a world in which songs are sung, myths and even religion are made real in the best possible sense, a world in which society’s institutions serve society and nothing more, a world in which community is real and people are kind and simple and compassionate. It’s the land of the Quakers and UUs, of the children of the hippies who exiled themselves to Vermont decades ago, the ones who run the yoga studios and artisan shacks and art galleries, who eat local and organic and play with wooden toys. It’s where everyone, young and old, is more proficient in wandering the woods and mountains than Microsoft Excel. A world in which school is meant to prepare one for a full life and not a sense of proper behavior and filtering exercise conducted on behalf of the corporate oligarchical employer class.
The world here is dominated by wonder and not by despair, a world in which we can trust in our parents and our neighbors and our assumptions about how things are supposed to work.
There are those who share my imaginings who would willfully force a belief not merely in their unlikely possibility but in their existence in reality – if only we try hard enough or have the right mentality, or something along those lines. They are usually the ones with a fair degree of privilege. It requires at least an upper middle class income to somehow perceive this to in any way resemble the world in which we live.
Not I, I perpetually among the damned. Indeed, to see this world fully, to know it somehow intrinsically, and yet to see and know all this only through the barrier of some kind of bullet-proof electrified glass, can only be described as a peculiar kind of hell. For me, I know well, there is no possibility of truce.
That’s true for many reasons. More depressing reasons than I care to list out here, or likely anyplace else, for quite some time. This week, however, Michael Brown is heavy on my heart. Michael Brown is my trucebreaker. The police murdered him with multiple gunshots as he held his hands up in surrender. They decided it was time for him to die. They appointed themselves executioners and did a murder.
Why is Michael Brown dead?
Why is this called a “police shooting” and not what it is? Why do our police hate us?
Why was Eric Garner’s punishment for selling illegal cigarettes to be choked to death in the street by police while begging for his life?
Why do they hate us? Why did they beat us in 1968, taze us and pepper spray us in 2011, and kick the crap out of us in all manner of ways all the years in between?
These fruits come from seeds, and these seeds were planted at some point. Some people planted them. But who were they?
Was it us who did it? Was it them? Was it some collaboration?
I know the true nature of the police. I’m not ignorant to all that. We tend to think of police forces as having always existed, a necessary part of human life in the pursuit of order and rule of law. Of course, the truth is that our modern concept of police evolved less than two hundred years ago out of private mercenary security forces like the Pinkertons created to make sure the owners were safe from the workers and tenants. That’s where they came from, and that’s why they exist. Maybe it’s even why they hate us.
Why, then, do we continue to protect them? Why is it a greater crime for a citizen to kill a police officer than for a police officer to kill a citizen? Why do we unquestionably support every measure designed to protect every officer’s “safety” when police are rarely in danger to begin with? Just what kind of sheepies are we? We obsess over the supposed danger of terrorism, but we’re more likely to be killed by our own cops than by Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombers. The question then morphs from why we continue to protect police to why don’t we protect ourselves from them?
Some of these rotten fruits we’re harvesting this Lammas are born of the seeds of a perverted, bizarre notion of “security.” Look how national security has evolved from the right of one nation to defend itself and its people against external attacks but some kind of mystical right to somehow prevent any people from being killed on purpose, anywhere. In this pursuit, we go abroad, killing at random. The rare, exceptional possibility of terrorism succeeds in terrifying us at all times, while the very real danger coming from our own law enforcement agencies scarcely cause us to bat an eye. Is that security? To whom? Why are police officers who murder people so often allowed to go free and even keep their jobs? Why are victims only allowed to sue police departments – and thus the very tax coffers into which portions of their own income are deposited – and not the police who do the murders? Why are these maniacal, steroided murderers allowed body armor, paramilitary power, and armored military vehicles?
For our protection?
At what point do we stop talking about “a few bad apples ruining the batch” and accept that the institution is rotten to the core? When is enough enough?
Yes, somebody planted these seeds. But who were they?
And if we can somehow find a way, in the midst of our seemingly paradoxically increasing fear and insecurity, to plant different seeds that might be harvested by generations in the future, if such generations have the benefit of surviving these dark times, how should we go about it? If this Lammas teaches us what bad seeds can do, might it teach us about good seeds?
This Lammas, we cannot escape the burning and looting in Missouri. There are many who decry this destruction of property, even as they mourn the loss of the innocents at police hands. Many argue that such random destruction is bad in and of itself (I’m not convinced) while others argue that, regardless of its justification, it’s counterproductive to achieving positive goals like planting better seeds (there’s a much better case there). But judge not those who mourn the senseless death of a son and rage at those who killed him. Looting and rioting are but the fruits born of the seeds that come when we know there will be no justice, no protection, no answered questions, no accountability. Property damage and fury-fires are the inevitable result of a society that fails to even pretend to function on behalf of its citizens.
Looting and rioting are but explicit manifestations of what is already implicitly real – all our windows are already broken, our cars and buildings already torched, already emitting the fumes of a combination of tears, blood, and despair-saturated spit.
This is the harvest that results from seeds that represent not merely a very likely defeat at the hands of the powerful, but that also represent no possibility for truce in our time.
Michael Brown’s execution, if nothing else, lays bare the reality that we’re not merely insecure, we are damned. Damned, even in the best case scenario, to forgo truce in favor of battlefield stands and taking the flamethrowers to the diseased crops lest the disease spread and proliferate forever.
Best case scenario, what I cling to in my most impossibly optimistic moments, is that if even the faintest shadow of that glorious world of kindness, competence, creativity, and basic functioning of society might not be accessible to us, if we plant the right seeds, it might be somehow more tangible for our children. Perhaps our children, if we learn from the twilight of this society’s summer – or even our grandchildren, if need be – may find truce, if not quite out-and-out peace.
So stop with the tut-tuts and the finger wags. We’ve got no choice but to burn it to the ground, and we’re idiots if we blame the only ones out there doing the work.
If there’s even the faintest sliver of hope for that far-off day to see sunlight, we’ve got to do the work. We’re the ones who have to burn away the old crops, fertilize the soil anew with their ashes, till that ground, and put seeds of life in even rows for acres on acres in the place of that shit we’ve been growing for far too long now. It’s our responsibility to do whatever it takes to keep the next Michael Brown and the next Eric Garner alive, to keep the next round of political protesters free from cracked skulls, broken ribs, and comically absurd jail sentences for tapping a breast-groping cop with one’s elbow. I hate to break it to you, but if we can’t send the message and do the work required, it’s not just us but our children that will lack all freedom but that in the barest name.
That’s the America we have today, this Lammas, and probably next Lammas, too. All wrapped in blankets sewn from the Bill of Rights and not a single shred of true freedom to speak of. A better world for our children requires many things, but prominent among them is a new approach to “law enforcement” in particular and “security” in general.
So in this pagan holiday season, say a little prayer, do a little meditation, ponder a little ponder-puddle – whatever it is that you do – and do it for Michael Brown. Do it for his memory, do it for his mother, do it for his grandmother who had to find her precious grandson murdered in the streets. Do it so that we ensure it doesn’t happen again. Do it so these seeds don’t keep getting planted, year after year.
Don’t do it for yourselves – you, like I, are already damned. But FFS, do it for the children.
Happy Lammas, I guess.
(And yeah, I stole all the photos. Go ahead, call the cops.)