On Homes and Happiness

Bhutan sounds like a lovely place to live. It exemplifies civic virtue and culture of trust. And it’s probably the most powerful example of social democracy in the world, including free healthcare, despite limited wealth. They are even environmentalist-minded, legally requiring most of the country remain forested, banning of the importation and use of farm chemicals, and being the only carbon-neutral country in the world. But it also might be the only country ever to implement a political system akin to Jeffersonian republicanism, specifically based on the yeoman farmer.

All of this is accomplished through public policy. This is seen with Bhutan’s official practice of guaranteeing there are no homeless. The solution is simple without the need to provide public housing or subsidized housing. Instead, for anyone in need, the government gives a plot of land large enough for them to build a house and have a garden. At the very least, the individual would be able to have basic shelter and do subsistence farming, maybe even grow enough to be sold at a local market.

This is basically the idea that Thomas Jefferson had, but it was never fully implemented. Jefferson took it a step further in one proposal. He suggested that only landowners should vote, but he also believed everyone should have land. The way to accomplish this was to give every citizen some land when they reached adulthood. This would only work with an economy built on small farmers, as Bhutan has done.

Bhutan doesn’t end with that. There are many awesome things they do as part of a common vision of public good. The most famous principle is their measuring the success of their society by the standard of happiness and, indeed, the society is accordingly quite successful. This is the only country with a Gross National Happiness Commission and an official Minister of Happiness. It is ranked as the happiest country in Asia and the eighth happiest country in the world — not bad for a country that few Westerners have heard of.

This emphasis on happiness should also remind us of Jefferson’s way of thinking. Whereas John Locke wrote of “life, liberty and estate,” Jefferson preferred “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” He might have been inspired by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz who identified natural rights with happiness. In Jefferson’s worldview, happiness is essential to the consent of the governed in a free society. Bhutan takes this to a whole other level, not merely guaranteeing the private pursuit of happiness but making gross national happiness a public policy.

As such, Bhutan sheds light upon what freedom means, beyond the American obsession of hyper-individualism. The word ‘freedom’ has the same Germanic etymology as ‘friend’. To be free means to be among friends, to be a member of a free people, to belong and be welcomed, to call a place home. We only have rights to the degree that those around us protect our rights and support our shared freedom. In Bhutan, this is not only a shared ideal but a collective practice. No one is happy or free alone.

* * *

It should be noted that technically Bhutan can’t be described as Jeffersonian republicanism. It is, after all, a democratic constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system like the United Kingdom. So, it’s not ruled by the king who acts as head of state. Executive power, instead, resides in a council of ministers (i.e., the cabinet) and a prime minister. Still, a republic is first and foremost defined as not being a monarchy, irrespective of its democratic status.

But it, nonetheless, captures the spirit of Jefferson’s vision built on the independent yeoman farmer and landholding citizenry. And, if they got rid of the mostly symbolic remnants of monarchy, they could officially be the real deal, a fully-fledged Jeffersonian republic. A big factor might be the strong defense of local culture that is made possible by is small size and small population, not unlike the Nordic countries, and not unlike the states when the United States was founded under the Articles of Confederation.

There is another similarity that comes to mind. All of this has to do with the alternative visions of modernity, not merely a reaction to it. Anti-Federalists like Jefferson worried about how privatization and monopolization would leave most of the population landless, powerless, and impoverished — as happened in Europe. This worry was based on the observed results of the enclosure movement that ended feudalism and created the oppressed landless peasants who were forced into homelessness, sometimes as refugees or else flooded into cities and sent to colones where they struggled and starved, got sick and died.

These landless peasants weren’t happy, to say the least. And no one cared about their happiness, much less their survival beyond providing cheap labor for emergent capitalism. This desperate and miserable working class, often forced into workhouses and indentured servtude, was close to slavery and sometimes in conditions worse than slavery with their only freedom being death. The land of the Commons and the rights of the commoners they or their ancestors once enjoyed had been stolen from them, and they received no compensation for this theft.

That is what Jefferson, like Thomas Paine, was responding to in proposing land reforms. Maybe the happiness of everyone should matter, not only that of the aristocracy and plutocracy. Yet such Anti-Federalists understood the world was quickly changing. Modernization and industrialization would transform society. They didn’t seek to stop this ‘progress’ but to moderate it’s speed and buffer the worst consequences. This was a countervailing force to the laissez-faire attitude of uncontrolled and unregulated capitalism where capitalists would rule society.

