Sunday, November 27, 2016

Let Them Eat Legumes

Quite by accident I discovered another USDA nutritional program that is the real deal: This is what should be substituted for SNAP cards and the trash purchased with them. The federal government takes "let them eat cake" literally when it comes to the SNAP folks.

Let's take a look at what the aged (60+) poor are provided with as subsidy items: . 

These are foods that the recipient prepares, as in cooks. Is this program costly to the taxpayer compared with the 6.6 billion dollars provided for the 2011 SNAP program? You decide: Congress appropriated 202. 682 million dollars for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program! What´s more, the program isn't even available in all states: Alabama, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia aren't elderly-poor-friendly states. Priorities are sadly misplaced. A local food bank would almost certainly provide a program better suited to the elderly and everyone else, although the subsidized might complain that the gifts come with too much "work" attached. In the days before food stamps and now SNAP cards, however, this was the way "food welfare" worked. Handouts may have been a bitter pill to swallow for the unfortunate who needed to resort to them, but at least they required effort to prepare.

Having just returned from pruning tomato plants with a little unexpected "assistance" from my 2 1/2 year old grandson wielding scissors with an enthusiastic gleam in his eyes, I have little sympathy for the SNAP beneficiaries. Sounds cruel, eh? I'll revise it: I have no sympathy for them. Sadly, too many people are being subsidized in a manner that will only make them more and more dependent upon unsustainable programs that produce a citizenry that is defenseless against hardship.  

You Can Lead a Horse to Water...

The US federal government has taken over the feeding of folks in a big way, spending a staggering sum of taxpayer funds on SNAP cards and "food education", school meal programs and then "health care" costs to remedy the maladies brought about by the poor diets consumed by those who live their thoughtless lives relying upon funds forcibly extracted from others.

A November 2016 Nutrition Assistance Program Report of the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) using five year old data demonstrates the futility of such federally-funded foolishness. The report is entitled "Foods Typically Purchased by SNAP Households" and the data gathered is stomach-turning but well worth reading:

If after reading this anyone still believes that the federal government--any central government--has any business involving itself in feeding the populace, there is no point in that person reading any further here.

It isn't likely fish the SNAP card folks are eating, unless it's part of a microwave meal or tinned tuna: fish doesn't figure on the list of commodities. In fact, the number one expenditure ($357, 700,000) was for soft drinks!! As if that weren't bad enough, we also see nearly 200 million dollars spent on "bag snacks" and 96 million and change on "candy-packaged"! Bottled water ranks 18th in terms of total expenditure, while fresh vegetables don't make the top-100 list, although potatoes do come in 40th in the standings. Prepared foods far outweigh fresh foods by category. Conclusion: preaching subsidiarity and self-reliance is equivalent to the sound of the tree that falls in the forest when no one is there to hear it.

The report makes for dull reading, so perhaps it might make more sense to refer the reader to a "prepared-food" style synopsis, a "media microwave meal" that's easier to digest: It was through that site that I learned of the report, so credit where credit is due.

It is no exaggeration to state that this report was among the most depressing documents that I have read in a long time, and I read a great deal. I leave it to you whether or not to read the entire report, but a perusal of the Zero Hedge article is certainly worthwhile.

Time to reflect upon whether or not I should continue with this project, given that social trends clearly do not favor subsidiarity as a subliminal--much less open--desire of the citizenry. Time for a serving of humble pie and picking some plums from the orchard and gathering the vegetables for today's meals to be washed down with water from the tap.

Chop water, carry wood.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Slowing Down the Pace

The Institute bit off more than it could chew when claiming there'd be a post every day.

We are slowing down the pace a bit, but hope you will return frequently to see if we've picked it up again!

Monday, November 21, 2016

One-Room Schoolhouse Redux!

The factory system applied to public education is counter-productive, not to mention soul-deadening. The vast educational bureaucracy is impersonal, dreadfully wasteful of human and economic resources and standardized to an absurd degree. It is meant to turn out interchangeable human widgets, not individuals who think for themselves and has proven quite successful in this respect right up to university-level. The Subsidiarity Principle needs to be employed in education!

Public education on a large scale is a relatively recent phenomenon. In the West, the "factory model" even more so, dating back some 200 years with a forerunner in Prussia in the late 18th century. Nevertheless, as a widespread system, factory-style schooling  is more a 20th century phenomenon, particularly in the USA. Could be it's time to turn back the clock and shut down or drastically alter the "edufactories".

Public schooling is all well and good, but it doesn't need centralized planning, compartmentalization and massification. The Institute favors reading over mixed-media learning and isn't intended for those who favor the latter. Therefore, we offer up this wonderfully instructive 94 page tome for your perusal: . It's hard to imagine a child who wouldn't benefit from schooling of this sort when compared with the "bells and cells" factory-style schools of the 20th century and particularly the post-WW II period.

As stated in an Infogalactic entry: "The key characteristics of factory model education are top-down management, separation from the community, emphasis on management, centralized planning, standardization, outcomes designed to meet societal needs, and efficiency in producing results. [emphasis added]". The entire entry ( is worth reading. These dreadful facilities are in fact meant more for social engineering than for education or even simple academic instruction.

