The I of Identity

I was in my 20’s before I was diagnosed dyslexic.  Hardly anybody knew what dyslexia was when I was a child, so it’s really not that surprising.  It came as a great relief to me to learn all the odd experiences had a name.

In the 4th grade, my teacher declared that I was too stupid to educate and should probably be institutionalized.  Her evidence was that  I couldn’t spell my last name, and I couldn’t read aloud from a book.

My parents were far too upwardly mobile to let that happen — so I got to stay in public school even though I couldn’t tell left from right, I couldn’t tell time, I couldn’t tie my shoes, I could not read more than a few words on any page, and I could only do math problems in my head.

(I did finally learn to tell my left hand from my right hand when I learned to drive because I knew the steering wheel was on the left — from there it was just paying attention.)

I learned to read in college when as a sophomore, I wanted to take a graduate course in Aesthetics.  The professor said I could — as long as I kept up with the reading (which was 1 book per week.)  I locked myself in my dorm room for a weekend until I learned to track the words across the page with a ruler.  And I took the class.


In my 20s, I also learned I was asthmatic.  I’d known a boy in the 3rd grade who carried an inhaler with him all the time and I had no idea what it was or what it was for.  I, on the other hand, missed weeks of school at a time with bronchitis, tonsillitis, pneumonia, strep throat, sinus infections, and laryngitis.  I took so many tetracycline antibiotics before my adult teeth grew in, that my teeth were forever discolored by the drug (now banned for use on children for that very reason.)

By the time i was 21, an ENT at the university diagnosed me with severe asthma, gave me inhalers, drugs and allergy shots — and once again, it’s been a great relief to know what the problem is and give it a name — and not just shoot antibiotics at every little thing.


In my 40s, I learned I had been neglected as a child.

This was a great shock to me.

Like most people, I assumed everybody’s parents were like MY parents — because they were the only example I’d ever had.  I was an only child.  I did not have a friend until I was in middle school.  I never “ran around” with anybody until I was in high school — and by that time, most people my age had little interaction with their parents.

It is easy for me to think back now and see where I missed crucial differences between my house and the 2 or 3 other houses I had knowledge of.  At the time, however, it wasn’t obvious, and I had no reason to go looking for differences.

I didn’t know that most people’s parents told them what was expected of them in social situations.  I didn’t know that most elementary age children didn’t live in their room all the time they weren’t in school, with hardly any contact with the other people in the house, or with other people in general.  I didn’t know that I was not “raised,” but rather that I was ignored and/or tolerated.

It took working with a company that used many professional therapists as consultants before anybody pointed out to me that I was actually neglected in some fairly serious ways as a child.  The therapists that pointed this out were very helpful, and more than a little concerned that I didn’t know — but by then, there wasn’t much to do  but acknowledge it and move on.   Since I wasn’t physically abused or emotionally battered, I’d always told everybody I had a normal, happy childhood — and I’d always believed it.

Finding out that my childhood wasn’t normal, and hardly anybody would call it happy, was a big surprise.


My parents are both dead now.  I did not go to either funeral.  And over the last 6 months since my mother’s death, some very strange things have happened.

* First — even though I had listened to a lot of music as a teenager and college student, I’d pretty much stopped listening to any music at all during the years of my first marriage and when I was a single mom.  I still have a box of vinyl from those school days, but it’s been packed and undisturbed for nearly 20 years.  I have a 1911 hand cranked Victrola, from the Edison Machine Shop in New Jersey (it still has its ID Plate) and lots of recorded music for that, but it isn’t the kind of thing you play for hours every day.

Radio is pretty much dead.  I’ve had iTunes since the first incarnation — but I rarely used it.  I had an iPod, but it was mostly full of recorded books and stories. (see the dyslexia paragraphs above.)

But for nearly 4 months, now, I’ve been buying CDs, adding individual songs from and the iTunes Store — and listening.  It’s amazing!  I have some favorite singers and songs from over the years and now they’re all on my iPod!  And I put an iPod in my Prius so that it plays non-stop when I’m driving.  I carry my iPad with its fully loaded iTunes to the kitchen when I cook, to the bathroom when I shower, and by my chair when I’m reading or working on the computer.

I even sing with it!

* Second — after the long, dark summer of 75 x 100 degree or hotter days in Texas, my skin had started to tell the tale.  I haven’t worn makeup since the late 1990s because of all my allergies — and my eyes are so sensitive that mascara/eye shadow are gone from my life forever.  Additionally, I’d gotten out of the habit of buying and wearing anything on my face when I went through bankruptcy as a single parent.  Cosmetics were far down the list of necessities in those days and I just — forgot.

Basically — my skin was red, dry, rough, blotchy, flaky, and itchy.  Miserable in every way.

So I started reading about cosmetics to figure out what I needed to do to fix this.  If you don’t know — the chemistry of cosmetics has changed radically in the last 15 years.

I know.  “Go to the mall,” you say.  Talk to those girls at the cosmetics counters.

I forgot to mention that I don’t go to malls because I’m claustrophobic.  The crowds and enclosed spaces just do me in….  So instead, I went to and .  I read ingredients lists.  I read instructions.  I read reviews and FAQs.  I read sales pitches and advertising slogans.

Then I ordered moisturizer, cleanser, toner, pore-reducing cream, skin-color corrector and concealer, eye-puffiness reducing cream, dark circle corrector, cellular-turnover cream, vitamin rich night cream, SPF20  daytime moisturizer,  — plus make up, lip gloss, cheek color, powder, and brightener for eyes. I also got one of those nifty Clarisonic things that vibrates like an electric tooth-brush to clean my face and hopefully not damage my skin any more than it already is.

And I got lots of pretty smelling shower gels and shampoo.  Peppermint.  Lime.  Cinnamon Bun.  Fudge.  Melon.  Berry Cobbler.  😀  It’s just wonderful fun.

And for Christmas — coming in 2 months — I will be getting scented lotions and creams and body wash and perfume that match each other.  It’s called “Almond Cookie.”  I bought it based on its (scent) ingredient list: bitter almond, sandalwood, and vanilla; and the manufacturer’s commitment to good testing practices, “Whole Foods”-like ingredients, and environmental concerns.

So, 9 weeks into this rediscovery of skin care — my skin is no longer flaky, blotchy, dry, itchy, rough, red, or any of the other awful things that were happening to it.  Even the dark circles under my eyes are fading!

I tell you all this silly detail because I’ve only ever worn one kind of perfume of any kind once in my life — and I haven’t had any since the mid 80s.  I have avoided perfume — and people who wear it by the bucket — for all my life.  I’m allergic to roses, so I don’t do gardens or florists.  I avoid weddings that are loaded with flowers.  I stay clear of the flowers in hospitals and funerals and in cafes.  I avoid cigarette smoke because it sets off my asthma.  I don’t do real Christmas trees or wreaths.