That is maybe what has made Nordic social democracies so successful. Early on, the public demanded interventions to soften the rough edges of tumultuous change. There was an intentional public planning to ensure all citizens benefitted from progress, not merely enriching the already rich and powerful. These countries allowed modernization and have become advanced countries, but they did it without destroying their sense of a shared culture of belonging and freedom. Bhutan, a late-comer to modernization, seems to be following this same path of prudence and public good.

* * *

Deep Thoughts On the Deep State

What is the deep state within, behind, or above the United States government? Let’s look at some real world examples of brief moments when we the public get to glimpse the dark underbelly of power, indicating what kind of beast it might be. Let’s begin wth a recent incident. Bloomberg News reported that Mitch McConnell threatened Trump. He told him that, if he pardoned Julian Assange, the Senate Republicans would ensure he was impeached even after he left office. Why was McConnell so concerned about ending the torture of an innocent man? And on whose behalf was he concerned? Was he acting alone or as an intermediary for others? Who exactly was worried about Assange going free? Why was he still deemed such a threat? Is Assange even still sane after all these years of solitary confinement? What harm could he do at this point?

Maybe it was simply punishment and setting an example to disuade others. Assange had revealed the illegal and unconstitutional actions of the deep state, and such forced democratic transparency and public scrutiny could not be forgiven. Still, threatening Trump is an audacious move, considering how much of a wild card he is. A threat might have backfired and sent Trump careening into unpredictable behavior. Besides, if the report on McConnell is true, that sounds like blackmail and should be prosecuted, but it’s reported in the corporate media as a normal news story — politics as usual, if a bit shady. [One is reminded of the FBI’s COINTELPRO-style attempt to blackmail Martin Luther King Jr. into suicide.] There has been little outrage in the media or among politicians, as few have pity for Trump. Most of the corporate media didn’t bother to say much about it. In web search results, a few articles from the alternative media showed up where the accusation of blackmail was suggested, although Tucker Carlson came close to calling it that on his show.

A worse case, from several years back, involved the Senate Intelligence Committee when they investigated and filed a report on “enhanced interrogation.” This investigaton was justfied by the fact that torture is illegal according to US and international law (e.g., the US government prosecuted WWII Japanese soldiers for waterboarding and sentenced them to death). That is why they located the torture prison in a foreign country that is outside of US legal jurisdiction. Trying to get around US law was an admission of guilt, althugh they would have preferred that the torture prison had remained a secret (one strongly suspects that many such secret prisons, torture or otherwise, are maintained by the deep state without ever being disclosed).

Anyway, the CIA criminally hacked the Senate’s computers, spied on the committee, intimidated Senate staffers, and attempted to block the release of the committee’s report about the CIA’s torture program. When caught, the CIA Director lied about it and then later refused to admit that it was wrong. Senator Dianne Feinstein, previously a supporter of spying on US citizens, suddenly became a critic when she found herself the target of spying. Yet, even then, nothing came of it. The CIA, having seriously broken the law and attacked democracy, was let off the hook with a mere apology, once again demonstrating that the rule of law only applies to the rest of us without power. Sadly, who ever revealed these crimes, if they had been caught, would’ve been treated like a criminal as happened to Assange or else they would’ve disappeared (by the way, who was the leaker and what happened to them?).

The deep state isn’t any single organization or group of people. It’s simply the collective actions that happen behind the scenes in determining what the government does — whether the ultimate source of power is high up in the government itself, in quasi-governmental organizations and networks, or in a cabal of puppet masters entirely outside anything that looks like government at all. In the above examples, these activities occasionally come to the surface, but most of what is done by the deep state never sees the light of day. When something does get ‘leaked’ or reported, it’s probably often because the deep state wanted it to be known, to serve as a warning or to manipulate media narratives and public perception. Our government is so tightly controlled, as is media reporting and public debate. Unplanned leaks, of course, are preferrably kept to a minimum.

