An introduction to how a philosophy worthy of opposition (and the purpose of a web site) evolved Social Minimalism.
Social Minimalism, for me, ended 20 years ago in Far West Texas and the Big Bend's rugged, desolate Chihuahuan Desert. It ended with the people here in Presidio. And in Ojinaga. Rough sometimes, raucous sometimes; but always caring. They fit me.
Miserably divorced and in corporate bankruptcy at the time with a string of weekly newspapers attached to my neck, I'd fled from numerous years of what I call now minimalism's nauseous social stench in the Dallas-Fort Worth area--to the desert here in Presidio for more Open Spaces of thought. Despite being gringo in a mostly Spanish culture, I joined in to help the community and was welcomed and greeted warmly; and stayed. The benefits have been enormous.
Now it's time to give back to the area in some small way. And a site under construction will be a center for it, hopefully to serve as a collection or a chronicle of stories as best as my notes and memory over the years will allow me to write them, of events and people, happenings, that underscore the destructiveness of the disease; and to enlist help in putting together a counter-philosophy shelter and center to stand in stark contrast to it. To show we care.
I'm a former newspaper reporter, editor and publisher, 20 years total, both dailies and weeklies; a longtime Municipal Court judge for the City of Presidio; and retired JP (after 17 years) for Pct. 2, Presidio County, the sprawling, culturally rich southern precinct that runs along the Rio Grande all the way to Lajitas. Thus I have a few stories; I pray I can write them accurately and with wisdom, and effectively for this.
Just a temporary haven is what we need for people struggling with personal problems; and/or to overcome what more and more I've come to recognize in my maturity as this society's sickness--people's way of viewing, of minimalizing each other, not only other humans but others of God's "things" also. Our environment, for instance. Yes, a Shelter. And I've seen the need for many, many years.
Social Minimalism, indeed, is a virulent disease in our way of thinking, viewing, that minimizes the dignity and worth of individuals and others of God's creations vis-à-vis their economic status, their total amassed wealth, or their man-decided, arbitrary value somehow as an exchanged favor or possession on some demented commercial market somewhere.
Si, we've all been guilty of it, at some time or another. Often many. But that doesn't excuse it. People without humanity can be vicious animals, roughshod perpetuators of the worst kind of violations of the teachings and rules of Christ and the different prophets whom God has sent down (given us) to guide us. We're not that. The spark of humanity's divine will we've all been entrusted with calls out for more.
The actual term itself, Social Minimalism, is an amalgamation of various social thoughts I've put together over the years. I'm certainly no trained philosopher. Nor artist. Just an ol' stiff-neck writer wanting to help.
Donald Judd helped crystallize minimalism as an art movement. Our county seat, the eclectic community of Marfa where Judd located a lot of his works, is intertwined with it; and certainly has been enhanced by its vibrancy. But I don't know enough about minimalism as an art to write a review for...Well, nobody!
No, Marfa has its minimalism. Presidio, much older but so much younger as a state-chartered self-governing municipality, now can have its version also--if we work at it; stake our claim and really work for it.
Social Minimalism Stops Here!we can truly say. That's the kind of people we have among us. Even my 10-year-old daughter (damn it!) rushes to take in stray, straggly dogs to feed and care for; and nourish back to health.
A homeless/crisis intervention shelter is an example of a community's back-to-basics, Ten Commandments-style sustaining, caring thoughts like these--to counter this diseased me-generation philosophy which evolved in the latter half of the last century. It's an exciting idea, to me.
And partially was the basis for a small, woe-is-us book I self-published early in 2008 entitled Minimalism: Does God Need More Assistants?.(Xlibris Press.)
But after the world economic collapse in late 2008 and the continuing fallout today, one gets the sense something positive is happening. Something different. A light is emerging.
There is a growing feeling it seems we are coming together once again as a people, through an explosion of new social enterprises, for instance; and it's this wave of optimism I hope we can use to capture the energy it'll take to build, maintain, and operate a Shelter in Presidio.
