State of the Political Left from a Jaded Chicken Farmer

Editor’s Note: This piece by Ken is the first in a series on the state of the Democratic Party and “The Left”. Our writers were given a series of questions for a “Panel Discussion” style response piece. As expected, Ken deviated from the exercise but offered some great perspective. 

Question: What are your feelings about the political left following the 2016 Elections?

I’m probably not the guy to be answering these questions. They seem geared toward people who are paying attention. And I’m not. Or for people who are smart and have university doctorates in international politics or economics or anthropology. Having lived in Chicago for the last six years–the broad shoulders holding a melting pot that might have its problems socially, but is so beautifully rich in culture and intellectualism that you learn something new about yourself simply by waking up in the morning–and then moving back to my family farm 50 miles south–though it might as well be 500–I find myself having a strange perspective on America and an inability to elucidate this perspective.

I’ve been away too long and these people don’t understand me. But, then, I don’t understand them. That’s my first thought. Maybe it’s elitism on my part. Maybe it’s confusion on both our parts. Maybe it’s the feeling of being ignored. Not ignored by me, per se, but by the machine that is broadcast on every channel, bombarded by a demagogue telling them they need more and they deserve more. Fuck, maybe they do. Who am I to say?

I’ve got no perspective. Given a farm. Given money from a dead aunt. Sure, I’ve worked hard. Spent six years bartending, working sometimes 60 hours a week. But mostly it was to fuel my drug habits and unruly social behavior.

What I’m getting at is perhaps I don’t know why these people turned over random rocks for answers. Maybe they were tired of being sold the same old cow and not getting the milk they were promised.

I’ve talked at length about America with a friend of mine, a Spanish teacher who’s lived in Argentina and spent a summer backpacking through Colombia. We both realize our experiences aren’t normal. Not everyone collects stamps in their passports and gathers the intelligence that maybe, just maybe, most people in the world are just like you and me. No matter what someone tells you, Muslims aren’t in a cave somewhere plotting to blow you up. It’s a ruse. A horror story to make you feel afraid. Fear, after all, sells, and people will go bankrupt on it. Must be some sort of genetic makeup that causes us to go fucking ga-ga over it. Anyway, we wonder aloud whether maybe it is really bad for some folks. Maybe we don’t understand just how bad the rural areas of America have become. Our experience is unique and esoteric. Elitism gnawing at the heels.

My hometown has a population of 4,000. It has seven bars and two funeral homes. Throw in a few banks, a Burger King, a Dollar General, and a Casey’s and I’ve just described every down and out town in America. Someone, somewhere along the line, let independence and freedom of choice and pride in one’s home get sold to the highest bidder and shipped down the river. The Dollar General is so fucking depressing I want to go to the cleaning supply aisle and gulp down bleach. Landfill junk no one needs. And sugar. They might as well just shovel corn starch into the mouths of the languid bovines that plod through the doors day and night. And, yet, I go there, because where else can I get garbage bags we forgot to grab at the grocery store?

Maybe these rural areas–with their bars full of machines begging to take their paychecks and people uneducated enough to slide their money into them and expect a happy ending and these modern sugar shacks taking whatever is leftover, sapping these people of any perceived happiness they had when they woke up in the morning—maybe these people feel left behind because they have been left behind. And maybe when the same old cow came along peddling the same old milk, they said, “Fuck it, let’s buy the horseshit. Maybe we can use it as fertilizer.”

I don’t know. I’m confused. Again, I’m convinced I’m the wrong guy for this exercise.

I’m starting a chicken farm. I bought 250 chickens. Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons. They’re four months old and when May hits I’m gonna be knee deep in eggs. How fitting that spring brings renewal?

“Growth has its seasons,” as Chauncey Gardiner said in “Being There.”

But he was a simpleton and yet people lapped up his idioms and thought he could walk on water. People thirst for anyone to tell them–even lie to them about–the easiest path across the desert. I’m reminded of another great piece of literature, Katherine Dunn’s “Geek Love.” There’s this character, Arturo Binewski, a fish-boy in a traveling freakshow who promises his followers salvation through self-mutilation. He’s a fascinating character and since reading the book months ago, I’ve come back time and again to this quote from the book where he’s talking to a journalist:

“Why? You’re asking me why? You tell me, Mac! I’m not really in a position to know. You are. Me, I have suspicions. I suspect people are suckers for pricks. I suspect folks just naturally go belly-up for a snob. Folks figure if a guy acts like he’s King Tut and everybody else is donkey shit, he must be an aristocrat.”

There you have it. No reason to wonder why we are in the place we are. Or maybe high-brow literature doesn’t have answers. Maybe it’s best found in the old Pogo cartoon: “I have seen the enemy and he is us.”

To backtrack: Those poker machines I mentioned fascinate me and force me to stare in the mirror behind the bar. To wonder whether we are, indeed, our own worst enemy. The people who are making money off them are predatory. That’s an absolute. On a smaller scale it’s similar to home loans or college tuition. But it’s easy to point the finger at the enabler. Maybe we should also point the finger at the hopeless souls feeding those machines. Are they meant for entertainment? Sure. And is it a stretch to use this as an example of our ills? Maybe. But go to the Illinois Gaming Board website and pull up the numbers for February of 2017. The numbers are frightening. From a Chicago Tribune article: “Overall, the Illinois gambling industry’s “hold” — money left after paying winners — was $3.67 billion in 2016, up 5.6 percent from the previous year, said a report by the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a data provider to the General Assembly.”

I thought I had a lot off chicken shit. But it pales in comparison to the money the state is raking in. So I read articles and research it and obsess over the morality of it and the mentality that leads to its “success” for the state. And I realize that this is simply another tunnel in an endless stretch of tunnels in the rabbit hole of government and America, the maze of which would make Daedalus blush. I drop it. As I drop so many of the ills of America, numbed by the sheer breadth of it all.

Fact is, I’m not left or right anymore. I’m about to be the second coming of Eric Burdon (he was the Egg Man John Lennon referred to–look it up). Dealing with a tax bill of nearly 70k I inherited from my father. And I’m also a newlywed figuring out how to be a good husband. I could be angry. I could shake my fist at the sky and call Trump a fucking idiot and not be wrong in doing so. The fact is, though, that doesn’t solve shit. And I don’t have time for anger. Maybe I am privileged enough not to. Maybe my ability to tune out and turn off is the exact reason I should be tuning in and turning on. But there’s an overwhelming powerlessness that accompanies watching the soft glow out on the horizon of America burning to the ground. There’s also a part of me that thinks maybe the fire they claim is raging is nothing but a hologram–or certainly isn’t as ravaging as they claim. Or is that privilege talking again?

I just don’t know. I know I didn’t really get to any of your questions. I’m sorry. I don’t have any answers. All I know is I got chickens to feed.

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