As McConnell warned Trump, the CIA gave a warning to the Senate (similar to deposing Saddam Hussein and annihilating Iraq with an illegal war of aggression was a warning to other countries to not defy American interests or rather the deep state’s interests) — we live in a world of warnings. It is made clear, for those aware of the deep state, that everyone will do what the deep state demands or there will be harsh consequences. If the Senate Intelligence Committee hadn’t submitted to this power play and instead continued such investigations, and if they weren’t open to bribery or other soft coercion, the CIA would’ve found other ways of eliminating or silencing the Senators and staffers involved by means of blackmail, scandals, etc; maybe even accidental deaths.

Consider the death of Representative Sonny Bono when he was about to begin an official investigation that never happened because no one dared to follow up on it. Accident? Maybe or maybe not. He wasn’t the only politician to die skiing into a tree — less than a week before Bono’s death Michael Kennedy, son of assassinated Robert F. Kennedy, also had a similar tree-related ski accident (in that case, it seemed a more obvious accident). Or think of Paul Wellstone, someone on Karl Rove’s shit list, coming to an early death in a plane accident. And there is the case of Michael Connell, a witness in a case involving Karl Rove, who also met his end in a plane crash, after Rove supposedly threatened him. There is quite a list of politically-involved people dying in this manner, which makes one wonder what is the probability of dying in a plane for those in politics vs those not in politics.

Generally, there is a long history of investigators and witnesses suspiciously and conveniently dying of accidents and suicides when US officials and other powerful figures are investigated (Clint Curts, Ray Lemme, etc). Or people are suicided as well when they simply hold too much info that could hurt certain individuals and interests (e.g., Jeffrey Epstein supposedly killing himself in his prison cell precisely when the video camera failed and the guard was asleep). The corporate media has a habit of not doing investigative journalism into such coincidences, as everyone knows conspiracy theories are for loonies — a view promulgated by the deep state while inventing conspiracy theories of their own to muddy the water.

It’s probably why Sanders toes the line. He understands the power that could come down on him like a sledgehammer. Even Trump has enough sense of self-preservation to know when to back down and do what he’s told. Speaking of being at war with the deep state as political rhetoric is one thing, but actually challenging the deep state will really get one in trouble. It’s almost guaranteed that anyone who has been in DC government for decades (Bushes, Clintons, etc) is either in the deep state, an asset or agent of the deep state, controlled by the deep state, or otherwise subservient to and silent about the deep state. The problem with Trump is he turned out to be a loose cannon because of narcissism, mental illness, and senility; and so he was never going to be allowed into the deep state, despite spending decades as a political actor at the edge of it. He was a pawn of forces he didn’t understand.

This deep state doesn’t care about the United States, per se. All these malignant dominators care about is their own power that increasngly is international or transnational. I suspect that, if the US were to collapse, the CIA would continue to operate as an international power structure, although it likely would rebrand itself. The US serves the CIA or the deeper power behind it, not the other way around. The US is the present headquarters of the international deep state of inverted totalitarianism, but if a new global superpower took control this same global power elite would relocate their headquarters elsewhere. They go after whistleblowers and publishers of leaks for self-interested agendas, not patriotic defense of the nation-state.

On a more mundane level, this shift in political loyalty can be seen in the more open behavior of politicians. The US isn’t a normal country nor is it even a normal empire. Consider that a surpising number of US politicians have multiple citizenships. Technically, the US government doesn’t acknowledge the citizenships of other countries, but neither does it require loyalty to other countries be denounced. Not only can US politicans and other elites have multiple citizenships but also multiple houses, bank accounts, etc in other countries. If anything goes wrong in the US, they’d abandon ship in an instant and leave the rest of us to clean up the mess. They perceive themselves as a global ruling elite. Nationalism is so bourgeois.

That wouldn’t have been true of the older generations of political and economic elite. From the Federalists to the Roosevelts, there were plenty of upper crust Americans who were authoritarians and imperialists, but they were fairly open about it and softened it with patriotic nationalism and paternalistic noblesse oblige. Also, in the past, most business leaders accepted economic nationalism as the default position, identifying the nation’s interests as their own. None of these elites were neoliberals (with the pretense of) favoring unrestricted and unegulated global ‘free’ trade (enforced by neocon militarism) for they assumed that economics was a part of politics, and that both were defined by patriotic loyalty to one’s country. This would’ve meant an old boy’s club, just not a deep state as we know it and certainly not inverted totalitarianism.

