“Under communism, man is manipulated by man – whereas under capitalism, it’s the other way around.” John Kenneth Galbraith.
I work out at the Juneau Racket Club 3-4 four times a week – mostly for (a) the exercise but also for (b) the view, and (c) the subsequent sauna treat. It’s a short 5-minute walk from our house to the downtown branch, where the equipment is stashed in 3 long rows facing a swath of big windows looking out over the Gastineau Channel. It’s a blast to watch the cruise ships arrive in the early morning and inch their way carefully towards the dock or, as the case may be on a busy day with 5-6 of them coming in, anchor. Framing the top of the windows is a strip of TV displays – thankfully, all muted to their various channels so you have the choice of wearing earphones if you want to listen. Mostly I don’t, but usually a row of text appears at the bottom (what the heck is the word for that? I’ve lost it….) so if I have my glasses on I can follow what’s being said.
The point is, that one day last week I had an eye on two adjacent TV monitors. One featured Robert Reich talking about his new book Supercapitalism in which he writes that power has shifted from the individual’s role as citizen to his/her role as consumer and investor. In the aggregate, we no longer value life as prime, we now value money as the most important element. This shift has alienated us from governance and community. To see what he meant, all I had to do was switch to glancing at the adjacent screen showing a thirty-minute commercial about cosmetics, with beautiful young women coating their faces with all kinds of (possibly cancer-inducing) crap while smugly simpering and making sexy eyes at the camera. The contrast was mind-boggling. A truly pathetic if entertaining illustration of the kind of manipulation Galbraith was talking about.
But then, Friday a strong boost of community still going strong. We walked down to the ribbon-cutting at the newly refurbished Harborview Elementary School, where one of our grandkids still goes. Nice speeches from assorted state and local elected officials recalling their days through those doors 50 years ago, not to mention an engaging prescence of current student hosts for the event. Cookies, fruit and punch served in the new “Commons” area to background music from two youthful string quartets. The renovation has produced an outstandingly functional and beautiful interior, bright, airy, colorful and practical learning space in which one can barely discern even a ghost of the previous dark and somewhat grimy rooms. From there to the Canvas as part of the First Friday art walk through downtown to look at the beautiful bird paintings of by local artist Alan Munro. Home for late supper of halibut chowder – locally caught just yesterday. So, in Juneau at least, clear evidence that community is still alive and well.
PS, I got it. Close-captioned.