I’ve just never been able to do smells like that.  I’ve done potpourri and some lightly scented candles, but usually only the ones that smell like spices or fruit.

But now — I’m finding fragrance, cosmetics, and scents very appealing.  From Fabreeze to Calvin Klein, and all points in between.


* Third — I’ve started getting my childhood memories back.  Things I haven’t thought of for decades are suddenly back.  My dog.  My room.  The alley behind the house where we lived.  The bushes in the yard.  The fat blades of cool grass.  The deep cerulean of the afternoon sky.  The path I walked to school every day.  The quarter, 2 pennies and a dime I took to buy my school lunch every day.  My first phone number: Fleetwood 2-7268.  The boy across the street whose parents played bridge every Saturday night with my parents: Bruce Montgomery.  The girl whose birthday party I was invited to attend, but failed at so miserably:  Lisa Myers.  The girl (Marla Mason) whose birthday party invitation said “dress up”-party — so I wore my Sunday dress to a costume party, and so left without leaving my present.   All my memories are back.  The 4th grade teacher’s name was Betty Wyman.

It’s an outrageously strange experience.


What’s the point of all this? you say.

Let me give you a few more hints.

I only started seeing movies in movie theaters when I was in my 20s (about the time of the original Star Wars, and Heaven Can Wait).  Before that when I watched movies in theaters, I was so overwhelmed by the pictures that I did not hear or understand the movie.  I completely missed the story EVERY SINGLE TIME.  And I love stories.  I mean I really LOVE stories.  So much that narrative structure is one of the things I do best.  But I couldn’t do movies in theaters.  Only on television.

An uncle taught me to play penny-ante poker while he was baby sitting me — I was about 8.  He taught me the rules.  After the first 4-5 hands, I NEVER LOST AGAIN.  Remember I said I did all my math in my head?  Well I’m also a natural card counter.  I constantly calculate odds in my head.  The result is, hardly anybody will play poker with me.  Or Blackjack.  Or monopoly.  You get the idea.

I have always been prone to what my mother called “nervousness.”  In a crowd or a crowded place, I would get panicky and either shut myself away in closet or a dark place, or wander off locking for some uncrowded quiet spot, or I’d just start yelling.  As soon as I could walk this was (evidently) a problem.  Wandering off to escape crowds has been one of the constants in my life.

My first ride on the NY Subway lasted only 1 stop because I had one of these “nervous” attacks.  Iwas in a cold sweat and shaking from head to toe before I could get out of the car and back onto the platform.  It was an irrational panic.  It still is, but since about 1985, I’ve called them panic attacks  and claustrophobia, because that’s what a doctor called them.

At large family gatherings and holidays, I would shut myself in one of the bedrooms for hours at a time to escape the crowd. — So much so that I was thought of as ill-mannered and rude.  After I learned to read, I usually shut myself away in a book — but in one of the crowded rooms.  They still thought of me as odd, but not quite so rude.

Lowercase type-set d, b, g, p, and q all looked the same to me in most fonts, and from the Dick-and-Jane readers up until I learned to write in script I had enormous difficulty telling which letter had its tail up or down, left or right, and which letters had “curls” on which side.   As a result, from the time I was about 5 or 6, the way I compensated for not being able to read or write was to focus on what the teacher was saying so intensely that I could repeat back everything she/he had said.  Hours, days, weeks later  (sometimes years later) –whether I understood the words or not — I could repeat back entire conversations, lessons, and lectures..

Eventually this is how my high school algebra teacher realized I really did know and understand algebra — even though I couldn’t pass a written test or do the homework:  I would come into the room before class and he caught me repeating everything he’d said in his lectures to other kids in the room who were having trouble.  I could tell them how to do the work — I just couldn’t write it or read it.  (This also served me well in high school drama class because I always knew all the parts and all the lines after the first run through — even though I was usually the stage manager.)

Got it yet?

I spell melodically.  Because remembering what a word looks like doesn’t work so well if left/right and up/down are screwed up — I hear a tone for each letter and I check spelling against the melody of each word’s letters.  Of course, it only works when I know the word; and it tends to fail me if I’m tired.

Other than my husband and my dog, I probably don’t hug more than 1 or 2 times a year.  If at all.  (When my son was a child — I hugged him, but I now know I did not hug as often as most people hug their children.)  I don’t resist hugs — I just don’t do it automatically.  I have, on occasion, hugged people without being told to or expected to.  Granted, this hugging deficiency could just be a result of the being-neglected thing.  My parents never hugged me.  But — again, I do remember pulling away and running when my grandparents tried.  So that’s a tough one.  Chicken / egg.  Egg / chicken.

6 years ago I taught myself to paint with watercolors.  About 4 months in, I got distracted by the pigments used in modern watercolor paints.  Up until sometime in the 1990s, watercolors were still the step-child of artistic media because so many of the pigments were “fugitive” — that is, they fade under heat, light, or over time.  In the last 20 years, modern chemistry (fueled by the automotive industry) has created pigments that are light-fast, non-toxic, and permanent. And they’re inventing more new pigments every year.  So I spent nearly 2 years learning enough about the chemistry of pigments, geology, dirt, clay, rocks, metals, and precious/semi-precious stones — and all the media you mix them with — to make my own paint from scratch.
I even created a few paints that have characteristics unlike any others available anywhere.

I have a very high IQ, and I blew the top off the reasoning section of the old GRE, even though I did not finish the last question because of my slow reading.

Got it yet?

  • Easily overwhelmed by high amounts of sensory data.
  • Able to do uncommon cognitive tasks at very high-speed.
  • High IQ and able to learn directly from books with little or no human interaction.
  • Laser focus.
  • Need for quiet isolation to re-focus.
  • Near eidetic auditory (and sometimes visual) memory.
  • Very few social skills (more now after a few decades)
  • High reasoning and logic skill.
  • High math skill (but not on paper.)
  • Able to partition memory.
  • Able to block and partition sensory input.
  • Only 1 or 2 sensory channels active at a time.

I can’t prove it and I’m not about to go visit a doctor at this point to try — but there is one thing that explains a lof of this weirdness in my life.  It’s not just that I’m dyslexic.  I must also be high functioning autistic.

This all started coming together about 4 days ago.  I told my husband, Jim, what I was thinking and he said he’d been wondering about the same thing for a while.  He’s seen the panic.  He’s heard all the stories.  He knows how my mind works.  He probably would never had said anything if I hadn’t put the pieces together for myself.

Because as soon as the thought came together — my identity started to changed.

I’ve never understood most of the social mistakes I’ve made throughout my life.  I understand more, now that I’m older, but many were just holes in the picture where information seemed to be missing.

I’ve never understood why someone as (evidently) smart as I am has such trouble with things other people find so easy.

I always accepted the panic, but never knew why or when or how it worked.

I didn’t want to be physically distant — but how not to be was out of reach.