Homeschooling is frequently the only alternative to the institutionalized, taxpayer-funded flesh-drone factory replete with unionized, pension-awaiting time-servers droning on in front of an audience of techno-lobotomized "learners". The outnumbered educators who are dedicated, well-prepared and committed are wasted in such an environment, given that in a more community-based school they would be effective in their vocation, because for them, teaching is a vocation, not a "job" down at the factory. 
Communities could, however, develop other options, but often face legal challenges if they wish to do so. The State rarely lets its subjects simply slip away. In the village in which the Institute is housed, a group of parents wanted to introduce a Waldorf-style preschool that would "compete" with the factory-prep preschool. The educational "authorities" informed them that if their children did not attend the "official" and obligatory preschool (beginning at age four), they would be prohibited from entering the system until they had completed the requisite time in the "official" child receptacle. If one can afford it, the factory can be avoided and children educated as human beings rather than grist for the labor market mill or occupants of a low-security day care facility for the ineducable.

An unpleasant truth that few care to admit is that the percentage of "students" whose "education" provides them with any genuine benefit other than free meals is far higher than the bureaucracy and even parents are willing to face. But what are we to do with them? This is where community-based educational programs could be very effective, assuming they recognize the hard truths of reality. 

It's simple, really, the more self-governance, the more local sovereignty, the greater the potential for community solidarity.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Paradise Lost

Et in Arcadia Ego

Which Arcadia would you prefer yourself to be in? Over there on the left we have it portrayed by Il Guercino and on the right by Nicolas Poussin.  Think before answering. 

"Arcadia" has long been a symbol for the idyllic rural life, pure and unsullied by the pollution and dissolution of life in the towns and cities. Urban dwellers who fancy themselves sophisticates typically scorn rural folk, seeing them as props in a largely under-constructed theme park populated by descendents of the mythical Jukes and Kallikaks, whose imagined-by-eugenicists surnames became synonymous with morons. The real and mythical Arcadia, however, was populated mostly by shepherds, and we all know what sort of mischief they get up to! Once upon a time, inbreeding and bestiality were objects of scorn and ridicule, but in these more enlightened times we know that they are simply part of the wonderful rainbow of sexual fluidity, if you'll pardon the metaphor mixing. 

The phrase itself is generally considered a memento mori; I concur. A skull in one painting, a tombstone in the other, the shepherds studying it warily... Yes, even in the most idyllic spots, wherever you go, there he is, and what's more, he's not going away any time soon. 
In any case, death or no death, there are no utopias, nor have there ever been any. World religions posit a paradise lost, but when one examines closely what details there are, a common thread is that it refers to a time before humans became self-conscious and were at one with the natural world, leaving out the annoying detail that in the natural world the bear would eat you whether or not you were aware he was eating you. Then again, perhaps paradise was a utopian "Peaceable Kingdom" in which the lion lay down with the lamb and hominids didn't fight over water holes (

The secular utopia promised by "progressives" will never come to exist, neither in the technocratic wonderland imaginings of Ray Kurzweil nor the "world made by hand" fantasies of doom-utopia prophet James Howard Kunstler. The Institute certainly prefers Kunstler's bucolic vision but would prefer a less cartoonish version of it, one in which Pete Seeger won't be canonized and Utopia isn't located in the dreadful climate of upstate New York.

The "paradise lost" of this essay's title refers to a time when subsidiarity was the political rule rather than the exception in some fortunate "Arcadias". Once upon a time there were yeoman republics and of course there has also been Switzerland, officially the Swiss Confederation, formed in the Fourteenth Century shortly after William Tell's famed crossbow shot— never mind that it was literally no louder than Froggy's Magic Twanger—that proved to be a "shot heard round the world" no less than the better known rifle round heard at Concord when the American Revolution began.

 Self-governance is the best governance, Plato's ideas of philosopher kings notwithstanding. Giant centralized and standardizing bureaucracies are unnecessary and counterproductive for providing what so many claim to want: diversity. "Let the hundred flowers bloom" to quote the hypocritical Chairman Mao. The homogenizing effect of across-the-board centralization makes for a dull nation.

Subsidiarity could easily claim another motto when it comes to governance: One size does NOT fit all.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Short Story: Dr. Lao Redux

         Three score and ten is man’s allotted span, or so the Bible says, but Dr. Lao always said otherwise. The doc didn’t look a day older than the last time he’d passed through Arizona seventy years ago in the depths of the Depression. Arizona, however, had changed. Hardly a man was now alive who’d been around in ’35, the last time Dr. Lao had passed through. 

         No one in Beeswax had the vaguest idea who he was, is or would be. For all they knew, he was nothing more than he what he appeared to be: an aged Chinese with an inscrutable expression and the eyes of one who had seen too much and forgotten too little. They didn’t know the half of it, or, for that matter, even a ten-raised-to-a-considerable-powerth of it! 

         “Don’t know shit from Shinola,” the elderly son of the long-forgotten State of Ch’u said to himself, recalling a phrase that had caught his fancy the last time he’d passed through these parts. “Don’t know either that shit and Shinola aren’t any different when all is said and done, just as their asses and holes in the ground aren’t.”

