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Page 17
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New Definitions of Reality

By Horace Coleman

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Dedicated to the principle that made America "great":

You can fool some of the people some of the time, most of the people most of the time and enough of the people enough of the time to keep the game going.

People keep forgetting: this is a democracy. In a republic. Run by an oligarchy.

Key definition: Cynic - anyone better-acquainted with reality than you are.

Key proposition: Expediency rules the day ("second thoughts" or remorse set in way late at night, early in the morning or not at all).

Ethnic Secret #1: There are advantages to being black. No, I don't mean affirmative action. The only affirmative action I've ever gotten was five points on a Civil Service test for being a vet. Besides, I scored one of the best raw grades in the test-taking population and it was before Affirmative Action anyway.

A number of serious - not anecdotal - evaluations and studies of Affirmative Action show that the people who've gained the most from it have been white women, for reasons such as these:

· Their numbers and percentage in the work force and labor pool
· Their educational level, which generally is higher than that of minority populations as a whole
· Work experience prior to affirmative action
· Work-related or social relationships

But that knowledge and feeling isn't common. And, compared to American men, women's income is still not at parity. Unless you're someone like National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, you're liable to become disabused at a pretty early age of what many people assume is "conventional wisdom."

I mean, early in grade school (I'm talking about the fourth grade or so) I knew from personal observation and experience that the words "with liberty and justice for all" in the Pledge of Allegiance weren't intended to apply to me, my family, relatives, friends or neighbors. Or, to them and theirs. C'est la vie, c'est la guerre - one more step in growing up. "Growing up" continues until you breathe your last.

Take the day I saw a story in the New York Times with a reference to the corporation I recently worked for and its CEO. They were cited as prime examples of an underperforming company and an overpaid chief executive. Then there was the multimillion dollar racial discrimination suit - just one of a cluster settled by household name and major corporations (Texaco among them).

And, that was before work at Boeing started (literally) going south - to Alabama and Texas - and the waves of layoffs that devastated segments of the Seattle area and put a dent in Southern California.

So the events of September 11, 2001, although shocking, really didn't surprise me. Which is certainly not to say the USA "deserved it" or "had it coming." As anyone who's ever really ticked someone off, played football, boxed or had a fight that lasted more than a minute knows, you can't be involved in throwing your weight or blows around (especially on a global basis) and not expect to get scratched or hit some.

Now we're nationally fearful and obsessed with physical safety. No matter what happens in our current "war," the terrorists have already "won" just by invading and shattering our reality (illusion) with a spectacular act of violence. America is no longer like a hotel or motel bathroom: Sanitized For Your Convenience. Deal with it - we never were safe, just oblivious. In 'Nam you couldn't let yourself be paralyzed by fear. You accepted and "controlled" it, proceeded with caution or recklessness (whichever worked for you at the time), and did what you had to do as best you could. That's everyone's secret - if your feet occasionally touch the ground.

Ethnic Secret #2: Anything that can happen to anyone else can happen to you. I realized that when I was twelve and saw a picture of a kid from Chicago on the cover of Jet magazine: lynched, 14-year-old Emmett Till. That happened in the same Mississippi where my grandfather had been lynched decades before. Safety is a relative, not absolute, term and condition.

Post 9/11 we have the "war on terrorism." Run by a guy who avoided 'Nam by getting into the Texas Air National Guard which, according to a Boston Globe story published during the presidential campaign, he managed to "escape and evade" for a year or so while he was supposed to be enrolled and available. Then there's Enron, the largest bankruptcy in American history and a scandal that's bound to spread like spilled ink before it gets mopped out of our consciousness. As if that wasn't enough, we've had to learn a new geometry term: "the evil axis." I think it's the shortest distance between Dallas and Washington.

Ethnic Secret #3: The plantation is the model for America.

That is, either you're an owner, in an affiliated enterprise, a customer or supplier of some sort, a paid or unpaid worker on one or in competition with one. Nowadays we call them companies or corporations instead of plantations.

In between working on my résumé and vita, I read an article called "Modern Fashion or Global Fascism?" (Tikkun, January/February 2002.) Written by former Senate Finance Committee counsel Jeff Gates, it gives these facts (and cites sources):

· The financial wealth of the top 1% of U.S. households now exceeds the combined household financial wealth of the bottom 95%.
· The long-term fiscal cost of the Bush II tax cut enacted in 2001 is more than double the long-term Social Security shortfall.
· The share of the nation's after-tax income received by the top 1% nearly doubled from 1979-1997. By 1998, the top-earning 1% had as much combined income as the 100 million Americans with the lowest earnings.
· The wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans grew an average $1.44 billion each from 1997 to 2000, for an average daily increase in wealth of $1,920,000 per person ($240,000 per hour or 46,602 times the U.S. minimum wage).

When you're out of touch with reality, you get called names like "crazy," "uninformed," "deluded," or "out of it." Hey, I've been called some of that.

