I was a 16 year-old wanna-be love child in a lace shirt, faded jeans, and moccasin boots. Bill was a real 30-something hippie, who had camped out at Woodstock and demonstrated at Berkeley. He drove an old Volkswagon Bug the color of chewed-up Wrigley’s gum, and was fond of quoting both Carlos Castaneda and Ayn Rand, sometimes in the same sentence. In Bill’s mind, there was no real span of difference between a Peruvian mystic and a Capitalist philosopher-novelist. “A million fucking ideas, that’s all the world is. The ideas stop, we stop. We turn back into bacteria, or protoplasm, or fucking zucchini.”
“Yeah man, vegetables. Look around, half the world is there. They’re planted in their shit gardens, sucking in whatever nutrients they need to survive, but they’re not living, man. They’ve ceased to have ideas bigger than the vine they’re clinging to, whether it’s religion, academics, the rat-race, or something else. Whatever else you do, beware of that. Don’t become a fuckin’ zucchini.”
Most of the people I’ve met aren’t remembered, at least not vividly. Although I only knew him for a couple of years, Bill stuck with me. I’ve spent thirty years with the zucchini analogy branded in my brain, and have done my best to avoid becoming a clinging, myopic vegetable – which wasn’t nearly as easy as I thought it would be. There’s something about being hurt, struggling, overwhelmed, or frustrated that seems to stop life on a macro level. The world of ideas becomes less important than the need for a Band-Aid, a break, or an immediate solution – even if the solution is temporary, or detrimental in the long-run.
I’ve managed to keep myself out of the shit garden for the most part, if only because I love the idea of potential. I love knowing that, barring death or a cruel disease of the mind, the human brain can keep on learning, thinking, and creating up until the last of its neurons are fired and its gray matter grows cold. I get a special thrill out of stories about 70 year-olds graduating college or middle-aged artists having their first art show. Stories like that stoke hope, no matter how slim, that it really never is too late – not for a degree, for talent, for love, for dreams – not for anything.
I wonder, though, if it’s not too late to change America back to the innovative, thriving power it once was. I can’t be the only Democrat who believes that the bank bailout, and now the $900B(+) Economic Stimulus Plan, is like the governmental version of a shit garden. After browsing through the 1071 page document, I’m convinced that we are fertilizing soil for the benefit of the vegetables among us.
Bureaucracy is often a self-perpetuating monster, and the collective greed of big corporations has been well-documented. These are the major beneficiaries of spending in the bailout and stimulus packages, and for decades into the future, taxpayers will have the noose of this debt wrapped around their collective necks.
This stimulus package is just one humongous gambling marker, and the ideas within it seem to have sprung from the same kind of mentality that compels chronic gamblers to throw good money after bad, hoping that if they spend enough, Lady Luck will grace them with a winning streak. It’s irrational, it has no grounding in reality, but even otherwise smart people will rub their lucky pennies, throw a pinch of salt over their shoulder, or appeal to the fates when they’re losing.
The ideas contained in the bailout and stimulus plans cater to the chronic spenders and vegetables in our midst – there’s not an original thought or innovative, long-term approach within either package.
America didn’t become a superpower due to its government bailouts. We got there with revolutionary inventions – by the creation and manufacturing of goods no other country had, or could produce as well as we did. We got there by being innovative, competitive, and tireless in our search for ways to improve life for people here and around the globe. We got there by opening doors of opportunity, paying decent wages, making housing affordable, and being willing to challenge traditions and social policies that impeded human potential.
Greed and avarice overtook America during the Bush years, particularly in the corporate and banking sectors. It seems to me that the way back to greatness isn’t going to be found in borrowed money, mass bailouts, or by reviving sagging bureaucracies, but in a new vision that incorporates and rewards innovation, attempts new strategies, and insists on ethics.
Instead, we’ve just tilled a massive shit garden, and I think many working class Americans understand that, even if they don’t have a degree in economics. Most of us are aware that if someone stood out on the street tomorrow handing out $10 bills, people would take them, regardless of need. Free money is free money. There’s no innovation there, and no incentive to spend it wisely, or with the long-range interests of the country in mind. The zucchinis will plant themselves quickly enough, sucking up everything they can until the garden is dry.
My friend Bill was right. We are a world built on ideas, and the finest ideas aren’t contained in any one school of thought. Beyond every other consideration, our humanity, and our common desire for better circumstances, binds us.
“Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn’t, it is of no use.” – Carlos Castaneda
“Whatever their future, at the dawn of their lives, men seek a noble vision of man’s nature and of life’s potential.” – Ayn Rand
I’m not sure what any one person can do at this point to avoid shit garden economics, but as a nation of newly invigorated citizens I hope we demand accountability from all of those who seek to plant themselves there, and insist that those who show signs of wasting their handouts be plucked from the program.
And, of course, we have do whatever it takes to keep new ideas from flowing out of the hemisphere and into the vacuum of apathy.