         Profundity was Dr. Lao’s stock-in-trade, but there wasn’t much of a market for it in Beeswax, or anywhere else for that matter. The traveling circus trade had seen its day, but that day—a day like any other, but he was there—had gone down into night and there’d been no use fighting it; there never is. 

         These days, the figures of myth with whom he’d traveled were largely forgotten by the horde of benighted ignorant among whom he moved. The idea of traveling in an ar-vee caravan—or, worse, garishly painted converted school buses—with cartoonish “super-heroes”, vampires and zombies—the contemporary archetypes—held no appeal. Best to go it alone, like the old Jewish shoemaker with whom he’d teamed up for a while, who’d been wandering for nearly as long as Dr. Lao, but whose incessant bemoaning of his condition finally led the doc to part company with him after telling him in no uncertain terms: “Listen, my flend, you no likee the way, you tly walk some miles in other man’s moccasins, maybe then you get the big picture.”

         The circus was a thing of the past; Dr. Lao had taken a new show on the road and Beeswax was as good a venue as any to kick it off.

         Holistic medicine, alternative healing, herbal remedies, shamanistic ritual… that was Dr. Lao’s new gig. He smiled one of his inscrutable smiles, remembering the snake-oil salesmen of yore. The thing was, his deal was the real deal. And kick-off time was tonight!

          Right on time, as if he’d summoned it out of the ether, the old jalopy with the loudspeaker atop it (replaced at night by an illuminated pizza shop sign) slowly made its way up the main drag of Old Beeswax.

         “The medicinal miracles of the Orient, the intuitive intelligence of indigenous peoples, the secrets of the shamans, the mysteries of the mystics… All this and more will be unveiled for the discerning, those who present themselves promptly at eight pee-em at the Beeswax Palace, home to the fine arts of music, drama and dance, the site of choice for special events such as the Seminar of Dr. Lao, a two hour presentation that will inspire you to subscribe to the full week of workshops to follow! 

         “Young and old, active or retired, whatever your station in life, there is something there for you! Do not allow this opportunity to pass, for we know not if it shall pass this way again. Limited seating is available, ladies and gentlemen: first come, first served. 

         “The medicinal miracles of the Orient, the intuitive intelligence…”

         The rest of the message was lost to the Doppler Effect as the heap made its noisy way up the hill. 

         Dr. Lao, content, continued making his way along Main Street, observing the reactions of the passers-by.

         Beeswax had the usual number of camera-toting retirees dressed in uniform-like clothing loose enough to accommodate adult diapers, but these were not his public, although they bore a strange resemblance to some of the traveling-circus attendees back in Abalone, Arizona, when he’d had to explain to a carping schoolmarm who complained about the presence of evil in his circus. What was it he’d told her? Oh yes: “The world is my idea” adding that “I have my own set of weights and measures and my own table for computing values. You are privileged to have yours,” although the clarification was superfluous.  

         She didn’t get it; neither would any of the geezers gathering for the ghost tour; few of any age did. But there were those who thought they did. They would be out in force tonight, he hoped.

         “What do you suppose that was all about?” 

         “Damned if I know, but it might be worth a look-see,” replied Ralph Selkirk, recently retired from a long and dreary career as a claims adjuster for a faceless insurance firm headquartered far from the small and dreary Midwestern city in which Ralph and his wife Barbara had led their unremarkable and relatively dreary lives until they pulled up stakes and bought themselves a cookie-cutter condo in a complex on the ever-expanding outskirts of Tucson, a tract of land that still drew the odd errant Gila monster from the surrounding desert upon which humankind relentlessly encroached.

         They’d made the drive down to Beeswax because they’d seen a brochure that convinced them the old mining town was “quaint” and “picturesque,” populated by artistic eccentrics who sure looked like aging hippies to the Selkirks, but as Barbara was fond of saying, there was no need to be judgmental.

         After a brief conversational interchange that somehow seemed like a badminton volley between opponents with neither skill nor agility, right then and there they discarded their original plan of checking out the karaoke at the Bucket O’ Blood Saloon. Although neither thought of them, the words of an old song seemed to hang in the air: “A strange force drew me to the graveyard…” The Selkirks had spent their lives as strangers to strange forces, but in a few scant hours, they were to become acquainted.

         “Say, you wouldn’t by any chance be this Dr. Lao, would you?”

         “What, you think all Chinee look alike, hey?” Dr. Lao responded to his interlocutor. “Who you: King Willy the voodoo priest in whiteface?”

         “No, no! It’s just that… Well, uh,…”

         Dr. Lao’s penetrating gaze had thoroughly discomforted Andy Shapiro, who, truth told, at forty seven was a bit old for the dreadlock-Rasta-do he sported. Why had he been met with such hostility? He’d asked a civil question. It’s not like there were a lot of Chinese in Beeswax, anyone could see that, but then again, one had to tread carefully not to offend minorities, so…

         “No tickee, no shirtee, eh? You like stereotype people? Eh?”

         “Are you from Canada?” Andy asked. The old guy kept saying “eh”, which everyone knew was waaay Canadian, and Andy’d read that Vancouver was crawling with Chinese these days. 