Then these factoids recently smacked me in the face:

· The 2000 census estimates there are eight million illegal immigrants in this country.
· A Harvard-based opinion maker, professor and lawyer said torture should be legalized for "special" needs and occasions ("Yes, it should be 'on the books'," Alan M. Dershowitz, February 16, 2002, Boston Globe).
· In a San Francisco Chronicle online poll conducted February 18-19 2002, more people thought a third Bush would be elected president before an African American, a Jewish or Asian American or someone gay or lesbian. The poll's respondents, 46% of them, thought a woman was most likely to hold the office before any of the other choices.

Yeah, I know it was informal, unscientific and doesn't necessarily reflect national opinion. Still, seems like good handicapping to me. And unlike most elections, it didn't matter how your chad was hangin' and people could only vote once.

I told my son when he was thinking about joining the military that "this country is well worth defending but a lot of its wars aren't worth fighting." He enlisted in the Air Force. Third consecutive generation in my family to do military service.

My younger daughter just finished her Americorps training and got her assignment: Mike Tyson's old Brooklyn neighborhood. Her e-mail of today said: "I'm going to be working in a public school tutoring and mentoring grades 1-6. I'll also be running an after-school program with my team in an apartment complex [project] we'll be living in."

Ethnic Secret #4: Despite past and current history, the overwhelming, vast majority of black folk love and support their country and don't even belong to a militia.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my version of Ambrose Bierce's "Devil's Dictionary":

Capitalism. "Monopoly" with real money. (As a kid you probably changed the rules to keep the game going and interesting. Same same now?) A state-sponsored Ponzi scheme that works as well as the original. That is, it periodically breaks down. It basically works the way cancer does: continuous sweet-smelling growth that can disfigure, cripple or kill. Periodically, people tinker with it by poisoning, pruning or cutting it down.

When capitalism doesn't work well, you just die and start all over (like a video game with new lives but not as easily or automatically). Also called "downturn," "recession," "looking for a job," or "going broke." The endless recycling is called "hell," "opportunity," or "free enterprise," depending on your politics, viewpoint and religion.

Capital crime. Not having enough capital.

Caste. A grave society puts some people into before they're dead.

Closure. The American ability to forget unpleasant things without actually understanding, accepting or resolving them.

Communism. A brutal utopian fantasy. A bad economic and political system run by political hacks, the influential, fanatics and hangers-on for their benefit. In other words, basically, and ultimately, like all other systems.

Day trading. Doing your dirt in the light based on small changes in perceived values that disregard actual value; short-sighted petty theft.

Death. A thing that's not supposed to happen to Americans. If it does, it's "an accident" or "a tragedy" instead of inevitable.

Democrat. A member of a mob with feelings of moral superiority it can't enforce and aspirations to the bourgeoisie and power.

Fascism. A system of government and economics that's in tune with raw and basic human nature but is only good if you're at the top of it. In other words, pretty much like the rest of the systems or your local police.

Flag. A piece of cloth, often cheaply made in a foreign country, that has symbolic meaning in another country. Derived from principles and circumstances no one remembers, understands or practices. Colorful cloth with less practical use than a cleaning rag that can inspire wars, needless suffering and songs you can't sing well whose words you can't remember.

Liberty & license. Two different things that people confuse with each other, embracing the latter and avoiding the former. See Rights & responsibilities.

Patriotism. Flag-waving symbolic behavior done by people who hate paying taxes or dues, which they avoid whenever possible.

Religious Right. A self-selected and -anointed group who know God loves them best and would think like them - if He thought correctly and said "Amen!" with the right intonation, volume and conviction.

Republican. One of a group of organized anarchists who aspire, or actually belong, to an oligarchy that unnaturally expands exponentially while assuming God loves them best.

Rights & responsibilities. Two concepts people think are mutually exclusive (like love and marriage) and should never be used in the same phrase.

Stock market. A Ponzi scheme based on paper issued and sold by companies whose worth is calculated by "expert" guessers and public whim. The first set of paper is redeemable for paper called money the government promises will be worth something when you want something real in exchange for it.

Socialism. A theoretically good political system that ignores human nature and economic reality and only works in small, homogeneous and relatively weak states.

Stuff. Things bought with money that "the new" and enjoyment wear off of faster than a honeymoon.

Taxes. What no one wants to pay while demanding (and expecting) all the services and benefits taxes pay for.

The Way Things Spozed To Be. A skewed distribution of money, happiness, power, approval and influence that favors you.

Ethnic Secret #5: On the last census, the first opportunity to do so, I checked the three boxes I'm entitled to. People and things are often - but not always - how you're used to looking at them.

Another war, people. Or, rather, another version of the same long struggle with the domestic Taliban and ol' massa. Lock and load.


Horace Coleman is a veteran, poet and writer living in California.

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