That said, there was a reason the US government moved away from those old power structures. The Populist Movement, followed by the Progressive Era, was in response to immense corruption and elitist cronyism, along with machine politics and other kinds of local oppression such Jim Crow, company towns, etc. For all our complaints about our present system, the American ruling elite is less violent toward its own citizens than it was in the past, although now more violent to foreigners in having become the leading military empire. Certainly, the corruption didn’t go away but changed form in becoming more centralized and systematized. In an earlier era, local problems could be dealt with by democratic means or else direct action of protests, strikes, or riots — sometimes even gun battles between workers and corporate goons. Now the ruling elite, ever more distant, act as if they are untouchable.

Trump may have thought he was part of this untouchable class. And that seems to have been true for so many decades. Going by the evidence, he could’ve been prosecuted and imprisoned so many times in his lifetime. Yet, for some reason, he and his family seemed to get away with all kinds of things — possibly: tax evasion, money laundering, political bribery, sexual misconduct, etc. The legal system acted as if uninterested, such that some have wondered if he wasn’t working for the US government because of his ties to organized crime in New York City, Russia, and probably elsewhere. If he did have an agreement at one time, that agreement is apparently now null and void. As for the likes of Assange, it didn’t matter that he wasn’t a US citizen at all. The deep state doesn’t limit its claim of power and authority to the US itself. His only option of escape, like Edward Snowden, would have been to seek refuge within the territory of a competing global superpower with its own nefarious deep state.

* * *

Conspiracy: Experience and Reality
Conspiracy Theory And Fact
Skepticism and Conspiracy
Powerful Conspiracies & Open Secrets
A Culture of Propaganda

The Isolated Self Is Not Real

The isolated self is not real, but the fearful mind makes it feel real. We always exist in interrelationship with others, with the world, and with a shared sense of our humanity. This greater reality of connection and being is what monotheists refer to as God, what Buddhists refer to as Emptiness, what Taoists refer to as the Tao, etc; but even atheists can intuit something beyond atomistic individualism, be it Nature or Gaia or something similar, the world as alive or vital, maybe simply the human warmth of family, friends, and community. In the below quoted piece, the political philosopher Hannah Arendt is discussed in her views on loneliness and totalitarianism. Maybe she is referring to how ideologies (political, economic, or religious) can fill that void and that is what transforms mundane authoritarianism into totalitarianism. The loneliness arises when we are fearful and anxious, desperate and vulnerable. We become open to anyone who will offer us a sense of meaning and purpose. We get pulled in and lose our bearings.

That is what ideologies can do in telling us a story and that is why media can have such power in controlling the rhetorical framing of narrative. I might take Arendt’s thought a step further. She argues that loneliness paralyzes us and that is true, but loneliness also is intolerable and eventually forces us to action, even if destructive action, be it riot or suicide. In loneliness, we often attack others around us who could remind us that we are not alone. The fear of isolation, a terrifying experience for a social creature like humans, can cause the imagination to run rampant and become overtaken by nightmares. In loneliness, we are socially blind and forget our own larger sense of humanity. Under such perverse conditions, ideological beliefs and principles can feel like a protection, an anchoring in dark waters, but in reality we end up pushing away what might save us, finding ourselves further adrift from the shore. We can only discover our own humanity in others, never in isolation. This is what can transform harmful isolation into healthy solitude, learning to relate well to ourselves.

Learn to listen to emotions. A feeling is never merely feeling. It speaks to the state of our soul. It not only indicates our place in reality but touches upon that reality. If we allow ourselves to be present, we can begin to sense something deeper, somether greater. We are more than we’ve been told. Your emotions will also tell you what is true, what is genuine — that is once you’ve learned to listen. If when or after being exposed to media you feel fearful and anxious or feel isolated and lonely, take note and pay attention to what ideological narrative was being fed to you that brought you to this state. Or else follow the lines of thought back into the tape loops playing in your mind and ask yourself where they came from. Why do these thoughts of isolation keep repeating and why have they taken such powerful hold in your mind? Remember, only in false isolation can we think of ourselves as powerless, as victms, but in reality we are never in isolation. If your ideology makes you feel in conflict wth friends, neighbors, and loved ones, it is the ideoloogy that is the danger, not those other people. The same is true for everyone else as well, but you must begin with yourself, the plank in your own eye.