         “Canada! What: I look like Eskimo now? Nanook of the North, maybe? Of course I’m Dr. Lao! Who else would I be?”

         Andy had been planning to ask the old guy a few questions about his seminar, but his plans had changed. Dr. Lao often had that effect on folks.

         “Ah, well… See, that’s what I thought. I mean, well, you have a scholarly look, see, and…”

         “Ah, you think I’m Dr. Fu-Manchu!” interrupted Dr. Lao. “Mad scientist plotting the overthrow of the West! You F.B.I. man undercover as New Age flake? Hmmm? State your business and be quick about it!”

         Thoroughly nonplussed, Andy was at a loss.

         “You know kung-fu?” Dr. Lao asked in a voice pregnant with menace. 

         “No, sir! I have a health food store. I just wanted to ask about… you know…”

         “Ah, a health food store,” Dr. Lao said cheerily, a toothy smile stretching across his somewhat wizened face. “Why didn’t you say so from the outset, my good man! Perhaps collaboration is in store! Who can say? Here, let me give you my card along with my fond hope that you will be good enough to attend my seminar this evening!”

         The sudden shift to urbanity with no trace of an accent simply discombobulated Andy further, but he was able to essay a nervous smile as he nodded his head vigorously. 

         “Sure. Thanks! I… Uh, well, yeah, of course I’ll be there. Collaboration. Yeah, sounds cool.”

         As Dr. Lao handed over the card, he took Andy by the wrist in a surprisingly firm grip.

         “Between us, I tip you off to a little seeklet,” he whispered, shifting back into his Charlie Chan persona. “One of my colleagues, he know kung-fu! Hey! He plactically invent kung-fu! You keep that under your hat, if you can fit a hat over all that hair, hee hee hee!”

         Dr. Lao elbowed Andy in the ribs and winked. 

         And just like that, he was gone.

         Andy watched the old man sashay on up Main Street and decided to make some calls. Tonight’s event was clearly not one to be missed, and the word needed spreading.

         The gang at Slug’s, Beeswax’s one remaining low-rent bar catering to the country and western crowd was wondering what the story was with the old Chink with the suds ‘stash, now on his third draft brewski and clamoring for more popcorn. They’d heard the announcement—Christ, you’d a hadda be deef not to!—and wondered just how in the hell this “Dr. Lao” had gotten a permit for it without all the fuggin’ Old Beeswax artsy-fartsy yuppies and hippies screamin’ bloody murder, but damned if the thing hadn’t been goin’ back and forth, up and down and all round the town all guddam day! 

         Slug’s was an anomaly in Old Beeswax, the trendy part of town. Nearly none of the patrons lived there—they lived out to Calvin, the blue collar barrio on the way to Nabo, where the Mexes mostly lived—, but Slug’s was a leftover from when the town really had been a mining town, and the shitkickers weren’t about to give up their last toehold in what had once been their town, so Slug’s survived. Tourists knew better than to venture in, but that hadn’t deterred the old Chink, who’d moved from the bar to a booth, where he was now holding court for a trio from a construction crew. 

         “Jeez, Gramps, you don’t got to shout. Christ, you’re as loud as that holler-wagon you got goin’ out there.”

         “Glamps? Glamps! Are you talkin’ to me, flendo?”

         Walt Sinkowitz, who had cultural pretensions and was a cinema buff, had a double-feature flashback: Taxi Driver and No Country for Old Men. Just who was this Dr. Lao?

         Walt should have asked who Dr. Lao is, but the peculiarities of grammar had led him astray. No matter: he would learn soon enough.

         Vinnie Costanza wasn’t quite sure how to answer. Everyone was looking at him kinda funny and the place had gone as silent as the tomb. Jack Gibbons, an off-duty state trooper was givin’ him the fish-eye and frownin’ like Vinnie had just laid a no-muffler-low-rider fart. 

         “No offense, old timer. It’s just that…”

         “Just that what?” asked Dr. Lao, who for a second there… Vinnie blinked. Instead of the old Chink, he coudda swore he was looking at a… a big ol’ mountain lion

         “Nnn… Never mind. Sorry. Want another beer? On me.”

         Now you talkin’, flendo! Tell you what: you buy, I buy. Pitchers for the house! Pahty down! All you guys good guys! I invite all you guys come to Palace tonight. You buy ticket, I plomise you not be solly.”

          Revelry reigned. 

         By the time Dr. Lao took his leave of the gang at Slug’s, not a man-jack of ‘em would have dreamed of missing the show. Whether or not they’d be sorry remained to be seen. But one thing was certain: not a man-jack of ‘em could have dreamed of what was in store.

         When Dr. Lao walked into Paco’s Tacos down to Nabo, his colleague Buddy Kane was sitting amidst a bevy of plitty señoritas at a large formica-topped table with baskets of blue corn tortilla chips strategically placed. Buddy was doing his bit: there’d be a hell of a turnout from Mextown tonight. 

         Things would never be quite the same in Nabo after Dr. Lao and Buddy had gone with the wind that blew tumbleweeds down its dusty lanes studded with single-wides and pre-fab houses whose once-bright paint had been bleached by the blazing sun in the adamantine sky beneath which Nabo lay somnolent for much of the year. But all that lay in a future that not one among them could predict on that fateful afternoon, a future that… 

         “So Buddy, who are your new friends?” asked Dr. Lao in barely accented Spanish.

