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Guess we all assumed that we would be living in some sunny, smiling resort community in Florida by the time we were 80. Dream on.



Revelations on Free Agency


by Jerry Murley

What happens when we turn 50? The bottom falls out in more ways than one. Unruly bodily functions are the least of our problems. There is a prunification of the flabby parts and, worst of all, a calcification of the mind. Like with my rural TV reception, one by one we start to lose channels – and we lose our partnership with common sense. Once again we become the center of the universe – the petulant teenager that we thought we had left behind.

The Easy Anarchy (T.E.A.) Party has been much evident this year. In truth, a more accurate name would be the Miffed Elderly (M.E.) Party. Elder anarchy is not simply a function of year count. It is a state of mental disarray. Where great logic is founded on consistency and plausible truth, the illogic of the ME Party is based on neither. Consistency, truth, and moderation have been cast into the Hell fires of emotive incontinence – and there are no disposables big enough to contain the spillage.

This summer we have smothered ourselves – and God's creatures – in another longtime government and corporate collusion that has blown up in our deep seas and onto our beaches. Yet elder anarchy fails to see the connection between a reckless way of life and the predicament of near out-of-control damage to the planet. We just want our pastimes back and return to our undisturbed mobility and serene resorts. Elder anarchy fails to see the long evidence of government embedded with corporate enterprise and the resulting regulatory blindness to neglect, subterfuge, and abuse by private hands. Anarchy just pines and whines and wants its simple way, as if pulling down established systems over and over again will solve anything. Corporate enterprise is not the enemy, but neither should it be the sole governing agency of our lives. We need it acting responsibly, just as we need government acting fairly and competently. But neither can be expected to perform their proper roles in a society under the sway of elder anarchy.

Liberals, conservatives, and centrists of every stripe and age – all are implicated in the imperfections of our world. Most know that we don't improve our world by dissolution of any part of it. Most know that we need the factions of society because they fuel debate and the rethinking that should lead to concerted, constructive, and corrective policy and actions that solve real problems. Yet most know full well that the solutions of today will become the problems of tomorrow. That is a consistent fact of life under human stewardship of our planet. Our wise elders of the past recognized this too and soldiered on, step by step, teaching their young to do the same: to reach for incremental gains and guard against falling back into former flaws and inadequacies.

God granted to man the latitude to make mistakes and masterpieces, the consciousness and wisdom to recognize error and achievement, the intelligence and will to address problems or look right past them. Humans are blessed from birth with varying degrees of freedom and responsibility and are expected to do something with those gifts. Mr. and Ms. anarchist and literalist both, this is a scriptural view that is pro-choice and pro-life, liberal and conservative, moderate and radical – pro-government, pro-business, pro-self, and everything between and beyond. We get no forgiveness or relief for recurrent excuses whether our view is wholly secular or purely sacred. It is our business to stock this ark, to steer it, and to maintain it in good repair.

We need the combined ingenuity of our personal principles and talents, our public institutions, and private enterprise to keep our ship afloat. One point of view alone leads clueless little lemmings right over the edge and into the sea.

Let me offer a tarball of a case in point reflecting corporate absurdity enabled by mushy-headed elder anarchy: Our local chain grocery store has launched a practice that demonstrates how corporate social engineering can run amuck in unintended ways. (This is an example of what the ME Party might call petty tyranny, if adherents pried attention off of those tiny one-note no-government-go-business-save-my-fantasies ditties that have become obsessions over the past two years). Customers are "encouraged" to ring a bell at the checkout counter if they are satisfied with the performance of the store employee who tallies up their bills. The primary measure of satisfactory service is apparently the speed of checkout. Therefore store employees are in a constant race to scan and punch in the numbers as fast as possible. Now with Southern politeness being what it is, what customer is not going to ring that bell? Thus the voluntary bell ringing becomes obligatory bell ringing – to the not insignificant embarrassment of all concerned. Add to that the effect of the swift checkout: more and more errors in entries are made at the register. Now two avocados miraculously become twenty-five, and the customer, who discovers the error at home, if she is watchful, has to return to the store and argue her case for a refund before the store manager, armed with nothing more than her receipt and her word that she didn't want or receive twenty-five avocados. I urge the vigilantes among our miffed elderly to whip out an air horn instead of ringing that bell. That might end this capitalistic social manipulation then and there. In the brave new world of elder anarchy, stunts like that are the only recourse we will have to defend ourselves from government or business abuse, because we won't have any other kind of common-sense institutional safeguards.

