Before I reach the meat of this article, I need to get a few things off my chest, things that might help to explain why I write what I do. Most people who know me think I am incredibly lucky. In certain ways I’ve been enormously lucky. What many people struggle for has come fairly easily to me, though not without cost. That’s the way things work in this world: you don’t get something for nothing. And no one gets it all.
It is difficult for me to make friends. It’s not, I think, that I’m unfriendly. I just don’t connect with many people. Either they make little impression on me, or I fall in love with them—and that hasn’t ever worked its way into a lasting relationship. I spend a lot of time alone, too much for my own well-being. I’m reliable at work, good at doing things well, but not much good at the kind of socializing I see around me here in New York. And with at least a few million people around me, it’s astounding that I haven’t made some buddies.
At my tender age of 64, it doesn’t take much anymore: just kicking around the city with someone who’s got something to say, someone who’ll listen, someone observant—that’s more than enough. I don’t need a big blast, a costly restaurant, or late nights on the town. Simple good company will do nicely. I had that a while ago, and I thought he would become a permanent deal even though my heart was breaking all the way through it. I still feel it. I hope against all the odds. I don’t give up.
I’d give just about anything to be a regular Joe, and for years I spent considerable effort, energy, and error to convince myself that I was one. I worked with my hands. I got tired and dirty. I wore workingman’s clothes. I smoked Marlboro cigarettes; that was the error factor in the regular Joe equation. I don’t recommend smoking. The eventual cost is too high, and it’s dirty.
After a raft of hopes, dreams, and wishes that don’t come true, what’s a non-regular guy to do? For one thing—just in case a miracle should descend and I meet someone who’ll stick around—I take good care of myself. I eat well, do yoga asanas, exercise, and I practice Transcendental Meditation twice every day. I help people who need various sorts of directions, and I try to stay out of the way of errant drivers and pedestrians whose eyes are buried in mobile phones. And I love my cat. She’s the most dependable other in my life.
In addition, I read the news and I think about what’s going on and why it’s going on. Lately the news isn’t good. But it is very, very revealing. A beautiful young mother and her baby were mowed down in Florida by teenagers in a couple of fast cars. A woman here in NY died when a speeding Mercedes rammed her cab. And, yes, we had yet another school shooting, a mere week after the last one. Congressmen are undoubtedly sending thoughts and prayers, probably to the NRA, so they can keep their re-election campaign coffers full. Since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook, about 7000 children have been killed in US school shootings.
This is not an essay about gun control. I have little faith in the rule of law. Laws are like locks. Locks help keep honest people honest. Laws help keep law-abiding people on a certain straight and narrow, but some laws are unjustified and some laws are just plain wrong.
Think about it: 7000 children were killed in their schools since 2012, right here in the land of the free. We spend a significant portion of the nation’s wealth on the military, and we call that the defense budget. In 2015, we spent about $610 billion. Think on that for a moment as you envision yourself as a Congressman confronted with the decision to approve the budget, which Congressmen do every year. You might ask, since it’s obvious that we can’t protect our children while they’re in school, just what is our huge military expense defending? We’re certainly not defending our freedom when our children are at risk of dying in their own schools. That vast military expense didn’t work on that dark September 11, either. We have a great memorial to that disaster down the street from my apartment. But is that what we really want to commemorate? I think it’s sad.
The hardest thing for me to accept is that these shootings continue and absolutely nothing substantial changes. In the most recent shooting, the Santa Fe High School shooting, the firearms used were not locked up. They were readily available right there in the house where the young perpetrator lived with his parents. I’d bet that the people in that household have seen at least one news item about a child who got hold of a gun and shot a toddler, or some similar story. Perhaps more often than not, gun control begins at home. Laws don’t make people more intelligent. And guns usually make people more reactive—especially when they’re holding one.
Could there be a connection between the violence that the US has brought to other parts of the world through unwarranted military action and the violence that we have within our own borders? I think that connection is inescapable; most people understand the expression, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” We have been sowing violence around the globe for far too long. We have ruined entire nations, driven people from their homelands, and caused the migration of millions.
