What we can learn from dysfunctional families

Sam Smith, 2011 More and more, living in America seems like living in a badly dysfunctional family. I sometimes imagine the Republicans as being a collective version of an alcoholic, abusive husband and father while the Democrats are the battered but completely submissive spouse. And the rest of us are the mistreated, powerless kids.

But as some in such situations learn, one is not powerless. You are weak but not helpless. You have to find ways to build a new rational reality, something that can happen even in the midst of madness. Neither one’s father nor mother will help with you with this. Your condition is not your fault, but your response is up to you.

A good place to start is with the fact that dysfunction is not normal. Test it out. Count in your own community the percent of people who are as dishonest and irrational as many of our leading politicians and other establishment figures. Yes, they’re there, but typically they’re in jail, on probation or in therapy. They are not dominating the whole culture.

Or read some history and be reminded how rare and frightening is our establishment.

I was reminded of this the other day as I spent six hours at a community agriculture and education center where I’m on the board, participating in a planning meeting with five farmers, a university expert, and a cooperative extension official. During that entire six hours nobody said anything stupid, mean, meaningless, deceptive or destructive. They just made good sense. As I sat there, I thought: if this were a Washington meeting, I would have been out of here long ago, angry, or sound asleep.

Yet that’s the way it has always worked, Roman emperors and British kings could make life harder or easier for the average farmer, but it was still the demands of nature and one’s response to it that failed or triumphed. Read 1984 and you’ll find that only ten percent of those in the book lived in the distorted culture that Orwell describes. The rest – not part of the inner and outer party – lived the lives of 1940s English proletarians. In East Germany only ten percent of the population were members of the Communist Party. And a woman who had spent her childhood in Hungary during the same period once said to me, “You know, even during the Cold War our village was run democratically.”

So here we are with only a handful of national figures making much sense or even trying to. We have a major media that has largely lost its ability to think independently of this elite. And we live in a time in which everyone’s visual and auditory space is overwhelmingly filled with images that are either commercial or political fantasy and largely unrelated to the lives we actually live each day. The diaspora of dysfunction has swept over our lives.

And nobody can change it but us.

For each us the choices are different. Jesse Ventura says he wants to leave the country, one of the few America celebrities to say such a thing openly, another sign of what an uncertain time this is.

For their part, the occupiers have chosen open confrontation not only with the establishment but with its massive police state capabilities.

And there are other choices. Simply witnessing your personal and political values on a daily basis, for example. The choices of what you buy, where you go, what you say and what you do. There are numerous possibilities such as discovering the importance of cooperatives as an economic solution.

Peace activist David Swanson recently suggested one: “Small groups (5-12 people) regularly meeting together in a format the Swedes call “study circles,” to reach consensus on the problems they face and what to do about them. . . [Another] model permitting these study circles to knit themselves together into an organization large enough to tackle the problems they unearth yet supple enough to operate without bureaucracy, hierarchy, or top-down control. This model — “citizen’s assemblies”-was conceived by Thomas Jefferson and unearthed by one of his African-American descendants, lawyer Don Anderson [who] wrote much of the War on Poverty legislation.”

Boycotts are yet another underused approach.

And, for all our anger and distress, there is still no music that grabs the time and gives it meaning in our hearts as well as in our minds, as have happened so often in the past.

But most of all, we need to rediscover the local … the local that doesn’t require national legislation, national television, or national advertising and propaganda.

There are lots of reasons for doing so. For one thing, it is ecologically sound. Humans were not physically or psychologically created to live in the world of presidential campaigns, offshore banking, Hollywood or humans massed into six or seven digit size. We were designed to live, help, and benefit from, other real humans doing real things. We need an ecological movement to save the endangered species that is ourselves.

For another thing, the local is politically sound. Despite what federally obsessed liberals tell you, nearly all important political change has come from the bottom up. And in a time when the elites of both parties are destroying our environment, our economy, our schools and our democracy, the local becomes the main fort of humanity. Explore it, test it, act with it, join it, use it and then share it what you have found with others on the Internet.

As with the children of dysfunctional families, if we go by the rules of those with the most power, we become a part of their madness. We must create – on a human scale – alternative ways of being, alternative systems and alternative solutions. As we do so, we will start to build a new America, one that is both decent and sensible.

In the near future, of course, we can not destroy the madness at the top. We can, however, follow the lead of the beat generation of the 1950s, once described by someone this way: “Our goal wasn’t to overthrow the establishment, but to make it irrelevant.”

Not long after the beats the 1960s arrived with one the greatest era of political change in American history.

The more irrelevant we make the establishment, its theories, its elites, its media, and its attempt to invade every corner of our souls, the closer we wil be to saving and rebuilding America.

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