My mother, Betty (Steele) Wallace, wore many hats over the years – reporter, Clerk of the County Court, columnist & de facto editor, high school English teacher and author. Born on a small ranch in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, of pioneer stock and into a world of ranching, mining and timbering, she had a deep understanding and keen appreciation of those who migrated to the area and built the communities. Some of those communities faded into ghost towns, some continue to prosper. The people who built that part of Colorado are long gone, but Betty had known a good many of them, went to school with their children and knew every family in the Gunnison Valley – their history, virtues, faults and quirks. For several years, she wrote a weekly column in the Gunnison News-Champion, telling the stories of the area’s early citizens. She called it her ‘pioneer series’ – interviews of the original settlers or their children; ranchers, saloonkeepers, miners, storekeepers, prostitutes, preachers and politicians.
One of the people she interviewed and wrote about was her mother, Cynthia (Weed) Steele. This is mother’s column on my grandmother, published in the News-Champion, April 6th, 1950. Continue reading Grandmother – A Life
The bullshit American Narrative to the contrary, America is and has always been a ‘class society’. There are basically three classes: Rulers, Mandarins and Peasants.
The Rulers care only about acquiring and increasing their own personal wealth and power. To that end they will enslave, oppress, plunder, exploit and murder, from individuals to entire countries and populations. One thing that has traditionally held them in check has been competition from rulers in other countries, but with economic globalization, national distinctions are vanishing and we can speak of a trans-national elite, a ruling class no longer limted to one country.
The job of running the world for their benefit is too large and complicated for them to accomplish directly. They have therefore established a class of Mandarins – the professionals who actually do the day-to-day work of making the Rich & Powerful richer and more powerful and otherwise supporting the status quo. They do this for the sake of crumbs from the Rulers’ table and the few benefits that place them above the class of Peasants. Joe Bageant nailed it: “The truth is that when we are looking at the political elite [and Mandarins in general], we are looking at the dancing monkey, not the organ grinder who calls the tune”.
If the Rulers constitute the top .1% financially, the Mandarins constitute perhaps the next 20% or thereabouts. They are the visible aspect of the Ruling Class; the pundits, politicians, opinion-shapers, and technicians. As long as they are kept well fed and housed and given the [false} hope of rising to the status of Ruler, they will labor mightily to keep the wheels on the wagon and the Rulers in power, It has been the Rulers who have called the shots politically, economically and culturally for centuries and it has been the Mandarins who have enabled them. They are as guilty as the Rulers, since they facilitate the Class System.
The Peasants? Well, they have provided the actual labor to create the true wealth and have provided the cannon fodder for the Rulers’ wars of conquest and plunder. Both the Rulers and the Mandarins keep the Peasants distracted and provided with the minimum necessary to keep them alive and useful (to the Rulers), but only the minimum, since giving Joe Redneck more than a living wage would reduce the Rulers’ profit margins.
There have been isolated periods of time and place when the Peasants have rebelled, sometimes with temporary victory and sometimes suffering horrendous defeat. However, never having exercised the wheels of power, they are inexperieced in wielding it and the resulting regimes soon fall prey to the machinations of Ruler Class survivors or Mandarins (trained to administer) newly elevated to Ruler Class. Note that educating the Peasants in how to run the world is taboo – can’t have the rabble thinking thoughts above their station. Which partly explains the state of the educational system in America today (along with the desire of the Rulers to reduce taxes and privatize for profit).
BTW: The widely-touted success of the American Revolution was not a matter of Peasants throwing off Rulers. It was about replacing Rulers three thousand miles away with local Rulers. George III & his ministers vs New England mercantile interests and Southern Plantation owners.
Fortunately or unfortunately, some things are self-limiting. The obsession with cheap energy. for example, (to net them every penny in manufacturing and distribution) has triggered Global Warming. The only thing that will limit climate change is the collapse of the mechanisms that drive it. But in the process, billions of people will die and billions more have their lives reduced to precarious day-to-day survival. The Rulers don’t care. They. Do. Not. Care. They themselves will survive in style, in well-protected enclaves (on high ground), served by (fewer) Mandarins and protected from the Peasants by other Peasants.
