Monday, February 15, 2010

a man who is more than his elements

I have been reading John Steinbeck's seminal novel The Grapes of Wrath. In it, I came across a quote that is to me like the Gospel, the good word that comes down right from God so that all of us can know the truth again. Here it is:

For nitrates are not the land, not phosphates and the length of fiber in the cotton is not the land. Carbon is not a man, not slat not water nor calcium. He is all of these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis. That man who is more than his chemistry, walking on the earth, turning his plow point for a stone, dropping his handles to slide over an outcropping, kneeling in the earth to eat his lunch; that man who is more than his elements knows the land that is more than its analysis. But the machine man, driving a dead tractor on land he does not know and love, understands only chemistry; and he is contemptuous of the land and of himself. When the corrugated iron doors are shut, he goes home, and his home is not the land.

This distinction is important, I think. The difference between a person who knows the land, walks it, breathes it, and lives it, with the machine man, who conquers it, controls it, loathes it. I hope to someday be more like the former than the latter.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

life and debt

Is my life ideologically sound? In other words, am I living in accordance with my principles?

This is a question that commonly crosses my mind, as I always try to be mindful of my current path in life, why I am on it and where it is taking me. This question has begun circling around my head with more frequency now as I am about to embark on a vocation where I will be paid to move consumer goods around the country. How does this fit in with my life goals? My aspirations? My values?

Of course, the first and easiest answer is a nihilistic/deterministic one. Such as: oh, well these goods would be transported across the country whether or not I decide to be the one getting paid to move them. This is true, and is the way I often view things I choose not to do.

For example, I choose not to work at a nonprofit because I often look at the track record of nonprofits actually making a change in the world, and they often not only fail at what they plan to do (I.e. stop China from building dams all around the world), but also fail so incredibly miserably at it that things are actually worse now (I.e. China’s dam-building projects have increased rapidly in the last decade) than when the nonprofit began working on these issues.

Therefore, my logic going something like: there is absolutely no way that I will make any difference in this inevitable outcome, so I must not waste my time working on it. You see, this logic also applies to driving a truck around. It will happen, so I might as well be the one getting paid to do it.

But that logic only goes so far. Certainly, there are many occupations I could make this case for (garbage man, perhaps?). So why trucking, why now?


Well, it starts with this: I have been thinking an incredible amount about debt lately. Car debt, education debt (student loans), home debt (a mortgage), consumer spending debt (credit card debt). In all of these cases of personal debt, you as an individual are in a certain form of slavery to a master. You must keep a job in order to continue paying your masters, who frequently have a staggering amount of leverage over you.

Ostensibly, you do not have freedom. You cannot choose to do as you wish, living the life you have always imagined. You must think of your home, your car, your things, or your past education before you make any decision about how to spend your time.

There is a way out of this, and it’s called having the money for something before you buy it. That is, not buying something until you can afford to buy it. I know this seems radical in our day and age when the banks make incredible profits from all of our interest on their loans. It seems like the American Dream to get a mortgage. It isn’t. It’s a way of removing some measure of your freedom for some banks’ profit.

This is why we are choosing to drive a truck. With this profession specifically, we can make healthy sums of money without paying rent or utilities. We can save almost all of the money we make and we can then try to be in as little debt as possible when we do decide to buy some land and a home. I refuse to be a slave to this precarious system. I refuse to buy a home and have a plan to pay my mortgage with a steady job, and then lose my job as so many people have. I refuse to be living in fear of that situation.


But why am I ok with greasing the wheels of consumption, adding to the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, making it cheap and easy for people to buy tomatoes in the middle of winter? These are things I so obviously stand against and hate. The answer to this is a little stickier, but one I’d like to get into anyways.

Besides individual debt that many people in our society accrue, there are other forms of debt currently piling up in our world. For example, national debt. Our government is spending more money than it has to spend. We owe a vast majority of this money to China. Who is supposed to pay off this debt? Me, my children, and grandchildren. We will pay it in the form of taxes, a war with China (our citizens’ lives), or some other unspeakable atrocity.

We, as a planet, are also accumulating environmental debt. By this I mean we are now destroying the planet at a rate that is so incredibly fast, that the greatest outcomes of this ravaging of the Earth’s natural resources will be seen not in this generation, but for me, my children and grandchildren. We will pay this debt in the form of droughts, floods, increasing natural disasters, overpopulation (and ensuing resource wars), the inability to grow food on land heavily saturated with chemicals, etc.

In response to these atrocities of society’s choices and the ensuing repayment that me and my family will have to make, all I can say is that I deserve to get a bit of that wealth that I will myself have to repay one thousand times, so that I may prepare for my own depleted future. This may be ideologically unsound, and at this point, I must revert to the nihilistic standby: it is happening whether or not I choose to partake.

The oceans are warming, the soil is eroding, the desert is expanding, the debt is amassing, the planes are flying and the trucks are rolling into walmarts. It is my responsibility to prepare myself financially for the ensuing shit storm that is my future. Then, I can only be prepared and hope that things aren’t as bad as they seem.