Sunday, November 15, 2015

Poetry Of No Compassion

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- Have you seen Aaron?
- Aaron? Who's Aaron?
- Your friend. The one I saw you at Dennys with.
- Before they changed, set the 20 minutes seating rule for coffee and turned off the Internet in an attempt to keep people away.
- What people?
- Like here at Ralphs after midnight. The night killers.
- Killers come here?
- I mean those who have all night to kill, the night-time to kill, who have to pass the night with no place of their own to sleep.
- I saw Aaron sleeping at the library. Do you think he's one of the night killers?
- He told me he spends some nights with a friend who lives in Korea Town. I haven't seen him for a long time. He avoids me now.
- Why?
- I told you the story.
- No. I don't remember.
- One night at Dennys the big black guy with a walking cane was there, he'd turned on his stool at the counter and was staring at us without break. Aaron with his antagonistic streak asked him what he wanted and the big guy, showing an antagonistic streak of equal virulence, said, What? What did he mean? Did he think he cared about him or me, his friend? "Then", Aaron said, "stop staring at us." "I told you," the big guy replied, "you not worth staring at. Who do you think you are? Do you want to fight?"  "Yes, I do," said Aaron. "Let's go outside."
- They fought?
- They kicked at each other in some martial arts fashion. I'd trailed them out and was repeating at a safe distance, "don't fight", "this is stupid", etc. when finally Aaron appeared to hear me and gave it up, walked away somewhat bruised by the big guy's cane. Next day the big guy saw me at Starbucks, came over, and brandishing his cane at me told me not to talk bad about him. He was going to call the police and tell them about me, that I'm dangerous.
- I heard something about you being dangerous. So he really called?
- Yes. Police arrived. He and them had a long conversation on the terrace.
- Then what?
- I don't know. I left while they were still talking.  Look, there's the Algerian. Haven't seen him in a while at Ralphs.
- I don't know him.
- He's buddies with the old confidence man, you know him, he tells people he's an international banker or in the movie business, goes to Starbucks to sleep mornings at four when it opens.
 Yes, him I know. Are you writing a book about these people?
- Ralphs might think so. According to Google Analytics, their parent company visited my site a few days ago. And yesterday a L.A. manager of the security company Ralphs contracts with asked to be a LinkedIn connection with me. Seems unlikely that a surveillance exec would be interested in my stories. And last night I caught one of the night managers - the heavy set middle aged man with the mustache -  staring at me as I typed away at my computer. And when I left and was outside I saw he had followed me to the store entrance and from there was watching me walk away.
-  Then you have written about this place?
-  Some. Did you see you guy yesterday bent over and catatonic collapsed on the trash container? He kept waking up and falling asleep, making strange arm movements like he was swimming.
- Like a dog running in its sleep.
- Like that. See the bear in the corner? The life size cut out made of a sheet of Styrofoam, celebrating the UCLA football season? Ralphs likes signs. They've got one above us proclaiming: "Ralphs: The Happiest Place On Earth!" This guy I'm talking about - you must have seen him around - he's middle aged, small and slight, has jewelry hanging all over him, rings, necklaces, bracelets. He wears leopard patterned pants, carries a designer bag - tonight he shuffled to the end of the room where it's shadowy and where the long haired woman habitually bides her time behind a wheel chair packed with her possessions. He attained the corner, pulled the sign of the bear in front of him and with him then lost to sight, suddenly there came a crash, Presumably he'd collapsed to the floor in sudden sleep. At this point the woman with the hair and chair got frightened and left us.
- Do you think the cleaners will find him at two when they throw us out?
- If they do they might not do anything about it. The corporate attitude to the night killers here in Westwood is difficult to pin down. I'm sure you know the fat young woman with the mind of a 10 month old who used to be found sitting or laying down on the pavement babbling to herself in front of Target and now has moved across the street and lays herself down in front of Trader Joes?
- Where you lock your bike sometimes?
- Yes. It's like she watches over it.
- Ralphs has its security arrangements you have yours.
- Correct. When tonight at midnight, before coming here, I locked my bike against the railing there she was as usual sleeping in her blankets, but there was a man standing by her. I told him there had to be a reason he was standing there. He said, yes, indeed, he looked suspicious, he could see people wondering about him. He was her friend, had been talking when she feel asleep. He was waiting for her to wake and he could say goodbye. So I knew her too?
- By sight, sure.
- She's been here for months.
- Yes. A lot of people know her, many help her, leave her clothes and food, blankets, a few days ago a sleeping bag she didn't know what to do with, used it rolled as a pillow, and looks like now has disappeared. She doesn't like to get to her feet, will crawl between bags of possessions she seems to forget about and move away from.
- Sad.
- It is. Almost everyone thinks so. And isn't it sad that what the people do for her is just about identical with what little the corporations in Westwood are doing? They grudgingly give temporary conditional access to corners of their places of business; the people give a few stray moments of their attention and a few dollars shopping to her. Everyone knows the government doesn't concern itself with anything but the advantage of the rich who bribe politicians to act in their favor. Yet in other times and places even in poor countries masses of people did not die in public like now in our great country. Why do you think that is?
