It just breaks my heart to see it, I say to the Courtyard by Marriott driver as we move slowly through Waterbury from hotel to train. It’s 8.30 in the morning. An uncomfortable drizzle is falling. Waterbury, Connecticut used to be the center of brass manufacturing in the US. It was yet another place in post World War II America filled with jobs and wealth to share. That time is long gone and hard to imagine.
Waterbury, CT Union Station
The large brick train station has been closed off to travelers. Two groups wait under a decrepit overhang. The first, dressed mostly in hoodies and Jesse Pinkman-style ghetto gear, puff on e-vape “cigarettes” and shuffle aimlessly. A woman drops crumbs to the ground. A couple of new immigrants squat impassively. The sour smell of old urine permeates everything.
Closer to the track and just behind the edge of the building a somewhat better dressed group of possibly homeless men size me up. A moment passes. I exchange a nod with one of the bigger guys. They suddenly ignore me and return to the type of conversation which has neither beginning nor end. A few feet behind them metal poles have been drilled and 12 foot high cyclone fence installed to keep railway passengers contained and away from the station proper. Eight sets of abandoned tracks lead on into overgrowth - rails decayed and seemingly beyond repair. Full-grown trees poke from track 3. Tall grasses partially obscure switch joints. Scattered plastic bottles and broken glass glisten everywhere. On the (permanent) temporary platform a digital train sign warns, Have a safe day.
Don’t we know
A famous civil rights activist from the 1960’s once gave a speech in which she repeated over and over again, Don’t we know that a crime has been committed? How can anyone look at Waterbury and not see? Where is the outrage? Where is the compassion? Where is the media attention? Who even cares?
Economic warfare is warfare indeed
The German Nazis were true scientists, committed to behavioral research. Prisoners in concentration camps were tested by psychiatrists to determine the most efficient ways to get subjugated peoples to obey commands without thought or hesitation. Don’t you think that advances have been made in 70 years? Isn’t unquestioning obedience in the face of destruction what we have here?
Where are our elders? Where are you and I?
A relatively affluent man in his 60’s once told me, I’m glad I’m not coming up these days. I just want to enjoy the rest of the years I have. Well, okay. Who can blame someone who’s worked hard all his life from wanting to enjoy the fruits of their success?
Healthy normal people want the best for their own children too. But all of those who come after us are our offspring. We have a responsibility to leave them with the same freedoms, opportunities and benefits we were given by those who came before us.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?" - Hillel, Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) 1:14
In most societies older people focus strongly on educating and raising the younger ones. This is called generativity. But the task is not only on the elders. It’s your job, and mine too. There are things you can do. In fact, you must.
If you only care about yourself you should be ashamed. Really. You need to learn healthy shame. Self-esteem without limits will make you into a monster.
Self-esteem without limits will make you into a monster.
Now, there is something selfish in every human being. But mature people learn to temper their selfishness and behave in better ways through education, observation and experience. These civic values used to come from your parents and teachers. Now they come from big corporations which have the money, research, and vision to change your attitudes, beliefs and habits to suit them. They’ve made merchandise of you.
Let’s be honest
Those greed-factories don’t carry all the blame. We like it this way.
It feels good to buy things. We love to be lazy. Bettering ourselves takes hard work. It’s much easier to watch Netflix and post gossip on Facebook like a 13 year old.
Having a belly full of fat, sugar, salt and chemicals takes the edge off all unpleasantness. After all, it feels better to focus on sports or celebrities than to think about things that make you upset. And being happy is the most important thing, isn’t it?
Oh yes, they know us better than we know ourselves. They’ve got us but good.
Take a fine look at Waterbury. Your grandkids will only wish they had a future as good as this.
Isn’t unquestioning obedience in the face of destruction what we have here?