We're a mixed bag of people here in Presidio, but heavily Latino. Maybe 85 percent. Augmenting the site with a Spanish translator/reader is definitely another one of my goals. Our efforts must be inclusive; everyone needs to understand the scope. There'll be plenty of space for blogging; you get an idea, put it on there! For us all.
Our "American" society certainly isn't unique in catching this Social Minimalism disease, nor fighting it; the pages of history are littered with its virulent strains. Hitler and the Jewish Holocaust is but one example of the kind of thinking that wanted to stamp out one race or type of people because somehow they were seen as a blight in someone's eyes. Indeed, the philosophy is sickening.
But as rationalizing, still free-thinking citizens in a modern democracy we have an obligation, I believe, even a duty, to help close the chapter on this latest version--the overzealous capitalism and runaway corporate greed that's trampled us and the environment upon which we depend--and help insure it doesn't come back in a few years under a different guise.
I first ran across chunks of what I call this "minimalizing people" while reading such works as that of M. P. Baumgarter, a Rudgers sociology professor, who wrote of "moral minimalism" in The Moral Order of a Suburb (Oxford University Press, 1991); and American's great poet and economist, Eli Siegel, who has maintained our economy, based on using the work of many people for the financial gain of a relatively few thru investors, is flawed because of the contempt at its core--contempt being defined as "the addition to self through the lessening of something else."
Well-intentioned governments and especially corporate America have been snagged for decades in this idea of "progress." When challenged with world trade, for instance, to maintain and even bolster corporate profit's the government allowed American workers to became expendable to overseas production. Overseas? Workers in those poor countries? And the vagrancies and cruelties of the economic markets themselves were solely to determine who had value?
Social minimalism had arrived. Suddenly America's stability had been rocked; workers had become minimalized by someone who worked for $5 a day and was happy to get it. The American workers and their families, and their communities...Gutted! Can we say about social minimalism as we did with the aftermath of the Civil War--gone with the wind?
We the inquisitives are truly blessed today because of the internet and its search engines. The way it has connected us and sped up our information flow. The more I've read on the topic over the past couple of years or so, of the fragmentation and depersonalization which truly has marked our society, the more I realized how minimalized I'd been myself before moving to Presidio, even by former good friends.
But more so, I saw how fortunate I was to have found this place--stability; a home with a wonderful, loving wife and daughter; our many friends--and the better I saw this the better I understood the factors beneath the individuals who'd harmed me in my past; and thus started putting old, bad feelings to rest.
And in doing this I felt my long journey of spiritual healing jump a notch or two. That's the way it use to work on a common basis in this country. Right? You patched up your squabbles and then went on with the common good. As right as rain!And I'm certainly not unique. Millions of us, yes, in our own private and public ways, have fought against this Social Minimalism disease for many, many years. Mostly in frustration. We were on a runaway train it seemed so many times, and helpless to stop it. But I didn't begin thinking about an actual, comprehensive Shelter in Presidio (of all places, you say!) until maybe 8-10 years ago.
The late Jake Brisbin, Jr., bless his heart, when he'd make the 59-mile, winding weekly treks from the county seat in Marfa down U.S. 67 to Presidio to conduct his business as county judge and help me "wrestle the alligators" in my JP job, had this unique way of describing Presidio.
"Presidio is where The World drains!" he'd say.
I can still see him smiling at me now after we'd gone thru some wild stranger's confrontation, his hooked nose protruding from those tiny, beady-eye glasses; with his pony-tail hairstyle adding to his unique cockiness; the eyes glistening and a slight smirk on the face; signaling all the while, too, most profusely, that, yes, he strongly believed Presidio is wealthy in its people, and that we'll overcome our fractious ways and all these "location problems" somehow someday and really build a testament to us.
And he ran the grant lines later as Rio Grande Council of Governments' executive director, searching for help for us, finding most noticeably funding for the Presidio Activities Center building, for instance. (There's quite a story behind that, as he told it to me once.)
But I began thinking then, back in those days, if we have this unique stream of people flowing into our community, why not capitalize upon it? (Aw, yes, I've got a business background, too, remember; and know the importance of local jobs! One truly doesn't know the pleasure of pain 'til he/she has to meet an employee payroll, is the old trade axiom.)
