July 18, 2005
Osip Mandelstam updated
In 1933, Russian poet Osip Mandelstam wrote a withering portrait of Joseph Stalin. He was arrested and gulaged for his efforts.
In 2005, Australia is seeing the consolidation of Prime Minister John Howard's ten years of corrupt rule into a grandiose megalomania in which he wants to turn every employee into an "enterprise worker". That is, an expendable assembly-line robot for whom working up to 70 hours a week is the be all and end all of human endeavour. Echoing Stalin, Howard believes his new breed of worker will put the economic interests of the nation before his or her own. By "economic interests of the nation" Howard really means his crony business elite.
Below is an amalgamation of various translations of Mandelstam's poem along with my own update for John Howard. The term "Ossete was a reference to the rumour that Stalin was from a people of Iranian stock that lived in an area north of Georgia.
|Osip Mandelstam's poem on Stalin (1933)||TG Willikers' update on John Howard (2005)|
We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,
But where there's so much as half a conversation
His fingers are fat as grubs
His cockroach whiskers leer
Around him a rabble of thin-necked leaders -
They whinny, purr or whine
One by one forging his laws, to be flung
And every killing is a treat
We live, not sensing our country around us,
Ten years have passed and we are as speechless.
But where masters gather to speak of slaves,
His lips are fat as grubs
His cockroach eyes leer
Around him is a rabble of thin-necked henchmen -
They whinny, purr and whine
He hand tools decree after decree, like darts -
And every deception is a treat
July 14, 2005
The London bombings: Mankind has been running on empty for too long
We're in for it now. The handsome young man on the front pages of newspapers the world over was a home-grown terrorist. He and his three mates, all born, bred and educated in Britain, drove from Leeds to London, stood together for awhile at Kings Cross and then separated to carry out their mission. Which is to bring the world to its knees.
It should be easy, now that the age group these boys belong to has an alternative to getting drunk and killing themselves in car crashes. At last, non-drinking, God-fearing, but equally testosterone-driven young men who heretofore quietly grew up on the streets of my town, your town, everyone's town, can kill themselves and others without getting pissed. They can do it for God.
As well as the people they murdered, they have blown away the "terrorist profile". Terrorists are no longer required to be imported fanatics with deranged eyes and insane interpretations of the Koran. They can be any young man. For the time being that young man is a Muslim. Sooner or later, the anger at the militant hubris of the American Empire and its axis of evil, including primarily Britain and Australia, will spread to non-Muslims.
With the London bombings, terrorism has entered a new phase. We ain't seen nuthin' yet.
Osama bin Laden, if he is still alive, must now know for sure that he has won the war. He has won on two counts. First, he has inspired a religious fanaticism in young Muslims all over the world. For them, happiness is the promise of illicit delights to be enjoyed only after they have killed themselves and as many others -- infidel, their own, who cares -- in the name of someone's idea of an illusory deity.
Their fundamentalist counterparts in Christianity are also death worshippers, believing that the End Times will deliver them into the arms of their own illusory God. In a hideous sort of symmetry, they are providing state terrorism to complement the street terrorism of their adversaries. Together the equally fundamentalist ideologies of Bush and bin Laden are leading the world to chaos.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, Osama has won the war because his enemy governments are rolling back the rights of their citizens, in the name of protecting those citizens. He couldn't have asked for more.
For state terrorists like George Bush, this curtailment of freedom in the name of freedom is a Godsend. With a population under constant surveillance and with a diminishing right to dissent, his regime is guaranteed the same unlimited power that Stalin enjoyed. With each passing day, America becomes more and more like the Soviet Union in Stalin's heyday.
Furthermore, with Stalinist legislation like the USA PATRIOT Act and "home security", Bush can choose to remain in power as long as he wants by enacting emergency powers such as the suspension of elections (or the automatic installation of his chosen successor). This may be constitutionaly impossible at present, but that won't stop him trying. In the name of national security, of course.
In case you hadn't realised, there is nothing you can directly do about this. Both Bush elections were rigged. John Howard won at least two elections on the basis of outright lies. And Tony Blair simply had no opposition. Together they have all the power. You will continue to protest with words and demonstrations. But increasingly these protests will be seen to be against the national interest. (John Howard has already decreed that "the new class of 'enterprise workers' will be willing to put Australia's long-term economic needs before their own." Italics mine. Are these are the words of a dictator in the making? You bet.) Nationalism is never egalitarian. It is what the right wing calls upon when it starts smelling the blood it thrives on.
We are about to endure the summation of humanity's illusory path down the ages. The heritage of centuries of religious intolerance, of religion itself. The heritage of wilful ignorance and its greatest spawn, the work ethic, over the expansion of intelligence. The heritage of competition over cooperation and it's direct result: that of selfishness over compassion.
It is the heritage of the rule of men.
Each side in this go-down battle between patriarchal orthodoxies is led by larval men. Their experience of the world amounts to that of insects living under rocks. They have no idea what is possible beyond their leukous wriggling.
Because of them we are entering a dark age (their End Times) from which we may not emerge (they hope we don't). Nowhere is it written that the human race must continue to evolve.
If it is to evolve, then we will have to radically change the mindset that has led us to this absurd impasse. We will have to stop believing the mantra of lowered expectations, that death is preferable to life at the request of a bloodthirsty Almighty, that we amount to so little that our highest goal should be to accumulate highly taxed trickle down remunerations as efficient and productive worker bees, virtual slave labourers whose only useful function is to enhance the pockets and power of the elect.