         One would have thought that after the session at Slug’s, Dr. Lao would have been six sheets to the wind, but the good doctor was as sober as Judge Roy Bean had been when he was a newborn babe back in Kentucky. Dr. Lao would have cringed at any comparison with Bean, who had once ruled that homicide was the killing of a human being, but that there was no law against killing a Chinaman. Dr. Lao took great comfort in the fact that Bean had been reincarnated as a deaf, dumb and blind Chinese who didn’t know enough to get out of Nanking when the Japanese rolled in just two years after Dr. Lao’s visit to Abalone.

Beer didn’t have any effect on Dr. Lao; nothing did.

         “This venerable gentleman is the celebrated Dr. Lao?” asked a mestizo in ranchero duds, a middle-aged man with burnished walnut skin, a man toasted by the sun beneath which he and his ancestors had labored lo these many centuries. 

         “None other,” Buddy replied laconically. 

         Buddy Kane was a soft-spoken and taciturn individual, but by no means Dr. Lao’s “second banana”. He never failed to attract attention, given that he had no eyelids, but very few ventured to ask him how that came to be so. There was something about Buddy that discouraged personal questions of that sort, although just what it was, no one could say. Buddy was, well… strange. Sure could play a mean flute, though.

         Ana González, at the moment the prettiest girl in Nabo, a seventeen year old girl with dreams of bright lights, big city and wealthy blue-eyed young men vying for her hand in spite of a likely future twirling her lithe body around a fire pole in a “gentlemen’s club”, was—for some reason beyond her limited intellect to analyze—nearly desperate to hear Buddy play the bamboo flute he carried slung over his shoulder. No one remotely like Buddy had ever been a patron of Paco’s Tacos, nor for that matter had graced Nabo with his presence. Who was this mysterious man? And what was he doing traveling around with the old Chink?

         “What kind of doctor are you? Buddy didn’t say,” Ana asked in English. 

         “Ah! Plitty señorita a cluious kitten, eh? You come to Palace tonight, all your questions get answered, chop-chop. Tell all your flends Dr. Lao and Buddy here”—indicating the quiet man with a grandiloquent hand gesture—“blinging evlyone in Nabo, Beeswax and—what it called? Clappy place up the load? Ah! Calvin, yeah, I lemembuh!—yeah, we bling all you peoples a night to lemembuh o’ maybe whole lot mo’, eh! Just lemembuh: no tickee, no nuthin’!”

         “That about sums it up,” Buddy chimed in, nodding sagely.

         “Count me in,” declared Ricardo Funes, the roofer in the ranchero duds. The others at the table nodded in affirmation, mimicking Buddy. 

         Dr. Lao smiled his inscrutable smile, tight-lipped, eyes narrowed. 

         “Good move, Licahdo” concurred Dr. Lao.

         Ricardo asked himself: “How did he know my name?” 

         Dr. Lao winked. “Name that can be named not a name,” proclaimed the wizened doctor of something. “What yo’ name befoh you bohn, eh? What face you have?”

Abruptly, Dr. Lao began speaking English in an exalted tone known to denizens of New York as “Manhattan Neutral Express”, though he had never set foot in Manhattan nor would do so under any circumstances. “Signs and wonders, señor, signs and wonders. That is our stock in trade and be assured that said stock is strictly limited. You have the questions: we have the answers.”

Another shift. “Lound up all yo’ flends and bling ‘em along. Light, Buddy?”

Three slow nods.



At the appointed hour, a standing-room-only crowd filled the Palace. Never before in Beeswax had an event attracted such a diverse public: aged snowbirds, New Agers of every stripe, the Hispanic community of Nabo, the blue-collar crew from Calvin, the owners of nearly every small business in town, some military folks from the nearby base, teachers and students, the lame and the halt, the old and the young…

              The curtain parted and the previously unseen was made manifest. All murmuring, coughing, shuffling ceased. Silence.

         Dr. Lao stepped forward to the edge of the proscenium.

         “Ladies and gentlemen, imagine if you will a small village with a small population. Imagine that there are modern conveniences, but they go unused. Imagine yourselves living in a village with vehicles and electronic gadgetry that go unused, a village in which everyone is satisfied with the food they eat, the clothes they wear, the homes in which they live and the way in which they live! Imagine being content to remain there forever!”

         Bug-eyed Buddy played a riff on his bamboo flute. 


         “All you peoples dleamin’ about clazy shit when the leel deal light in flont of you faces!” Dr. Lao stated emphatically. 

         Buddy played a longer riff, a kind of snake charmer thing, but no one present was cognizant of the similarity: what resonated in their subconscious varied. For some, it was the Mamas and the Papas singing “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, for others a Fleetwood Mac song with Stevie Nicks asking “Have you any dreams you’ve dreamed yourself”, but for Tad Waring, a fugitive from a stock fraud charge who knew it was time to cross the border, what came to mind was a verse from the Thomas Pynchon novel V: “Cross yourself and face the wall/Dreams will help you not at all”. 