I simply accepted the oddities like the memory and the focus and the math and the weird musical spelling as part of the overall odd package.

But now I’m starting to understand what happened.  I couldn’t understand movies in theaters because of the sensory overload.  Big screen.  Lots of sound.  Lots of people.  Lots of smells.  Then I went to a very small theater with almost nobody in the audience to see a movie by Brian De Palma, called Blowout (it starred John Travolta.)  From that point on — I figured out how to adjust my focus to get the story, characters, visuals, music etc — and to simultaneously filter-out the audience and the popcorn.

I’ve never understood the movie problem before.  And I’ve never met anybody else who has the same problem, so there was no way to compare it to a similar event.

And I’ve never understood the auditory memory before.  Now it starts to make sense.

But it’s changed my identity.  In just a few days — I’m not exactly who I was before.  I’m still very bright.  I have some highly unusual and useful skills.  I have the same missing bits.

But almost overnight, I don’t feel guilty for not having learned some of the things other people learned.  I don’t feel the same. Hardly anything feels the same.

I didn’t choose this part of my life.

I chose to learn to read rather than miss that Aesthetics class I wanted.  I chose to learn the chemistry of making paint.   I chose to learn about particle physics.  I chose to learn NLP to help fill in some the gaps in my ability to read body language and sensory cues in social interaction.  I chose to learn about developmental psychology and narrative structure and Southwestern cooking and how to draw.  I chose to learn to play the ocarina and how to brew tea.  I chose to learn what art is and how to assess the market value of an antique teddy bear.

But the asthma and the dyslexia and the neglectful parents and this — if it is autism — these I didn’t chose.  And the things I didn’t choose, I also didn’t deserve by some fault or bad thing I did.  I didn’t earn them through stupidity or carelessness.  It’s just a matter of the cards I was dealt.

And that I can live with.  I can choose better if I know what’s going on.

But right now RIGHT NOW it’s like every memory and event and emotion — and my whole identity — is re-sorting and re-cataloging based on this one new idea.  Testing to see if there is anything in my past that disproves it.   Looking for exceptions.  Looking for contradictions.  Looking for the truth of it — either way.  What could a doctor possibly tell me about this?  My doctor would ask questions, right?  I can ask those same questions.  And what difference could it possibly make to a healthcare professional!  My health is the same.  It’s my identity that’s on the operating table.

What am I ?  Am I brilliant, or am I some kind of prodigy or savant with no social skills and a weird memory?  Or is this all a result of the neglect?  I never hugged or touched or carried on normal conversations because nobody ever taught me how.  I couldn’t see movies in theaters because I didn’t know how to act around people, so I paid attentionto the wrong things .  I didn’t have ambition in some career because nobody ever talked to me about money and life and working and friends — much less about marriage and children and retirement and happiness.

What am I, now?  I knew who I was when I was dyslexic and managed to go to graduate school anyway.  I knew who I was when I was neglected, and still managed to find a wonderful marriage to my best and dearest friend.

But who am I if I was really autistic all along?  If a few steps off the path I walked could have landed me in an institution, or managed with drugs in some house on some anonymous street?  My 4th grade teacher wanted to label me as mentally retarded — and that could have taken me down an entirely different road.  An entirely different life.

Who exactly am I if this is true?

I don’t know.  At least right now,
I don’t know.


5 days later

I have been going over a variety of incidents from my life.  There was a time, after my son had gone away to college and after I had gone through bankruptcy because of a boatload of medical bills — I had decided to take advantage of the imposed “fresh start” and go back to school to get my Ph.D. in the social sciences and anthropology.  But the process of applying and being accepted into a graduate program — from retaking the Graduate Records Exam, to turn-key into a new place can be anywhere from 1-2 years.

I went to a local police department in the Dallas area to apply for a position as a 911 operator. (think about what an advantage an auditory memory like mine could be in that kind of job….)

When I got to the testing center/interview, I realized that nobody else in the room was like me.  Out of 12 applicants, none of the others had a college education.  While many were bilingual, the second language was always Spanish. I was not dressed like them.  I was not nervous or afraid — and several of them were.

The testing process began.  The officer played a tape of a typical 911 call and then told us to write down all the details we could remember — and I wrote it down word for word.

The officer played us a tape recording of a series of 100 random numbers with the reader announcing one number per second.  I wrote them all down.

The officer showed us drawings of rooms, then asked us to identify on a blank piece of paper, where in the drawing specific objects were located.  And I did.  Over and over again.

The officer read a list of 50 nouns and then asked us to write down as many as we could remember. — you get the idea.

By the time we’d been through all 10 tests, all the other people were looking at me like I was an alien, and the officer giving the test was nearly crying.  He even made me do a couple of the tests more than once, because he’d never come across anybody who could do what I was doing.

I told him it was just a trick I’d learned when I was a kid.  I told him I really wanted the job and needed the job.

And they told me they couldn’t use me because I was planning on leaving in 2 years and the training took 6 months and was very expensive.  I assured them I could learn the material from books and they could just give me the test — a couple of weeks would do it and then I could start right away.  But of course that was impossible because the rules said I had to take the training.  I asked them if they didn’t think my skills were a good match for the job as a 911 operator — and they said no.

And I didn’t get the job.  Actually, I rarely ever got any job I applied for in my life.  And I never really understood why.  So most of my life I have either taught, written teaching/training materials, written technical documents, or run my little (recently closed) toy store.  I learned enough about computers to be able to fill in a lot of the gaps in my work history with temporary work — which often led to longer term computer work.  I learned programming from the particle physicists at the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory.  I learned high-end desk-top publishing and technical editing in the Physics Research division of the SSCL.  I learned to make specialized fonts, there, as well.  I picked up new skills everywhere I went.

But I couldn’t get a job as a 911 operator.  Or most of the other jobs I ever applied for.  And I never really understood why, except that I didn’t fit their “model.”   My social skills and my demeanor weren’t a match.  They still aren’t really.

I haven’t had a job since I closed the toy store.  And I hid out here at home for 10 months, waiting for my mother to die.  She had former art students and church people all over town, and none of them ever knew me or anything about me except what she’d told them, and that I would not visit her in the hospital.  It seemed for a while that I couldn’t go to a market or a bank without running into someone who wanted to shame me or save my soul.

I don’t know what to make of the place I am right now in my life.  I have no idea what to do with this new bit of information.  I don’t know any autistic people.  My husband is dyslexic in a way similar to my own dyslexia.  My son is neither dyslexic nor asthmatic, (though he does have a genetic tremor that skipped my generation) and at 33, he has 2 masters degrees and a good job he enjoys.

I just don’t know what comes next.

I don’t know what this actually changes — except my own idea of myself.  My identity and self is different.


Just a Word About the National Debt and the Economy

I cannot count the number of times lately I’ve heard about how the government — whether state or federal — has to live within its means, just like we as individuals and families live within our means.

