Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear me-e, Happy Birthday to me!
All last year I told people that I was born in ’57, so that makes me 57. I still feel 57 (no different from yesterday), but because I’ve now begun my 59th year, people commonly reckon that I am 58. I have never been terribly impressed with the importance of birthdays since I reached adulthood – there was a time a couple decades ago when I actually would forget my exact age – but it does provide a socially acceptable excuse for a little partying. Perhaps, at this advanced stage, it will provide the excuse for a little reflection, as well.
Like everyone else who has survived almost six decades on the planet, I have a large store of past experiences on which to reflect, but what does impress me with its importance is some of the things I’ve experienced relatively recently. Hard times seem to be especially memorable, and from what I’ve read, also especially publishable. People seem more interested in reading about hard times – maybe they’re looking to find ways to avoid hard times themselves, or maybe such tales are just more exciting. We had a sickening downturn in the economy six years ago, but as hard times go in this world, I haven’t really had any. Being nearly cut in half in a freight elevator accident forty two years ago was probably the hardest, but I had a family who loved and supported me, and a well-fed teenaged body that healed quickly and well; we were middle class Americans, too, and that made all the difference.
Middle class America is now under siege and nearly defeated. Defeat in this case means that we will have lost the fight to make America the most open and inclusive society possible. The Laws of Nature say that the strongest survive to reproduce, and the weak suffer torments and die without issue; humans have discovered, and amply demonstrated that with ingenuity, the Laws of Nature can be overridden. We override those Laws at great risk, because when Nature hands out her corrections, the consequences can be dire, but we override them anyway, because that is Nature’s gift to us: we evolved to have the compassion and ingenuity to reverse the courses of mighty rivers – even the river of Life itself.
All this high-flown rhetoric may be abstract, but that is part of our gift; the ability to abstract the general rule from many, or even a few, examples gives us the basis for our reasoning, and the ability to use abstract symbols such as words and numbers lets us communicate our reasoning to others. I reason that a grasping and materially-besotted overclass has grasped the reins of power in the developed world, and seeks to enslave all of humanity to perpetuate its power, and to promote the Doctrine of Eternal Consumption that is already beginning to bring our tubercular society gasping to its knees. That is normal and natural; they are the strongest, have the strongest drive to survive and feather their nests. It is also normal and natural that more compassionate and more reasonable people will oppose that natural tendency, and insist that we look at where we are all going, and see if we can’t figure out a more sustainable way to let more people share in the fruits of our common labor more equitably. I have seen that spirit relatively recently in the Arab Spring, Spanish Indignacio, Occupy Wall Street, Greek anti-austerity, and Move To Amend movements, and I am impressed – these are the movements that hold the hope that freedom will not wither in the face of greed and power-lust. They are the gifts of the more compassionate and reasonable among us, and since it is my birthday, I accept these gifts.
I’m glad to have lived as long as I have, and to have seen these movements and participated to whatever small degree in furthering their aims.