David Sibbet | Social Change
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My struggle to make sense of this new era of Trump has sent me back to my journals to look for longer threads and themes. I’m having an old feeling. It’s one I associate with the time of the assassinations in the 1960s, the lying during the Nixon and Johnson years, and the warmongering of the Bush years. In such times of disruption in my mental model of a world that progresses—carefully inculcated by my post-war teachers—I am thrown into questions.

Finding myself back in the questions again, I came across a journal entry from December 1994, recounting a talk with my friend Bob Horn about postmodernism. Our talk began with a review of Walter Truett Anderson’s schematic of the postmodern challenge:

postmodernchallenge-94

As Bob drew the boxes, I had wondered at the casualness with which he could lay down a box and label it “postmodernism”, as if all the perceptions and theorizing and turmoil of the times could be neatly packaged in a historian’s bow. “I won’t say anything,” I thought. “I’ll listen past it to the meaning.” Meanwhile, in my own mind I began to frame a story of fragmentation and return, of choices and confusion.

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It’s the new year and I like to start with my messes cleaned up. Heavy winter rains carpeted oak leaves and tiny branches on the deck outside our living room in Petaluma. The acorns are surprising when you step on them in the dark. It’s better to have a clean deck when running up and down to my studio preparing for the flood of work the new year brings, so I have a priority of sweeping up after rains.

oakleaves

As I danced in the cool morning imagining sweeping being a form of maintenance Tai Chi, I thought about all the social messes that need to be cleaned up this year. A lot of promises have been made during the campaigns having to do with this or that policy or agency that is a “mess.” I wondered if people who don’t have to clean up after themselves really know very much about cleaning up messes. What happens when some try to get rid of others they consider “messy?”

Sweeping the deck seems relatively simple—or is it? Here are just a few of the things you have to think about:

1.  Over-sweeping makes some of the oak leaves dig into the wood and the cracks.

2.  Moving too quickly can result in slipping on the rain-slicked wood.

3.  Getting oak leaves out from under big ceramic pots requires crouching down and slowly poking the leaves out from their hiding places. Even so, some remain.

4.  A good sweep requires two or three passes even when the technique is masterful.

I wonder if the lessons from simple deck cleaning are understood by people who try to clean up social messes.  What constitutes over-sweeping? What special operations are needed to get leaves out from the cracks under pots? What constitute pots? Are these the special places in budgets where things hide? Do people who implement sweeps really understand how many times you have to do it in order to get good results? Who slips and breaks bones when things are done too quickly? Did Congress really think they could get away with not sweeping themselves ethically now and then?

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