This sounds so fiscally responsible that it’s difficult to even want to argue.

Well-  almost.

Being the expert mis-matcher that I am — let me give it a try.

Everybody has been talking about the Keynesian Economics used by this Whitehouse (and the previous half-century-plus’s worth of Whitehouses.)  The problem with bringing Keynes into this, is that Keynes’  Graves* Level 5 economics  is the very definition of economics at this time in the US.  Keynes is both what got us into this near/possibly-soon-to-be economic depression, and what the fixers are trying to use to get us out.

And you know what Einstein said about trying to solve problems from the same level where they were created….  Doesn’t work.  Never worked.  Never will work.  Won’t work from inside the Whitehouse, inside the statehouse, or inside the outhouse.

So, if you can’t solve Keynesian–based problems with Keynesian thinking, how do you solve them?

I’m going to back up a step and point out a bit of linguistic sleight of hand, first.

What do we mean when we say “living within our means?”  There are a lot of people using this phrase without first explaining what they mean by it.

A few years ago, at a time when my government laboratory job’s insurance had been out of effect for 3 weeks, and when my then teenage son first became ill with what has become a chronic health problem, I put all his doctor bills, testing bills, hospital bills, and constantly changing medications on credit cards.  I depleted our savings and his college fund in a matter of days.  I stopped working any contract, temporary, or part-time jobs for several days, and then returned only sporadically for next few months because even though he was allowed to go back to school — the constant adjustments and re-adjustments of his medications left me unable, in good conscience, to leave him home alone.  Some of the drugs made him pass into unconsciousness.  Others made him lethargic and/or had the potential to cause further kidney damage or heart damage — to be a good mother, I had no choice but to stay with him on some days.  At the beginning, I was unwilling to leave just because of the fear of leaving him alone with this new and scary changes in his life.

As the drugs they were giving him started to work more consistently — I took more jobs and he was in school more and more of the time.  But by then, we were basically living on contributions from family and friends, and the limits on my credit cards.  I’d sold the small piece of land where I’d hoped to one day build a house.  I’d sold off my dark-room equipment.  I’d sold what little jewelry I owned and the few rare coins I’d picked up over the years of just paying attention to what fell into my hand.  I’d sold (to other collectors) many of the framed classic film posters I’d collected over the years and used to decorate the walls of my house.  I sold the one thing I’d inherited from my Grandfather — to my mother for about 10% of what it was worth — just to try to keep it in the family.

By whatever logic, I decided to pay all the doctor bills as they came in, not realizing that it left no money for more immediate needs like food, gas, mortgage, car insurance, medications — all those things that keep life going.  Even when I ended up declaring bankruptcy, I had no outstanding bills to the actual physicians involved.

During that time of my life, I was not, by any definition, living within my means.  If I’d lived within my means, I wouldn’t have been able to afford any of the drugs — and especially not during the weeks/months where they would prescribe a months’ regimen  at a time, only to change their minds 5 days later — leaving us with $150-bottles of pills that were still 3/4 full and no longer in the regimen.

I also wouldn’t have been able to put gas in my car.  Or make the payments on my car, for that matter — even though I was in the last year of paying for it.  I wouldn’t have been able to pay my utilities (in fact, I turned the heat off that year to keep the bills low.)  We bought no new clothes, no books — nothing new.  We canceled cable television.  We didn’t go to the movies.  We ate a lot of pasta and potatoes and soup.

But even then — we were not living on what I was making.

And using only and exactly the amount of money you are earning/bringing in is what many of the people talking about “living within our means” think we are talking about with discussions about budget, debt, and spending.

But the truth is — there is almost nobody in our Keynesian Economic Theory-version of Capitalism/Society who lives within their means by that definition.  Or — who would try to during times of economic emergency.  During a crisis, most of us all would do something in the range of what I did during an economic emergency — we would spend everything at our disposal.  We would cut back on non-necessities.  We would borrow from friends and family.  We would use up any and all sources of credit we could get our hands on.  We would sell of things we had that would raise temporary funds — just to keep the wheels of medicine and part-time jobs turning.

Let me back up even further, since most of this great Keynesian-Capitalism cave-in was triggered by dubious and criminal abuses in the real estate/mortgage business.

If we were to strictly adhere to the pre-supposed rules of only spending what we have in hand, there would be almost nobody in this country outside of the extreme upper class children of old money who could ever actually buy a house.   How many of Americans have the cash in hand when they buy a house?  Ever?  A few.  Some. But not many.

Does that mean that nobody who buys a home with a mortgage is living within their means?  How about all those Congressional folks who are banging on about living within our means?  How about all the folks at town hall meetings and voting for people who are advocating that the country live within its means?  Do they own their houses, cars, vacations, computers, jewelry/gifts, Christmas presents outright the moment they purchased them?  Do they operate on a cash-in/cash-only basis?

Probably a few do.  But I’d bet every tube of paint in my studio that it’s a really REALLY small percentage.  Hardly any, really.  Why?  Because that’s not the Keynesian model.  That’s not how we do business in this country.  That’s not how we think about our money.

When you or I go to a bank to borrow money to buy a house (or even a new car or boat or business investment — or whatever) they look at our credit rating, our work history, and our other real property.  They consider our history of being able to pay back what we borrow.

And back when my finances hit the wall — I had a really good history of paying back what I borrowed.  I’d had a good job for several years.  I’d managed to not overstep and spend more than I had honest expectations of paying for.

But I’d never even seen the kind of deep, radical mess that was coming.  I really had no idea how much a life threatening, long-term illness could cost.  I was a dumb, inexperienced single mom — literally without a clue.  I had no way to judge how long the crisis could last, or what the world could expect a single mother to do when her child is severely ill.  150 years ago — it would have been clear — my son would have died.  Period.  It would have taken a few weeks or months — but he would not have survived without the medical care he received in the last decade of the 20th Century.

So why is it, then, that when banks loan money to people who buy a house — we don’t accuse either the borrowers or the lenders of abusing the rule of Living Within Our Means?  Because we know that cash in hand is not nearly as important as it sounds.  We make bets about future earnings.  We judge people by their capacity to earn.  We look at other real property and view that as potential and collateral.

In fact, there are formulas for these bets.  Most banks will set you up (gladly) with a mortgage worth 1.5-2.5 times your annual household income.  Until recently — it was more like 2-5 times your annual income, but those formulas didn’t work out too well.  When the mortgage loan is for 200k, and the bank knows it’s going to get closer to 450k (or upwards of 700k when the interest rates were at their highest) then yes, they’ll take the gamble.

That’s basically all the credit card companies, banks, and now, the Chinese, are doing.  They’re gambling.  This is all about usury — that thing centuries worth of pre-capitalist/pre-Keynesians tried to avoid like the plague.  And the very thing that powers the engine of Capitalism that so many equate with modern democracy and freedom.