The US Congress controls how some tax dollars are spent. They called it discretionary spending; members of Congress decide where the money goes. The US federal budget is very heavy on defense spending and notably light on things that would make life easier for the millions of people who struggle daily to make ends meet. That’s wrong. It’s destructive. It’s backward thinking. And it shows that we have not learned from history. We look back through the rosy glasses of nostalgia instead of the vitally important critical eye. What that says is this: we are not living in the present, and we are not thinking about the future. Those failures of vision can destroy a culture and a nation. Perhaps destruction is what must happen in order for something new to be created. Perhaps that essential destruction is what we are now witnessing. One can hope only that the forces for good are stronger than those on the evil, destructive side. It is hard to measure.
In response to the apparent threats posed by Germany and Japan, the notoriously isolationist US geared up to enter World War II—and the nation flourished under an unusual period of unity that gave it a huge boost economically, technologically, and sociologically. I’m not here to argue whether WW II was justified or not; one man has done that. I don’t know enough to make that argument, and I’m not interested in looking back unless doing so can give me some tools to create a better future, or at least help me create a vision of a better one.
Since WW II, the wars that the US has created have done little more than drain the nation’s resources. None of those wars—not the Korean, or the Vietnamese, or the Iraq war—were needed to address a threat to the nation. What lives on from WW II is the dilapidated theory that war is a powerful economic stimulus for the nation—and here in the US, the economy is everything, because money is the god. The world has moved on since that last world war, but the US federal government remains mired in the creation of enemies for never-ending war. It costs us dearly.
The US invents reasons to go to war, concocting various threats that it must sell to the people to justify war. The threats are sometimes ideological, such as communism; or physical (but imagined), such as Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. It hardly matters what those threats are, because all were lies, lies concocted to justify ever-increasing military spending, and to give a bored, reckless, and rootless government something to occupy its time. War is very profitable—but only for a few. War is disastrous for everyone else and especially for the young men and women who fight it. Today they return from the US’s military adventures suicidal and homeless, ignored as collateral damage, abandoned by the very government that entices them with money or the glory of military service. Today more soldiers die from suicide than from combat.
The nation’s needs and the nation’s problems are vast. The media report that the great American middle class, a product of the economic expansion from WW II, is vanishing. Homelessness has risen; in New York, where I live, the estimate is that 60,000 people are homeless. That’s a city in itself. The cost of US health care is the world’s highest, and the outcomes rank far below other nations, nations with single-payer health care. At least six US states are suing makers of pain killers because of opioid addictions. Disastrous drug side effects can render the cure worse than the disease. Newborns are vaccinated right out of the womb, shot full of modern medicine’s guesswork cocktail even before their nervous systems have had exposure to the earthly environment. All of these tell the tale of a system in crisis, the result of a serious lack of knowledge about life and health.
The federal government is a veritable ostrich. It keeps its head buried in the sand, obsessed with the notion of creating national security with a big military as the nation withers from within. Members of Congress are owned by the corporations who finance their re-election campaigns: they vote the way their financiers want them to vote. And who believes that the US was incapable of protecting its election system computers from hackers? Are we really that dumb? And what does that admission do to your faith in our great democracy and our competence as a nation in this very technological age with all those concerns about data and security and privacy?
I’m as much of a dreamer as anyone else. As I intimated early on, what’s a guy to do after all those failed romances, friendships that never were, and dreams that just sputtered and sank? Truthfully, I’d rather be writing about something gorgeous and elevating, like the beautiful Pininfarina-designed Lancia Flavia Coupe I’ve just posted on my Facebook page. But this time moves me in a different, more somber, more reflective direction. This time can be a very painful one. I’d like to think that the world is moving onward toward greener pastures, but sometimes that’s difficult—especially in the case of the untimely loss of innocent life as has recently occurred. I feel those losses deeply in my heart and in my gut.
The price of empire is very high. It has proven too costly for many nations to bear. History is littered with nations conceived in high dreams and lost to broken ones. Where are we going as individuals in this nation? It is we who create it, in every moment. Mark that well.
The Real True Knight—as Seen by Don Quixote
Do not make empty boasts. Take a deep breath and consider how it should be. Call nothing your own except your soul. Love not what thou art, only what thou may become. Do not pursue pleasure, for you may have the misfortune to overtake it.
Look always forward, in last year’s nest there are no birds this year.
Be just to all men—courteous to all women. Live in the vision for Whom all great deeds are done. I come in a world of iron to make it a world of gold. What matters is that I follow the quest. The quest is the privilege to dream the impossible dream and to try to bring it into reality.