Have we always needed so many permits and permissions to live our private lives? It seems strange that we have become a nation of rules, a fascist state, a nation that worships Social Darwinism even if we express this value through Dancing With the Stars or America’s Top [your idea here] and not rounding up all the degenerates and murdering them in the forest.
We are in hoc to our bankers, to our creditors (think school loans and medical expenses not colour teevees), and owned by so many competing interests that it is a wonder we aren’t more aware, that we can’t seem to remember, that our regulations on daily life have not always been in place or that in memory, we could live within a number of social rules and compacts that these could be written on one sheet of paper. Today, we are guilty of so many offences to the state, to corporate interests, to zoning guidelines, emissions standards, bank fees, and the all important credit rating that determines not only the price of borrowing money, but impacts every transaction you make. In the case of this blogger, my car insurance was raised because I was late on a gas bill.
“I’m sorry, but this rate increase is due to activity on your credit report.”
“Ummm… So, with a clean record for XX years, never having put in a single claim, you are telling me that the rate is increasing because I missed a payment on a blender?”
“….. This rate increase is due to activity on your credit report…..” the biomass repeated, trying its best to fain an American accent.
It no longer matters for the insurance companies to focus on their own system of rules and risk categories; it is now every aspect of your life that determines your rate. Perhaps unclean thoughts are the next set of standards our “industries” will use to determine their rates. You are being tracked and traced and charged accordingly. For Kafka, the state tried his protagonist for crimes unknown, for us we share this same set of problems except it is the corporations and the state that have determined our need to be treated like criminals and deadbeats at every step, guilty of everything until proven innocent on all counts.
Fascism need not come carrying the cross and wrapped in the flag. It is here in our petty officials, landowners, and call center customer service representatives. This weekend I was again in Fort Mudge, the rustic and rotting city on the edge of the Henry River. In my travels I listened to three stories of our current state, three separate lives and examples of needless constraint by various entities that solidified my belief that we are not moving towards a fascist state, we are a fascist state.
I met Millie because I stopped to look at a propane stove at her yard sale. Millie is not an educated woman, she’s a local to the Fort Mudge area and her and her family live in the remains of the family business, a restaurant long out of business. She has a problem with a neighbor. Across from her is a smart little house. Nothing special, but a well-groomed lawn, washed deck, blacktop of the uttermost blackness, not a single crack in the pavement. A line of hedges facing the road protected by an electric fence powered (at least in part) by a solar panel complete the statement that yes, the owner can shove coal up his ass and make diamonds. He apparently has a hobby. Calling officials on his neighbor. Millie had animal control called on her for her dog. The inspector sat in his car outside for over an hour to count how many times her dog barked in that hour. She had the environmental officer called on her because she was burning brush in a pile and the logs were too big. The inspector sifted through the ashes and tested them for traces of plastic. She had the child protective services called on her as her children were roasting hot dogs on the fire and apparently children cannot be around bonfires, even with parents attending (my own parents then guilty of such an offence). The roof was damaged in one of the many storms last year and she had a contractor on her roof to give an estimate. Within 20 minutes the code enforcement officer was there to remind her that no work was allowed without a permit. This perhaps was just bad luck. One of those warring neighbor stories we have so many of in this great land. Nothing special.
I met Larry on the side of the road, a table of hand tools caught my eye. I had always wondered who lived in this rotting house, or more to the point, the travel trailer out front of a small house that in days long gone was a cute farmhouse now caught between a large pond that had returned to swamp and a busy road. Larry sold me a hand press. An old man with dyed hair and a walking stick, he told me he was also selling the house, if I was interested. He had wanted $15,000, but would take $12,000 cash. It came with an acre of land, the majority of which was swamp. The view across the street was of a large farm and in the distance several mountains of the Katskill range. “Someone offered me $6000 cash the other day. That’s not what I paid for this house. You can’t even buy a car for $6000.” Larry informed me that The Bank wouldn’t give a mortgage on the property since it was partially burned out. A few years ago he had actually lived in the house on the other side of the street. I marveled, because for years I passed that house, a converted country schoolhouse. I remember that it had looked very nice for a long time and then declined quickly, then vanished. Larry had lived there. He had gotten a permit to build an addition, spending close to $30,000 in the process of putting on this extension to this antique schoolhouse. He had also bought the house across the street to fix up as an investment, as if I needed one more example of why not to make investments these days.