Don't know about you, but I have doubts about my abilities to cope in a state of elder anarchy: I have qualms about driving myself around town when I'm in my eighties. But how else are we going to get around. We've already thrown off communal efforts at sensible transportation systems. Who wants to support education, health, and transportation systems? We don't until we ourselves need them. Guess we all assumed that we would be living in some sunny, smiling resort community in Florida by the time we were 80. Dream on. We will be clogging the roads with our drug-crazed driving. Now we can even arm ourselves for life as well. So in addition to vehicular weapons, the miffed elderly will have shooting weapons as well. I can't wait for easy anarchy to have its way with miffed elderly roaming the streets with pistols in cars that should have left the roadways a decade earlier.

That brings us back to the environment, both physical and mental. Elder anarchy may be a plot devised to rid the world of predators – and all wildlife – that might lie in wait for gamy, slow-moving, miffed freedom fighters. Instead, withered freedom fighters will prey on each other. Patrick Henry may have had it right for his time but got it all screwed up for ours: The cry should no longer be, "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" Rather, it should be, "Give me absolute liberty and death or let me earn respect and a decent living in civil society!" Members of the miffed elderly, whether they are under or over sixty, make a spectacle of themselves (witness this writing) and take us all down the rabbit hole with them. The sixties' anthem got it wrong too: the revolution will not only be televised, it is being televised – and Internetted, too. And we are so enthralled that we are unable to change the channel or counter the slow sinking of our sanity. Mr. Gorbachev, unplug that TV! Mr. Gorbachev, don't forward that stupid, sentimental email full of claptrap!

While we are wrapped in a playful riot of rewriting quotations that have lost their luster, I might as well draw on more political history to give our stale elderly another jolt of life-giving consciousness. Again, the original sentiment is wrong for our times. To not paraphrase the patron saint of conservatism, there is no extremism in the defense of common sense and decency. Moderation is the essence of justice. Absolute liberty has had its chance many, many times and every time fallen short. Liberty, law, and moderation are the healthy offspring of common sense. Common sense and decency are the beneficiaries of liberty fostered by law. Law lives and law adapts. It is seldom written in stone. It does not throw rocks or profit from their hurling.

To better understand the challenge of our voyage together, recall the long-ago example of Apollo 13, when government joined with industry to undertake daring, risky exploration in the outer skies rather than in the deep oceans, using well-trained and heroic individuals instead of robots. The fact that there was an frightful accident in space was not an indication of government, business, or individual incompetence. It was in fact an indication that humans were reaching in experimental areas where bad things could develop from small unforeseen chain reactions, where things were imperfectly known. The ingenuity required to work out of that bad situation showed that organized people, schooled in science and fortified by group determination, could address complex, urgent problems using the fundamental methods of science, their gift from God. Now if the people of the government agency in charge and their commercial partners had thrown up their hands and left the astronauts stranded in space, adrift without sustenance in a dark void, that would have been incompetence and far worse. The failure to proceed as they did would have been catastrophic in terms of our confidence as a people and a species.

Elder dyspepsia is pervasive, pathetic, and self-defeating. It is the opposite of what we need and what we have grown to expect in our culture of mythic heros and aged statesmen. It is a hysterical reaction to complex times and foiled expectations. It is a simplification of half-truths by fearmongers to misdirect the half-awake who want easy, comforting stability. Bad hearing has corrupted true-to-life ballads into shrill siren songs. This is not the experienced, growing wisdom required for adaptation, innovation, and re-creation by a vibrant people.