So when we hear people talking about “living within our means” — which version are they talking about?  The kind of living within our means that says we will only spend the cash we have in hand, or the kind of living within our means that says we will operate within the normal rules of Capitalism?  It’s the difference between Graves Level 4 economics, and Graves Level 5 economics.

So here are a couple of numbers to mull over in light of what we know about the L5 meaning of debt:

Current National Debt 2/27/1:  $14.19 trillion

2010 US GDP:  $14.41 trillion


Back in the days when deficit spending was first begun by FDR in the attempt to keep people alive and bring the country out of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt spent a lot of time talking about how we as a nation would pay off this new, national debt.  Why? Because he and the majority of the country had existed for so long in Graves Level 4 Economy-land.  Even though the economic theory that made his many creative approaches to resolving the problems of the 1930’s possible was based on Keynes’ theories (first published in 1936), neither the country nor Roosevelt (we presume) had a good enough grip on the ideas driving these new approaches to national economy to do anything else BUT be on constant defense about paying that debt off.   It was a lack of understanding of how debt fit into the big picture that caused so much energy to be used addressing the subject of paying off the debt.

Here’s an important thing to remember about Graves Level Differences: it is so common as to be almost universal that every one of us tends to see anyone (Anyone!) who is not operating at the same Graves Level that we are as criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless, and/or weak.

Let me say it again: We see anyone who is not operating at the same Graves Level that we are as





useless, and/or


Any time you hear those words coming out of your own (or anybody else’s) mouth to describe the behavior, beliefs, or ideas of someone else — bet your paycheck that what is going on has to do with the clash of 2 different Graves Levels.

When John Maynard Keynes was called in to explain the theory to FDR — it was such a reach into upper Graves L5 thinking, that the FDR Whitehouse basically shrugged its white-columned shoulders toward the public, and moved forward on blind and quite hopeful faith.  But still — with non-stop explanations about paying off the debt.

This is a little like having to re-address the “how are we ever going to pay off this mortgage” question every night before bed.  After a while, the question stops being an issue because insofar as L5 systems work for L5 problems — the mortgage/loan system works.  (It was only when the broken and unhealthy L3/L5 mask problems invaded home finance that the American system of Capitalism moved into foreclosure.)

L5 is a great stretch for L4, regardless of the circumstances.  But FDR had already seen how badly L4 economics was working on his — and the whole world’s — monstrous depression.

When what you’re doing isn’t working — the smart move (always) is to do something else.  To take an old pattern and just repeat it louder, longer, stronger, and with more urgency will still yield the same results, no matter how many times you repeat it.  (Yes, that’s the familiar definition of insanity.)

But FDR got it.  Whatever you’re doing — if it isn’t working — DO SOMETHING ELSE.  Find the best minds — the most innovative thinkers — and do something else.  And if that doesn’t work — you do something else.  And if that doesn’t work — well, you get the idea.

In our case — the problems weren’t created by broken 4 economics, but by broken 5.  And no amount of 5 economic theory is going to fix this.  And no amount of 4 economic wishful thinking or nostalgia is going to fix it.

There are Level 6 economic theories out there.  But it’s a tough sell.  It involves another of those leaps of faith to even hear them out.

Best guess estimates are that when FDR was battling the Great Depression and global meltdown, more than 65% of the US was running L4 as their normal mode of fiscal operation.  There were maybe 20-25% in L5 (though many of those were actually L3-wearing-L5-masks,) and the rest were distributed between L2, and L6.  But even that cluster of L5 had just recently moved from the L4 they’d grown up in.  They weren’t the pros we are accustomed to today.

Fast-forward to the 2000’s first decade and our unimaginable worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression.   It should be noted that the Great Depression didn’t actually begin with the Black Friday of 1929 — but escalated bit by bit and turn by burn over the next 2-3 years.  Which is about where we are now.

What’s important for this discussion is the Graves Level shift the country has gone through in the last 75-80 years.  Again, these are just estimates based on observation by myself and a few others who work with the Graves developmental model on a daily basis, but the L5s are now in the majority — though again, many are L3’s in L5-wolf’s clothing.  Even though this is the majority — the number of L4s is still significant, and loud.  They want the rules to be clear, absolute, immovable, and passed into law.

The escalating speed at which we as individuals move through the stair steps of the Graves Model is reflected in broad societal steps as well.  It’s the same acceleration we’ve all noticed in technology and innovation.  The knowledge and experiences available make growing-up-fast a way of life for technology, for individuals, and for the societies in which they exist.

So if we generously assume that 45-50% of the US economic pulse beats at L5, (or L3 masquerading as 5;) and another 35-40% is running L4, with only 10-15% running smoothly in L6, then that both explains the evenly matched tug of war between the 4s and 5s, and the general dismissal, mis-understanding, and alien-ness of L6 proposals and ideas.  As alien and unlikely as Keynes was in 1936.

So there are 2 things to remember here.  There is a sleight of hand where someone talking into a microphone says “live within our means” without explaining whether they mean L4 cash-in-hand or L5 Keynesian living.  Chances are, by being intentionally vague, they intend to mean whichever is appropriate or convenient for the audience they are speaking to.  By using a phrase with no single absolute and undisputed meaning — they are using our own cock-surety that we know how the economics of nations work — to make us all think they (of course) are speaking our minds.  And in fact, they may be — or they may not.  It is illusion and sleight of hand, after all.

What is the answer?  I don’t know.  I’m not an economist.  But I’m pretty sure it isn’t sleight of hand.  I’m also pretty sure that even if somebody tries to suggest it — we won’t hear it if we’re all yelling and screaming at each other.

Find the finest thinking men and women out there pioneering the edge of theory and reason.  Listen to the crazy suggestions as well as repeats of suggestions you might think of as tried and true.  If what we’re doing isn’t working — don’t look backwards for something that worked 100 years ago, or even 25 years ago.  Look for the next solution.  The next idea.  Think about what makes Graves Level 6 different from everything that came before it and follow THAT and see where it takes us.


*See Spiral Dynamics, which discusses the Clare Graves theory of evolving human development, the Clare W. Graves Website (maintained by Cowan & Todorovic), or our own book/draft on the introduction to Grave’s theory explained with the help of the work of Carl Jung, at our Journal of Human Threshold Systems.

Art, and Artists Making Art

This is a copy of my paper on the relationship
between art and brokenness.

Brilliant Insane Genius Lunatic Creative Mad-as-a-March-Hare
Inventive Abnormal Artistic Nuts Innovative Just Plain Crazy

I am writing this, in part, to satisfy my own curiosity.  I have heard the idea that genius and insanity were linked, in one form or another, all my life.  Whether people claimed the two were flip sides of the same coin, that the relationship was cause–>effect (though it is never clear which is the cause and which is the effect,) or that there is some as-yet-unknown neurological or genetic link; the effect is the same. Both the general public and artists of all stripe seem to buy into this notion at some level – if not consciously – then lurking somewhere just below the surface.  This presupposition changes the way we, as artists, think about our work and our existence; and it certainly has an effect on how we, and our work, are perceived by the public.

