Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Power: Naked and Upturned

The thing I love most about Death is how it tends to reveal the institutional ego in its most naked weakness. The superficiality that death exposes surpasses even your average mass media New Year's celebration. Now put a couple of high-profile deaths side by side with the turning of another solar calendar's page, mix well, and you can see the Emperor in all his pink and bearded nudity. It's like grabbing Power by the ankles, turning it upside down, and viewing its crotch: the scrotal eyes, the dangling penile proboscis, and the short, ragged beard covering the dark and recessed mouth. Power in 2007: raw, naked, and...dead?

I don't know. But maybe Terry McKenna does. Here he comes...

On the weekend of Saddam Hussein’s execution, we need to ask ourselves: did his death make it worth it? For much of the first two years of the war, the Bush Administration, aided by a strangely compliant press, presented a story of war that was a succession of milestones. Each one was treated as a success and as a benchmark on the road to a free and secure Iraq. Now the death of Saddam is counted by the Bush White House as another triumph in the War on Terror. But a triumph of what, for what?

There is an old saying that suggests that nations get the government that they deserve. It was said often during the cold war, and it allowed us to feel complacent about the lack of change in the Soviet Union. For if they were getting what they deserved, then perhaps it was ok to let things alone. The notion has some truth in it. For example, the nations of Western Europe spent 5 centuries developing democratic institutions (such as independent courts). Thus it is no surprise that modern Europe is genuinely democratic. Russia on the other hand replaced Czarist Tyranny with Soviet Communism. Can the current tyranny under Putin really be surprising? It turns out that Gorbachev was the true Russian original, but the revolution he hoped for had no takers. If we consider the wider world, Africa remains very poor and virtually hopeless, and so are its governments. I won’t try to say much about Asia, but certainly the need for governments to maintain order among large masses of people would tend to create different governing structures than would be necessary in the much less populated regions like Canada and the US.

So Saddam was the leader that Iraq deserved. Iraq was an artificial creation assembled by Europeans out of groups of unfriendly and very tribal Arabs (both Shiites and Sunnis); around the edges, they added Kurds, and even sprinkled in a few Christians and Jews. Perhaps the only way to control Iraq was through the sort of brute force that Saddam was comfortable in using. Certainly our experience as an invader would suggest as much. This is not really surprising. Yugoslavia was a similarly artificial place assembled by negotiators after a war. Its very name meant nothing, the place of Southern Slavs. I don’t see a stirring anthem coming out of that history. It was often said (by knowing commentators) that after Tito passed from the scene, Yugoslavia’s opposing factions would destroy it. And so they did.

In the 1960s and 70s, Gerald Ford represented an America that was beginning to pass from the scene. Decent small town America. After Tricky Dick faded away, we needed a man like Jerry Ford to put things back in place. He was not an intellectual, but neither was he a boob (he graduated from Yale Law School after an undergraduate career that included success on the gridiron). As an experienced legislator and minority leader, he was a successful negotiator and conciliator. So, yes we were lucky to find him at the right time, but it also was inevitable that such a person would emerge during the 1970’s and Watergate.

The America of the 21st century is a different place than the America of Gerald Ford (or Ronald Reagan for that matter – he too came from that more decent time). We are full of ourselves, and full of shit too. We expect the world to take us as we are without our making the least effort to take the world like it is. And we’ve lost our ability to think. News is presented in sound bytes, and then the bytes are analyzed. Talking heads will come on TV to debate “stay the course” – and until recently no one was willing to admit that “it” was over. The America of today is – as already has been explained in this blog – the creation of corporate America. Not only do the corporations have tremendous behind the scenes power, they also have created the Newspeak that has replaced the English prose narrative that we’ve been perfecting since Shakespeare. Who better than George Bush to represent our era? Yes, that’s right, a mindless automaton is the embodiment of the America of today.

Do we deserve this fate? I think we must. Perhaps it was the sin of Hubris. In any case, it’s not about any single one of us, but about the corporate us. We may not have any control over it, but America is surely our creation if it is anyone’s. Think of the current culture as the result of some unseen hand (the very same unseen hand that directs the economic marketplace). And just like the marketplace, it didn’t do a very good job with us.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

—T. McKenna

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