If our new world is to be a kaleidoscope then use these strangers as community assets, I thought! While providing temporary shelter, recovery and rehabilitation, put them to volunteer work in various capacities around town, around the southern part of the county. Develop cottage enterprises as a support network. Education or vocational; medical. And create jobs for even more people!
Ahhh...How nice it is to dream. But is it really possible?
There's no way to pull off a project like this now in Presidio, I dare say. We've advanced in some infrastructure programs, sure. But we have a long ways to go mentally before we can call ourselves an empowered community.
Inherent Presidio Obstacles
Why? Because we fight like cats and dogs, pardon the expression. We haven't made that Leap of Faith to God's will. The border community is so poor someone getting a leg up creates so much hate, resentment, ill-will, it's impossible to get people to come together for a common "continued commitment" project such as a shelter like this.
Communities (states, countries, etc.) need social and political development glue to bond each other together for common purposes, to advance for a common cause. It's called stable schools and stable governments and stable banks. How much of that can you find in Presidio?
Take a sponsor, for instance. For administration, for grant-writing purposes, who will be the sponsor for our shelter? The city? The county? Permian Basis Community Action Center for the mentally ill? Many communities going into a project like this will have a local ministerial alliance to help anchor it, for instance. Here?
Presidio reminds me of the aircraft carrier U.S.S Independence I was on while in the Navy. You came to accept there were "ship's company" personnel--those assigned there permanently, around the clock, to keep the ship going and maintain it; and then there was the flight wing, the "airdales," the pilots and assorted technicians and flight deck crewmembers who flew in while at sea for specific flight missions and then, once finished, abandoned the ship back to the "ship's company" personnel; and returned to their fixed bases and families back stateside. They were members of the overall ship's community only on a "temporary" basis.
Presidio, located literally where the U. S. 67 road ends at the Rio Grande in the remote, mountainous region of Far West Texas's Chihuahuan Desert, is a lot like that. Only the flight missions are the school sessions.
New and veteran teachers alike converge upon the community in August, just before classes start; along with numerous families from Mexico who'll temporarily rent a house or mobile home to call "home" here while they enroll their children tax-free in the local school district. And who can blame them? The law allows it: Give ALL an education, whoever lives here. Fragmenting a community by governmental decree, is what it is.
But together with "ship's company" personnel and the many transients continually passing back and forth thru the Presidio-Ojinaga port, almost overnight you've doubled the size of the community, and it's problems as well. A ministerial alliance?
There are people of different religions and different sides of the border here who'll walk the streets and argue you're going to hell because you don't believe as they do! An alliance?
As a rule, people of the different churches don't even socialize out of their own congregations. Much less trans-religions. If you can't get concurrence in simple thought, how are you going to get one for a complex action as a shelter? The mentality is still tribal, in so many ways.
Folks laugh about it all the time, but it's really not funny. I don't think. Many people here who live and across as well are really resident aliens, who've chosen the cheapest of both worlds. A natural human survival instinct.
But often times the most unifying cause in this community is at the first of the month when droves line up in front of the post office or banks to get their monthly Social Security stipend. There they can shake hands with each other, gossip a little, and then it's back to their homes for another month of enclave hibernation. Don't get me involved, they scream.
And those homes may be in Presidio or Ojinaga. Even during the school year a large portion of the families (Who knows the count?) who do live here, for the sake of putting their children in Presidio schools, will return to their real home in Ojinaga on weekends. Community glue? How do you put together common goals with such a disparate mix?
Brash? Stupid, am I? Others and myself have expressed these same self-defeating explanations over the years before--for me, most noticeably to adjacent Brewster County Judge Val Beard in her office once back before my retirement--so the thoughts are "out there."
People around the state, especially in the different governmental agencies, feel that way about us. And they are frustrated with it. This is no new revelation. Basically, you've been branded, folks. There's a big X on your forehead: You can't ever do a whole lot down in Presidio!
And that's what we've got to overcome, first. Somehow. Social minimalism really ends in Presidio, with its diversity and tolerance.
That's what we need to tell the world: The disease has been checked here.
Can we do it? Will you help?
!Si, juntos podemos! ---