March 20, 2009

Are We Robots? – Meditations on Authority and Freedom

The Pacific Ocean touches the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii.

Beep Beep BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP! The alarm announces 4 am. Time to go to the airport for an outer-island court appearance. On the highway, speed is determined by road signs and surrounding vehicles. The car stays between the dashed lines and a turning signal announces a lane change. “Shoes and bags go in the bins. Have your boarding pass ready as you step through the metal detector.” Shoes get taken off and placed on the conveyor belt, never mind the staff infection on my feet. The line moves slowly as feet shuffle forward. No liquids allowed in the airplane, so the security guard confiscates my water bottle.

Off the plane, emerging from the airport into the dark, crisp air of 6 am. Hiking down the highway towards the courthouse as cars fly past. I reach my destination and enter the courtroom. At least 8 signs announce “NO FOOD OR DRINK IN COURTROOM.” The court clerk enters the courtroom from the side door carrying a cup of coffee and a donut and immediately snarls at a young man seated across the room. She sneers “Hey you! Take off your hat!” while affectionately stroking the badge attached to her belt.

One by one the defendants are called, rise and take a stand across from the woman judge. They are surrounded by fat white men prosecutors in thick suits who have wheeled in giant bins filled with documents. It’s obvious by their posture and width that their lives revolve around sitting in cushy desk chairs and using large words. The bailiff in the corner sits slouched without smile until the judge addresses him. He then lifts his okole off the chair just enough to announce his one word answer before falling back into his seat. The proceedings are long and wordy, enough to drive a monk jittery. It all feels so unnatural: the freezing cold, fake AC air; the thick robes and suits while its 80 degrees outside; the schedules and explicit rules – you must be here at this time on this day or we’ll put out a bench warrant and make you come back twice. The blood in my veins is begging for fresh air and a run through a flowery meadow or a hill bomb on a skateboard. We should all be out gardening right now, not in this run-around nonsense, saying words like “moot” and “prejudice”. The judge takes a recess to go smoke half a cigar out front the courthouse next to a sign reading “NO SMOKING PERMITTED”.

We proceed with the now slightly looser judge and the sentences are less harsh this time around. A plea bargain drops my “camping without permit” violation from a month in jail and $1000 to $130 in fines and fees. Good thing the civil defense attorney was able to sort things out, otherwise my week-long stint meditating in Kalalau Valley would’ve left me deep inside my head in a jail cell.

As she’s sentencing me, the judge’s aura is revealed. She’s a good woman, but big words and authority abound in this room, all in an artificial game to protect our egos, our children, and our land. I feel we could’ve accomplished all this by just going into the woods and sitting still.

Hiking down the highway back towards the airport, this time the sun’s high in the sky. The cars are almost touching each other, lined up like computer code moving through a microchip processor. Bag goes back on the conveyor belt as if it belongs there. I certainly don’t need these possessions and those guys certainly don’t need the conveyor belt, so they become equal in the eyes of god. To each his own. But I’ll take a sack of fruit and a bottle of water over a badge in any life. How often you see a cop smile? A real bliss and love-filled smile? Not so much. But don’t blame them, they’re just programmed to be serious.

Words and Photo by Ryan Nadlonek

Article re-printed with permission from Ryan Nadlonek’s myspace blog.

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