“I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.” – Jay Gould
Ultimately, greed is self-limiting, a la the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg. The social, political, economic and human equivalent of Golden Eggs is playing out in slow motion today. We are witnessing the gradual (but accelerating) collapse of economies, politics, societies and nations. This is not new. It has happened repeatedly over the centuries. What is depressing is that it will likely continue to happen as long as the species lasts. And if anyone believes that one leader, one politician, one party can somehow reverse, avoid or prevent historical processes from running their course, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell them.
Originally published in Bluebook Magazine in April 1938.
Grandmother Cynthia Sophia [Weed] Steele
Son was my uncle Herbert
Little Daughter was my mother Betty
Continue reading High Bridge
“A democracy cannot exist without an educated citizenry.”
So says the mission statement on our masthead. And that has been on my mind a great deal lately. Exactly what constitutes sufficient education to acquire, enable and preserve a democracy? Continue reading Character Matters
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Great men are almost always bad men.”
The phrasing of ‘tends’ left Acton some wiggle room, just in case we happened to find someone who attained power but was uncorrupted. It’s questionable whether he needed to include that, but since he was a historian and politician, I assume his views reflect that world.
We have certainly seen this opinion verified not only in politics but all to often in the business world. Combined with the teaching of Niccolò Machiavelli, it goes a long way toward describing the success of some terrible people.
Continue reading Lord Acton on Liberty in 2016
Rummaging through Depression-era photos at Library of Congress, I came across some
I’d seen before, taken by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration in the ’30-40s.
Continue reading Cockleburs and Callings
…to six inches of topsoil and the fact that it rains.
I have PC software that makes any image into a puzzle, and I enjoy putting them together in idle moments. One photo I’m particularly fond of depicts the ruins of what was once an elaborate castle perched on the side of a mountain in France. Another favorite puzzle is the Western Wall in Jerusalem, with blocks of stone weighing up to 30 tons. It boggles my mind to contemplate the sheer physical effort required to build these structures, the power of men and animals dedicated to such work; the logistics of supplying the workers who quarried the stones, those who transported them, those who put them in place, the men and women patiently cultivating the food that sustained them. And it is with a sense of unease that I contemplate the power wielded by those in command, those who could order the building of castle, temple and Great Wall, of skyscrapers, cities and empires. Continue reading We owe it all
To the Thunder On The Right, from Trump to Cruz to your run-of-the-mill fundamentalist bigot, we can add the Cheering On The Left as BernieFans engage in their Mutual Admiration Society. With all that noise, it’s difficult to simply contemplate where we are, where we’re headed, where we should be headed and how to get there. Continue reading Götterdämmerung: Reboot
In the long run, all that will remain of most of us will be whatever memories accrue among those we leave behind. When they are gone, so are we. Few will make the pages of the NYT, but some people deserve a wider remembrance than just family and friends. Continue reading Kenneth Aran: 1922-2015
Being the first in a planned Twilight series of observations and ruminations on the state of the world and its denizens, past, present and future.
Return On Investment: As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
When I was a teenager, I drove a 1924 Star. It rattled, creaked, squeaked, clinked, clanked, banged, jangled, clattered and protested mightily when called upon to actually move, but it did get me to school and an occasional jaunt into the countryside. We had to scrounge up old tires and spare parts, even machining some pieces in shop class, since Durant Motors was long out of business. Keeping it on the road became increasingly difficult and complicated. I finally decided it wasn’t worth the time, money and cussing. It might have had some value to an antique auto collector, but it had a negative ROI as a useful means of transportation. As I look around, a great deal of what I see reminds me of that old car.
There are a lot of individual pieces that need to work together. And they aren’t.
Continue reading Götterdämmerung: – Noises Off