When life allows, I sit. Still. And listen for what is important today. To me. Maybe not to anyone else. But maybe.
‘Today’ might be misleading, though. These are not ‘thoughts for the day’. They are just what I wanted to write. Today.
Here are some. Just in case you might also be sitting. Still.
You will thank me for this. Or at least your friends will.
It actually is a personal request: please, in conversation, don’t tell me anything about people I don’t know. If it’s about you, too, actively, that’s fine. If it’s not, you can figure I will have started thinking about nail polish or radish roots before you get one minute into it. I’ll shake myself back into your story repeatedly because I am both nice and well-trained. But it will be a dutiful, not beautiful, return.
I am not sure exactly what happens to the human mind, or at least to mine, when it gets lassoed and dragged through detail about people it doesn’t know or care about. Almost immediately the detail is boring. Unless it is about a murder, and even then it has to be pretty vivid and stay that way.
Actually, I can just about stay with you if you’re talking about someone I don’t know but whom I know you love (or hate). But even then if you slip into things about their children or, god forbid, their grandchildren, you have not only lost me no matter how much my head is nodding (if not nodding off), you have also assaulted me. Details about strangers hurt brains.
Yes, there are a few exceptions. One, if you are funny, almost anything, even strangers’ great grandchildren or dogs, can hold people’s attention. But don’t get your hopes up. Most people are not funny. So you’re probably not either. A lot of people think they are, and they show you this by laughing at their own stories before they’ve gotten to the funny part.
Two, if you build suspense (quickly), people stay with you as long as you don’t do a lateral slide into suspense-less explanation or more strangers.
Three, if you are talking about the listener, no matter how much detail about strangers you go into, they will stay with you, ravenous for the next bit about themselves that you might say.
And that’s about it for exceptions.
So in a valiant attempt to save the world from conversational ennui, not to say desperation, I have devised the ‘First generation Rule': ‘Stick with the people your listener knows’. Period. Second generation stories, never mind third and fourth generation ones, drum up revenge fantasies and can even lead to orchestrated avoidance schemes, i.e., termination of friendships. In fact, if you have lost any friends lately, you might count how many times you told them about people they don't know.
And stop doing it.
Both Ways, No Way
Capitalism is tricky. I think that on balance (but with zero enthusiasm) that it is the best of the so-far-thought-up economic isms. It is so bad in so many ways, though, it is hard to put the word ‘best’ within a mile of it. But ‘best’ never did have to mean ‘good’, just better than the rest. So, okay, capitalism is the best of the bad.
Here’s my point today: part of its ‘bestness’ is its assertion that the market (you and I when we buy) determine what products are made and what their value is, i.e., their price. You and I. Not the government, and not the folks getting rich from the sales. The idea is that we won’t buy the thing if we think it is not worth our money (given how little of it we have), especially if there are heaps of those things out there to buy. We will buy the thing if we really, really want it and the price is ok, or if there are very few of the thing out there and we are scared we might not get one, especially if we are snobs and like having something that others don’t have.
That’s basically it. All the rest of capitalist theory is either an inaccessible expression of this ‘market decides’ idea, or entirely esoteric hocus pocus assembled to keep us from asking too many questions.
Key in all of this is that true, deep-in-their-bones capitalists 1 have a fit if any government tells them what to make, how to make it, who can buy it, how much it can cost and how much of that they can keep for themselves. They especially won’t be caught dead proposing that a government dictate to them and their committed capitalist buddies how to decide what to make or how to make it or who their customers can be or how much they can charge and keep. Capitalism itself says they get to do all of that themselves, following the market (us), and if they can’t, it isn’t capitalism any more – it has just, poof, become socialism. And that is that.
This all leads to an unsavoury lifting-of-the-lid on a fetid affair between government and capitalists. Enter conservatism. True conservatives (and Conservatives) are almost always capitalists and are full-time marchers for ‘we decide’ politics. ‘We the market’, not ‘we the government’. Legislators (government), according to pristine conservatism (and Conservatism) get to decide only a vanishingly few number of things. Those include when to go to war, what to do if half the country is under water, how to keep runaways from other countries out of ours, and who won an election (unless you are a depository of narcissistic mendacity with a spray tan).
So basically a true conservative Conservative is a capitalist who wouldn’t dream of being a conservative Conservative capitalist legislator who tells other conservatives Conservatives capitalists how to decide anything, especially how to run their capitalist businesses.
