More Notes from the First Circle of Hell

by Bernard Brandt

No automatic alt text available.

I’ve recently read something that has stirred up something vaguely resembling thought in me, and I’ve decided to put down those thoughts. Bad thoughts! Bad!

Seriously, though, the first of the writings in question is this one entitled Hikikomore and the Politics of Despair. The writer examines the lives of a growing sector of people in Japan who are described with the name in the above title. The name means ‘shut-in’, and refers to a large and growing group in Japan who have pretty much given up on Japanese society, and are living in their parents’ homes, or alone. They seldom go out of their rooms, and are pretty much bound to their computers, their televisions, or their video games.

The ultimate result of this way of life is called kodoyushi. It means lonely death, which is being experienced by more and more of the hikikomore, either as they age, or as they decide to give up. It is indeed a lonely death, because what often happens is that these people die alone, and their bodies are not found until days to weeks later.

The writer suggests that these hikikomore are the inevitable result of our modern society, that they are canaries in the coal mine: outliers who are showing the way that more and more people in the U.S. will be living in the not-too-distant future.

I hate to be the one to tell the writer, but it is unlikely to be as good in the U.S. as in Japan. It seems that in Japan, there is a much better social support network, in which people who can no longer cope are still taken care of. Not so in the U.S.

No, we have had our hikikomore for a long time now. We call them the homeless.

I see them every day in my little corner of the First Circle of Hell, here in LaLa Land.

I see them panhandling on the street around the corner from my little apartment, or sitting on the bus stops as I walk or ride the bus.

I see them on the freeway stop which connects the Silver Line with the Green Line, at the interchange of the 110 and 105 Freeways.  There, I see a small town of tents that huddle under the bridges and underpasses there.

I see larger tent cities on some freeway overpasses, or along deserted stretches of the land abutting freeways, or near Alvera Street in downtown L.A. Tens to hundreds of shabby tents filled with the remnants of what the people there once owned, or shopping carts filled with the last of their belongings.

But perhaps worst of all, as I walk down the streets of my little town, I see piles of clothing, or sleeping bags, or shopping carts filled with junk.

At first I did not realize what they were, and what those piles meant. But I soon found out that what was happening was that there was a crack-down by the police, and the police were conducting mass arrests of the local homeless.

And the police were leaving the belongings of the arrested homeless abandoned there on the streets.

So, what is happening is that the homeless here are being stripped of the last of their belongings, to be left with nothing after they are released from the local jail or county prison.

I can think of no crueler, nor more final, sentence of death for them.

Perhaps the worst thing that I had seen, though, was nearly a year ago, when I was walking from the bus to the small supermarket where I could buy my food. On the corner of First and Gaffey I saw a cheerful young black man with dreads, who had a shopping cart and, of all things, a beat up Irish harp with him. We struck up a conversation, and I found that he was vagabonding, and supporting himself by playing the harp and singing. He even said that he was on YouTube, and that HuffPo had recounted his story, calling him ‘the beat-box harpist’.

I gave him what little money I had, and went to the store, partly to get my food, and partly to get more money so I could give him a larger donation.

When I got back, however, the young man was gone, as was his harp. But his shopping cart lay there, abandoned, and a couple of other homeless guys were going through it to take what they could.

I could go on about any number of things that I’ve seen here. But I don’t think that you would believe them.

⊕     ⊕     ⊕

I suppose that I could say that I am in fact one of the ‘shut-ins’ that the article mentioned at the beginning of this little scribbling of mine. But actually, I’m writing this not to bemoan and decry my fate, but to point out how privileged I am.

I have a clean, separate duplex with a garden and trees in front of it, and a charcoal grill in back, which is large enough to hold me, and another person whom I have helped to keep, for the time being, from homelessness.

I have a family who loves me, and which for the most part has helped me during the time that I have been paralyzed inside, after the death of my first wife, Carolyn, and my second wife, Elizabeth.

I have both been given, and have garnered for myself, an education which has enabled me to make the most of my surroundings, including cooking some really good food for both myself and others.

And finally, I have been given the leisure to both further my education, and to make better use of both it and my life.

Yes, I am greatly blessed. And yes, I am richly privileged.

This does not mean, however, that I am going to listen to some social justice peacock preening its feathers, and displaying its virtue signaling, when it tries to tell me to ‘check my privilege’. I consider that to be a part of the ‘politics of envy’, that I have seen far too much of, and I both contemn and despise it.

Well, I’ve ‘checked my privilege’. It’s still here, and I intend on making the most of it.

I prefer the counsel of Christ, who, in the Gospel of Luke, said basically, those to whom much is given, much is expected in return.

I do not intend on letting my Lord and Savior down on this one.