11 03 2018

Before I heard the recent news, I was planning to write a story that examined the proposal to create a rail-centered mass transit system in Nashville. When I heard about Mayor Barry’s resignation and guilty plea on the national news (“a rising star in the Democratic Party,” they called her), I decided that I would be remiss not to comment on a situation that reveals so much about our country’s politics, and human nature in general. So, sex first, then transit.

Let’s  begin with the adultery aspect. I see two somewhat opposing dynamics here. On one hand, in order for people to be fully intimate with each other, honesty is essential. The number of people involved in that intimacy doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as they all agree on the same ground rules and are wiling to work through whatever emotional baggage those ground rules may bring to light. For most people, most of the time, the basic ground rule is, “You and me, baby. Two’s company, three’s a crowd.”

On the other hand, enough people have broken their promise of dyadic exclusivity so that we, as a society, should have figured out by now that we’re not necessarily wired that way.

I think it’s important to differentiate between friendship and sexual attraction. Friendship is based on shared interests and compatible personalities. It may, or may not, lead to sexual attraction, which is based, in large part, on subliminal chemical signals that our bodies exchange, tasking our conscious minds with supplying reasons to act on those chemical signals. It’s the level at which we are not all that different from dogs. dogpeople1We like the way some people smell, and we don’t like the way other people smell, and those likes and dislikes are hardwired by our own body chemistry. Included in this plethora of body-to-body communication is that when a woman is “in heat,” i.e., ovulating, all the bodies around her know that, although the brains probably aren’t aware of it, and her body will be on the lookout for an attractive-smelling man with whom to mate, whether their intellectual interests and personalities are compatible or not. His body, in turn, will signal his mind to come up with a reason why it’s a good idea to mate with her. (I’m saying “he” and “she” here mostly for convenience–consider them signifiers of electricity, not plumbing.) And yes, there are plenty of times when the intellect steers the body away from its drive to satisfy its desires without regard for the social cost. Mayor Barry and her married paramour, for all their education and social training, were unable to stop their bodies from doing what they wanted to do, and now both their careers, and in many ways their lives, are in ruin. I can sympathize. I know from personal experience that hormones and pheromones are strong stuff.

As I said, this drama happens so often you’d think that, after tens, or maybe hundreds, of thousands of years, we’d be used to it, but we’re not. We don’t take our inconstant history into account when we promise, and ask our partners, to “be faithful.” All too often, when the urge to be “unfaithful” um, mounts in us, we try to hide what we are doing from our primary intimate partner, a strategy that, like marital fidelity, has worked so poorly for so long that you have to wonder why people are still trying it. Nothing destroys intimacy like the twin errors of mating with somebody else without your primary partner’s knowledge and consent, and then trying to hide that from your primary partner. Your dishonesty short-circuits the satisfaction of deep intimacy in both cases, no matter how great an orgasm you have. We are far more than each other’s sex toys, y’know?

So yep, that’s what our Mayor did. She used the cover of her lover being her official bodyguard to spend city money to finance their trysts. Their decision to have an affair is a personal matter and not, from my view, necessarily a reason for her to resign. But for the Mayor to invent the need to take her lover with her on expensive “business” trips around the world, paid for from the public treasury, is a betrayal of the pubic trust, and that’s not OK.

But there’s something deeper than  misuse of public funds and even sex, going on here. A lot of apparently separate situations spring from this same deeper level. It unites Ms. Barry, sexual predators, CEOs and politicians of both parties. They all feel that, whether it’s sex, power, or money, they ought to get what they want, without regard for the common welfare. That’s called “a sense of entitlement,” It’s also known as “sociopathy.” Yes, I”m saying our dear, popular, all-too-human former mayor is a sociopath. ‘Scuse me if I marshed your mellow with that one.

This sociopathic sense of entitlement seems to come with the territory of our dominator culture. Just as with promises of fidelity and attempts to hide infidelity, sociopaths have been rising to the top of our system for so long that you have to wonder why we still believe we can find “leader”s who aren’t infected with it. It seems to turn out that, in order to want power in this culture, you just about have to be too crazy to be trusted with it. Perhaps the answer is to change the nature of our culture.

