Why I’m So Serious

me, in Galicia, Spain 2008

A well-intentioned friend of mine recently told me that my writing is too full of doom & gloom and this got me to thinking or reflecting on whether this could be true? And this isn’t the first time I have heard this opinion regarding what I’d call my seriousness. It dawned on me that Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Howard Zinn, Gore Vidal, etc., could also be accused of the same thing but the only critics that I’ve ever heard say this about this illustrious group, are usually people like Rush Limbaugh & Bill O’Reilly. For those of us on the Left side of the political aisle, Chomsky is a one-man revolution and he is venerated as a national treasure. This friend of mine says that the things I bring up are common knowledge but I don’t think he realizes how patently absurd this statement is? I have been pursuing knowledge like a dog digging for a bone, my whole life and I’m now 55 years old and the overwhelming majority of people I’ve met have only the faintest clue as to what’s going on.

Howard Zinn, humble, funny, & brilliant

Professor Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States has sold over a million copies and is in something like it’s 20th edition because it’s such an eye-opener for people due to the lies we were taught in public school. For example, we have a national holiday named for Christopher Columbus as if he were some great hero and he was a butcher who kidnapped Native American women & children and held them captive until their husbands came back with some gold & if they returned without any gold, Columbus had one of their arms chopped off.

One of the reasons why I’m “too serious,” is because I have been defending myself and those who have been the victims of bullies since I was six or seven years old. What I’m about to say isn’t because I want sympathy but simply to show the continuity of my life. An aunt of mine told me when I was somewhere around my early twenties that the step-dad who’s last name I have, used to beat me severely before I was even one year old and that I was terrified of men and him especially and when he’d come into the room, I’d hide behind chairs or whatever I could. When I learned this from my aunt, things started to add up in my life i.e. I began to understand my character and personality a little more. I have always been suspicious or not very trusting of people but not to the point where it has prevented me from going out into the world. I have hitchhiked across the U.S., up and down the West Coast dozens of times, and around Europe several times but I am always on my guard. Perhaps that’s why my legs often feel so tired because I am tense most of the time & especially when I’m around others in a public place.

Another aspect of my personality which may account for some of my seriousness is that since I was around six or seven years old & first learned how to read, books have been my friends and I’ve spent many a blissful hour reading by myself. They may have been my refuge or escape from the chaos that has dogged most of my childhood and teenage years. My mother struggled to raise me and my sisters and brother mostly by herself and she would sometimes work two or three jobs to make ends meet. Therefore I was responsible for looking after my siblings e.g. cooked our dinner, made sure they did their chores & homework, protected them against bullies, etc. In fact, I saved my brother from being kidnapped once in San Diego when I was about 12 years old I believe? And I guess this looking after others and protecting them carried over into my friendships because when my friends and I would go out nightclubbing in our twenties, I always made sure we got home alright and my friends usually always gave me their car keys and asked me to drive us home after a night of drinking & dancing.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the fact that my mom had several boyfriends and husbands as we were growing up and I sometimes had to fight some of them to protect my brother & sisters. I always wished that I had an older brother who would fight my battles for me but it was not meant to be. And because I’ve been fighting for so long and from such an early age, it really struck me as odd that my own son growing up, has so far, been in only one fight when he was in high school. He’s now 21 years old. I worry that he’ll be able to handle himself if the shit comes down? I have tried to teach him street smarts like when he and I were on vacation in Europe when he was eleven years old. And now he thinks he knows more than me on just about every subject so all I can do is hope for the best & hope that some of my lessons sunk in? I don’t mean to sound like I think I’m some sort of bad-ass but when I lose my temper and feel the righteousness of my cause i.e. several guys are beating a single guy severely, etc., I have dove into crowds and fought like a madman—or so people have told me?

Equally important in perhaps shedding some light on my serious nature is the fact that we moved around a lot as I was growing up and it was always hard for me to make friends. I am slow to trust people and it’d usually take me quite a while to feel close to someone. In fact, the handful of best friends I made as a boy usually started with us getting in a fistfight and once we got that out of the way, we became tight friends. And everywhere we moved, I would check out the local churches. My mom never made us go to church, it was something I wanted to do and often I went on my own. I didn’t know anything about the different denominations and as a result, I attended services and Sunday school at a wide variety of churches. And this reminds me of a bookmark that was given to me by a young man & his mother a few years back. His name is Nate and he has cerebral palsy and I was his caregiver. Nate’s mom knew from our conversations that I was a very serious reader and lover of wisdom and this is what the bookmark they gave me said, “The buying of more books than one can possibly read is nothing less than the soul reaching toward infinity.” I really love this quote because it says to me that there is no enmity between the search for wisdom or secular knowledge and the spiritual search for wholeness or however you’d like to phrase it. It’s usually the insecure, the fearful, & the small-minded who fear the humanities and see them as a threat to their “faith.”