The brain is capable of everything the universe is capable of. Realities are a dime a dozen. Why then have we allowed those who know so little to tell us otherwise? Because we can't be bothered. It's as simple and shameful as that.
It is well known that people do not act to right a wrong until it affects them personally. What we are witnessing today, and it will get worse tomorrow, will ultimately affect us all. It is only when that happens that a morphic resonance, a collective eureka will perhaps unite mankind into taking the first steps towards liberation.
July 7, 2005
Democracy: so long, it's been good to know you
Democracy may, after all, turn out to have been a historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes. Jean-Francois Revel: "How Democracies Perish"
As "democracy" fades into history, we should not let it go quietly. But let it go we shall probably have to do.
The problem with this system of "government of the people, by the people (and) for the people" is that while it looks good on paper it doesn't work in real life. Democracy requires attention and participation, and 'the people" are just not up to it.
Gore Vidal lamented in Inventing a Nation, that America's "founding fathers feared democracy as much as they feared monarchy. To them in 1776 American democracy meant 3 million idiots who could easily be swayed by a demagogue."
Nothing has changed.
The human race has made great evolutionary strides in its jot of time upon the planet. But these advances have been balanced by a reverence for the dark side of human nature, as promoted by patriarchal greed and religious fundamentalism, to name but two of the worst offenders. Up to just a few years ago, the conflict had been somewhat even. Since 9/11 we have seen the transcendence of the dark side. America refused to look within to find the reasons for that disaster. Instead, the government, backed by a majority, chose to use it to expand its empire. And with that expansion, the world has been thrown into chaos. As always, "the people" could have stopped this descent into infamy. But since the day they crawled out of the primordial slime, they have been told to keep their noses to the grindstone and, above all, not to fight city hall.
That human beings are their own worst enemy goes without saying. But have they ever been more collectively out to lunch? I speak from the dark heart of an Australia that, more than most, knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Unlike the United States, where forty per cent of Americans don't know which party controls Congress or can't read a menu or regard literature as something alien, Australian education has only recently been downgraded. Yet in that short time a culture of wilful ignorance combined with an almost adolescent selfishness has become the norm. Australians now openly boast of their disdain for all things intellectual. This has been largely influenced by the anti-intellectual atmosphere created during 10 years of Prime Minister John Howard’s rule. Howard's worship of Thatcherism, in particular his brain-heckling Calvinist glorification of the work ethic as the only worthwhile goal, has been aided by a flourishing economy (derived largely from cutbacks to social spending) which has turned the nation into a horde of consumers bent on shopping til they drop. To keep the quasi doubters in line, Howard doles out tax relief pittances at election time. Australians have lost their backbone, if indeed they ever had one.
Gone too are ethics. In all walks of life ethics have disappeared. So too collegiality. Everyone on "the team" secretly works for number one. Competition rules. Cooperation is on the outer to the extent that only a major disaster can call it up. And in Australia, major disasters just don't happen. Or not yet, at least.
Vying for the attention of Earth’s six billion inhabitants are sport and celebrity. Four of Australia’s last seven Australians of the Year have been sporting identities. Scientists don't get a look in. Indeed, science classes in universities have dwindled to crisis point. For those who don’t like sport there are the latest trivial pursuits of celebrities.
Shelley Gare ("Send in the Airheads," The Weekend Australian, April 2-3 2005) wonders if the trend to turn off the mind will produce people unable to "to think about concepts like democracy”. That is, a few generations from now we could be dealing with a species whose frontal lobes have shrunk from lack of challenging use to the point where they have the mental capacity of a dog snoozing on a pillow. Just what the corporate masters and their trained heads of state want.
Are we heading for a time when the ultimate requirement for a person's happiness is not love or the acquisition of knowledge but the temporal or illusory triumphs or humiliations of someone else? Or the purchase on credit of the latest technological marvel with which to absorb the spectacle? Nothing wrong with technology; we were meant to discover all this stuff. And really, we've only just begun. But technology is meant to enhance our brains, not to turn them into a wasteland of disuse at the service of external controls.
You’d think the pendulum would eventually swing back to the things of the mind, and maybe it will. But the global onslaught of information, mostly trivial, has frozen the pendulum at the least point of its arc.
Does any of this matter? You’re OK and I’m OK so who cares if they aren’t?
It’s just that they are presently in the ascendant. They belong to our extended families, they live in our neighbourhoods, but they have removed themselves from our community. They are behaving like the German people who looked on while the Nazis murdered millions. They are disengaged but secretly or unconsciously shamed by this disengagement. And the result is a majority more than willing to follow a demagogue into hell in order to prevent the discovery, the self-discovery, of their traitorous behaviour.
To name but one example of this collective disengagement, here in Australia children are allowed to rot for years in detention camps because their parents dared to escape tyrannies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. (Had those parents been white farmers from Zimbabwe, they would have been looked after as should all asylum seekers.) And the majority doesn't care; they cannot be bothered to take the time to consider The Other, especially non Anglo-Saxons.
This era in the continuum of humanity's struggle to remain upright is strange indeed. We live in both a technological wonderland and a moral and ethical dark age. The forces of religious fundamentalism are in direct battle for the first time since the Crusades. This war threatens our extinction.
And yet, this wave of devolution may be the necessary catalyst for a species-wide awakening.
Maybe democracy was always going to be but a step on the road to something else.
If we start investigating what that something else might be, our lamentations might cease overnight.