Nov

14

The Elders, from Bo Keely

November 14, 2017 |

 An elder affectionately called Elderberry for many years was the town 'Hangman'. He was handed by police and locals the extreme sinners to determine their public fates. He recently passed the gavel to the town Elders as a whole.

The Elders are old heads who appear continually groggy but regularly spurt beautiful answers to perplexing difficulties. Each has tutored for decades under the great instructor at Slab City, Dr. Time. They are tough, resilient, seasoned, and savvy. Prisons and the Slabs do not soften you up; they make you a piece of rock.

It is one thing to be fierce in battle, but it is important also, to be wise in council. The elders form a foundation of decency. They are modeled after the American Indian tribal elders, who are responsible for guiding the culture and philosophy when it goes askew. The elders are older, and have the respect of their own community. Not all are very old, but most are graying. They are closest to reminding me of the outer ring of Elder 'Guardians of the Universe' in Justice League of America comics. The Guardians were a ghostly race of extraterrestrials who are the founders and leaders of interstellar law enforcement. They are immortal and the oldest living things in the universe.

The Elders are watching. In Slab, they are a loose committee of seniors to investigate and deter horrible crimes. The qualifications for each is that he be on the far side of the following equation, looking back through the equal sign: As a child, one day I realized that all adults are imperfect and at that moment I became an adolescent; then one day I forgave them and became an adult; and then in one instant I forgave myself and became wise.

The Elders are not lawmakers, but instead mete out consequences for vulgar acts. It is their function to punish effectively, to remove the irritant and with the same stroke prevent others from stepping in. They meet in a council of texts (difficult to trace), and less frequently, by personal visits or trusted runners.

The situation is discussed, and recommendations made. This is modern frontier justice, also called extrajudicial punishment, which is motivated by the nonexistence of laws in this community. You just don't go out and hit wrongdoers – arson, rob, dislocate, or kill. It is has to be sanctioned by the Elders.

The justice represents what Mark Twain once observed, 'We have a criminal jury system which is superior to any in the world, and its efficiency is only marred by the difficulty of finding twelve men every day who don't know anything and can't read.' The Slab council is operated by men and women who are often illiterate, and able to blank their minds to pass cool decisions.

When a person enters this lawless society he doesn't necessarily agree to abide by the customs, but if he crosses them he becomes liable to the Elders judgement. The due process is that he is clearly warned. If he continues to cross the line, then he becomes an outlaw even to the outlaws. The verbal gavel falls. He may choose to stand and fight, or to flee. That choice is the essence of freedom.

The Elders have evolved a social system over time, a code of moral-political-economic principles, which determines the association of the members of the community. Only in rare instances do they rear up on their sinewy hind legs and roar. They usually hire in-house specialists – arsonists and strong arms – but nevertheless rarely call on old out-of-town relationships to pay old favors. The Elders do not involve themselves in the hour-to-hour bickering that is a part of town life as fleas are to an infested dog.

Ethically, the system is more forthright than regular American law and order. There are only two fundamental questions the outlaw town code must answer in order for the Elders to act: Does the social system recognize individual rights? And, does the social system allow physical force in human relationships? The answer here is 'yes' to both.

People come to Slab City just to disappear, to get off the grid, and they don't want leaders. The citizens without laws are the can openers of American life elsewhere, so their actions should be studied, and they should not be surprised to hear of the Elders taxing duty.

The Slab summer of 2017 will be remembered as the Battle of Good and Evil. It was three hot straight months of daily debauchery that has rarely occurred before. I look at the difference between good and evil as a kind of foul line in baseball. It's thin, made of flimsy lime, and if you cross it, it starts to blur where fair becomes foul and foul becomes fair. The line is determined by the individual according to his moral values. Examine yourself, set firm standards, and you create good and evil in Slab City. If you grow blind to the line, the Elders are the umpires.

Nothing was sacred this summer. The police were useless; even an obstacle. We needed one Texas Ranger, or the Lone Ranger, but lacking him, the task fell into the hands of two traditional strong-arm personalities. They were good, decent men. One was the drug lord who I did medical and legal for. The other was the primary Slab strong-arm and part-time arsonist. Each represented what the Godfather wanted to be. Few in town except the Elders knew they had died in back-to-back methamphetamine heart attacks. After they vacated, wanna-be enforcers quibbled for the alpha position and none possess the chutzpah to pull it off. Without limits, this outlaw town fueled by meth has gone haywire. The atrocities have been sad, interesting, and newsworthy. I started car camping in a widening radius from the center. There, still, I refused to underestimate the decency of the human race, particularly in America. The Elders stepped in, and the town is restored to even kilter.

Slab City is a town of young anarchists in a disenchanted nation, where the council of Elders keep the seams from bursting. Otherwise, I believe it, would evolve into a single strong-arm dictatorship. If you study the portraits of the most brutal dictators in world history – Hitler, Stalin, Leopold, Nicholas II, Lenin, Dada, and Hussein - they share the same facial features. The frown creases run down from the nostrils, mouth line forms a big upside-down U, thin chins, long ears, receding hairlines, and fiery eyes. However, if you could see the Slab City Elders around a kitchen table, there are only the fiery eyes and cheerful structures.

Grown men and women do not need leaders, but now and then they need little reminders. A rebel grows old, and sometimes wiser. He finds the things he rebelled against he must defend against the newer rebels. Even this leading lawless town in America needs some moral guidance now and then.

In schools where our elders are books, I once championed a teaching program in high school to bring in seniors as volunteer teachers' aides. No thrones or crowns, just gray hairs and wrinkles of men and women who had lived the longest to predict the students' futures by reflecting on their pasts. Their rule of accumulated wisdom was, 'Give them what you know, and let the kids make mistakes. Circle the wagons and hammer down if they cross the line.'

The people on the road leading to Slab City pity their buckle-kneed Elders, fearing the day they, too, will join their ranks. The elderly pity the younger generation, well knowing the trials and tribulations that lie ahead of them. Listen to your Elders, there isn't any better wisdom for you. In this way you have the advantage of living life backwards, and that is where your future lies.


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