John Trudell, will blow your mind!

Furthermore in terms of my overly serious nature or anger & passion about all the injustice in this world, it also dawned on me that most of my favorite authors and musicians over the years are artists concerned about social & political injustice as well. Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Joan Baez, Neil Young, John Lennon, John Trudell, Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hesse, Charles Dickens, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemmingway, etc. We’ve come to this precipice in space & time here in America because we’ve been duped, manipulated, & indoctrinated for so long that most Americans have given up on voting or informing themselves because they feel the situation is hopeless. The mainstream media’s version of “news,” is now referred to as “infotainment.” Burying our heads in the sand though won’t make the dangers disappear.

To be sure, the fact that I have what’s called a ‘lazy eye,’ made me especially sensitive to people’s teasing as I was going through elementary school and I got in a lot of fights because of other kids mocking or ridiculing me when my eye would turn in after concentrating on the ball when playing sports or games. Kids can be very cruel and I think because I was on the receiving end of this cruelty so many times, I empathized with other kids who were the butt of mean jokes and laughter as well. As a matter of fact, it was the strangest thing but when I was in the 6th grade and we first moved to Paramount, California, which was the longest I ever lived in one city i.e. from 6th grade till I was twenty years old, my two best friends were Brian—the most popular boy in our school, and Otis, one of the kids most picked on. We became sort of like the Three Musketeers.

Death Squad, El Salvador

Another observation regarding my seriousness, which is connected to, what many family members & friends over the years have called my “over-sensitivity.” In fact, at a particularly low-point in my life somewhere around my mid-20s, I spoke to the school psychologist at the college I was attending and told her that my friends often accused me of being overly sensitive. She said basically that this was bull and that you’re either sensitive or you’re not. And this is like saying to someone that his or her hair is too brown. After college, I got into substitute teaching for L.A. Unified schools and though I have never taken a single teacher education course, after subbing for a few years, I thought I was a good teacher but nothing special. And then I had the great fortune of subbing for six weeks for an ESL class at Van Nuys High School where my wife at the time taught full-time in the Special Ed department. Most of these students were from El Salvador and Nicaragua and I knew what they must have witnessed or gone through because I was following the alternative media coverage of this shameful episode in American history. One day as I was leaving, the principal & the department chairmen of both the ESL & the English departments, interviewed me and offered me a permanent, year round teaching position in either department. I chose the ESL department because I truly loved and looked forward to working with these students each and every day. Unfortunately though, because I hadn’t taken six units towards my teaching credential, the district wouldn’t renew my long-term teaching credential so I couldn’t accept the position. When I told my classes that I had to move on, several of the girls started crying and it brought tears to my eyes so I quickly left the room out of embarrassment. I only bring this up because I feel it reflects the fact that it is my sensitivity to others’ suffering that causes me to feel their pain and to empathize with them. It’s not that I’m a brilliant teacher or anything, it’s basically my compassion and my love of and belief in knowledge as the way out of the vicious cycle that so many of the world’s poor are in.

Obviously, I’m a bleeding-heart liberal and proud of it. Yet, another significant event in my life which contributed quite a lot to making me the person I am was when my little brother died at the age of 18 from a heroin overdose. My mother commented to me the day of the funeral, which I had to make all the arrangements for since my mom was too distraught, “this is only the second time in your life that I’ve seen you cry.” My guess is that because I had so much dumped on my lap from such an early age that I kept my emotions bottled up and thought I had to be John Wayne because that’s what TV taught us. But ever since my brother passed away, it has gotten easier and easier for me to cry and sometimes I lose it in public and just can’t hold back the tears. Nowadays, I can cry at the drop of a hat.

Joni Mitchell, Lady from the Canyon

I feel that my lust for knowledge and wisdom is partly due to my desire to help my fellow man? As Plato said, the purpose of acquiring knowledge is not for self-glorification but to share it with others. And yes, to borrow a line from Joni Mitchell, this makes for heavy company. This is why I’m not good at small talk. I can be silly and light-hearted at times but most of the time I am preoccupied with the serious issues facing us. Those who are wielding all the power over us & wreaking such colossal damage physically, environmentally, financially, psychically, & spiritually, want us apathetic & distracted with the superficial and materialistic crap that TV inundates us with from cradle to grave, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. They want us to keep buying their products but they don’t want us to vote unless we support their crime partners in Congress or the White House or the Supreme Court. They don’t want us discussing politics or protesting social inequities & etc. As long as we keep silent, they can continue to freely exploit the world’s people and natural resources.

Yet, America never would’ve become a sovereign nation if it weren’t for just over half the colonists who joined in the Revolution and rebelled against King George of England. It’s time again to rebel but this time the tyrant is President George and the American Corporate Empire not the British Empire. And like the original colonists who sat on the sidelines, the same is true of many Americans who now sit on the sidelines and say it’s useless to fight them. Just as all those Americans who sat by while their fellow Americans organized unions and had their heads caved-in or were jailed or killed to bring us the 40 hour work week, the right to overtime pay for anything over 8 hours, the right to a safe work environment, the prohibition to work children as slaves, etc. Every single bit of social progress made in this country and in other countries was fought for! So, you can sit passively by and reap the benefits but you have to sleep with yourself and your conscience. If you joined us, the load wouldn’t be so heavy for those of us who are engaged. Take a stand and be able to tell your children and your grandchildren that you were a patriot. As a wise person said, “When the people fear their government, it’s a tyranny. When the government fears the people, it’s called a democracy.” Today, under the Bush Oil Cabal Cabinet, they are laughing at us because they have gotten away with murder and scores of crimes. When you take stock, the only thing Bush hasn’t succeeded in was his attempt to privatize Social Security but you can bet your bottom dollar he and his kind haven’t given up on this and they’ll be back again.

Buckminster Fuller, the planet's friendly genius

Perhaps I sound like an alarmist or like Henny Penny “The sky is falling. The sky is falling!” But when you have read as much as I have, listened to as much alternative radio, watched as much alternative TV, traveled, etc., you’ll realize or understand that I don’t make these comments or predictions lightly or gladly. I am scared to death not only for my loved ones, friends, & myself and for all of humanity. I wish to God that I was wrong but there’s an absolute avalanche of evidence, which substantiates this bleak reality. I do believe there’s still hope but like the current state of the world’s climate, we are perilously close to the point where it will simply be too late. While watching Free Speech TV today, there was a brief message between programs, which showed a nicely manicured lawn with thousands of white crosses in the lawn, and a quote from Buckminster Fuller “Either war becomes obsolete or man does.” We’re becoming a dictatorship under the Patriot Act and the Homeland Security bill but, as F.D.R. said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Have we become so blind in our arrogance and ignorance because we have been a super power for half a century that we have to lose every last vestige of our freedoms before we realize what’s happening to America? How can we not feel outrage at what’s going on and the inhumane treatment of our fellow human beings?

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

There are billions of people on this planet that don’t have clean or safe water to drink and many who don’t have any water at all, let alone an education. As someone privileged and lucky because I was born in America and have pushed myself to learn, it’s my duty to speak truth to power. I seek the truth and I speak the truth for those who can’t. To be fully human means to have compassion & empathy for the less fortunate. And I criticize America because it’s my country and as Thomas Jefferson said, it’s not only our right to hold our government accountable, it’s our duty. Moreover, I am especially harsh in my criticisms of our “leaders,” and I urge my fellow Americans to do likewise because our “representatives,” corporations, military, C.I.A., etc. are the major exploiters of the developing nations. If we, as a people who have far more individual power than the vast majority of the world’s people, won’t even inform ourselves, write a few letters, or won’t even discuss these issues amongst ourselves, then all of humanity is doomed! The time is late and we’re approaching the midnight hour on the doomsday clock & this is why I implore everybody I come into contact with to stand up and be heard because we still have a little power left. As terrible as it may sound of me, if you don’t act and the worst case scenario comes to fruition, you can no longer say you weren’t aware and your fate and that of your loved ones will be on your head. No more cop outs, denial, or blaming of others! I know this is overwhelming and a very dark & gloomy picture but the reactionary reptiles disguised as republicans are busy day in and day out and if you doubt my words, just look up on the Internet, a guy named Bruce Gagnon and the work he’s done regarding the Pentagon’s “Full Spectrum Dominance” program already in process as we speak, with laser equipped satellites so America can strike anywhere on earth and therefore maintain dominance over the entire planet. Star Wars in other words with America as Darth Vader. Just consider those smirks on Cheney and Bush’s faces as they strut around blithely ignoring domestic and international laws.

