Accidental Conspiracies

pathI walk 2.7 miles  most mornings. Sometimes I skip a day; sometimes I go farther. I know it’s about 2.7 miles because I measured it with my odometer. I have lost a lot of weight on treadmills, but if I can walk outside I’m not tempted to stop early. I have to do the whole route to get home again.

Sometimes I go farther. I can choose the path less taken and wander off road into the woods. The woods here seem to be a combination of pine trees, scrub oaks, palmettos, and the occasional palm tree. The pine trees are the tallest, and give most of the shade. In between the trees and palmettos are small ferns and grass.

pathThe path I take from the subdivision road is carpeted with a soft carpet of pine needles, up through which spring numerous ferns, each about a foot or so tall; I step between them under a cloudy sky, treading softly without a stick.

It’s a different kind of beauty here; there is no gleaming beach, manicured landscaping or implanted garden. Billboards call this “the real Florida”, away from the neon techno-madness of Orlando and Miami and Tampa. Here it is back to basics: sand, palmettos, birds, people, alligators. I would have found this different aesthetic rather harsh when my father retired here, were it not for the fact that we lived in Florida before. It’s still different, and after being gone for 30 years my sinuses are complaining: there is pollen in Florida year-round.

As I sit here in this secular cathedral, pine trees like pillars, pine needles for carpet, I find myself wondering if all the patterns we take for granted as deliberate could be accidental conspiracies. I look at the carpet of pine needles. To someone who knew nothing of pine trees, it might look as though a crew had brought out tons of this stuff from somewhere and carefully spread it around especially on this path. The pattern of the needles could seem contrived, like the soap flakes Hollywood has used for snow.

If I were to confide this suspicion to anyone who knows anything about pine trees, however, I would look crazy. Perhaps he might patiently explain to me that the while a pine tree stays green all year, it sheds needles like my cat Otto sheds his fur; the needles turn red and fall fall one by one, laying down an intricate almost interwoven layer.

I suppose that the complex webs of interdependence we see in nature could be seen in two ways as well. We see the lion at the top of the food pyramid, and call him the king of the jungle. But none call him tyrant, or accuse him of conspiring to oppress the other animals. In fact, undergraduate biology students learn to their surprise that without carnivorous predators, the plant-eaters overpopulate, deplete their food sources, and suffer losses from starvation until there are fewer of them again. Predators stabilize these excessive populations so that none starve (especially the predators).

Those who really believe in social Darwinism, the prospering of the fittest, would have us believe that in human pyramids, some similar mechanism is at work, so that for every thousand human sheep there must be a wolf  (or a war?) to keep their numbers in check and a shepherd to supervise and harvest their wool.

But we are not sheep to grow wool for a shepherd, nor antelopes to be pruned by the jaws of a lion. It is all very well to speak of the mere appearance of conspiracy, but we must remember that unlike the pine trees, we are thinking creatures. While the fall of a pine needle is a random statistical event, the actions of humans are the result of planning or impulse decisions. But do these individual actions fit together in a planned way, or do they merely overlay each other in history, as the pine needles overlay each other in the forest?

When we see similarities or apparent structural or causal relationships in the ways that human civilization is formed, we must look carefully at evidence, lest we either mistake accumulated random events and actions as a deliberate plot — or look at a a suspicious sequence of events and actions and airily dismiss them as coincidence: pictures seen in clouds and inkblots.

Those who disapprove of the Occupy Wall Street protest are saying the same things that have been said about protests since the 1960s: that the protesters “hate america”, are “anti-american”, or that they are simply whiners who are too lazy to work.

The protesters might retort that the 46 million Americans now officially living in poverty is more than the population of the ENTIRE USA was in 1870 (39 million):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Census

Seriously, folks, when one of the richest nations on earth has one-sixth of its population living in poverty, tens of millions of citizens, reasonable minds might want to know why.

It is predictable that some of the rhetoric will focus on perceived patterns and conspiracies; just as it is difficult to accept that one man with a rifle could end the life of JFK (if he did), it is difficult to see the mass migration of money in the last 30 years from the hands of the middle class and poor to the concentrated assets of a tiny percentage of the population., and not see a deliberate intent behind it.

Before we demonize the rich, however, let us remember the parable of the pine needles. Yes, the events of the past few decades have resulted in their getting richer. And yes, the figures show that they are getting richer faster than anyone else, even though they are the least in need of money. But it is a stretch to suppose that they wanted this wildfire of bankruptcies and foreclosures. The rich need poor people to wash their clothes and cook their food and maintain their homes and businesses.  But what they do not need is people homeless from foreclosure, hungry and angry with nothing left to lose.

So I have to admit that I do not believe the Great Recession was deliberately engineered. I think it is more of a pine needle carpet. People wanted homes they could not afford, and greedy bankers encouraged them in order to get raises, commissions, and promotions. If their had been a boom in the economy, maybe so many defaults would not have happened. But they did.

I don’t know about you, but I get angry when the rich say it is the fault of the people for getting loans they were too lazy to pay.  My girlfriend has been working 2 and sometimes 3 jobs. Now she lost her job managing a neurologist’s office and she is in the process of losing her home. She is not lazy. Saying that her situation is all her fault sounds to me like the tobacco companies saying that when a smoker dies of lung cancer it was the smoker’s fault, that it was their choice to smoke. Sure, never mind the studies that show nicotine to be more addictive than heroin. After all, since we’ve been telling heroin addicts that it is all their fault too, so why not say the same to nicotine addicts?

I am unemployed. No, Mr. Tea Party, I was not an Art History or Philosophy major in college: I have a degree in Physics. I am unemployed anyway. I lost my own web development job when the customer decided he couldn’t afford any more software development for a while. It wasn’t because I did anything wrong or failed to do something right. It was simply a matter of not being able to afford my salary in tight times. So I do not blame anyone for deliberately making me poor. There was no plot.

I guess what I am saying is that the rich did not make us poor. It was a combination of jobs outsourced overseas to cheaper workers and poor planning and greed and their inevitable consequences. Now that we can stop saying it is the fault of this class or that class of citizens, it is time to stop squabbling over causes and get a plan to fix things.

–MRK

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2 Responses to “Accidental Conspiracies”

  1. Awesome post! I will keep an on eye on your blog.

  2. Corporate Monopolies and Greed got you down? I just listened to a really cool song about Occupy Wall Street. You should check it out and share it to get the message out. Thanks and remember we are the 99%

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