* * *

The Book on Marx That Arendt Never Finished
by Geoffrey Wildanger

The Modern Challenge to Tradition begins where Origins ends, with an essay titled “Ideology and Terror” (1953). In the chapter of the same title concluding Origins, she had made one of her most controversial claims, “that loneliness, once a borderline experience . . . has become an everyday experience of the ever growing masses of our century.” Her critics easily believe in the prevalence of loneliness, but they often challenge the apparently causal relation she proposes between it and totalitarian states. The later essay included in The Modern Challenge responds to her critics and revises aspects of her argument that had been genuinely unclear. Arendt maintains the centrality of loneliness to totalitarianism, but more clearly grounds it not in an existential cause—say, anomie, that keyword of the social theory of Emile Durkheim—but in a political one: terror. Loneliness is not the cause of totalitarianism, she claims, but terror produces loneliness. Once a population is lonely, totalitarian governments will find it far easier to govern, for lonely people find it hard to join together, lacking the strong extra-familial bonds necessary to organize rebellions. These individualizing effects of loneliness prevent political action even in non-totalitarian states, because politics requires collaboration and mutuality. In this regard, Arendt claims a role for emotions in politics.

Contrary to loneliness, she argues that solitude can be a boon to politics. While loneliness “is closely associated with uprootedness and superfluousness . . . to have no place in the world, recognize and guaranteed by others,” solitude is the exact opposite. It “requires being alone,” but “loneliness shows itself most sharply in company with others.” She often quotes a line from Cicero, originally attributed to Cato, to describe the difference: “‘Never was he less alone than when he was alone’ (numquam minus solum esse quam cum solus esset).” Yet, Arendt writes, solitude can become loneliness; this happens when all by myself I am deserted by my own self.” She concludes,

what makes loneliness so unbearable is the loss of one’s own self which can be realized in solitude, but confirmed in its identity only by the trusting and trustworthy company of [one’s] equals. In [loneliness], man loses trust in himself as the partner of his thoughts and that elementary confidence in the world which is necessary to make experiences at all. Self and world, capacity for thought and experience are lost at the same time.

Freedom to Choose

There was a group of people huddled in a dungeon, prisoners for reasons long forgotten. They were chained together, unable to move about. It was the only life they knew and there was a comfort in the routine of it. Every morning, the guard would pass by to unlock their cell and serve them slop. Then each night, the same guard, always wearing steel-toed boots, would come into the cell to kick and beat them, until they cried out for mercy, locking their cell closed again. A few malcontents begged him to stop, pleaded that this treatment was not fair, was not deserved.

One among them went so far as to speak inspiring words of fairness and justice. Such loose talk usually earned even more bootings to the skull and ribs. Today was different. The guard was in a kind mood. He said he would listen to their complaints but he warned them that all he heard was a bad attitude from a bunch of losers. He explained he had worked hard to gain his position. It took years of study and training to become a guard. The locking mechanisms of the cell alone required advanced knowledge. And that was only one among hundreds of other locks that needed to be maintained to keep the prison secure and operational.

It was no easy job and a thankless task, but he took seriously his duty as a guard and his responsibility to the prisoners he cared for. Order needed to be maintained for the good of all. The world needed guards and those with the ability to do so would fulfil that role. What right did they have to question what he had earned and accomplished? What right did they have to raise a voice against the very prison system that fed and sheltered them? They had only themselves to blame for their situation, he carefully explained as he fiddled with the keys at his belt.

Anyone with the talent and intelligence could follow his example. There is nothing stopping you, he told them, from also working your way up. In fact, he wanted to retire soon and so there would be a guard position opening up, but he couldn’t step down until there was a replacement. Otherwise, he would continue on in doing his job. He made a deal with them. They could nominate two of their own as candidates in electing a new guard or keeping the one they had. They would be free to choose. That way they would be represented and could no longer complain. It was a fair deal.

This was the best opportunity they had ever been given. They took it. The two nominations were a tough guy and the egalitarian idealist, along with the option of re-electing the old guard. The tough guy was allowed to speak to the other prisoners and had all the airtime he wanted on the prison loudspeaker. Meanwhile, the social justice advocate was placed in a separate cell where he couldn’t speak to anyone, but nonetheless he was given total free speech, even if no one could hear what he had to say. That is how free speech works, after all.