This may sound egotistical but it’s more and more reaffirming as I grow in my awareness of history and politics, and discover new connections. It’s said that original thinking is connecting ideas from different disciplines and the wider my reading and the deeper my reading, the more connections I see. I just went to a lecture by Naomi Klein at the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon a couple of nights ago and the church was packed to the rafters. The announcer told us that even though Ms. Klein’s book was only released just three months ago, it’s already an international best seller and on the New York Times Bestseller List. And it’s been translated into 18 different languages so far.

Near the end of the question and answer period, Ms. Klein told us that she’s the daughter of an American draft dodger who fled to Canada in 1967 and she was born in 1970 in Montreal. I found this very apropos and encouraging because of my own experience with the U.S. Army. It warms my heart to see what good i.e. a brilliant & involved daughter, came from a guy whom many used to call a traitor or a coward—of course this was the general derogatory label for all of us who either dodged the Draft or deserted the military (but I don’t hear the Republicans chastising Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, etc. for their lack of service?). Ms. Klein I understand is a graduate of the London School of Economics so she is clearly qualified to speak about capitalism, which is the subtitle of her recent book The Shock Doctrine: Disaster Capitalism.

To return to why I mentioned this is reaffirming is because a lot of what Ms. Klein had to say, has occurred to me and I have written about it. But this really isn’t surprising when you consider the fact that I’m sure that she and I have read a lot of the same authors. I am clearly not as eloquent or as effective in my writing as people like her but it does make me feel good to know that I’ve come up with some of the same insights even if I’m the only one that knows I have. I lead a very lonely and somewhat sad life because I can’t find friends or very rarely, who’ll even take the time to read my essays. Hell, I couldn’t even persuade my own son to read an essay I wrote trying to save his life i.e. Reasons Why A Young Person Should Not Join the Military. So in conclusion, I am serious because with awareness comes sadness but there is beauty & joy in sadness also. Like listening to Bobby Vinton’s music in the darkness when a girlfriend has broken up with me. Sadness is part of the human condition and we must know it if we are to know happiness. Or as I told a friend many years ago who was worried that I was going into a bad acid trip, sometimes we just have to wade through the depression until we come out the other side.

By the way, Ms. Klein brought up the topic near the end of her talk about the despair that some say her book causes them to feel. Her response was that she wrote the book because she too, like so many of us, was feeling very confused about all that’s going on and the news perpetuates this confusion. She wanted to make some sort of sense out of it and to make some connections. In brief, as Ms. Klein pointed out, we’re bombarded with disasters e.g. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami that killed over a quarter million people, the ‘shock & awe’ of our invasion of Iraq, the impending economic disaster in America, etc. and this news can overwhelm us and cause us to be in a state of shock as a nation as well as individually but the good news is that the state of shock eventually wears off and trying to understand and make connections between all these seemingly disparate disasters, empowers us and gives us the rage necessary to take action and to stop those who are responsible. In other words, the more you see the connections between major world events, the less helpless you are and the less likely you are to become shocked and numb or helpless in the face of this onslaught upon our senses, brains, psyches.

My passion for justice, fairness, & equality is what drives me and is why I can’t write amusing stories of fiction but must write about how the powerful have stolen what is our birthright i.e. freedom, a fair share, equal representation, etc. We have to know the enemy inside and out if we are to win this battle for survival and dignity! Or as Nietzsche said, “Life is a search for the father or for home.” My writing is my only outlet for teaching since the system won’t allow me to teach. And these are just some of the reasons why I am so serious and damn proud of it!
—Rob DeLoss, Dec. 12, 2007

P.S.  And I am serious about my desire to communicate with my fellow citizens because I believe to the marrow of my bones that if enough of us can become informed, we can stop this madness. So, please express your opinion by writing comments on this post or any others and lets talk.

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