Koko and I went out into the silent night, stars thick above us, Makalii close to Orion, and both sliding towards Waialeale, and I marveled at the beauty and the stillness and the amount of light that can be generated solely by glittering stars.
A couple of hours later, when we got up for good, the stars were all gone, lost to a gray combination of pre-dawn light and clouds that were just starting to blush over the Giant, and the silence had succumbed to bird song and, soon enough, a conversation between my neighbor Andy and me.
He began by remarking on this blog, and the recent activity in comments, and expressed once again the desire for people to use at least a fake name so readers can more easily follow the conversation, as after a while, all the anonymouses tend to blend together.
I said, yes, even an abbreviation like DWPS is helpfull, although that “f the birds” comment of his really pissed me off because it’s so indicative of that sick prevailing attitude that nothing matters but us.
Well, a lot of people think like that, said Andy, which is true, and his are not the worst of the comments, he added, which is also true.
I then mentioned that farmer Jerry had called me about Friday’s post, where I addressed the house that’s being built down the street and its incompatibility with the neighborhood. And though I knew he was pissed off about the mainland transplants doing that in his own neighborhood, I braced for a scolding, because I also knew he knows the owner — a local — of the house in question.
But he didn’t scold. Instead, he said that it really bothers him when it’s a local building something like because it’s yet another indication of how the mainland mentality, with its emphasis on materialism, extravagance and flaunting your wealth, is becoming more deeply entrenched here.
We weren’t raised like that, with those kind of values, he told me. So it’s just really sad when you see locals start buying into that whole idea of showing off, setting yourself apart from others. What’s wrong with living simply, modestly?
Of course, it was just a rhetorical question, because anyone who knows me or reads this blog knows my answer would be always be “nothing.”
But Andy, ever ready with the historical perspective, noted that people in Hawaii had been buying into those materialistic values for a long time, probably since the beginning of Western contact, and if you go way back you’ll see that humans in many cultures have long attempted to assert their authority and/or status through the accumulation of possessions or other displays of wealth.
It's been going on forever, he said. I don’t know why you insist on fighting against it.
So I should just give it up because that’s the way it’s supposedly always been, even though it perpetuates the false belief that material goods are the highest expression of a person’s value, a belief that is meaningless, wasteful and destroying the planet?
It’s not meaningless, Andy countered. Some of it stems from basic comfort, like having a good bed, so you can work the next day and not be grumpy.
Yes, I acknowledged, I understand that and I’ve certainly enjoyed the comfort of having a dryer, as well as a washer, in my new house. But with most of us in the U.S., it’s gone way beyond basic comfort, and it does become meaningless when you have so much stuff that you cease to value it. Even then, it’s never enough, because there’s always something out there that’s newer and better, so stuff never can fully satisfy.
And then people who don't have money, but still want to assert their authority and status, go buy all that cheap crap at Walmart, so you’ve got even more resources wasted, more junk thrown in the landfill.
Andy agreed that it had reached the point where our accumulation of stuff was excessive and threatening the health of the planet, which prompted me to ask: so then how do you go about changing those false, destructive values?
I had the answer about 30 or 40 years ago, he replied, and then I forgot it. I used to think it was education, but I don’t believe that anymore, because I just didn’t see any evidence of it in the classroom. We’ve spent all this time and energy and money on education, and I really wonder where it’s gotten us, he said, noting that part of the problem is you’ve got some people who aren’t educable and some who don’t much want to be educated.
That's certainly a shift from, say, 100 years ago, when education was valued not only for its ability to get you out of the factory, but also as a sign of status.
Andy then repeated a saying: Twenty years ago we worried because Johnny couldn’t read. Now Johnny is the teacher. And he recalled that during his years as a college professor, he'd encountered a dean who couldn’t write complete sentences, teachers with masters degrees who were nearly illiterate. So when you're seeing that at the college level, it's not surprising that many students aren't excelling.
I told him about a Calvin Trillin piece I’d just read in The New Yorker about poutine, the popular Canadian dish of French fries with cheese curds and brown gravy, and it included a bit about a Canadian satirist named Rick Mercer. He used to have a TV show called “Talking to Americans,” which “revealed them to be pretty much oblivious of the huge, contiguous country that is their most important trading partner.” Trillin wrote:
His best-know coup came during the 2000 Presidential campaign, when, having insinuated himself into a pack of reporters, he shouted out a question to George W. Bush: What was the candidate’s response to the statement by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Poutine that Bush looked like the man who should lead the free world into the twenty-first century? Bush looked immensely pleased. “I appreciate his strong statement,” he said. “He understands I believe in free trade. He understands I want to make sure our relations with our most important neighbor to the north of us is strong. And we’ll work closely together.”
So if our own president was so ignorant, I asked Andy, who was having a good laugh, why should we expect the general populace to be any different? I put a big chunk of the blame on TV, noting that many people are pretty much clueless about the events of the day, but they’re up on the plot, to use the word loosely, of the latest reality show.
No doubt TV and the various forms of entertainment that distract us are factors, Andy said, but I blame women’s liberation, the feminist movement, for the decline in education.
You wait until the walk is nearly over to drop that bombshell? I asked. How do you figure?
Well, women today have so many more opportunities and options available to them that the smartest ones don’t become nurses or teachers anymore, he explained. They become doctors or architects or any number of other things, and the overall contribution to education has been lowered as a result. And part of the reason they don't go into teaching is because we don't value teachers in our society, and we pay them poorly.
Unlike, say, our celebs and sports figures, who can, inexplicably, make a billion dollars playing golf.
By then we’d reached Andy's driveway, and the dogs were ready to address a far more important topic: the dispensing of biscuits. That done, they nosed the ground for crumbs and Andy and I bid one another goodbye, leaving yet another of the world's pressing problems unresolved.