Living in Society

January in Winter

Garden Cart in Winter
Garden Cart in Winter

The ambient temperature dropped four degrees since waking. Morning’s gray light brightened the plains as the new day arrived without fanfare.

One of the dozens of viruses and colds making the rounds has me feeling punk. That’s understating it. The arc of disease seems to be on the downside: there is energy to post a few items.

In what seemed like a fragmented, hesitantly delivered speech, Governor Branstad today reported “the condition of Iowa is strong.” It is hard to argue with the general topic areas of his initiatives for the coming legislative session: moving the economy forward, education reform, strong and healthy families, agricultural production, protecting our resources, transportation, safety and security, and open government. It was Branstad’s 20th condition of the state address, and we’ve heard much of it before.

A couple of progressive web commenters complained that Branstad used fallacious job creation numbers and made no mention of “middle class priorities” like increasing the minimum wage. There was a decided lack of interest in the speech, so few were likely listening to the commentators or the governor.

No one is listening. There is a lack of interest in government among a middle class that makes up most of 3.1 million Iowans. If some have their interests, written on a legislative agenda, most do not. The disinterest goes beyond what the 86th Iowa General Assembly does or does not accomplish.

The bubble in which we Americans live is real and is becoming the ridicule of the world. It is as if we took what’s best about our country and locked it up in a strongbox to protect it from those who might steal it. We venture from our borders to loot planetary resources, wage war and assert hegemony where we can. We have become exceptional in these things and our culture is the less for it.

The near term prospects for making a change are not good.

That’s not to say it is hopeless. In a world that has grown increasingly small during my lifetime, global cooperation is more important than ever. The rest of the world is coming together around a few issues—the environment, nuclear abolition, and poverty—but like in the French rallies over the weekend, the U.S. has been noticeably absent.

The current debate over Iran is a good example. Much of the world has come together to bring Iran’s nuclear program into compliance with their obligations under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty to which they are a party. A deadline was set to conclude the talks, but the State Department asked for more time. Political hawks believe this is a stalling tactic on the part of the Iranians to further develop enriched uranium for nuclear warheads. The State Department and those who watch it believe negotiations are almost finished and a resolution at hand.

Rather than give the negotiations more time, the Republican majority in congress is poised to pass new sanctions against Iran.

“If we pull the trigger on new nuclear-related sanctions now,” Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said, “we will go from isolating Iran to potentially isolating ourselves.”

The political hawks don’t mind, because to them, all that matters is assertion of American hegemony and sovereignty.

The late Howard Zinn points us in the right direction for action.

“History is instructive,” Zinn said in a 2005 interview.

And what it suggests to people is that even if they do little things, if they walk on the picket line, if they join a vigil, if they write a letter to their local newspaper. Anything they do, however small, becomes part of a much, much larger sort of flow of energy. And when enough people do enough things, however small they are, then change takes place.

This short piece may not be much—it is a little thing. But what ails me is not a virus contracted while living in society, or the cold weather. It is the disinterest in things that matter: a reversion to what in the Siouan language was Ioway—the sleepy ones. We must wake up and soon.