Archive for June 2010
Another piece of found writing from my hard disk archives, this one from April 2006, a time of money and career and personal stress. I can’t say I still feel this way… in many ways my life is simpler and quieter than it was then. Anyway, there are some nice turns of phrase worth publishing.
The so-called crawl space beneath my ground-level apartment floods with water following each of Berkeley’s frequent rain showers. Other than when said flood douses the pilot light for my weird and scary floor-mounted heater, I don’t really care. Left alone, however, the building’s foundation is at risk of erosion.
The prospect of the building’s collapse concerns my landlord precisely to the extent that it is profitable for him to be concerned. Thus, instead of digging up the ground and installing the proper drainage system, he decides to employ the services of a much less expensive, yet mammoth, water pump. This machine is separated from my bedroom by not more than a few inches of wood and insulation.
“It is loud. It disturbs me,” I tell him. “How surprising! It emits only a ‘low whir’,” he replies. Actually, that “low whir” is a low B-natural hum starting and stopping at roughly hourly intervals, but randomly, like the drones of a Casio-keyboard bagpipe in an audio version of water torture.
It made me realize: what I really want in my life is some peace and quiet. No alarms and no surprises, as someone once sang (but not in the vaguely suicidal way they sang it). I want to sit and read books and then walk somewhere quietly and drink coffee and then go to sleep when my eyelids droop. I am tired of the noise of modernity, the steady beats of war drums and market tickers and engine pistons. Their rhythm chokes me. They are loud. They disturb me.
As free as I am supposed to be (Americans have so much excess freedom that we have even begun to export it), it is often difficult to turn off or shut up or slow down. I am a captive to the cycles of bills and debts and budgets, confined to the road ahead. Beyond the cycles, there are errands to run and papers to sign and meetings to attend. Freedom means having options, but the toughest one to come by is the one to choose less over more.
Nominally, I have this freedom. It’s called being a bum. But I don’t want to be a bum. I want to have means without responsibility.
On the other hand, real freedom is internal. The trick is to not worry about things outside of one’s control. Like god, for instance, or the weather, or shifts in tectonic plates, or the rate of decay of take-out pad thai.
Internal or external, the freedom I crave is to simplify, to quiet, to do or not do as I please, to turn down the volume, to breathe deeply, to sleep. I want freedom from the low whir.
I’m sitting in my living room this afternoon, enjoying a perfect Berkeley afternoon, sad that Bruce and Dawn could only stay one night, and organizing my messy hard disk full of files. Here’s something I wrote in May 2006, but never published or sent to anyone, probably in response to something I saw in the news. I only vaguely recall writing it, but I think I still had law school on the brain at the time.
National identity and cultural identity are no longer congruent. There is no doubt that they were in centuries past, and that they are still in many places, but only coincidentally and usually at the expense of a minority population. This is a central consequence of the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution: that government (nation) must protect the rights of free assembly, speech, and religion (components of culture).
As such, the notion of a “national language” is only useful to the extent that it facilitates the efficient functioning of government (a famously insufficient condition, unfortunately). Note that commerce is exempt from this stipulation except where commerce and government intersect, that is, in the enforcement of contracts. Contracts themselves, however, are culturally neutral by design; a merchant need not speak english to expect that I pay him for his wares.
But what of the social contract that citizens of a nation undertake in their collective effort to coexist? I believe that it should not be subject to the imposition of a national language. Nations should make every reasonable effort to make the governing of their people independent of culture.
To that end, president bush should not insist that the national anthem be sung only in english.