NPF: IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Posted in No Politics Friday on August 21st, 2008 by Ed

No Politics Friday usually meets two criteria, namely A) not politics and B) fun. Since only the first part is mandatory, today will be absent of politics but short on laughs.

Take 20 minutes and read this Pulitzer-in-waiting piece "The Girl in the Window" from the Tampa-St. Pete Times. On the surface the story is basic human interest journalism, but I think this tragedy highlights an important reality in this nation full of idiots.

You may recall that Hillary Clinton wrote a book which was the subject of some derision back in the 1996 – It Takes a Village. Irrespective of Hill-Dawg's merits as an author or sociologist, the basic premise is sound: individuals and groups outside of families have a significant role (positive and negative) in raising children.

My point, to make a long comment short, is that anyone with functioning gonads can have a kid and we all know that there are millions of "parents" in this country with no qualifications beyond that. The story illustrates that in spades. It's up to the rest of us – neighbors, co-workers, teachers, cops, and so on – to pick up the slack. The phrase "It's none of my business" should be retired when the welfare of other human beings is involved. Without the intervention of strangers, the girl would still be locked in her room. Yes, it's pathetic that you should have to be responsible for some complete stranger's kids, but you are. Not legally, of course, but ethically.

I doubt I am telling you anything new here. This story, unfortunate as it is, simply underscores the way that our culture of proud stupidity shifts responsibility from the incompetent to society as a whole.

MORAL AMBIGUITY

Posted in Rants on August 21st, 2008 by Ed

Let's be real honest with ourselves: not every house needs a lawn mower.

I'm standing on the cusp of professorhood, which will entail moving to a yet-to-be determined place and a lot of other big boy stuff like buying a home. When one buys a home, only three options exist vis-a-vis the lawn. One can disregard it, allowing the front lawn to resemble the Serengetti. "Professionals" (i.e., 20 illegal immigrants sharing a Social Security number) can be hired to do landscape maintenance. Or a lawn mower can be purchased.

For no specific reason I have always associated the purchase of a lawn mower with being old. Being an official adult. Renting for the past 10 years has allowed me to circumvent this to some extent, but soon there will be a reckoning. But why do we all buy lawn mowers? Given the infrequency with which it is used, one lawn mower per three or four homes would more than suit America's lawn maintenance needs.

Juliet Schor explored this idea in The Overspent American (a must-read), discussing the problems of materialism, consumer culture, and debt. She concludes with some proposals such as shared neighbor/community ownership of little-used, expensive things like lawn mowers. It makes sense, right?

If only being a good, sensitive, sustainable, zero-emissions 21st Century anti-consumerist were so cut and dried. Let's wave a magic wand and get every group of four families to share a lawnmower. That's great – unless you stand on an assembly line making lawn mowers. Demand will drop precipitously and it'll cease to be profitable to build the product outside of China or Mexico. And we NPR-listening Good Liberals are supposed to care about that too.

The point is simply that our society and economy are so entirely dependent on debt-financed consumer spending that every effort to make good decisions – conserving, reducing waste, increasing efficiency – has negative economic consequences. As consumer spending falls (which is great! Let's all shop less!) the entire nation shudders because it's all the US of A has left to fuel its economic engine. Buy, buy, buy. Spend, spend, spend. When you run out of money, charge it and keep spending. It's your goddamn duty as a patriotic American to shop 'til your fingers bleed. Our Leader (and his dad) tell us that when recessions hit, the right thing to do is "go shopping more." We jury-rig idiotic election-year panders like sending out rebate checks – remember those? – in the hopes that they'll be spent at the mall (which, like the economic crack that "stimulus" checks are, worked to boost consumer spending for about five minutes).

The baby boomers built a world in which neither they nor the rest of us can afford to live. When we try to be more efficient the extent to which our economy has devolved into a wasteful, materialistic, no-money-down gangbang becomes clear.