And yet. The US conservative Conservative capitalists of Congress have just gone nuts over other conservative Conservative capitalists of Business because they are basing their decisions about what to make and sell and to whom on three questions: 1) what does the market want environmentally? and 2) how does the market want to be treated human beings? and 3) how can they govern their very own capitalist businesses consistent with those two answers from us?
This way of deciding things even has a name: ‘ESG’. It stands for ‘environmental, social, governance’. Basically it means that the conservative Conservative capitalists of Business are making financial decisions based on non-financial things like – get ready for it – the market. They have discovered that the market these days wants to buy things that emerge from thoughtful environmental, social and governance issues. And they are finding that by considering those three things, they are making money. And are going to make lots more in the future. Just as true capitalists should.
But – the conservative Conservative capitalists of Congress are screaming. They say you are not allowed as a conservative Conservative capitalist of Business to base your capitalist decisions on the environment and on respect for people and then govern accordingly because those are not financial things. They are socialist things. And we won’t be socialist come you know what. And so we the conservative Conservative capitalists of Congress will tell you the conservative Conservative capitalists of Business how, yes, to run your business. (Who, I ask you, is the socialist now?)
So it seems to me that if you are a conservative Conservative capitalist of Congress, you can have it one of two ways. Either you can let conservative Conservative capitalists of Business be real capitalists and use their market to shape their decisions about how to run their capitalist business, or you can scrap conservative Conservative capitalism and admit that something other than that, and other than the other existing economic isms, is actually best. Even if you don’t have a clue what that is.
But what you can’t do is claim to be a conservative Conservative capitalist and then, when in government, legislate against conservative Conservative capitalism.
The market is the market. Either you believe in it or you don’t. Either you are a capitalist or not.
Which is it?
1 I realise that actually, as economist Michael Cahill has said astutely, there are hardly any true capitalists left; they have all morphed into ‘corporatists’. But until they admit that and stop pretending they are true capitalists, they are the deserving targets of any stand against capitalist legislator hypocrisy.
August needs deliverance. It has suffered enough. Enough denigration, enough relegation, enough classification, enough truncation, enough defenestration.
I love August. Now. As of last week. Before that I dreaded it. Especially while I was looking forward to it. The trouble with it was that it was just too close to September, too near to the cruel inexorability of back to school. It was the relentlessly hot month when you shopped for your winter clothes and nearly dropped dead in the dressing room. It was the month when all the big stores changed their swimming suit, sandals and halter top displays to three-ring notebooks, pencils and lunch boxes. And it was when your family squeezed in a vacation knowing that was really just a massive distraction from the reality: summer was basically over.
Christopher loves August, too. In fact, finding out recently that he loves August helped me. But I wonder how many of us there are. Do you love August? Or do you, along with every other August-cynic in the northern hemisphere regard it as the ‘after-the-roses-and-not-yet-radiant-leaves month? Do you see the baby apples on the trees and think, ‘Yep, Fall’s just around the corner’’?
Or I did. Because this year (my 77th summer) Christopher and I decided to take all of August as holiday (as we say in England). We would stay home the entire month and free it of any expectations, demands, obligations or schedules. ‘Waking with no plans’, as my friend Trisha says, is the true definition of ‘holiday’. So all of June and July I was excited thinking about the monumental celebration it would be when August arrived.
But then it did. And as wonderful as it felt to wake on the 1st with no plans and to know that I could do that for 30 more mornings, something seized up inside me. Not just something. My entire childhood and adulthood to date. It was August. Oh dear.
So, determined to bask in, revel in and generally worship every single thing about this time off, I decided to do a serious reframing, a wholesale whack-a-mole job on a lifetime of uninvited assumptions about August. Immediately. I dug around for the just-right words to knock all of those assumptions unconscious. In fact, dead. And today, a few days into our intended August bliss, I’m feeling a change. The permanent kind you can detect even when it is only a peep.
This is what I think now: August is mature summer. August is high summer. August is a woman expressing her self willing to please no-one. August is fulfilment. August is confidence. August is blessing. August emerges from the brief tentativeness and then self-promotion of June and July and is not cowed by, nor even much interested in, an unconceived September. August is August. As Christopher and I say about some very special people, she has herself.
The fullness of life is not to be confused with the end of life.
Thank you, August.