Letters from Home

What I am Reading… Orion Magazine

Or… Exercises in Different Thinking

I’ve been a rabid subscriber of Orion Magazine for over two years now. It’s that sort of relationship, the kind you can’t remember how it started, and you never ever want it to change or end.

There’s all too much going on the in world. So much so that word itself has become overinflated, then squashed, a overcooked soufflee. Bart Simpson has more existential meaning to us than our own political leaders. I love Bart.

I wonder, why. But then as I sit with the latest issue of Orion, I understand again why. Bart, the South Park gang, Trailer Park boys, and Orion magazine. They do things for me that mainline politics don’t. They make me think.

In James Howard Kunstler’s article “Making Other Arrangements” — with stunning photographs by David Maisel — he talks about the American view of the future as “wishful thinking,” a wonderful analogy to the psychological concept of “magical thinking” — that kind of denial that people go into when they face horrible grief and pain. Kunstler is talking about America’s inability to imagine a world without cars — and to plan for it. Not in a gloom and doom way, but in a practical way.

American suburbia represents the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. The far-flung housing subdivisions, commercial highway strips, big-box stores, and all the other furnishings and accessories of extreme car dependence will function poorly, if at all, in an oil-scarce future. Period.

These ideas, this kind of direct speaking — without the dance of idiocy, without the ridiculous fear and grovelling that seems to have overtaken mainstream media — makes me want to sing. It makes me want to walk to work, ride a bike, plant my own sustainable garden (and yes! — my family — learn to eat from it!).

Most of all, it makes me realize that I am responsible.

“Ask not what your country can do for you…” one President said, and a country answered.

My mom always reminds me that when the oil crisis hit in 1973, President Nixon persuaded Americans to drive less, to get rid of their gas-guzzling automobiles for more fuel-efficient cars. And people listened to him. People do listen to their leaders, if only their leaders would lead and say useful things. The environmental crisis today is far more serious than the oil crisis of the 1970s.

But for me, reading Orion isn’t about environmental issues. It’s about Different Thinking.

People often ask me — especially now that I live in England — who I voted for, what party I represent, where I stand. The more I walk, the longer I live in the EU, the more I read, the more consolidated my understanding of my own “politics.” Here, so you know I am using this definition: “the process and method of making decisions for groups. Although it is generally applied to governments, politics is also observed in all human group interactions including corporate, academic, and religious.” Because words have the meaning you assign them. You. The reader.

My politics are not party defined; they are not about governments or about power, per se. But they are about thinking differently, so in that sense, they are “liberal.” Here I defined that as “tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition.”

Conversatism is often used as liberal’s antonym but it isn’t. It is suited for many areas of the social and governmental arena — the definition I found that works: “in politics, a loosely defined term indicating adherence to one or more of a family of attitudes, including respect for tradition and authority and resistance to wholesale or sudden changes.”

For sudden change is not always good. However, being unwilling or closed to it — the name of family, tradition, religion, or worst of all, freedom — does no one favors. Just as wild change and reform in response to fads or knee-jerk reactions, also does not suit us.

That is why, I think, I have become obsessed slightly with Orion. It represents the kind of politics that work: the politics of personal revolution, of Gandhi and Jesus. The writing is defined not by “traditional liberalism” or even “radical conservatism,” — two hybrids which have gotten American politics stuck in the flat, slap-happy, name-calling, do-nothing state that it is in.

The people behind Orion are people acting, then writing or showing in it, in complex terms. They are everyday leaders and activists and artists, whose politics are not governmental. They are personal. They use that complex, critical thinking we are taught in univeristy, then seem to ignore forever, as we spend our days cultivating friendships with the same photocopied people: overselves, in different clothes and different houses.

I am one of those contrary people. I like to argue. I like to meet people and poke at them until I find the similarities in our differences. Even in a city like London — 280 languages — I have managed to survive.

Read Orion… But don’t think the writers are on your side… and don’t think they aren’t.

Because for each other them, it isn’t politics. It’s personal.