We are, at least theoretically, capable of creating a sane culture. We know what it would take: a transition to democratic, egalitarian social and economic structures. We know that merely passing laws wouldn’t be enough to accomplish this. A working majority of our citizens will need to internalize those values, to purge the dominator culture from our own minds and expectations.  The “Ten Key Values” at the heart of The Green Party are all about exactly that. That’s the qualitative difference that distinguishes The Green Party.

How do we get there from here? I think that, like our sexual urges, the transformation of our society will come from our guts more than from our brains. It won’t be planned so much as it will be improvised as we go along, in response to what’s really happening rather than according to some detailed blueprint. When enough people become disgusted enough with the culture we have, and aware enough of the culture we could have, we will move in that direction. We have already begun. It’s more perceptible in some places than others, and there’s no guarantee that our effort will succeed, but it is under way, and, regardless of the antics of those at the top of our sociopolitical pyramid, the change will continue to spread until either it becomes the dominant paradigm or until those clinging to the old paradigm succeed in wiping out our species. Which one will happen? It’s up to us.

That’s a pretty heady thought, and a good place to pause our thinking for a while before returning to the somewhat more mundane issue of mass transit in Nashville. Let’s take a music break.

music: Jefferson Airplane, “Greasy Heart”

OK, back from the heights of possibility to the nitty-gritty real-life details of urban life. A big-ticket mass transit plan is on the table for Nashville, with a city-wide vote on the idea and approval or disapproval of its financial obligations coming up in early May.

One of the main concerns that has been voiced about this plan is that, rather than serving Nashville’s lower-income residents, the system will promote further gentrification of the city via the upscaling of neighborhoods with good transit access. Apparently, real estate investors are already on the scent. Whether the transit system is responsible or not, the gentrification of Nashville is continuing apace, and needs to be addressed systemically in order for a solution to be effective.

It’s about the facts of capitalist life: everything is for sale to the highest bidder, and those who can’t afford to make a wining bid are on their own. In this case, that means that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for low and even middle-income families to find a place to live in Nashville. Inasmuch as it’s essential to the functioning of this city for people who make less than $60K a year (what it takes to afford the rent of a typical family-size apartment in this town) to be able to live at least somewhat close to where they work. I think the city needs to exercise its right of eminent domain and purchase entire neighborhoods, if necessary, to ensure that there is enough affordable housing in the city. I am not proposing that the city get into the landlord business, however. The city can structure its real estate purchases as urban land trusts, and sell them back to community organizations composed of the residents of those neighborhoods. A real estate transaction tax could generate the needed funding. There is plenty of precedent for using this tactic to secure neighborhoods against real estate speculation.

There is a substantial group of activists working on the gentrification aspect of the transit plan, so I want to spend some time putting this idea in a larger context.

First, Nashville used to have mass transit. In the early decades of the last century, Nashville, like most of urban America, had an extensive streetcar network as well as off-road light rail service to the nearby cities of Gallatin and Franklin, as well as frequent rail passenger service to slightly more distant places like Clarksville, Murfreesboro, Columbia, and Dickson. I don’t know the dirty details, but in most of the country, this light rail network was done in by a one-two punch: the aggressive marketing of the private automobile, including massive public funding for paved roads, and the expense of refurbishing the rail cars and tracks versus just converting to bus transit. There is some evidence that financial manipulation by the companies that manufactured buses, tires, and other automotive products may have been involved, as well.

One of the unintended consequences of the spread of the automobile as a primary form of transportation is that both work and housing have become decentralized, making it more difficult for mass transit to serve people’s needs. The utility of mass transit was further undermined by the deindustrialization of the US, including Nashville, which resulted in the closing of a great many workplaces that hired literally hundreds of people who all came and went at the same time.

The next wave diminishing the workforce may well be “artificial intelligence,” the substitution of robots for people. Why build a multi-billion dollar transit system if, in a few decades, nobody is going to need to go to work anywhere?

Stepping back still further, we’re assuming here that the “business as usual” model will continue rolling smoothly along, when there many indications that the kind of civilization we have always known and take for granted is under severe stress and could come apart in ways that would leave a high-tech transit system utterly useless. The climate that has enabled us to become dependent on agriculture is changing faster and faster. Our economy has become a debt-based pyramid scheme that, like all financial bubbles, will pop at a time that will leave most of its players, like you and me and the City of Nashville, with nothing other than empty promises and worthless paper. As I’ve suggested before, perhaps the best thing we could do to solve Nashville’s traffic problems is to invest in walkable neighborhoods–places where you don’t need a car, or a bus, or “light rail” to work, shop, and go to school.

