How much does enough cost?

I’m not a huge John Lennon fan, these days. A lot of his music feels like children’s music, to me, which isn’t without value, and there is something to be said for maintaining a childlike innocence and creative expression in the face of the horror of the modern world. But… “All You Need is Love”, to me, is the worst offender, followed closely by “Imagine” because both paint an impossibly simplistic picture with unrealistic expectations and use catchy pop music elision to rush over the many implications and complexities of some very challenging and complex ideation. It feels like philosophy for children, not for grown ups with responsibilities and difficult choices in a changing world.

But…

About “Imagine” one thing I’ve been thing about a lot is how democracy was supposed to eliminate kings, and those with real money – the kind of money where ostrich leather is a casual occurrence, and elephants look like big carriers of raw material for their furniture and collecting ancient art and artifacts is a sort of career choice – these folks with the real money, man, they don’t want to pay to help out anybody unless they’re doing it “for charity” and they get a big pat on the back and a tax break. They want to feel that noblesse oblige when they do it. They still want to control how the money helps, and what it’s for, because those welfare queens, etc., etc., those people that just buy junk they can’t afford, etc., etc., those people who don’t know as good as us what’s important etc., etc….

Well, I think about how they seem to be more interested in building huge compounds away from the hoi polloi, guarded gatehouses, and well-funded suburban police forces, separate schools paid for with separate property taxes, so the only world the kids will ever know is the one that is constructed for them separated from the world. I think about how expensive it all is. I think about how the really rich can’t even walk the streets unafraid. They need private security guards, bullet-proof cars, and concealed carry licenses. They need to be protected from everyone else, at all times. Because someone might steal them away for money.

And, I think about the cost of something like universal health care, and a universal basic income, and a universal food stamp program. If a floor was set below which no one could fall that was high enough to make sure people weren’t desperate, how much safer we’d all be. The anxiety that people feel about their place in the world, what happens to them and what they can imagine happening, and the long hours we have to put in at all the jobs we do, well, what if we didn’t have to live in a terrified society? What if people worked because they wanted more than just enough, not because they’re so afraid. It is easier to control people who are afraid. It is easier to mold frightened and controlled people into the shape of a company man or woman. It is easier to convince them to vote and buy and do when they are afraid of something. Imagine a world, then, where no one made decisions because of fear.

The cost of securing the factories against the frightened and desperate, of ensuring that everyone is working their hardest for the company, no one is taking bathroom breaks that are too long, and no one is shirking and going along to get along, because companies only want people working for them who are the best and want other people to hire the people that suck… Except that everyone passes in and out of it. When my son was born, I was working exhausted, slowing down, doing my best just to get by. When I was sick with cancer, it clouded my mind and judgment, made me dream differently, and think about my day differently. No one is going to be the leader of the machine all the time, every year, every week, every day, every hour. We strive for it, anyway, because we are afraid of falling behind the machine. And if we do fall behind, I know I would steal if it meant that or watching my son suffer, powerless. I know I would cheat and steal and kill if it was that or watching my son starve. I would deal drugs if I had to, go into dangerous places, and do terrible things. (Fortunately, I do not live in that world of desperation, but people do all around us all the time, and we blame them for their failure.) And the cost of holding all of us down right at the edge of fear, where the company pays us what they can get away with, to ensure their shareholders’ engorgement, where the regulations grow and grow each line written in blood and the radium girls’ ghosts are screaming for more regulations… The cost of power is very high. Lots of walls. Lots of cameras. Tracking devices. Powerful police forces, strong enough to put down revolutions in nowhere towns like Ferguson, MO, where military-grade equipment came out to stop ministers leading peaceful protests against police violence. A town whose name no one should know, with no meaningful population size, no major landmarks, just this moment where the people rose up and were put down by force in the night and nothing has changed. The cost of that is so high. It is an expensive solution to hire all the guards, build all the tools of control, wrap a culture of just enough fear to convince people to hold themselves down, and to make them love the rich for the few controlled bursts of mercy and charitable giving. (The “real” rich, I mean – the rich people whom other rich people think of as really, really rich.)

Compare that cost to universal basic income, universal basic food stamps, universal basic health care. It seems, I think, a lot cheaper just to make sure that people have all gotten enough so they don’t have to be afraid. Once people can live without that constant fear of ending up somewhere awful, under a bridge, ruined, dead of a preventable disease and a bankrupt family behind because of it,  well… It just seems like it would be a lot cheaper, and make life a lot easier, too, because in the world where people have enough, a rich man could send his kids to school, walk down the city streets unarmed, and mostly live at peace among the people, without thinking that others will resent him, will harm him just because he or she is rich, will kidnap their children for ransom. If everyone has enough, the crime rate will settle into just those people (honestly, it happens at every economic level) who choose to commit crimes, not those people that need to for survival’s sake.  It seems like it would be cheaper, honestly, just to make sure everyone has enough. It seems like it would create an economic boom, because more people would be able to buy more things. It seems like it would make a world of mercy, not of fear, where everyone truly believes they are committed to everyone’s well-being, and pays into that, together.

I don’t know anything, though, right? I just write weird books about the future, and try to imagine a better one. (And, I never can. I try, and I see the same old problems coming back over and over… So it goes.)

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/08/07/how-much-do-u-s-cities-spend-every-year-on-policing-infographic/#560fdf4de7b7

https://qz.com/1355729/universal-basic-income-ubi-costs-far-less-than-you-think/

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Sonnet #288

It takes damage to get to the top of the heap

It takes planned, organized damage to rise

Until all of society bends to the way your lies

about yourself, about how you can easily sleep

How you made yourself, you say, and still

The way we value cities is how we sell them

Best to men like you, who stand above and stem

the cost of damage with money, we build

each place for men like you, how you dream

how others who wish to emulate you seek to grow

The things the rich men do not want seem

To drift away: dirty work, untamed grass, unknown

people with different ways: They must fall in stream

Share your damage, demand damage built and grown

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Read “Tiger” free at Reckoning Magazine’s Website

TIGER

As a one-star Inspector General for the UN’s military police, I was uniquely positioned to assign myself any case that I chose, particularly after many years of hard assignments. I had chosen the matter of the mysterious Doolittle, a sort of multi-national guerrilla artist whose work I had encountered in my time amid the water riots of Bangladesh. The machines were dangerous, like wild animals.
I was following leads among machinists and fine artists in my region to no solution, limited by my own budget and time constraints, perfectly happy to find nothing at all until I retired and the case was old and forgotten, when I was suddenly assigned a powerful data crawler: an AI-algorithm named Deep Thor. The case was assigned his advanced intelligence analysis for three weeks, total, which is an astonishing amount of usage with a powerful AI on such a criminally trivial matter. I had no request or desire for this assistance. Apparently, Deep Thor had found a special interest in Doolittle, independently, and requested this deep dive to assist in case of terrorist escalation that was, I had to admit, possible given the machines’ high-level industrial design and the integrated radical political manifestos. I felt I was to blame. This was a result of my own official reporting intended to justify my long-continued investigations, fed back to me by machines incapable of human nuance.
AWARDS REMINDER: This story was published in print in 2018, so is currently eligible for awards and nominations in the current cycle. Now. Right now. Do check out this fine publication and make sure not to miss it, because there’s a lot of fantastic material worthy of consideration in this rising, quality publication!

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Sonnet #287

All the words we’ve ever spoken hang in space

The energy of them, the ripple of them extend
Into the wind, itself, we are all the weathermen
We are all blowing every phoneme to the place
Where all the lost words gather. I breathe, you breathe
The breath of us spills out into the trees
It falls into the ocean eventually from capture in the leaves
It sinks into the groundwater, we drink what we seethe
Shout all you want into the endless skies
Sing every song you want to be carried
For even if we cannot hear the lingering sighs
The echo of every cry out trembles unburied
When the music plays, it never stops, it lives and dies
Out in the air: Make good music, good words, and varied

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Gain access to the original novella, “The Mountain” and some short fiction, too.

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Sonnet #286

Catkins, cattails, cats and kittens, will all,

bob and bounce and beckon to be tugged,
And not a one respects the lines we plugged
into our maps, just wind and the passing fall
of weather in the streets of spring’s ripening
I know the familiar dances of the season
I watch the sky for sudden storms and reasons
to wear a raincoat, listen for the cats that sing
Because there will be waves of cats, pouring
up from all the cracks and hidden places
Among the reeds and long grasses, scouring
every little living hole, every tussock, these vast races
That scurry and bob and dance and their soaring
The wild, unkempt grass – that beautiful long grass

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Sonnet #285

Here comes the wind, again, the howling blowing off

The harbinger of it is this rushing pushing flushing
That punches all the palm trees, knocksbranches and brushing
the forgotten nuts and fruits and leaves, hats will doff

One way or another: pay respects and bow if only
To collect the loose papers and lost scarves
I have seen the signs: two eyes burning, a close shave
On the early morning hours, the sirens withholding

A white heron stands in the storm drain runoff
Hunting where no fish are found, just trash
And sometimes toads awake too soon and lost,
The green algae and bracken will not last
But that is what is left, and where I stand, too
The great white bird of me, sunk into

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Sonnet #284

I take great comfort in your indifference, fair reader,

How I am shivering as much to myself as to you,

And nothing that I bluster will last much longer

Than the wind it took to breathe these words through

 

The letters on this page will keep for no one

The letters on my tombstone will moss and fade

The only future spirit of me is not the glory of the blade

Or the wisdom of the pen, only the echo of what I’ve sewn

 

It will not be attributed to me, this echo, but it moves

where my hands move, following the spirit of the hawks

That hover where all the birdfeeders are, the waves

that crash the shellfish, crush them open and seagulls walk

among the shells devouring; all the brave

stumble, no courage here, just wind in the cornstalks

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Sonnet #283

On the ceiling of the world, a jumping spider leaps
From stone to stone, alone, to hunt the blown
things, the wind carries bugs up too far, they’re thrown
into the ice and rocks where these spiders creep;

Let’s say that means, the highest things, above all
biomes, above all ecosystems, above all of us
the spiders, alone rule, they march among the rust
colored and wind-blasted and sunbleached and snowfalls

Victory is theirs, dominion is all theirs, untouched
by predators except each other, I assume, they rule
this kingdom mercifully, ignoring all the lesser wretches
Only taking offerings of the Aeolians songs, only cruel
Where they can be bothered to extend their royal reach
The rest of all their kingdoms permitted to be so, below.

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Sonnet #282

Church is where we go to imagine who we are

I think, perhaps, we have gotten busy worrying
About imagining  who other people are, burying
Our consideration in the mess, forgetting stars
Exist without concern for who observes them—burn
With consequence, turn slowly into black ice—
And the words of a book will never splice
The distance between all things; but it turns
in a little, makes us remember stories
That carry other stories that carry others
And echo into us the silence at the heart of stories
The vast, beating darkness that made mothers
And will strip away the bothersome noise of stories
Of moments in this moment; a steam, a rudder

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