         Not one of the Nabo contingent had read Calderón de la Barca’s classic drama La Vida es Sueño (“Life is but a dream, da-doom, da-da-da-da-doom”), but… 

         “Hey!” shouted Dr. Lao, snapping the rubes out of their reveries. “Hey!”

         The last notes of Buddy’s flute wafted away into the rafters. He slung the flute and swung into a kata of incredible complexity: he knew kung-fu! He whirled and twirled, arms and legs moving at a speed that made him, well… flow

         “Hey! Show time, circus time!” bellowed Dr. Lao. “Let’s go we be goin’! Dleamtime, peoples! But lemembuh this: Dlop self, dlop desire! No learning, no ploblems! Eh, Buddy?”

         “All the suffering and joy we experience depend upon conditions,” Buddy agreed. 

              Andy Shapiro began stroking his chin. What was this? Kane? That was the Kung-Fu character’s name, the teevee guy with the shaven head who played the flute. Was this guy some sort of wise-ass? And this Dr. Lao? That stuff about the “small village” rang a bell. 

         Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!

         But it fell on deaf ears.

         “Observe!” entreated Dr. Lao. “Observe what you see and what you don’t see! What you see emerges from the unseen, which you will see soon enough. We have come to the Beeswax Palace to reveal the unseen. Attention! The things of this world come from something; something comes from nothing. Eh, Buddy?”

         Like Yeats’ Chinamen in the lapis lazuli carving about which he waxed poetic—“their eyes, mid many wrinkles, their eyes, their ancient glittering eyes…”—, Dr. Lao and Buddy beamed the silent, pensive crowd with their eyes. 

         “When does the show start?” Barbara Selkirk wanted to know, breaking her silence. 

         Ralph, who felt a tingling somewhere near his abdomen, whispered to his wife: “I have a feeling it started a while ago.”

         “All appearances are illusions. Don’t hold on to appearances,” Buddy concurred, executing another kata with blinding speed. 

         “What the fu…?” Vinnie Costenza commented to Walt Sinkowitz. The Calvin crew on the whole were wondering just what exactly they’d walked into, but Walt was wondering just exactly where they were headed, not knowing exactly why he was hearing a knowing internal voice insisting “There’s a new sheriff in town”. 

         Ana González was thinking that Kane was pretty hot, never mind that he kept agreeing with the crazy old Chinese laundryman who was the weirdest carny barker that had ever hit the streets of Beeswax: this had the guy who promised to show the monster baby from Sowdattica, the girl with the yellow elastic tissues and the morphadite all beat to shit. This was one weird show!

         “Hah! Lights out!” 

         Dr. Lao’s command echoed as the Beeswax Palace plunged into darkness amidst the murmurings and consternation of the crowd.

         “Now we get down to business, Beeswax folk, you betcha’!” resonated a voice from the darkness, deep in the unseen.

         The plitty señoritas squirmed, waiting for male hands to fall upon their thighs. They waited in vain, even Ana, seated next to her current beau, Quique Morales, who was so creeped out that Ana’s teacup-tilted tits and tight thighs were as far away as his cousins in Seattle. Just what “business” was coming down? This was sick cheet, man!

         Dr. Lao awaited silence. His wait was brief.

         “Oh yes, Beeswax peoples: be still,” he urged when silence reigned. “Over the rainbow time now, you betcha’. You all pay you money, now you get to dance to the piper.”

         He made an unseen pass in the darkened space and: Lo, an unfamiliar landscape took form with inexplicable depth upon the stage, receding in a vanishing-point perspective that captivated the already-stunned crowd of Beeswax peoples. 

         Buddy’s flute blew, blew a long and tremulous note that entered in their ears, sank to the base of their spines and began to climb their backbones like a snake with a purpose. 

         Dr. Lao smiled in the darkness, which he owned, the landscape seen by Beeswax peoples being just one more illusion in their illusory lives. Beeswax peoples have heads squarely up Beeswax peoples asses, you betcha’! But not for much longer, oh no!

         “Hah! Leddy to follow yellow blick road, Beeswax peoples?” called the voice still hidden in darkness. “Hah! Leddy to see what behind the cuhtain?”

         The hypnotic tones of Buddy’s flute had thoroughly pacified the crowd, each and every one, and Beeswax was headed for X-Files territory without a single member of the audience aware that en masse, they were going to leave National Enquirer stories like “Bat Boy of the Ozarks” deep in the dust. The freaky-deaky quality of Lost was kid stuff compared to what would become to be known as the “Beeswax Vanishings”. The “Dharma Initiative” of Dr. Lao and Buddy Kane was the real deal.

         Seated still like statues in their velveteen-backed seats in the Beeswax Palace, the variegated audience was being drawn bit by bit into the landscape each saw, the landscape that conformed to the illusion that each and every one held dear. They saw what they wanted to see. 

         The young Barbara Selkirk had dreamed of a dramatic life, the middle-aged Barbara would have settled for a melodramatic life but the bordering-on-elderly Barbara had less rather than more come to terms with the simple reality that her life hadn’t been a roller-coaster ride but rather a daily round on a carousel with stationary horses and a musical repertoire of trite waltzes. Imagine, then, the palpitations of her heart when there on the proscenium of the Beeswax Palace the long entryway to Southfork Ranch lay before her as if awaiting her assumption of the throne of the dynasty she had been destined to found before fate had played its cruel joke and the stork had gone off course, depositing her not on the stage set of Dallas but in a low-rent variant of the house in which Beaver Cleaver got his first cavities. 

         A long, breathy note emerged from Buddy’s flute and expanded to fill all the empty space within the Beeswax Palace. Another followed. Another. A melody was woven from the threads of sound energy that vibrated upon the tympana of those present. The melody had a come-hither quality, hither being found beyond the vanishing point of the visible horizon of the stage upon which all gazes were fixed. 

         So fixed were the gazes that neither Ralph Selkirk nor even state trooper Gibbons were cognizant of the vanishing of the person seated beside them. Now you see ‘em, now you don’t!

         Before long, few were left to be seen. Ten little Beeswax peoples sittin’ in a line/One disappeared and then there were nine, and so on. 

         Ralph Selkirk disappeared down the access tunnel of the Cheyenne Mountain underground command center, burdened with the responsibility of becoming the first (and last) US president to unleash an all-out preemptive nuclear strike on Dr. Lao’s Chicom relatives, the Rooskis, the Mooselings in Eye-Ran and Eye-Rack, purty much any damn furriner you might care to name.

         Quique Morales watched the parallel line of street-lamps bordering the boulevard blur as he pedal-to-the-metalled the fastest low-rider ever made. He was headin’ down that long, lonesome highway and…

         The Beeswax peoples present followed Buddy’s tune as he stepped into a darkness just beyond what each could see.

         “Behind the cuhtain, Beeswax peoples!” Dr. Lao shouted from somewhere unseen, somewhere in the darkness beyond the visual perceptual range of Beeswax peoples. “Follow Buddy!”

         And so, one after another they did, passing from the perceptual plane of their idealized selves—the shadows upon the wall of Plato’s cave—into what lay beyond the curtain and into Buddy’s cave, within which no shadows exist: uncharted territory traversed by Buddy and Dr. Lao but precious few others. 

         One by one they went.

         What did they see?

         Ah, well, that remains to be seen: does it not?

         Suffice it to say that one must see it for oneself. 

         Beyond that, there is nothing further to be seen.

         No seminar, no shamans, no anything, no nuthin’!

         Fade to black.

         And then…? 

         Fiat Lux!

Deep Subsidiarity

That's Lao Tzu (now transliterated as Laozi) heading west through the Hanku Pass on his way to... somewhere. Maybe he passed by here after he wrote this:

 "Small state, small population/No need for tools/Tools not used/People think about death/Don't move far/Boats and carts/No reason to ride them/Armor and chariots/No reason to use them/Return to knots rather than writing/Be satisfied with their own food/Be content with their own clothes/Happy in their homes/Content with their customs/Nation next door so near/Its dogs and chickens are heard/People live their whole lives/Never make a visit." (T'ao Te Ching/Dàodéjīng: 80; my translation based on Red Pine's).

 Now that's deep subsidiarity. The knot business might be a bridge too far, but the rest of it fits right in with the subsidiarity life style if you ask me. Younger folks may balk at this, and when I was a young man, I found it quaint. It was a different translation I read back when studying Chinese long, long ago, but it made no difference: I was convinced I still had miles to go before I slept (Frost again) and planned to put on plenty while traveling the world. Now? I very nearly live the life described above: dark bread with cracklings still warm from the clay oven; freshly laid eggs; carrots, beets, peppers, lettuce from the greenhouse... Okay, the coffee comes from elsewhere, the milk is in a tetrabrick, beef not butchered here, but the apricots came straight from the tree and this is 2500 years after the above was written! Fanatical purists are unwelcome at the Subsidiarity Institute.

Deep subsidiarity on the individual or family level is making rare journeys to urban areas, likely living in a rural community in which the maximum degree of local political autonomy can be obtained, if not de jure then de facto, as is often the case in rural areas that pay lip service to administrative rules and laws handed down by larger governmental bodies, but often ignoring them on a regular basis. The Institute, for example, is located in a village of some 2,000 people in a province and nation that requires the use of auto headlights at all times as well as the use of seatbelts while driving. Fines are high for violations of these ordinances and there are police checkpoints on paved roads at which one can be stopped. In practice, however, if the driver is a villager, the police will overlook the infraction. There is considerable legal latitude in villages, with custom, often outweighing law.

Communities that embrace subsidiarity avoid becoming overly dependent upon outside funding for their municipal needs. Keeping focused on needs as opposed to desires is a critical if subsidiarity is to be practiced. The Institute is located in a tiny village that is poorly administrated, so poorly in fact that the mayor was recently removed owing to the disastrous municipal financial situation. The village budget draws about eight per cent of its total from local taxes; the rest comes from "co-participation" by the provincial and federal governments. The municipal water system does not supply potable water, but we do have a partially-finished "multi-use" sports facility that goes largely unused. This is not subsidiarity-style governance, much less budgeting.

 Deep subsidiarity is not the same as survivalism, given that it does not predicate some sort of societal disaster as its raison d'etre; if subsidiarity were widely practiced, there would be no need for survivalist thinking. Subsidiarity is after all a community-based system, although upon further thought, the family is the first unit of government, so...