A better mass transit system for Nashville sounds like a good idea. Done right, it could even be a good idea. The current plan, however, seems like another big-ticket neoliberal scheme to make the rich richer in the short term, with no thought at all for long-term viability.

I drive in Nashville. I know enough to skip “the rush hours” of the day as much as I can, and I feel sorry for all those who have to be out there in their automobiles, taking up more or less a hundred square feet of roadway to transport their four square foot body from one place to another at a life-risking rate of speed. There has to be a better way, but I’m not sure that what is on the table for this May’s election is the improvement we need.

This post is entitled “Sex, Transit, Gloria Nashville.” We’ve covered the sex and the transit. Let’s get on to the “Gloria” part….

Patti Smith, “Gloria” (even more ecstatic live version)

I had intended to talk/write about a lot of other subjects this month–gun violence, the reaction against sexual predation, the ongoing dog, pony, and stalking horse show that is “Russiagate,” and further developments in my “Boundaries of Compassion” story from last month, but I’m at a point where I don’t have enough writing time left to put them together, or enough air time in what remains of my “hour on the stage” to do them justice, so they will have to wait. What I will do is finally finish the “Evil” chapter of Charles Eisenstein’s The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is  Possible.”



4 responses

11 03 2018
Caz Loth

I live a block off of Gallatin Rd which I use often. The construction of the light rail up this corridor would tear it up for years, turning my local movement into a nightmare. And the cost that would burden taxpayers would be phenomenal. There are only 5 public transit systems in the nation that turn a profit so this would create an eternal deficit. We are car loving people and it would be difficult to convince people to use public transit, even if it could take us to where we need to go, which it couldn’t most of the time. Nashville isn’t New York City or San Francisco, where the population and commerce are squeezed in to a small centralized area. A 20 minute car ride could easily turn into a trip that would take over an hour because of the need to transfer once or twice. And a downtown tunnel; really? There’s is no doubt something needs to be done to relieve the traffic situation but this is not it. I suggest widening all the roads or building multi-level highways but this would also cause traffic nightmares for years. As far as providing homes for low income people, that may not be practical. They may have to do what other struggling families have done in large metropolitan areas like, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago or San Francisco; move.

13 03 2018

I’m with you on the likelihood that Nashville doesn’t have “the masses” to make “mass transit” work, but not on your suggested solution to the traffic problem or on your laissez-faire attitude about low- and middle-income housing.

In the near-term, widening roads to accommodate more traffic has repeatedly been shown not to be a solution to traffic problems. Wider roads invite more traffic.In the longer term,I think that, between the pincers of an evaporating middle class and an evaporating supply of oil and the other raw materials necessary for automobile culture, wider roads are probably an even poorer investment than a mass transit system. Walkable neighborhoods, as I said in the article, are the best long-term investment. I also think that horses, mules, and the ability to manufacture, at alow tech level and with locally-sourced materials, the kind of conveyances they can pull would be a good investment. There just might be a gold mine in creating something that enables a draft animal to pull an automobile or light truck.

As for the idea that “struggling families (should just) move,” for me, compassion dictates that I consider the welfare of living beings more important than the welfare of money. A basic purpose of government should be to ensure that all the people of the polity are adequately housed. Our current system is, in a phrase, mean-spirited, and belongs in the same historic dustbin as the divine right of kings.

In defence of mass transit, I suspect that the accounting standards that say mass transit “loses money” are themselves suspect. There is a lot of value created in enabling people to travel around the area in which they live without having to make the not inconsiderable investment in an automobile, and a great deal of money saved by the roads that do not have to be built because not so many ars are on them. And then there’s air quality.Back to “losing money” before I close–whether something that serves the public good can “turn a profit” or not is hardly the defining criterion. Should the fire department have to “turn a profit”?

23 03 2018

And furthermore…. :-) I agree that Nashville, like most US cities, has been too decentralized by automobiles and deindustrialization for mass transit to be very useful.

On a different topic, “they can just move” ignores a couple of realities. One is that “just moving” destroys whatever community support network those gentrified out of a neighborhood had. The other is that the new slums are in the suburbs, where, at the transportation level, life is more difficult than it was in the inner city.

13 05 2018

[…] recently wrote about Nashville’s plans for a better transit system, calling it “another big-ticket […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: