Dear Dirty America


Be As Righteous As You Can Get Away With: If you’re alive, you’re compromised

April 16
17:10 2012


Those on the right seem to me of several sorts: those who feel more capable than most, & want to take advantage of it, & don’t want interference–like lions.

Then there are those who believe in capitalism or free markets or free enterprise or entrepreneurship–it’s their religion.  Some are pure & sincere. They want to serve, via enterprise. Sometimes, they manage to serve, all their lives, via their enterprise, bless their hearts. What would we eat if they didn’t organize the farms, seeds, fertilizers, tractors & apparatus, harvest, transportation, grocery stores, asphalt for the roads, etc.?

More often, the more ruthless ones, who’d serve less, for more profit, out-compete them, & they die as defeated as Karl Marx or Jesus Christ. Look what Jeff Bezos is doing to nearly everyone who deals in books, one way or another, for instance.

Then there are those who see the potential of being part of a gang of bullies, under the aegis of the religion of free enterprise. They’d be Nazis if only the opportunity presented. Otherwise, they just bark like Rush Limbaugh.  What they want to do is to end the screwing up of what they imagine would be the free enterprise utopia–by, on the one hand, people like you & me who’d behave as tho there’s a brotherhood & sisterhood of humanity, &, on the other, by all the parasites, &, unfortunately there are plenty, whether crippled somehow from birth or since, or lazy, or badly programmed & stubborn, or cynical & glad to take what they can get by gaming the system.

Sometimes otherwise wonderful people fall in among them, briefly or even long-term, as Solzhenitzyn fell in among the petty criminals of the Gulag Archipelago. It’s so pervasive–if you trip, & everyone trips, it’s likely where you’ll land. Hard to re-emerge, too.

Hitler’s Nazis killed a significant proportion of the population, likewise Stalin’s secret police & Red Army. We have a strong element of that in America today, from the right–so far held mainly in check by a lot who oppose it.  But most of the opponents are not terribly strong, & don’t revel in violence & domination, as their opponents do.

Those on the left seem to me several sorts: those who want communism, which is everyone sharing everything, a great ideal–except that to get from here to there, you have to kill off everyone who prefers free market capitalism / competition–not just the billionaires, but all those for whom capitalism is a religion & a real hope for a better future–I know lots of people who are actually poor, but who are paying off mortgages & paying for health insurance for their families & working every day at two or three jobs or enterprises, for decades–some manage to become landlords or own some animals or, for instance, folding chairs they rent out for events–& who can’t tell communism from what Stalin, that nasty fascist, proclaimed was communism.

Then there are those who are just afraid to face the nasty competition. I have certainly often fallen into this category. Oh, please–protect me from the brutes–yeah, but who is doing the protecting?

Many teachers are true benefactors of humanity.  But the majority seem to be trying to avoid having to compete in the world, mainly–& often pass on that attitude, more than anything else, to their students. I’m not judging, now, I’m just saying.  It’s certainly better than being a mass murderer, in or out of uniform or office.  Yet, it lacks something, no?

Then there are the organized clients of patrons–often members of unions–not that unions aren’t sometimes desperately necessary to keep the lions from eating everyone for dinner. But once the unions get established, entrepreneurs in leftish clothing take them over.

Then there are the political patrons. Elect me, or let me run things (e.g., Napoleon Bonaparte, Augustus Caesar), & I’ll take care of a big bunch of you, at the expense of the fat cats, & at the expense of those of you I will NOT take care of. You’ll be my pets & army, I’ll be your Big Daddy.


Easier, of course, to analyze what’s bad & so, than what to do.

The world is a fabulous place, life is a wonderful gift–except when it’s a torment, which it is for many people in each generation, in each moment. But not many of us would cheerfully give up our chance to live. We want to live! It’s a great world! Sunlight, stars, love, sex (which is something else), comprehension, energy, good food, well wrought structures & machines, bright colors, harmonies, rhythm, running, swimming, lazing in bed, I could go on approximately endlessly–you can see a world in a grain of sand, after all. It’s enough to make you sing like a sparrow or whale, to spin wider than Uranus, ecstatic.

But humanity, which has the most amazing intellectual capacities, is also at war among itself, strategically as well as instinctively. Notice something called The Pentagon, for instance, & its budget–not to speak of the secret budget items. And bar codes & prices.

Lots of people don’t want to participate in the war of everyone for everything–&, if they’re pets of strong people, they may get away with it. But for the rest, the price of living in the wonderful world, & acting as brother & sister for those who will reciprocate & also do what they can to make their best possible contribution to thriving among one another–is defense & even occasional offense–& getting good at it–choosing among goals, planning, prioritizing, allocating resources, scheduling, accounting, the whole damn shebang–what Buckminster Fuller called forward undertakings–& executing at least as well as the other guy, adjusting to surprises, following thru when you feel like you’re done for–or getting done in.


I’m not talking about picking up a gun & fighting, tho I can’t see how that’s never necessary. If someone’s about to murder you, surely you have the right to preclude the possibility, by making them incapable, even if that means doing them in first. (Only I’ll decide when that’s the case, not some asshole who got 50 million resentful votes out of 100 million cast by 200 million eligible voters.)