The other prisoners quickly forgot about the preacher of equality. In hearing only the tough guy, they became swayed by his rhetoric and parroted his words as if they were their own thoughts. They wanted someone who, as he assured them, could stand up to the prison system and fight on their behalf. Compared to the old guard, he was the lesser evil and stating otherwise, obviously, made you a spoiler. Besides, this tough guy told them that he used to work in this prison system — he knew how it worked and would get things done. He would bring prison reform! They resigned themselves to promises of hope and stopped rattling their chains. The tough guy was elected with little contest.

The newly elected guard was immediately unchained from the group and taken away. Later, when he returned, he had on a set of steel-toed boots, the exact same boots the old brutal guard used to wear. He immediately began kicking the shit out of the prisoners. The idealist, having already been brought back to the shared cell, shared in this round of abuse. When he spoke up against yet more injustice, demanding the abolishment of imprisonment and the tearing down of the prison, the other prisoners told him to shut up with his extremism, that he would only cause trouble. It’s better the evil we know, they said to him, because something worse might replace it. Progress happens slowly. We must be patient.

The original guard, now retired, came in. He explained that they got what they voted for and they must accept the results. They may only have had limited choices, but they did have a choice. That is what freedom means, having a choice; no matter what are those choices, how they are determined, or who controls the outcome. The other prisoners couldn’t argue against such solid logic. Moral of the story: Don’t be resentful of your betters. They know what is good for you. Freedom is submission. Submission is freedom.

“Grow where you are transplanted!”

My grandfather, Clayton John Steele (1914-1993), was a minister. He was raised as an only child by a doting mother, Matilda Viola Steele (1881-1954), and an emotionally distant father, Charles Salvester Steele (1877-1958). As a man of his era, my great grandfather was a stern figure, but he was maybe more stern than average because of his own childhood.

He was given up as an orphan, when his mother died, to live with the Shakers who raised him. The Shakers were communal and, of course, highly religious. They were a hardworking people and extremely prosperous at one time, although that community didn’t last long after he left upon reaching 18 years of age. The community might’ve already been showing decline before he left.

In some ways, it would’ve been a great childhood where all needs were met, all needs except for the child’s need for his own parents, although surrounded by a closeness akin to family. There is no doubt he would’ve learned many lessons from that way of life. His career as a horticulturalist, landscaper, and groundskeeper was built on what he had been taught in his agricultural upbringing, as the Shakers were the leading agriculturalists of their day.

His had been a life hardened by hard labor. Coming to terms with such a man, his son Clayton wrote a biographical piece that explains what he was able to glean from his father’s philosophy, much of it likely originating from his Shaker education and training. It was found among papers from January of 1993, shortly before his death in November of that year.

This is not shared merely as piece of family history. It also touches upon American history. The Shakers represent something uniquely American, a part of our shared past and identity that has largely been erased from public memory. That communal way of life didn’t die of natural causes but of changes in law, specifically the banning of group adoption.

There are echoes of that earlier world in the words and memories that were recorded. Even as my grandfather spoke of individual liberty and conscience, which would’ve been important to many Shakers, one suspects that something had been lost of the once communal identity his own father carried. Even something like patriotism would’ve been seen in different light to the mind transplanted into and from communal soil where strong roots took hold.

A simple laborer he may have been, my great grandfather understood the power of environmental conditions, something many more well-educated Americans still struggle to comprehend. That would’ve been a lesson the Shakers instilled in him. In such a community, it did not matter where you came from but, as with the early Christians, there would’ve been a radical egalitarianism that defined every aspect of life and relationship.

It may be good advice to, “Grow where you are transplanted!” But that requires the wisdom of the one doing the transplanting. Many of us in the world today have been transplanted many times over. We are not stronger and healthier for it. A gardener doesn’t transplant randomly, any more than he’d cast seeds upon barren soil. In the world we’ve inherited, there are few wise gardeners left remaining.

All these many generations uprooted from an agricultural past, we’ve lost the ability to see the world that way. We no longer take care in how and where we transplant, either for ourselves or for our children. We don’t tend the soil to ensure it remains fertile for those who follow us. In their communal ways, if different than the agricultural ideal of the yeoman, the Shakers were among the last Americans to carry on Thomas Jefferson’s republican virtue, to transplant it everywhere they went.