We under 90s are not the WWII generation but of them. We will just have to deal with that fact. What the WWII generation made possible, we have brought to a gummy impasse. What did we expect: that our easy, piddling investments would blossom into fortunes that would give us lives like English lords? Who would have thought that waging two wars and making demagogic tax cuts for a decade would cost us a bundle in deficits? Plenty of people thought of it and whispered caution all along the way. Yet now the miffed elderly would have it that painstaking stabilization of finance and systemic reform are the root causes of deficits and slow job growth. We want our cake and don't want to bake it or have anyone else taste a piece of it. Which is it: better employment for more people or a balanced budget and low taxes today? Is that the choice? Which is it: a protected environment and clean beaches or unlimited drilling for oil and natural gas and mining for coal? Common sense dictates that there be compromises, that we can't have it all one way or the other. But where is common sense amid elder anarchy?

Liberals, conservatives, moderates, radicals, the totally unmotivated and tuned out – we all are complicit in the dysfunctional mess we found as of January 1, 2009. This dysfunction is directly related to how we live our lives and the politics of funny money that devalues work. And that is no oblique reference to Biblical sin, unless we restore gluttony, greed, rank selfishness, and neglected stewardship to their truly Biblical place in the gigantic folly of humankind. Abandoning institutions, evolved systems of operation, expertise, logic, and the rule of law is no way to fix things. We will in fact never fully fix things. Hasn't history taught us that? Man is a tweaker. He will live or die by constant minute changes, iterations of in-place designs.

If the miffed, premature elderly among us could just lift our heads from that transfixed stare down that single, dark tunnel we find ourselves glued to and notice the yet blue skies and general context of complex problems, we might together find ways to bring our lost voyagers home and right the spaceship earth. Screaming doesn't help. Denial doesn't help. Mutiny in the guise of delirium doesn't help. Exploding scientific method, overthrowing human compassion, and decrying eloquence doesn't help either. There are ways to jump-start the I-am-too-old-I-cannot-learn-and-I-cannot-change mindset that weighs heavily on our aggregate will to survive and improve as a people. Those ways don't include arming ourselves with muskets and marching lockstep in the public square every day. That's a sure way to shoot ourselves in the foot. Opening our eyes to possibility, respect for received wisdom, common sense, decency, deliberation, and compromise still lead the pack of ways to do things right. They are slow but proven ways.

Yes, our old toilet needs to be upgraded, but it also needs to be flushed often. Even though we can't fix it perfectly forever, we find a way to flush it, even with buckets of water from the creek, as we seek small ways to improve it. If we don't adapt and instead resign ourselves to holdout for supposed perfection, we will come to live in a squalor unlike any that we could have imagined. Our ancestors had outhouses, not marvelous enameled white toilets – and they survived and prospered. The squalor that we foment will issue from us and only from us, not from some unknown specter from another world, some foreign people not of our tribe and party, some outside world that our party opposes and the fear of which is the sole reason for our party's existence.

We are not ever going to take our country back because it is already and has ever been our country – and everybody else's. We are not going to take our planet back because it is not ours. It is a loan from God. And if we don't treat it with respect as a group of individuals, it will crush us. Our possessions and our hope for possessions, our recreations – all are as nothing beneath the forces of physics. Yet our product kindly received from earth and rudely returned to earth is a factor in the unwell physic of this planet and its people. This is no apocalyptic vision. It is but the reality that will take its course. But it is a course that we affect. As wind and current sweep our homemade boat from the bay and out to open sea, we can choose to wail and lament and give up, or we can use our paddle and ingenuity to move to shore, back to mother earth, the fount of life. Which will it be? I am going to paddle like crazy even if my hands are all I have as propulsion. That is what respect for life demands. That is what respect for the past and hope for the future demand. It will do us absolutely no good to shoot anyone in our boat. So all pistols overboard – along with the excess baggage of too-big media, too-big cars, too-big houses, and too-big appetites. Now row, each and every one, young and old.


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