“Kids burned out the house one night, for no reason. Little bastards. They caught them, but won’t tell me who they are. I grew up in [Fort Mudge], and lived here all my life. I don’t know what’s wrong with kids around here these days.” Just to make sure it was a feast or famine, after the fire, the town decided to enforce a new code on the house he was living in. The perfectly good house. The town (Cuthbert Junker, in another country than Fort Mudge) that said there had to be so-and-so much land for a septic field in order to be “in code.” And his property was against The Code. He asked the neighbor, the large farm that itself has a 99 year lease on the surrounding fields if he could sublet 60 feet of land in order to allow for a leach field. They refused. So, without money for lawyers and such, the town condemned his property. Unable to sell it for anything other than pennies, Larry lived in the house for the next three years until he was finally evicted by the town. The old man sighed. The farmer neighbor bought the property at a tax sale for $1500. It happens that the farmer wanted to launch a new farm stand and use that building to do so, however, the village pressed on in their enforcement of code, and further condemned the property and forced the farmer to burn down the building. The perfectly good building. “I came up the road and there were all these fire trucks. There went my house, my brand new extension. You would think when they gave me the permit to build the damn thing, they would have checked about the sewer.”
The old man gave me a tour of the house he was renovating. He had gotten some lumber, a few large boards he said he could still manage by himself. Half of the house was a dilapidated wreck. The first entry room was freshly painted duckboard. “It was so dark in here, I needed to paint it just to feel brighter.” After this painted room, the rest of the house looked similar to those in Detroit, a charred mess. It seemed beyond saving. All of the beams were burned halfway through. “The inspector said I don’t have to replace these beams, I can just scab over them with new wood and spray it with something that stops the smell,” he told me. I wondered if this was the same inspector who had condemned his former house. I wondered why this old man was kicked out of a perfectly good house and now was scrounging about this shithole attempting to fix-it-up as if he were an episode of This Old House In Hell. I left the old man, his rotting house, his pathetic travel trailer he now called home knowing that this foolish renovation was perhaps his way of coping, of moving on as he had been taught long ago, in a nation that no longer exists. I tossed my hand press into my car, and left.
Father Smith is an elderly man. He has been the parish priest for my entire life. Part of an order of priests that lived on a huge tract of land, he had spent much of his time atop a tractor ploughing the fields of using the brushhog to keep the weeds down. As with many other orders within the church, declining numbers have taken their toll as well as left a scant few to take care of enormous buildings and grounds well outside of their elderly capabilities. So the order sold the land to a local Christian cult, the Brudderhoff. The Brudderhoff knew the property well. For decades, with the thawing of relations between sects, the Fathers had allowed these people to come on the land, rent fields, and harvest the maple sugar. I remember as a child their people, women and girls in gingham dresses and boys and men in suspenders and plaid shirts, walking down to the river to play. They were always friendly. This same group, however, as landowners, has not been so friendly. The property, long used by the community and generally open to members of the parish, has become a compound. The Sisters, who themselves built a building a decade ago that would better meet the needs of their own aging population, have been evicted. And Father Smith. He was informed by the cult leaders that he may not walk the property he so long toiled over, visit the graves of his brethren, or at any time be present on their land or else they’d call the police and charge him with trespassing. Not a very Christian attitude towards a priest, let alone an 80 year old man.
Perhaps just travel’s tales. Just anecdotes in what is today a data-driven evidence-based society. Officials come to your house to count how often a dog barks. Just an example of silly government. You can dismiss it all. This is not fascism, this is just how life is, how it works. Corruption and petty disputes are the norm, to be expected, bribes are called commission, extortion called fees, we have not moved on to anything new. And yes, our fascism is nothing new. It is our stop and frisk laws, our drug war, the police check points for DWI (the last one I was stopped at the officer asked me where I came from, where I was going, why was I going there, and what time the train was I was attempting to meet arrived), the assessment-based education industry, and surveillance cameras. Long ago, when in college, I read from a book called Who Are the Fascists?
Today I can answer that. We are.