As reluctant as I was to be lured yet again into the depressing side of American culture that Poe Ballantine describes [“Things I Like about America,” July 2001], I was mesmerized by his eloquent storytelling. I dipped my toe into the essay, thinking I wouldn’t go very far, then found myself riveted all the way through to the end. For Ballantine to live as he says he does, with all the attendant daily problems of life on the road, and still be able to write so exquisitely seems to me a minor miracle.
I spent eight years on the streets in the 1970s, when I was in my late twenties and early thirties. I chose that way of life because it was the only way I could think of at the time to disentangle myself from a family and a culture that were trying to consume my soul. I worked odd jobs, lived in tenement rooms, got robbed, slept in culverts, and found myself stranded for days in the middle of nowhere. I also had a lot of time to think. That contemplation, I now see, was the purpose of my disengagement, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.
During that lonely time, I learned something that still humbles me all these years later: No matter how bad things got — no matter how tired, cold, sick, hungry, poor, scared, and discouraged I became — some kind soul always appeared, usually when I had abandoned hope, and offered me exactly what I needed: money, food, a place to sleep, a job. I am not a religious person, but this happened so regularly, and occasionally under such mysterious circumstances, that I was forced to conclude that someone, somewhere, was watching out for me.
Poe Ballantine’s “Things I Like about America” is the best thing The Sun has published in several issues. It has all the social critique I’ve come to expect and enjoy, and it was fun to read. Humor is probably the best weapon we have against the corporatized conformity that currently plagues America. Thanks to Ballantine for reminding me there really are things to like about America. Reading about his employment woes, I wished he had come through Tuscon a few weeks ago when I was hiring workers to build exhibits for a children’s museum. I was offering ten dollars an hour.
Kalle Lasn [“Truth in Advertising,” interview by Derrick Jensen, July 2001] hit on an unspoken truth. I teach at a university where Pepsi pays $3.5 million to be the exclusive advertiser. I watch TV programs that have twelve minutes of commercials in a thirty-minute show. I rent a video and discover that, even there, I have to watch fifteen minutes of advertising. There is indeed no escape. And we wonder what’s happened to our integrity!
In the July 2001 Correspondence, Maureen Parker writes that “overpopulation is the root of all the environmental degradation on earth.”
In fact, no direct relationship between population and environmental degradation can be found. Demography indicates that poverty and economic instability are among the main factors leading to overpopulation, whereas the rich nations with strong consumer-based economies are the ones polluting the environment the most. The United States, for example, with only some 4 percent of the world’s population, produces about 25 percent of global carbon emissions.
In contrast to Parker, I find that environmentalists tend to overemphasize the importance of population. In my environmental-economics classes, I teach what I call “the four Cs”: carbon, chlorine, cars, and cattle. Were we to eliminate, or even dramatically reduce, our use of these four technologies, we’d buy ourselves much space and time in which to make the larger social changes that are ultimately necessary to develop an ecologically sustainable civilization.
According to his letter in the July 2001 Correspondence, William Wade Foster is a “fifty-eight-year-old white male physician” and a conservative Republican. He therefore wonders why he enjoys reading The Sun, “a liberal rag written largely by a bunch of losers.”
The reason is that the drama of the human story cuts across all political and class lines. Suffering is common even among conservatives and “winners.” Conflict exists in all our lives.
For the record, I, too, am a fifty-eight-year-old white male conservative, and Foster’s remark about “liberal rag” and “losers” is the sort of name-calling I’d expect from a liberal. A conservative should have better manners.
The experiences Al Neipris describes in his essay “Drying Out” [July 2001] parallel my own. I, too, came from a Jewish home and, after many an evening of drinking and doing drugs, awoke to ask, “Did I really do that to myself?” I, too, started at fourteen and was unaware that my substance abuse was anything other than “having fun” or being just a little out of control. And I, too, cannot take the credit for my sobriety. I simply could numb myself no more.
