I’ll Take Naive

April 22, 2013 § 10 Comments


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On Friday, I drove 8 hours in a southwesterly direction, on my way to a talk in PA. Of course, this was the day of out-sized drama in Boston, and while I would like to claim that I was not captivated by the unfolding narrative, that would be a lie. So I plowed down I95 in our old Subaru, alternating between NPR’s ceaseless coverage of the lockdown and whatever classic rock station offered the best reception and the fewest Peter Frampton ballads. Not that there’s anything wrong with Frampton, of course. But a guy can take only so much.

I don’t leave northern Vermont terribly often, and every time I do, I’m struck by just how far I’ve drifted from the mainstream American experience. Or, at least, the mainstream American experience as exemplified by Interstate travel through ceaseless sprawling miles of industry and commerce. A few random observations: How the hell do folks afford the vehicles they drive? Everywhere I went, the cars shiny and new, 30 and 40 thousand-dollar contraptions coming up fast to fill my rear view mirror with the menacing grilles and muscular sheet metal that have become the status quo over the past decade. Not every single one, of course, but the sheer volume of large and loutish automobiles seemed to increase in disproportion to the sort of conditions in which one might actually use one of these vehicles to its advertised potential.

Along the Jersey Turnpike, at one of those dispiriting Interstate Service Centers (Gas! Diesel! Cinnibon!) I stopped for a coffee and a pee break, tucking our mud-splattered Subie between the gleaming flanks of twin SUVs. Yukons, I think they were, or perhaps Envoys. For a moment, I fretted over the fact that our door locking mechanism has long since given up the ghost, and then cast my glance around the car: What, really, could I not do without? The rusty pair of vice grips on the passenger floor? The half-quart of motor oil? Anyone who might brave the mud and manure-stained innards of our rig to lift these items would surely need them at least as much – if not more – than I. Feeling thus liberated, I was even so bold as to leave the keys hanging from the ignition before slipping into the surreal, narcoticizing world of Turnpike commerce.

There was something about the confluence of factors during my drive that made me realize just how naive I am. Along the Turnpike,  I flew past the Linden Cogeneration Plant, dozens of acres or more of belching smokestack and outlandishly complicated and tubular infrastructure, a sci-fi novel come to life. Across the interstate (how many lanes in total? Six? Eight?) from the plant, a shipping port, with row upon row of cranes and stackable steel cargo trailers, a display of ingenuity, industry, and the rigid lines of manufactured exactitude to rival anything I’ve seen in a good long time. And the whole while, one terrorism expert after another droning through the radio, as the good people of Boston and the surrounding communities sheltered in place. Shelter in place. It has an almost cozy ring to it.

I often wonder how my world view might shift if only for a single factor. For instance, what if that were my daily commute? Not the endless soundtrack to the tragic goings on in Boston, of course, but everything else: The fancy, flashing, angry cars, the over lit, hollow prosperity of interstate service centers, the gleaming, fantastical infrastructure of power generation and intercontinental commerce. These things are novelties to me, so strange as to appear almost otherworldly, but of course to millions of my fellow countrymen and women, they offer the quotidian sights, sounds, and smells of daily life. Of course, I cannot say with certainty how such experiences might influence my emotional state, but it’s hard to imagine that my emotions and perceptions would not begin to embody the cold, human-over-nature ambience of the surrounding landscape.

So, yes, I see now that perhaps I am naive to think that we, as a species, might overcome the tragic force of our own ingenuity and ambition, when so many of us are immersed in lives offer little else but evidence of these things. I see that, and I think to myself, ah, but what is the alternative to my naiveté? Hopelessness? Acquiescence? Cynicism?

And then I think, you know what? I’ll take naive.

§ 10 Responses to I’ll Take Naive

  • Vonnie says:

    Its scary out here, Ben for sure. And even if you don’t tune into the whole media end of things, when you see with your own eyes, the “progress” that’s been made in the country, its demoralizing. For those of us who still believe that things can change, it’s ever more daunting to see just how much would NEED to change. It definitely has weighed on me more heavily, as my boys age and I mature, the reality of the world in which I naively brought them and will some day leave them. Being realitively close to Boston (if you’re interested, you can read my most recent post on my blog for my personal experience of it http://thepeaceablekingdom.blogspot.com/ ) it’s more forefront to my mind then ever for many reasons. I’ll take naive too, friend.

    • Ben Hewitt says:

      Hi Vonnie,

      Good to hear from you. I enjoyed your post; thanks for the link.

      Hope all’s well in the Granite State.

      Take care, Ben

  • Barb_in_GA says:

    Beautifully said. I agree with your feeling that those of us who experience the daily grind of modern industrial life are somehow coarsened by it; and so I come here, to your blog, to scrub some of the cinder and ash away.

  • Sandra Ragsdale says:

    I’ll take naive, too.
    But just to be the devil’s advocate for a moment, the modern world of commerce, technology, communication, medicine, etc. has provided some benefits to huge numbers of people, even if there’s often a downside associated with those benefits. One example, while Bill Gates’s business practices may have been a tad on the monopolistic side, his foundation will likely rid the world of polio and perhaps other diseases. Not to mention the fact that anyone with Internet access has a world of information and knowledge at their fingertips, virtually for free. Appropriate integration of on-line learning will surely revolutionize our education system, including the cost. And of course video surveillance technology came in handy last week.
    But your posts are an eloquent and delightful apology for your life choices.

  • Dave says:

    I have been thinking, and processing a lot over the past week. Working just a short walk from the bomb sites in Boston, and living around a mile from where the man hunt/shootout went down on Friday has left me feeling out of sorts. Given my druthers, I could use a little naiveté for my family and I.

  • Hi Ben. This is Peace and Carrots Wendy who used to live down the road from you. Last year I moved to a city :-o I am still in shock, as I spent most of my life living in the country. I wish there was a place where old and disabled people like me could go. I need to be near specialized medical care….and I miss being an unschooling homesteader! I am glad you became the man you are today :-) Living in Vermont was fantastic. It’s nice to read your stuff.

  • sonrie says:

    Thank you for your thoughts. I am glad I was not the only one to think ‘shelter in place’ seemed cozy sounding, if not a tad nostalgic. Oh, to need an excuse to shelter in place for a day.

  • Naive is even cosier sounding than “shelter in place”, I think. When I was younger, I thought I would always want to have a finger on the pulse of popular culture just so I wouldn’t feel “out of it.” Now, I couldn’t care less what is desired by mainstream America (or, at least, the America the advertisers pander to.) I have been accused of being naive and uninformed, too. This has become even more intensified since having children. I have told your story of your boys not knowing what a Big Mac is so many times describing it as my idea of perfect parenting. I hope my boys will be equally naive to the things some people seem to think are so normal and even necessary. Thanks for another wonderful post!

  • […] Erik is simply naive. I get that. But as I’ve mentioned before, I’ll take naive over cynical every damn day of the week, because I have come to see how […]

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