I believe the best potential counter argument to this culturalized belief is the claim that humans are, without exception, all broken or damaged.  We all experience pain, loss, damage, broken faith, unfortunate circumstances and misunderstanding; of the world around us.  We all experience death, fear, anger, and sadness – and some experience much more than others.  We all enter the world made of chemicals, genetic patterns, electricity, water, and breath – and the world being what it is, we all enter with glitches, skips, breaks, gaps and holes.

In reading about and considering the very full lifetime of work by artist Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), it is brokenness and the damage of her early life which is trackable in her art – not insanity. In fact, her genius is tied most closely to her handling and expressing her own past, rather than some Freudian suppression of it.

According to Leonard Cohen’s poem Anthem: “There is a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in.”  (This is a kinder and more optimistic view than Yeats’ entropic fatalism of The Second Coming, which observes that “things fall apart.”) It’s true. Things do fall apart. Entropy is a real thing – but the more complete truth is that as humans, we have some say in how and where entropy moves, and whether we are engulfed by it or ride it like a wave.  If our inevitable brokenness is where “the light” gets in – whether it is the light of innovation, invention, and creation; or the light of faith and hope; it is this shared crack in everything that makes it possible for us to minister to each other by way of cathartic Dionysian ritual (theater/art), the spiritually cleansing catholic confessional, or the psychologically purifying  therapist’s couch.  We may not be able to control what happens in the world around us, or what happens to us; but, we can control how we respond to it.

And it is that response which makes Bourgeois such a glorious counter-example to the presupposition of insanity/genius.  In her own words,

All my work in the past fifty years, all my subjects, have found their inspiration in my childhood….  My childhood has never lost its magic, it has never lost its mystery, and it has never lost its drama.

At first glance, we might assume from this that Louise lived an enchanted childhood. The reality, however, is that the magic of her childhood was made up of a revolutionary feminist mother who did her duty by her husband and had two children, then left him to find himself a mistress. Further encumbrances of motherhood were not on Madame Bourgeoise’ list of coming events. The mistress also served as a live-in caretaker for the children, tutor, and governess.

Strident and independent Mother was foreign, cold, and absent; the Mistress was a villainous pseudo-stepmother; and father was not just cold, but abusively cruel to the children born so dutifully by his ultra-social wife. This was a house full to the brim with angry, self-serving adults, and a couple of clueless children who only pieced together the truth of the arrangement as they entered puberty. The only magic I found in this childhood is the near miracle that there were no poisoned apples, huntsmen, or cinder-covered hearths involved.  Louise left home in her teens to paint live in a house full of surrealists in Paris (the house full of surrealists.) Not surprisingly, hardly anyone noticed she was gone.

It is only been in the last 200+ years that painting could be thought of as self expression.  As soon as the self, the mind, and the intentions of the artist began to become important players in the making of art, all sense of trade and craft disappeared from all the arts. Meaning became the subject of a work of art rather than some object or model being copied.  Since this was happening just as the unconscious mind, mental health, and general psychology were creeping into everyday the 1st World cultures, it’s no wonder that artists were perceived as breaking the rules and wandering into the sinful landscape of the criminal and insane. Vincent van Gogh was the poster-boy for the insanity/creative genius camp right up until the culture of the 1st World grew and discovered he might have been bipolar or schizophrenic. Then he became the poster boy for physical chemical imbalance. Whether it was a serious food allergy, and/or PTSD/abuse/neglect-induced fugue states, those are late 20th and early 21st Century understandings of his life.  The more we learn, the less insane, criminal, sinful, and weak van Gogh looks. (see Wilfred N Arnold’s  Chemicals, Crises, and Creativity for more on van Gogh’s relationship to his own biology.)   At the beginning of the 21st Century, Vincent is an unfortunate victim.  If we could choose for him and pick a different century for him to be born, would we give up his art works in order to allow him a peaceful, balanced life?  Is it a fair trade?

Louise Bourgeois, on the other hand, turned those magical, mysterious, and dramatic bits of her childhood into art by choice – by all evidence, fully aware of the metaphorical connections between her art and her past.  Her cold, alien mother became Maman (colloquial fr. for mother)

"Maman" sculpture by Louise Bourgeois

the giant spider that seems to wander through forests of cement and steel.  Her installations are   experiences to be fashioned between the individual and the place/object.  They are her home.  Her rooms.  Places of memory and rite, built to elicit feelings and ideas to be shared between the artist and the single audience member.  She has built these places and made this art so people will understand and build relationship through these intensely personal conversations. We all experience her isolation and loneliness with her – and we recognize it because we have felt it, too.  Bourgeois’ father appears in her art – though not in the dramatic and shocking form of her monster mother.  Instead, his presence is felt in these rooms and in many of her other installation. He is a tangle of objects and a claustrophobic lie of a room.  He informed Bourgeois through every action and word that being a girl – a woman – was to be grotesque, useless, ugly, ungrateful, unwanted, foolish, stupid, and disgusting.

Red Room installation, by Louise Bourgeois

Listening to Bourgeois as she demonstrates her father’s trick with the tangerine reveals a pain so deep that after 7 decades – it still reduced her to a weeping child.  There are some pains – some breaks and rips in our being – that, like a wicked witch’s spell, never lose their magic.

The Father and the Mother are responsible for Louise Bourgeois reaching out to communicate with the rest of the world.  Had they been loving and affectionate – she might never have picked up a paintbrush or sculpted a frail hand.

Why?  Because there is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.  It’s the light (energy,) memory, and emotion that travel through those cracks that connect us. That’s where we meet –and where communication happens.  Those universal cracks are where art does what art does, and where artist and audience share and survive together.

I believe that the question about the relationship between genius and insanity is an old, out of date question.  It presupposes that what is not normal can be labeled criminal, insane, sinful, stupid, useless and/or weak. But that’s a 19th century understanding of normal – and a 19th century understanding of insanity.  By starting with the wrong question – there is no chance of finding a right answer.  The real question artists, critics, audience, and history have to start asking has to do with understanding and choosing how to express and relate to our own individual and cultural breaks, cracks, quirks, skips, and bumps.  What is the relationship between brokenness, health, and the making of art, invention, and creativity?

I know that we must have care with the words we choose and the presuppositions we make.  If we start with the question: What is the relationship between brokenness and making/creating (or just between brokenness and art), then we have changed the playing field of presuppositions.  Brokenness carries a few negative bags of its own – but it also carries the solution for itself: it carries the presuppositions of repair, mending, re-finishing, correcting, and healing. A broken pot can be fixed.  A broken window can be replaced and made good as new again.  A broken person can be brought back to health.  An insane person just gets more insane until s/he finally succumbs.