I found my way into recovery a little more than seventeen years ago and began listening, learning, receiving, and finally giving back, all with immense gratitude. I have since returned to graduate school and become an addictions counselor.
A dear friend recently went kayaking for the first time and came back with a story that reflects my current view on life: In the middle of a calm spot, she decided she would close her eyes and meditate for a while. When she opened her eyes again, she was surrounded by an amazing array of butterflies. Not too long after that, she noticed some nasty mosquitoes in the air. “It was just like life,” she told me. “There are butterflies, and there are mosquitoes.”
Much of what Thomas Moore had to say about sexuality nurturing the soul was beautiful [“The Role of the Erotic Imagination,” June 2001]. When my beloved gazes at me in love, or holds me with respect and tenderness, I am uplifted and revered. But I cannot accept that pornography, however “soft,” reflects this deep experience of sexuality.
Moore hopes for “constant creative dialogue so that the pornographic doesn’t become debilitating or neurotic.” I say: Too late. Playboy, considered one of the most “innocent” skin magazines on the rack, does not promote love and respect for human beings, but their objectification and subordination. It wears a mask of sophistication but sells the belittling of wives, the sexualization of children, and the ownership and control of women. It fosters self-hate in women who feel unworthy of a man’s “passionate gaze” and dissatisfaction in men whose wives and lovers do not measure up to the centerfold standard. And this is the most “innocent” type of pornography. At the other end of the spectrum is total debasement, sadism, and even murder.
Even if I imagine that men at the magazine rack are “wrapped in contemplation,” as Moore says, the message they are internalizing from pornography is not about the mystery of sexuality. There is no expression of female sexuality in those pages that does not bend to male will and desire. Porn presents its message in such a way that no man need feel he is “succumbing to the Goddess.” He is conquering her.
Maybe if our culture weren’t so antierotic, if we lived in a climate of respect and caring between the sexes, and if the statistics on rape, sadism, sexual battery, and pedophilia weren’t what they are, I could buy Moore’s conditional defense of pornography. But porn has diminished our experience of human sexuality while aggrandizing the potential for power and dominance in male sexuality. To assert — even conditionally — that it contributes to a divine contemplation of sexual numinosity is doublespeak on a par with George Orwell’s “War is peace; peace is war.”
My wife, Lori Irving, wrote but did not send the following letter. The health problems she speaks of led to her death on April 29, 2001. Our baby was born by Caesarean section that same day, but died one day later. I came across Lori’s letter while going through her computer files. I am sending it to you here to let you know how much The Sun meant to her.
I read the Readers Write on “Staying Awake” [February 2001] during an all-night stay at the emergency room for “idiopathic atrial fibrillation” (irregular heartbeat of unknown origin). I am six months pregnant, and, needless to say, it was frightening to be alone and to ruminate on what was wrong with me and how my health problem might harm my baby. Lying amid delirious accident victims, asthmatics with hacking coughs, and cancer patients with oozing surgical scars, I found it hard to keep my mind from wandering to terrifying places.
In the midst of all this chaos, I read The Sun. After finishing “Staying Awake,” I clutched the magazine to my pregnant belly and felt thankful to be connected to this unique community of readers and writers. Over the years, The Sun has become more to me than just a magazine. It’s an umbilical cord linking me to others who think about and embrace the entire range of human experience — joy and sadness, hope and despair, love and heartbreak, aloneness and connectedness.
I am not writing to thank the editor or acknowledge a particular writer, but to reach out to this community of souls and say thank you — for keeping me company, and for helping me to feel good about the beauty and the ugliness of lying alone in the fluorescent light of an emergency room at four in the morning. I was frightened and alone, but with The Sun in hand, those feelings were tolerable, even desirable, as they are a part of the experience of being fully human.
Since Lori’s death, I have begun to read The Sun, and I enjoy it very much. Not only do I appreciate the contents, but it reminds me of her.