But even venturing into traffic or into the grocery store, or exposing your eyes to TV advertisements or billboards, or the way women & some men dress or tease or intimidate, or the constant sales pitches. Even going to school. Even paying your taxes, or going to jail.

But you can still decide to be righteous to as great an extent as you can get away with. Your position won’t be pure. If you stay alive, you’re compromised. You pay your taxes, or they kill you fast or slow in court & jail.  But you can be helpful even when there’s no reward, except knowing that you actually WERE helpful, that you were capable of it, & got away with behaving as you believe you should, tho everyone else would think you’re nuts if they gave it a thought at all.

You can resist & even oppose evil, in an occasional battle you’re not certain to lose.

And you can be kind, tho it puts you at a disadvantage in the competition with those who will not be kind. (Not more than you can afford, tho! Your being a martyr won’t help the next one you would have helped!)

It is my firm belief–but it’s a tiny belief in an approximately infinite world & eternal war–that by focusing your attention & effort, you can change your own situation for the better, bit by bit, & also, likewise, change the world for the better, bit by bit.

Only, you have to remember your limbic system, subcortical, your flesh, blood, nerves, tissues, your wallet, your flanks, & all the programming you’re stuffed with like some damn sausage.

Just as you have to remember to love who you love when they’re receptive, without demanding their eternal & total commitment, you have also to remember not to let a drowning person pull you under the waves with them, however much you’re sympathetic.

Those on the right always want to recruit or exterminate you, literally, or by shame–likewise those on the left.

It’s good to forgive–when people have stopped doing to you what you’d like to forgive them for, because resentment makes one sick–but not an instant sooner, or they’ll make you a lot worse than sick.

You can think your way out of resentment, without forgiving people who are still doing what you’d like to forgive them for doing.  (They wouldn’t do it, if they knew their own true best interest.)

If you can read all these words, you certainly have the intelligence for it, if you apply the intelligence–if you can keep from being distracted during the process of disassembling the situation in your mind, & reassembling it more usefully.

You have to be willing to live, a lot of the time, unapproved of, unrewarded.

Yet you must get some money & not run out of it–or what you need, that money would buy otherwise. That’s called cash-flow. Even if people owe you a trillion dollars, if you can’t get food before you starve, you’re dead.

It’s great to be valiant–it’s pathetic never to be valiant–but you’re an idiot if you just let yourself be killed by a force you can’t possibly overcome or resist.

Retreating is frequently, maybe most frequently, a useful strategy. Lao Tzu recommended it, the general in Tolstoy’s War & Peace beat Napoleon with it, & George Washington triumphed with it, 1776-1783.

But if ALL you do is retreat, you’re dying.

You’ll run out of steam in the long run, eventually, anyway–but it’s best not to accelerate the process, if possible.

It’s not always possible.

If you would like a brotherhood & sisterhood of humanity, then, not just for yourself, you have to be intelligently kind to yourself, & also discipline yourself to become more & more capable, despite everything thrown up against you, & apply the capacities.

Frequently–it’s my experience–you’ll feel desolate–like all is in vain.

But, look here, if you’re feeling that, you’re not dead, yet. There’s breath in the old American Revolution, yet–in satyagraha, in righteous indignation, in that song of the sparrow, the whale, your so-called heart.

I’m good with words. That’s just me. It’s not words I’m talking up, here. Tho words are useful too. Likewise intelligence. I hate to hear intelligence attacked or mocked–tho more often than not, it’s out of control, used against itself or against something good, prostituted.

Similarly, I’ve allowed myself to crack wise, I got carried away, I had a good time. No harm in that, as long as it’s recognized that that’s just the clothes, not the guy under the clothes.

If what I’ve said is useful, good, go forth, use.

If you accumulate more resources than are easy to carry around with you, & if I seem a better investment than others available, send money.

Eric Chaet, The Turnaround Artist, born Chicago, USA, 1945, raised on rough South Side, pre-computer factory, office, & warehouse jobs. Some teaching, some independent self-taught technical consulting. 1974, Old Buzzard of No-Man’s Land, poems, Toronto, Canada. 1977, Solid and Sound, vinyl LP of songs, Lee’s Summit, Missouri, USA.  Mid-80s to mid-90s, silkscreened, hitchhiked, & stapled 1500 cloth posters to utility poles along American highways.  1990, How To Change the World Forever For Better, brief prose philosophy, Greenleaf, Wisconsin, USA; 2nd edition, 1994.  2001, People I Met Hitchhiking On USA Highways, mostly narrative prose, De Pere, Wisconsin, USA.  Lives in Wisconsin, industrialized dairy farms & cows, remnant cheese & paper factories & factory hands & outlaw mammals & birds, post-construction boom, reactionary politics & obsolete machinery, a smattering of professionals & millionaires.  Poems published, over 50 years in many USA states, plus Brazil, Cuba, Ireland, Scotland, England, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, Nepal, India, China, Singapore, Korea, & Taiwan, often in translation. 

You can contact him by the Leave a Reply box on each page of his website, 100 Peculiarly Useful So-Called Poems, <>.

Find Chaet’s book, People I Met Hitchhiking USA Highways, and read a review written here.

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