Friday, December 26, 2008

'How beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible'

Although I know I've written about this before, about self-sufficiency, and about Jeffers' "The Purse-Seine," the lines are scrolling across my mind as never before.  We are all in this endless waiting period until the new administration begins.  Happy as I've been about it, I find myself relapsing into my reflexive (and acquired) cynicism about politics.  The idea that things could change is a fine one.  

Yet all of the media energy, and, thus, the political energy is sparking only one thing: throwing money at large industries.  And what do I know?  I'm not an economist.  I know an economist, though, and he's not sold on much of this.  The blizzard of disasters, man-made and natural, of malfeasance, of hubris, and the odor of decaying capitalism is like some kind of all-obscuring cloud of obfuscation through which no one at all can see individuals.  

Unfortunately, what's good for the majority is not good for my son.  And I don't think that an Obama administration is going to be particularly concerned with the needs of individuals.  For which I do not necessarily blame them, facing so much that has come undone.  

Daily, weekly, monthly over the last year or two, the education system gets worse, the health care system gets worse, the social services system gets worse.  What Robert needs is so highly individualized, so expensive, that he'd be the first person to be thrown overboard by just about anyone except me.  I live in a society in which dollar values are attached to people, to children, to just about everything.  I can make a moral case for my son, but not an economic one--and the latter is all that really matters in the America in which I live.  There's no longer any balance in this country between the need of the individual and the need of society.  Our systems are so complex, so large, so overwhelming, that the needs of society at large are all that matter--like HAL, the supercomputer in 2001: A Space Odyssey, that terminates any individual that threatens its existence.  

I can't duplicate Robinson Jeffers' lineation here because of the limited formatting capacities of this blog engine, so I'll just mark the line breaks:

"Lately I was looking from a night mountain-top / On a wide city, the colored splendor, galaxies of light: how could I help but recall the seine-net / Gathering the luminous fish? I cannot tell you how beautiful the city appeared, and a little terrible. / I thought, We have gathered the machines and locked all together into interdependence; we have built the great cities; now / There is no escape.  We have gathered vast populations incapable of free survival, insulated / From the strong earth, each person in himself helpless, on all dependent.  The circle is closed, and the net / Is being hauled in."

OK.  Jeffers is really a downer.  That I recognize.  But I would rather be Jeffers' speaker on the night mountain-top, self-sufficient, watching the city below, than be a part of the city itself, which is where I am now, a city not even of interdependence, but of dependency.  Gradually, with Robert's disabilities, we are all being forced into dependency, not interdependence, because Robert is loved, but not needed.  So I long for, fantasize about, self-sufficiency, a state in which Robert's lack of utility to society at large is no longer relevant and no price tag is assigned to his fate.


Elizabeth said...

"loved but not needed" is such a powerful phrase and one that I need to mull over. My first thought is, "yes, exactly!" but then I wonder about who, exactly qualifies the "needing" and what, exactly, "need" is. I'd like to say that the world needs those like our children but I suppose this is only true in an idealistic sense. Or is it? And I don't want Sophie (or Robert) to be needed in a dialectical (is that the term?) sense -- i.e. a heaven is only heaven because there's a hell. I don't know what I'm saying, but I'm inclined to believe that the world does need Robert. There is an integrity to every human life that lifts it above the mundane. I think, in my best moments. The rest of the time I'm just damn frustrated and heartbroken.

jeneva said...

Your parsing of the word "need" is exactly on target, I think. I, too, would like to think the world "needs" Robert and Sophie--if anything, people who cross paths with them are put in a position in which they contemplate compassion or the adequacy of compassion. Robert often seems to serve as a backstop for other children to consider difficulty and perseverance.

But as we become more and more focused on the economic upheaval around us, as we continue to make public policy based on Reagan's old 'trickle-down' economic theories (what else is a bail-out for?), the less we are able to calculate moral or spiritual worth and the more some people feel forced to assign absolute worth to others. That's been the calculus of Medicare/Medicaid spending, as well as social services spending over the last 20 years: not just what does an individual really need, but what is the public willing to pay and what are 'these' people really worth anyway, so why should we pay? Morality fell out of the bottom of caregiving policies a long time ago in this country. I'm just worried that health care reform is going to suffer the same fate: in these 'difficult economic times' who's worth saving and who's not?