Some people presuppose that artists and other creatives somehow experience more deeply.  They are especially sensitive and have a stronger emotional life than an accountant or a short order cook.  I have no idea how true/not true those assumptions are.  But I know that artists in all the arts find a way to express what is inside their own minds and guts in a way that is recognizable and creates a link to others through Leonard Cohen’s cracks.  I don’t believe artists make art as a means of self-therapy (though it may sometimes happen as a side effect) – but I do think there is something to be said for extending a helping hand to all those accountants and short order cooks through art, music, story, poetry etc.

Art requires us to be generous and to be able to need without shame, simultaneously.   This is a very great evolutionary step.

As for how my own thoughts and self expression relates to the life and art of Louise Bourgeois, I suppose the first point of contact is that we share some of those “magic” childhood experiences.  There is something about profound neglect and intentionally inflicted pain that is, as Bourgeois says, never lost.  What we choose to do with those experiences makes the difference between her building giant, alien looking mother-spiders, and Van Gogh at his most disturbed eating tubes of chrome-yellow paint.  While Louise Bourgeois spent the first 30 years of her 70 year career just learning to use her tools and talent to express what was going on in her mind; I spent those 30 years learning what was going on in my mind, and about the minds, motivations, and puzzlements of others.  It has only been the last 5 or 6 years that I have begun looking for materials to start creating expressions of those things.  I am just now comfortable with the tools of the trade.  But like her, I know the language of metaphor.  I understand the layers and pieces of the puzzle, and I have a long-running intimacy with opening boxes.  Communication, in whatever form, has always been the crux of what I have done, said, made and searched out.  Whether that ultimately makes art or not is another question.  But it is certainly fun trying.

Here’s What I know About Change (orig 10/08)

It neither happens overnight, nor does it happen incrementally.  Which seems to say it doesn’t happen — but if you know me, you know that’s not what I believe.

Change is possible — but it involves making corrections to a myriad of core beliefs, and correcting a wide swath of past mistakes (and then doing as much as possible to atone, amend, supplement, alter, or in otherways make payment for the consequences of those past mistakes.)  I believe that the only real changes that happen are evidenced either in a Graves level shift, OR as evidenced (with heavy evidence) that the current Graves level has become markedly more healthy or less healthy.  Those are the only real changes that matter.

And, I believe that if what we see, whether in ourselves or in others, is something we have seen before — a repeating pattern — then chances are, we are just running a loop, rather than any real upward changing, or change to something healthier or unhealthier than we have been all the previous times we have seen that loop go by.  If it’s “the same damn thing over and over again,” then it is NOT “one damn thing after another.”  Those 2 are mutually exclusive.  Even for a mismatcher.

I don’t think we can ever take another person’s word as evidence that they have changed.  We all know that there are people who shout, cry, lie prostrate, weep and beg for mercy, bring themselves to tears recounting all the horrible things they’ve done in the past, or self-deprecate into a microphone at AA, church, or the local Knights of Columbus hall — only to try and save their reputation and their own self image.  (Remember Jerry Falwell?  Rush Limbaugh?)  Just saying “I have sinned” while weeping and gnashing our teeth doesn’t stop the same-old-same-old from happening again.  And again.

The onlything that changes behavior is actual change.  Changed beliefs.  Changed Graves level.  And just being able to say the words is not it.  I can talk all day about how I’ve given up smoking, drinking, gambling — whatever my bad behaviour is.  Behaviors are driven by belief.  By Graves level.  By choice.

So — Change is possible.  But it is almost impossible.  It is an evolution — not a toggle switch.  It takes digging deep into our core beliefs and how we choose to go one way instead of another.  It takes facing up to the dark corners of our lives and our own personal history and being willing to look it dead on, without shoving it back down into the darkness and hiding from it or denying it  — or worse — trying to keep it secret either from ourselves, our family, or our friends.

If change were easy or could ever happen quickly — everybody would be changing and improving (or not) every time they turned around.  But it doesn’t happen that way.

The “ah-ha!” moments are catalysts.  But they are not actual change.  They are motivators.  They are an epiphany that can either lead upward or onward — or that can make us rush to make the hiding place more secure and to pour another layer of concrete over the current pattern.

So what do I know about change?
It can happen.
It does happen.
Words are not change.
Tears, hopes, fantasies are not change.
Apologies, self-deprecation, tears of grief and shame — are not change.
Only change is change and it is impossible to miss because it bears fruit.
It gives evidence daily.
It colors every belief, motivation, action, and relationship.
It shows up in every thought and habit.
It makes us incompatable with every one of those we formerly felt completely at home and comfortable with.

If the word every doesn’t apply — then then word change does not appy.

And it is impossible to deny or miss for those who have known us all our lives, or even just for a day.

Nomics Pt. 2.5: Games and Questions

Nomic games update — questions I need help answering

1.  first well-evidenced discovery:  Nomic games tend to be more appealing to Graves levels 6 and 7 than non-nomic games.  For L7, because the complexity combined with the transience of actual game components lets 7’s be 7’s — and do what they do best.  For L6, because it lets them stretch their “muscles” and build the chops necessary to make the shift to L7 at some point in the future.  It also lets them hold onto the “any rule/ruleset can get you to the end” that comes naturally to them.

2.  after 3-4 hrs of discussion with the local game store owner/game master, the utility of Magic The Gathering as a learning metaphor comes more into question.  Turns out, MTG was invented by a Ph.D. mathamatician — and the blue cards (L7) are actually meta to the rest of the game.  So much so that Mr. Shopkeeper says he personally will not play against a blue deck.  Why?  Because all things being equal, a blue deck will always win.  Sure — a superior player, a superior luck of the draw, or a superior assortment of cards from which to build a deck can make that “always” into a an “almost always” — but the statment holds.  I said, “okay — if I now know that blue will always win, and you know that blue will always win — why are all these people playing this game?”

He said, “That’s always been my question.”

So if there are 4 colors — levels 3, 4, 5, and 6 — who are evenly matched, and L7 is meta to all of those — that is, it is actually the nomic operator, and as such controls the rules, the turns, the structure of play, and even the “win” cards and moves — then why would any player choose to play anything but blue, or choose to play any other color against blue?

Stepping outside the game, this gives me 2 new questions:  in a world where L3 terrorism has already been seated at the table and is a major player, what deck(s)/color(s)/level(s) are the best to oppose them?   and, WHY, of course.

Yes, I am looking for input.  Here or in private messages.

And two last bits to chew on:  Magic has been in existence for 15 years.  For all of that time, blue-L7 has been the “deck that always wins” with the possible 3 exceptions of the “Red Wins” deck, the “Black Summer” deck, and the “Power-Nine” deck — all decks constructed using cards so powerful that they have been banned from tournement play. (In otherwords, the game-makers didn’t predict some of the uses players would come up with for those ultra-power cards — and so re-classified their use as cheating.)  Given that — and the comparable meta-position of L7 to lower levels, and Blue to other colors — Why would anybody choose to play in such a “fixed” game?