- I don't know. Do you?
- They didn't throw out family members because they were different or couldn't make money. And someone clearly harmless like the infantile woman crawling around in front of Trader Joes would eventually be taken in hand by someone or institution with private resources. At least there'd be a chance of it. What has happened to make people heartless in their private lives, unburdening themselves of useless family members, and heartless in their public lives, unwilling to make on their own account any public improvement, when it is clear the government has abdicated responsibility for doing anything other than increasing the wealth of the rich?
- You answer: people say you're a writer. You have your ideas.
- I do. They're little complicated.
- I went to collage.
- OK, you've been warned. Government has three basic forms: of the people, of wealth, of those supposed to know better how to govern and to be better themselves, the aristocrats. But there's something strange here.
- What?
- The government of the people is according to Plato a government with no agreement on the nature of human beings, about what is best in them. Consequently there are no rules of what is good in public life, only practical measures for keeping people out of each other's way. In a democracy people can feel unconstrained in public acts, should they choose to do them based on their private judgement, because the state does not concern itself in anything other than defense of the individual. In democracy acts of public compassion are common. Similarly, in aristocracy, the government of the best and of the knowledgeable, all of public life may be determined, but private life is lived unsupervised, allowing room for private life to be filled with compassion. The state in democracy and aristocracy may be big or small, democratic or totalitarian, yet the state is not poetry, does not speak of beauty of life, does not demand and instruct individuals how to live their private lives. Poetry makes models of life in language. A model is part of a whole that reproduces the whole in miniature. Because the state in democracy is said to be humanly meaningless, organized on the assumption there is no common nature of man - it cannot speak on that subject. And in aristocracy, government of the best who know best, the whole of society tends already to be determined. The government is all of society so there is no modeling going on, and so no poetry. There may be language, not poetry; there may be the kind of self praise for being what it is like you get in a family which speaks about itself only to affirm itself. Though aristocracy is something you don't have to talk about to know it exists and feel the effect of, government and leaders may be familiarly referred to as mother and father. But government of the wealthy is different. It is genuinely a part to the whole.
- What is the other part?
- The less wealthy. A government of the wealthy, like ours, is engaged in extracting from the country the remaining wealth, in the taking over the wealth of the less wealthy. A government of wealth speaks of what it does, celebrates ways found to accomplish that goal most efficiently. It enters into every detail of private life with its speech, its advise of how individuals most efficiently should conform to discovered rules to increase or maintain or limit the loss of their wealth.
- The government that thinks it knows what is best for us leaves private life open. And governments of the people that think there is no best way to live leave public life open.
- Yes. Under the governments of the best we'll rarely see family members throwing each other out on the street. Under governments of the people we likely will witness the taking in of strays. But in our government of the wealthy there is no room for compassion, no room for any but economic considerations. And do you know what? What I found so strange?
- What?
- As I said, poetry requires a part to whole relation. A part expressed in words models the whole. So it turns out that only the government of wealth can speak in poetry.
- Do you mean the government itself is poetic, is beautiful, or it produces poetry?
- I mean both. People who follow money making rules in private life, who pursue success, who are ambitions, see these acts as beautiful and see themselves as beautiful while performing those acts. And the society itself produces poetry, as it constantly teaches and reminds its members what to do, reminds them to keep on task, never stop, never rest from money making.
- So every day during each of the twenty-four hours people walk by that fat young woman with the mind of an infant sprawled on the sidewalk in one of the most trafficked parts of the city, and no one intervenes.... Because? Tell me again.
- Our government of the wealthy has a poetry, is in fact the only form of government that makes itself out to be beautiful. It is also the only form of government that blocks compassion.
- Then the richer our society of wealth becomes the less compassionate it'll become, and the more unequal it will be.
- Seems so.
- But why? Poetry and beauty are supposed to teach compassion.
- Now that I think of it, isn't it obvious?
- Share your thoughts and it'll be obvious to the rest of us.
- Compassion is felt by one individual for another. Whatever it is that a government wants, good or bad, when poetry suggesting a model of behavior can be made about or by it, that is against what's good for an individual.
- Why?
- Who are the individuals: those who think the same as everyone else, or those who think for themselves?
- Those who think for themselves.
- Poetry of the government works to do the thinking for us, directs us with implied threat of violence towards what to think.
- And without thoughts of our own we can't be compassionate.

Further Reading:
Compassion & The Story
Bringing Back Stray Sheep