Anyone who practices or wishes to practice subsidiarity in modern life is well advised to read Lao Tzu, Han Shan (Red Pine translation), Chuang Tzu and others in the Taoism/Zen tradition. Subsidiarity was first articulated as such by Catholicism, from which the word was coined, but as far as a way of life embracing simplicity goes, the Asians expressed it far earlier and very effectively.

And on the subject of Lao Tzu, there will be a bonus post today! The Institute is publishing a short story, "Dr. Lao Redux," written by our founder. It draws upon a 1935 novel by Jack Finney, The Circus of Dr. Lao, read by our founder half a century ago. It remains one of his favorite novels and is re-read on perhaps a bi-annual basis.

Subsidiarity was the de facto governing principle for much of humankind's history. It was a principal feature of early US governance and the nation would be a better place, a more satisfactory society, were it to return to the forefront of political theory worldwide with no overarching bureaucracy meddling in the affairs of largely self-determinant communities.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Stagirite

In days of old, "Stagyrite" was the customary translitaration of Στάγειρα, but as we know from the poetry of Robert Frost: "So dawn goes down to day/Nothing gold can stay": thus "Stagirite". And who might he be?

Well, he's one of those old, dead white guys whose work supposedly no longer merits study, never mind that his work is one of the springs from which Western Civilization first flowed. The prevailing belief at the Institute is that those who don't have at least a passing knowledge of Aristotle and the Politics are not likely to find themselves overly interested in the Subsidiarity Principle or public banking or any other subject requiring critical thinking ability. Consider the Politics an entry-level textbook. 

Aristotle did not believe that governing a household, a village and other smaller social units could be equated with governing a polis, the highest form of community in his philosophical system. The term can correspond to a monarchy, a tyranny, a democracy and so on, but it always refers to a city-state, the largest political collective of the time. As to the smallest unit, the household (not the individual), the philosopher is unabashedly patriarchal in his views, claiming that what matters in governing a household is instilling virtue in his wife and children. Aristotle was a sexist!

That's not all he was. Reading the classics, we are exposed to civilization building concepts that nowadays, well, they're simply passé, which is an effete (Whoops! Trigger word! "Classist" is gender-neutral and modern!) and polyglotist way of saying "not cool". Aristotle had very uncool ideas and therefore his work must be expunged from curricula and his name added to the urn of the deplorables.

The bust of Aristotle as pictured above, however, belongs on the frieze of the Subsidiarity Institute's pantheon, still in the planning stage. He envisioned a society constructed from the bottom up, beginning with a man and his slave (Whoops! How dare he?), followed by the family, the village and so on. Globalists don't appreciate such antiquated notions, knowing as they do that it takes a village just to raise a child and hoi polloi need constant instruction and supervision from above, not just in an entire nation but over the surface of the entire globe, by gosh!

His views on citizenship also land him in the political-correctness pokey: "a citizen is defined to be one of whom both the parents are citizens; others insist on going further back; say two or three or more grandparents". This cannot be considered acceptable in a top-down world requiring a rootless and atomized lumpenproletariat to provide labor to the moneyed oligarchy!

Oligarchy, considered as one of the unjust forms of governance by Arsitotle's master Plato (Homophobe! Burn his books!), receives short shrift at the hands of the Stagirite as well. Just as every man is king of his castle in the Aristotelian cosmos, so a monarchy is deemed a just form of government for the polis. A brief examination of present day monarchs as anything but nostalgic decorative personages leads one to take issue with Aristotle on this issue. If, however, he had in mind the ideal ruler we find in the Daodejing (once transliterated as T'ao Te Ching, but...), we here at the Institute will consider it: " Bestowing no honors/keeps people from fighting/prizing no treasures/keeps people from stealing/displaying no attractions/keeps people from making trouble/thus the rule of the sage/empties the mind/but fills the stomach/weakens the will/but strengthens the bones/by keeping people from knowing or wanting/and those who know from daring to act/he thus governs them all" (chap. 3 in Red Pine's excellent annotated translation).

Aristotle was less concerned than was Plato with determining the ideal form of government as he was with identifying the aims of the ideal government, to wit: the virtue, justice and happiness of the citizenry. He believed this could be accomplished by various combinations of forms.

Aristotle's writings addressed many more subjects than mere politics. The Stagirite was a Renaissance man more than fifteen centuries before the Renaissance, writing at a time when Athens, the principle city-state of what amounted to the Western world, was estimated to have been around a maximum of 200,000 human beings, many of whom lived in rural conditions. Think present day Asheville, North Carolina; Pamplona, Spain;  Catamarca or San Luis, Argentina to put that in perspective.

The Stagerite was one of the wisest and certainly most erudite men of his time and world whose works have come down to us. On other shores, in recondite places, in wattle-and-daub huts, there were almost certainly may have been other sages, but it is our misfortune never to have known them.

A humble suggestion: become better acquainted with or renew your acquaintance with Aristotle. He'd likely have been just as happy teaching at the Subsidiarity Institute than he'd probably been at the Lyceum, although we enjoy a better view.