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Jim Culleny: Education in inertia

I’ve been preoccupied lately by the term “inertia,” which most of us most likely first became aware of in a school science lesson.

A classic definition of inertia might be: Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion. So if you set a marble down on a table, it will not move unless you impart energy to it (give it a shove or tip the table and let gravity infuse it with juice) and it won’t stop rolling unless something stops it, whether it hits a wall or friction sucks its energy, slowing it until it’s left with nothing.

What I’ve been thinking, looking over the plutocratic landscape, is that inertia applies not only to physical objects in space, but to psychic ones as well, such as ideas that cannot move or have ceased to move after bouncing off one political wall after another, let’s call it elite friction, or ideas that roll on — giant snowballs raging downhill, picking up detritus and speed until they roll off a cliff.

Inertia, in fact, has as much to do with politics as physics.

We have monstrous environmental problems as plain as rising global mean temperatures, Manhattan-sized calving glaciers in Antarctica and prolonged drought in the southwest, but we are unable to remedy them. Why? Inertia.

We have huge problems resulting from global and national financial inequity; a chronic gap in wealth distribution, but we won’t deal with them. Why? Inertia. We’re facing down food calamities — pesticide and GMO contamination (re: Obama’s recent Monsanto give-away) and tsunamis of sickness-producing junk food, among others, but we seem powerless to intervene. Why? Inertia.

Most sadly, there are remedies for all of these things that remain unimplemented. Ideas that sit inert as we are catatonic or move excruciatingly slowly, waiting for the destruction of obstructions and infusions of energy required to move them forward. Why? National ideological inertia enough to suck energy out of a black hole — you betcha’.

If you guessed my use of the term “you betcha” was calculated, you’re right. It’s there to call attention to the kind of thinking that has stopped a government in its tracks from doing anything useful, practical or redeemable in a world that needs, first, a good (intelligent) talking to and next, a powerful kick in the butt to send it down the road to (intelligent) action. It’s the kind of thinking, actually, thoughtlessness, that propelled Sarah Palin to the status of super-stupid, money-grubbing talking head for the willfully ignorant.

Simple historical fact: capitalism won the argument it had with socialism and communism. Capitalism has been running things for a long time. It ran them even before the Soviet Union folded in 1991 and has been running them in spades ever since. Even the last big “communist” state, China, is nothing but top-down capitalism writ large. In fact, there would not much difference between a government run exclusively by the Koch brothers and one run by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang — we’re pretty much there already! So I’d love to have capitalists stop dancing around what’s causing the Earth to warm, our seas to become sewers, our fish stocks to diminish, our food supply to be monopolized and made unhealthful by fewer and fewer huge agribusinesses, our electoral system to be bought and paid for by the richest among us, news sources so vital to a functioning democracy owned by fewer and fewer of the richest Americans and our basic right to health care equity controlled by profit-making organizations ... the beat and social crimes go on.

Capitalism can’t help itself. When the acquisition of wealth becomes a system’s most widespread ultimate virtue and when wealth has been given legal permission to buy and do anything at any cost, what should we expect?

Mother Teresas do not run banks. They don’t sit on the Supreme Court. Managers of soup kitchens do not call the shots at Monsanto or Arthur Daniels Midland. And no Jesus has risen through the political ranks of either Democrats or Republicans to multiply and redistribute the wealth of loaves and fishes. He is always cut down by the priests of acquisition among us.

In fact, the inertia we live with today is the same inertia Jesus faced in years running up to AD 1: the tendency of the rich and powerful to remain rich and powerful regardless of everything else and to stop any movement to the contrary with lies, repression and violence — whatever it takes.

Yet, champions — the bravest among us — occasionally arise to get the counter ball rolling despite being vilified and scourged.

But, to paraphrase 1960s free-speech activist Jack Weinberger, who said, “Never trust anyone over 30,” a wise rule of thumb for those hoping to overcome the will to do nothing but sleep forever might be this: never trust anyone with over $30 million in take-home pay.

Whatever they say should be taken with a full shaker of salt whenever it comes to doing what needs to be done in the best inertial interests of the people.

Culleny lives in Shelburne Falls, works in construction, is a singer/songwriter, and has done commentary for National Public Radio. His email address is jimculleny@comcast.net.

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