AND — is it possible that WINNING is the wrong goal?  What other possible goals are there?

Greed-is-Good Capitalism (orig date 3/3/09)

So the word of the hour is, lobbyists no longer get to write the legislation.  How do we know this has already begun?  Because Big HMO, Big Pharm, Big Oil, and Big Banks are all standing outside in the snow, scrambling to get back inside and back at the table.  So think about how you would react if you were Big Oil or Big HMO, or Big Banks.  You’d pull out your best and most persuasive voices and start finding them a forum.  A microphone.  You’d buy time where the biggest audiences are watching and then hire the best and the brightest advertising agencies.  You’d call up all those physicians, experts, researchers, and scientists — you know — the one’s you’ve been paying off and employing for all these years — and you’d get as many of them as possible on the air, in print, on the blogs, in the editorials and out on the street as you possibly could — and you’d do it fast.

Never mind that this administration is only 32 days old.  Never mind that it took at least 35 years, and probably closer to 55 to put this economy into the condition it is now in.  Never mind that they sound like whining, spoiled, sore-losers that they lost their allies in Washington — all those politicians, aids, advisors, assistants, speech writers, and misc. bureaucrats they’ve been paying to take their side for decades.  In those 32 days their position has gone from comfortable and secure to flapping in the breeze — and they are pissed as hell and twice as panicked.

Pick up any of the financial newspapers and without looking, I can guarantee they are crying SOCIALISM.  Pick up any in-house publication of the HMO’s or pharmaceutical, and I guarantee they are crying the same thing.  Pick up any publication or cable/TV network with ties to the “Good Ol’ Boy Network” comprised of Friends of OPEC, Friends of Fossil Fuels, Friends of No-Bid Contracts, or Friends of US-trained Mercenaries — and they will be crying the same thing.  SOCIALISM.  The biggest bug-a-boo they can think of.  Oooooo.  Scary words.  Scary unfathomable words.  Scary un-American words.  Scary McCarthism words.  Scary Marxist words.  Scary Communist words.   Oooooooooo.   And we all shake in our boots and cry NO!  Capitalism!  We want capitalism!  Capitalism will save us!  Capitalism will save us all!  Capitalism is the engine that runs the American Dream!

Except for when it isn’t.  Capitalism — reallllllly unhealthy capitalism — is what started this.  Not in the Bush administration.  Or the other Bush administration.  Or the other Bush Sr. administration.  Or Clinton.  Or Reagan.  Or Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, or Kennedy.  This unhealthy form of capitalism is a viral mutation that’s been cooking on the stove through all those decades.  It is the lazy American’s American Dream.  The one that says “you don’t have to work that hard or that many hours.  You don’t have to scrimp on luxury.  You don’t have to do business in a way that is fair, or benefits all your employees.  You don’t have to stand behind your product or give people their money’s worth. You don’t have to be your brother’s keeper — because your brother will sink or swim on his own — let the free market decide.

This most unhealthy form of capitalism is what got us to the point where already 1 of 10 of us will be out of work OUT OF WORK as in NO MONEY BEING EARNED by summer.  NO MONEY to pay rent, mortgage, buy groceries or gas, NO MONEY for shoes or books for college.  NO MONEY for education or to see a doctor.  NO MONEY to pay property tax. Or sales tax.  Or income tax.  Out of work is just that — out of work.  No longer part of the GNP.  No safety net.  Unless you’re really lucky and have family or friends to take you in.  And you can pray with them every night that they don’t lose their job or their savings or benefits….

What distinguishes unhealthy capitalism from the HEALTHY kind?  Greed.

Remember Gordon Gekko?  Contrary to all those wide-eyed and drooling Wall Streeters who idolized that character — Gordon Gekko’s GREED is what got us here.  Make it big, make it fast, make it without reservations and without conscience.  Strip a company, a community, or a family dry — take it all — and then move on.  Which is exactly what the CEOs of all those companies we now condemn — Enron? All those fat cats flying to Washington in their private jets to beg congress to give them OUR money?  How about EXXON and it’s record profits for 28 straight quarters?  Or any of the pharmaceuticals who plead “research research!” when challenged on how much Americans have to pay for their medications compared to the rest of the world….

But it’s not just the Gordon Gekkos on Wall Street who got greedy — it’s every one of us who demanded higher profits every quarter in order for us to be happy and contented enough to stick with a company.

I’ve got news for you.  Pure capitalism does not demand a new record for percent of profit every quarter to be successful.  Only Gordon Gekko’s capitalism does that.  And that is the only kind of capitalism that has existed in the US for a very long time.  At least the last 16 years, and I would guess that it goes back to the 8 years of Ronald Reagan.  It’s no coincidence that Wall Street was written, produced, and released during RR’s 2nd administration — they had to get the idea from somewhere.  It was an idea whose time had come.

So before you go joining in with Big Oil, Big Pharm, Big HMO, and Big Banks, crying SOCIALISM to try and scare the bloody Jesus out of good, hard working, solid Americans — you might want to cry GEKKO CAPITALISM first.  That’s the boogie-man that brought us to this dance, and for my money — and my American Dream — those are the really scary words.  We got to this dance on the arm of a monster wearing a mask that says Greed is Good across the forehead.  CAPITALISM WILL SAVE US.

The truth is, most of us squirmed a little the first dozen times we heard Gordon Gekko say those scary words.  We knew from the beginning it was a lie.  –that it could only result in nightmares and a fast decent into hell.  We knew Gordon Gekko was not the man we wanted to be when we grew up.  Greed driving an economy can only result in the trampling of huge numbers of those on the bottom — because the structure is that those on top win, and everybody else loses.   Greed driving a country has the same result.

That’s the model we built and that’s the model we’ve been living.

And now — here we are.

And I would suggest that we have to treat all those Gordon Gekkos (and Bernie Madoffs, and Ken Lays…) out there like bottle-hugging, swerving, weeping, alcoholics.  It has to be cold turkey or a padded cell in a hospital for the “Capitalistically Damaged”.  They can’t “mend their ways” and suddenly start running a healthy model of capitalism.  They wouldn’t last 5 minutes alone with the temptation to cheat, steal, con, or otherwise screw their employees, shareholders, friends, fellow Americans, relatives and investors.  It has to be cold turkey for them — and for all of us who bought into the Greed is Good Capitalism of the last 40 years.

So, until there is a new generation, not corrupted by our twisted version of the sacred economic religion — there has to be another way to live.  To survive.  To do penance.  To nurse our social conscience back to health.

The truth?  Truth with a capital T?  Greed is a bad thing.  Always.  And we are our brother’s keeper.  Always.
Where have I read that before?