An artist friend was once stranded in Ukraine because a project translator had been arrested. Back home, when filling me in on what had unfolded, a mutual friend described both our friend’s situation and mood as “miasma”. Seven years in the future, “miasma” has new meaning, and I’m grateful to know well people outside of my family who are 15, 20, 30 years older than I. When our mutual friend said “miasma”, the sound of the word and the accompanying expression said “endure”.
Late in childhood, there was a day over Winter Break maybe that I waited in an office in 1980s Jamaica as the bureaucratic processes behind procuring a Visa unfolded. Nowhere to go, nothing to see. Just wait. Daydream a little. Answer steadily. Sit quietly. (And you still might not get home. I mean, you will, but .001%…) I imagined my friend’s situation as weeks of an exponentially more fraught version of that appointment with the added pressure of securing the translator’s release. (And you still might not get home. I mean, you will, but 30%…)
I’m stuck in 2020. The intensity is somewhere between 1980s Jamaica and Ukraine 2013. (I still might not get home. I mean, I will, but 5%?) And, truthfully, I feel cornered by robber barons and their enablers in government. Recently, another friend and I were talking about what, exactly, is so irksome about the solutions parachuted in to crises small and global by “those guys”. I’ve had a year to think it over.
A tech guy who’s come up with some tech something that makes a mint believes his success is the result of his genius, his insight. To fields outside of his own, he takes his power. He thinks his power is his keen perception, but it’s only fame and money. He expects correlating results — if not more money, then certainly more attention. If he’s more conscientious than arrogant, he’ll give real consideration to the new terrain, but he’ll remain, at best, a serious dilettante. His power improves things in these other spheres, but not really; rather than use his influence to help convene consortia of individuals deeply embedded in these other fields — gatherings of people who have insight and strategies of substance instead of teams of titles and fellow attendees of X institutions — awe of this guy’s name and money facilitates a flurry of showy movement that may or may not actually amount to actual advances.
American culture trains people seek money and recognition as avatars of power and to revere those manifestations. But on reflection, it seems to me that real power is a phenomenon of collectives and that to constantly direct money and attention back to singularly insatiable individuals is pointless.
If someone wanted to, say, improve public schools in some American county, I think it would be cool to begin by canvasing in-depth responses from every single public school student, guardian, teacher, administrator, and staff member about the purpose of school in general and the state of the county’s public schools in particular. A second pass would pose the same questions to ALL county citizens.1 Every perspective would be considered because all community members are affected by what does and doesn’t happen in public schools. There would have to be a willingness on the part of those currently in control of schools to build schools anew from the ground up — and possibly render their control obsolete — if the community suggested that that was necessary. And a tech guy could to totally facilitate this process. But, if every perspective were truly considered, he couldn’t distinguish himself based on his perspective. He and those currently in control would have to work together to honor the power of the collective out of a willingness to help the community function as the whole community sees fit. (And then the community would ask, well, why haven’t our tax dollars been doing this?)
- Rather than in a purely legal sense, I use “citizen” to mean community members empowered to act on how the community functions. For me that ought to be everyone in a community. ↩︎