Re: Decision making
- Jason Fahrion wrote:
I'll go a step further and take the risk of saying that democracy hasn't
even made america less inclined to loot, murder, and pillage. I understand
the risks of voicing such sentiments at a time of swelling "patriotism," but
everytime bush calls us a beacon of democracy I cringe.
Ken Kifer replies:
Y'all have mentioned Athenian democracy several times in your discussion, and I
wanted to point out that while Athens was the most democratic of all Greek
city-states, and while that democracy was very good culturally, Athens was
terrible in its behavior towards its neighbors, and democracy did not do a thing
to help them.
Certainly, our democracy did not help the Amerindians at all!
De Clarke wrote:
there are good solid reasons why people from all over the world dream
of coming to this place that offers freedom of religion, the right to
peaceable assembly, freedom of speech and movement, the Miranda law,
laws against discrimination in employment, etc. I often criticize the
US and sometimes harshly, but there are some basic Enlightenment-legacy
ideas embedded in American culture (liberte', egalite', fraternite'!)
that I love dearly. a lot of Americans are really decent, fair-minded
people -- at least, when dealing with their fellow-Americans.
Ken Kifer replies:
I credit William Penn and the Society of Friends for bringing those ideas to the
US, although our country was founded during the age of reason, which led to the
De Clarke also wrote:
and there are contradictions more subtle than that. one we all know about,
is the way people are almost forced to own and drive cars if they want to
participate fully in the "freedoms" Americans enjoy; and the reduction
of freedom of movement and travel for anyone who can't afford to drive or
doesn't want to. a 'freedom' (say, to own and use a car) isn't really a
freedom any more once it becomes a requirement; junk food isn't a fun
treat if it's the only kind of food available...
Ken Kifer replies:
This is something I began to recognize as I moved into my late teens, back in
the early 60's. Those living in the 50's (especially in Alabama!) either had to
accept a cookie-cutter lifestyle or had to hide their deviancy. There has been
quite a bit of cultural expansion since then, with differences in ethnicity,
lifestyle, and even sexual practices now much better accepted. This greater
tolerance has helped people as diverse as homosexuals and the Amish. But, in
spite of our social improvements, our culture still bulldozers people into a
physical reality that allows little room for divergence.
Some years ago, a man in the Birmingham area put a bird feeder in his front yard
and was immediately informed that he would either have to remove the bird feeder
or find a new place to live. He commented to the newspaper that he had chosen
to live in his suburb with its extra restrictions, because he did not want his
neighbors to be free to do whatever they wanted to do, but that he never dreamed
that the restrictions would include bird feeders.
But people find themselves locked into much more important no-choice options
than that without ever having signed any agreement to that effect. If you want
to have a garden or to allow your yard to go back to Nature, if you want to walk
or bicycle to work or even just around the neighborhood, if you want a
solar-heated home, if you want products that you can repair yourself, or if you
want food that is not genetically engineered to survive high doses of pesticides
and herbicides, your only alternative may be to quit your job, move out into the
country, and become totally self-sufficient. The irony of all this is that
most people do not want to be locked into the lifestyle that they find
themselves in. While there are some improvements in some regions, I think that
for most the situation is going to continue to get worse as the suburbs march
Not long ago, I was going to visit someone, and as we arrived in his
neighborhood, I started to make a comment about the ugly new houses all looking
exactly alike, but I held back, and we soon arrived at his house, which looked
just the same. A Japanese student of mine once wrote about the people she met
on her first weekend trip, "They all had look-alike names and look-alike faces,"
an opinion that reflects a natural ethnocentricity rather than reality, but I
think American suburbs do all have look-alike homes and look-alike yards. Back
in the 50's, there was a song about the houses being too much alike ("they're
all made of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same"), but houses and yards
since then have become even more alike. There are many laws requiring your
house to be built like your neighbors, and even laws requiring your yard to be
maintained like your neighbors. A house can pick up a good bit of solar energy
during the winter just by being oriented towards the sun, but mine is the only
house in Alabama that I know of that was oriented in that fashion for that
reason. In the South, a house that is built partially below ground level can
have drastically reduced energy requirements, yet I have seen only one house so
constructed. I have read that a lawn mower produces 40 times as much pollution
per hour as an automobile, and I know that having a house surrounded by trees
instead of by a lawn is cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, yet I
rarely see houses without a lawn. In addition, if we allowed our yards to be
part of the natural forest, the local wildlife would have a good habitat. Our
construction of suburbs is destroying the songbirds of America. Do people
really get all that much satisfaction out of growing and looking at grass?
The battle to change opinions is uphill because hundreds of billions are spent
every year for propaganda to teach people to conform to the standard lifestyle.
Every cereal commercial, for instance, is not only teaching people to eat cereal
but is also selling them all the cultural background that goes into the
commercial as well. As an example of how our commercials reach out, I had some
students from Nepal one year about whom I commented, "They dress and act more
American than the Americans." That is, they had completely assimulated our TV
and movie culture and looked more like TV extras than like students. Besides,
even if people do want to live a different life, what model do they have to
Over the last few years, I have received hundreds of messages about my website
from people telling me that they felt entirely alone until they read it. I
believe that in spite of all the efforts to assimulate us into a _Brave New
World_ that thousands, perhaps millions, of people have rejected it and are
looking for or are living alternatives. These kind of messages only fuel my
desire to work harder.
PS: I thoroughly enjoyed the debate between Jason and Simon about using numbers
to make decisions.
Ken Kifer's Bike Pages: Over 130 web pages -- touring,
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