Collecting bottles, tossing leftovers, taking out the garbage
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I’ve hardly looked at a newspaper since election day, and prefer to remain ignorant about the measure of your victory, your kind words about President Ford, your ruminations about a tax cut, and so on. A nation with the ability to deliver a pizza, or a guided missile, at 3 in the morning, also excels at serving up daily a leaden mix of uninformed gossip and conjecture called news. I’d sooner trust my dreams.
The last time I dreamt about you, I was sitting beside you at a press conference; I couldn’t think of a thing to say. So I just drank my peanut butter tea. This may be no funnier than the Sunday Times, but it’s at least as revealing. If an obscure Southern peanut farmer running for President is as unlikely a notion as a speechless journalist, what can be said when he wins? The commentators are dishing out the jelly, but I take my peanut butter from the jar; so tell me, was it prayer, or politics, that made the difference, and if, by now, they’re inseparable in your mind, shall we look forward to a President bleeding on the cross, or trading in robes? Or do you promise the one as palliative for the other, as all we can reasonably expect, we who have seen our dark heart revealed, and our dark blood throbbing back the eyes of our ambition? We are a people stuck in pride and blame, the twin beacons of our self-loathing, and the darkness between your challenge to illumine. Will you love us more than we love ourselves? Or bleed only on Sunday, Christian heart dry as a prune?
This is an arid land, and overflowing. Every irony is suffered; there are golden chains on every flesh. The American century is twin brother to a new global era, an undreamt human adventure, but of heaven or hell is still in the balance. “It’s coming from so far away,” sings Jackson Browne, “it’s hard to say for sure/Whether what I hear is music or the wind/through an open door.” But nothing is far away anymore. The exotic, far-away empire of Persia — which, to a youngster growing up in Georgia, must have seemed as remote as a distant planet — is known today as Iran, a land where the civil courts have been abolished, 100,000 people have been imprisoned for their politics, and more public executions occur than anywhere else in the world. In Iran, interrogations are conducted with a tool that squeezes the prisoner’s skull until he talks. If he doesn’t, he hears the music of his bones breaking, and the wind howling through his crushed skull.
Now, the United States, for reasons Henry Kissinger can best explain, supplies Iran with millions of dollars worth of arms, and has sent 60,000 American advisors there to show the Iranians how to use them, though one would think the Iranians are ingenious enough to figure it out themselves. I didn’t follow your campaign closely enough to know whether you mentioned this; Iranians killing Iranians may seem less important than Americans killing themselves, and we are, surely. It’s a suicide dance, a wild, loveless stomping and hollering, hot feet and dry throat; but you’re one of us, you know this, and you’re one man — and what can one man do? But you’re not just one man, are you? You’re yourself, and you’re our collective projection, summoned from the depths of ourselves, an experience we choose for our collective awakening. As a nation no less than individually, we create our reality with our beliefs. Nixon didn’t happen “to” us; he was a gland in the American body, responding to the will of the body. How often have we obliged ourselves with painful experiences to reveal our own deceit, or someone else’s. Who’ll make public the missing minutes on his own “tapes” — the embarrassments, lusts, confusions, “We’re all the same schmuck,” Lenny Bruce said.
Our head in the vise, our hand on the handle, and a neat profit in pain relievers (marijuana will be legalized because it’s become safe, a drug for busy commuters, and will thus herald a revolution mainly in tobacco company profits). Nothing avails. Popularity. Power. Money. Sex. We are adrift in a dream of ourselves and see our dream now reflected in you. Shall we dream of a heart opened at last, American love washing the world? You walk upon the breast of the people, your mother, our Earth. Walk gently. Love is the purifying fire, and thus heaven, or hell. Endure burning. The people shout, and sing. Clap your hands, and teach a different song.
No crusades against evil. Ken Kesey said it a few years ago: resist evil, and as soon as it disappears, you’ll fold. Whether it’s anti-communism or a war on poverty, we look for the target outside ourselves. There is none. Our destiny is within; it is not imposed upon us by events, or Presidents. Industrialization, the automobile, bureaucracy, crime — none of it the reason we are who we are, for we shape such forces at a level deeper than we are shaped by them. As a bodily illness tells us something about the body of our thoughts, so are our national ills a sign we give ourselves, a challenge we fashion for our own awakening. The relationship between leader and led is intimate and profound, a delicate feedback system the Founding Fathers intuitively understood, and which it is our challenge to understand again, and more fully. The politics of consciousness. The only game in town. And this cruel, and beautiful, karmic unfolding — the destiny we call American — your cross to bear. Pray for us, and we, for you. That you may understand the true power, and lead us back to ourselves.