Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Everyone Wants to fill the Void

I recently, finally, joined the American Humanist Association by making a donation. Secularism needs all the support it can get, what with being labeled "satanic" by the mindless followers of mindless pastors who mindlessly repeat what someone has told them. Insofar as I'm a secular person who thinks people are responsible for their own destiny--they can't afford to leave it up to a God or gods who historically have shown a penchant to be skimpy on miracles when they're most needed--I'd also consider myself a humanist.

Today, however, I received in the mail a whole packet, accompanied by a cheaply-printed paper back book, of humanist literature. It's like I just joined a church. I suppose the AHA, since it's an institution, feels obligated to show its gratitude to supporters by inviting them to think institutionally. But the whole idea is that I'd just as soon not think those institutional thoughts--I can find my own ideas, thanks. But all is not lost, the humanist literature found its way quickly into the recycle bin, where pretty much all ideological stuff goes, since most of the stuff is recycled intellectuality anyway. I'm happy to be part of a movement that will ignore me but campaign heartily on its own behalf and oppose the institutions I certainly don't want filling the void I'm always busy filling for myself.

Reckoning with the Reckoners

When I was a little boy of college age, I thought the cops are my enemies. This was in Berkeley--and often the cops did seem to be enemies. And then, you read about police brutality, and historically the police have been enlisted in the "law and order" agendae of suppressers and thugs. The police become thugs.

But, I've been playing in the LAPD Band for the last two years, and I'm developing a very different perspective. Among our other performances, we do the police graduations every month on Friday mornings. Those ceremonies are tributes to idealism, dedication, commitment, and the sense that the young people who go into police work are people on a mission. The upper administration seem to be bright, good-humored, talented: one of the regular MC's is Michael Ellington--the nephew of, who would have thought--Duke Ellington. And Michael knows who his Uncle was.

You see 100 young people a month who've gone through rigorous training in a variety of areas, and then they get out to survive on the streets. This morning, a veteran of 35 years, dismissed his graduating class for "the last time." He took the mike and joked that a chill went over the rest of the staff just now--they realized they had just turned the mike over to someone who was on his last day, and they were quaking at what he would say. Everyone laughed. He laughed, and proceeded to praise the new class highly for talent, dedication, general excellence.

Every graduation I play, I see camaraderie, discipline, pride, and families who are thrilled to witness the ceremony. There will no doubt be mistakes, errors in judgment, even some graft somewhere in the future--but I now think that will be exceptional, not the rule. The department puts out good people who do their best.