* * *

Clayton John Steele:

All I ever need to know, believe and experience about the good life my father emulated did not happen all at once. Much of it came too late but soon enough for me to put all the pieces together and love him for it.

As a child I somewhat feared the macho role of father. He usually had the first and last word. His famous words were, “Don’t argue!” Mother and I never did. I learned to march to his tune. To be out of step meant a trip to the bedroom and the paddle in the closet. Many times I felt rejected and abandoned with a sting in the seat of my pants. My father was not a psychologist but he knew how to let by-gones be by-gones. A trip to the village drug store and a chocolate ice cream soda meant a truce had been proclaimed and the slate was clean once again.

There was always a distance between myself and my father that reminded me of the inability of my father to show my mother the kind of affection I needed and did not receive. I knew my father loved my motehr and I tried to believe he loved me. I needed strokes and hugs. I needed a legacy of belonging more than what inheritance was to be mine.

It took years for me to put all the pieces together and realize that my father was acting out the only way he ever knew and experienced inter-personal relationships as a child. He was orphaned at age seven and was brought up by the American Shakers, a celibate, religious community in up state New York. It was a discliplined commnal life in which the males and females were lodged in separate quarters. The love and affection of parents and all the benefits of a home were not a part of my father’s experience. What he did not have he could not give.

Interestingly enough, however, my father had a strong convicion about the values of communal living — all for one and one for all. He was taught Shaker beliefs such as consecration of strength, time and talents. He was taught lawfulness, equality in property, temperance in all things, justice and kindness to all. The Shaker motto was pretty much what my father’s life was all about. “Hands to work, and hearts to God.”

Though he never had much to say about church, meaning he had enough of it from the Shakers, he did say something that made me wonder about my own denominational life. He said that, in his opinion there were only two kinds of people — the good and the bad. “The good,” he said, ” decided who were the bad people!”

In a discussion on the porch on Sunday afternoon with the neighbors, I heard a statement I still think makes the difference between the kind peole Gods wants us to be and what some let themselves become. The remark went somthing like this: “We are no nearer to God than the person or Group of people for who we care the least.”

In retrospect it is all so clear. I know now what I needed to know then — how it really was with my father. LIke father, like son has become, [it] has become a memorable and significant part of my identity, the past and all of me!

I understand what my father meat by an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Never expect from others what you do not contribute as your fair share. Stay in line, don’t push and wait your turn. Help those who can not help themselves, vote, volunteer and respect your elders. Most emphatically he said, “Never start a fight. Run and, if your adversary catches you, stand your ground to defend yourself and those you love.”

My father always said, “Don’t borrow from the future, but build on the past.” He was not a man to incur a debt. “Better to be content with what you have than to buy what can not afford or pay for,” didn’t keep us with the Jones, but we dried ourselves with better towels, ate better, and never had to hide from the bill collector.

As a horticulturalist by trade, my father had a philosophy a son could not ignore. It has lasted a life time and I wouldn’t change a word. He said, “Green things grow. When you think you are ripe, you are rotten!” When I was old enough to think a little harder and more clearly, I learned a lesson not matched by any undergraduate course of study. He counseled me to consider that heredity may determine what you become, but that your environment may very well be the deciding factor of what you do become. My father never heard the modern cliche, “Grow where you are planted.” He said, “Grow where you are transplanted!” That took a bit of explaining, but it is all in the Bible. As a clergy person I had to give ground. “From seedling to tree,” he said, “the step-by-step transplanting makes for a bigger and stronger root system, and a healthier tree eventually.”

There is one thing for which I will ever be grateful, especially now when young people elect not to be patriotic as part of their Constitutional freedom. I have no problem with allegiance to the flag. It symbolizes a nation under God as no other country in the world has ever known or experienced. On Fourth of July I stood proudly with my father as the parade passed by and he saluted Old Glory with the same honor and respect he served his country. That’s a part of me because it was the caliber of patriotism I was proud to stand with as my father.

As for religion, although a clergyman for 50 years, It was private as my prayers. My father was a religious man, but he never imposed what he believed on anyone else — not even to his son. I like it that way — between myself and God. I do not like a flamboyant and demonstrative public display of some religious groups. But I respect their right in the same way I expect to be treated in return.