Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys -- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime...
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
- Wilfred Owen, 1920.
"Looking for the good in everything is equally as misguided as looking for the bad in everything." – Joseph Curiale
"No one knows how truly bad he is until he has tried very hard to be good" – C.S. Lewis
It has been a foggy year, give or take a few foggy days and, though many of you will dismiss my less than amazing tale as the mere fantasy of a mind completely overcome by cheap mota and mezcal, I beseech you to take my banalities with all seriousness. Boredom, the kind of vein drying, bald headed accountant boredom I have endured and returned from the brink to howl of, I assure you, is not the passive creature that rain-stymied children sulk about. There is a form of living blank, like the -isness of an arctic whiteout or the businessman's weekend, bland-storm beige, where the stark knowledge of so little is as much madness as the psychedelic chaos of knowing all. Life could never be so short as to inspire a reconstitution of this featureless, goal-less walkabout of insufferable waiting into a moment with yet something to seize. How it finally came to an end I cannot say. I expected no end to ever come nor that the end would be in any way a respite. Does one expect, if one passes into hell and abandons all hope, that yet there may be an exit?
The last thing I remember is someone screaming (children at obnoxious play some witnesses tried to persuade me . . . oh, how the mind reverses its view when you flip it on it's back) and the sounds of gunfire (could have been my sandals floppity slapping on the soles of my callused feet, but what kind of story would that make) as I ran for the bus and narrowly escaped the black mystic shadows of Oaxaca in favour of the cowboy booted, polka stepping, Felipe-Calderon-ass-kissing north. For the sake of sanity one should never assume that any move is for the better. As Sartre asserted, one does not decide this or that for the sake of good or evil, but simply because one must choose. Leaving one dissatisfying thing in the hope that the next will answer our existential lack is a silliness we all indulge in from time to time. The entirety of modern marriage and the subsequent divorce industry are built upon such delusions. But as Buckaroo Waldo Emerson knew, no matter where you go there you are. This is not to say that a change of atmosphere is not a fine breath of fresh air, but that a breath of fresh air cannot fix what's wrong with this old world.
A re-breath of re-fresh air. I once lived in Mayberry and re-plotted my return, my re-escape. It was built by an American go getter in the middle of poverty, sugarcane and Porfirio Diaz, peopled by one of each kind of professional, presented as employment and security and modernity and equality to the shoeless. It was meant to be a Utopia. It occurs to me that what crouches beast-like in any concept of a perfect -isness for humanity is the access to things. Food and shelter are never enough when one talks of perfect being. In the corporate socialism or the "Integral Cooperation" which informed my Mayberry, there were row houses, durable shoes, 8 hours of sleep, eight hours of work, and eight hours of culture, railways and shipping lines, irrigation ditches and straight, wide roads, built without a single thought as to how invading armies might become baffled while trying to find the corporate offices. After all, the invaders were the ones who started the city. Here, I thought, closer to the top of the pyramid of needs, were people with more and more on their minds.
What becomes of Utopia once it has been established and the taco stands are set up outside the baseball stadium? It becomes of course a shopping mall, a place where one can get what one wants and what one wants is, and always has been, more: the self glutted with its greedy desires. Utopia rips open a hole and teases the wound continuously agape with the promise of what it will stuff it with: more utopia, heroin, beautiful women, endless and affordable beer, superb food, cars, sunshine and good teeth. But does the fruit never rot on the vine in paradise? Death, Wallace Stevens reminds us, is the mother of beauty.
Mayberry is not a place on a map. It is a dream of contentment. People, even those in our ill perceived paradise, in truth live in the suffering world and take their respite where it is offered. For those of us who think we have arrived in Mayberry there is only the hell of our complacency to enjoy. Schopenhaur's suffering or boredom. Mazlow's hierarchy of needs does not peak in an enlightened and philosophical society, rather a self contented yawn and sprawl that would remind us of the insides of our eyelids if we actually felt or thought anything.
Where is it that one finally runs away to? Inside the mind, deluded and isolated from "negativity" or to the beach where the waves and whiskey wash away concern and let the world destroy itself without dissent? How do we maintain our discursive, connected equilibrium when everyone has receded into the passive, egocentric skull and painted all the windows black? "I just want to be happy" we all piss and moan, but could we really stand it? What we really want is to be left alone and not perturbed by such dismal thoughts. That, we think, we can translate it into a kind of happiness. TV is happiness. Sex is happiness. Drunk is happiness. Happiness is happiness. Hell is other people. But happiness, heaven, I suggest, is sheer boredom, irresponsibility, gluttony. Hell, other people, suggests responsibility. Utopia is a product of hell, the responsible answer to it's question, a need perceived, a factory built, a shopping mall stocked, a consumer duped, a dismally boring heaven created, a boredom suffered, a need re-created, a need perceived, a question made.
My error was not the desire to run away, it was not returning to a place I once lived and expected to be the same, rather it was to believe that I wanted to live in Utopia. It was everything I could have asked for. I asked for peace and I got it, boredom on a platter to stare at without rhyme or reason, only to have and poke and ponder and not even feel good about. It's as my mother says to the kids running around her house and picking up all the bric-a-brac, "It's only for looking."
I have stared into the wee hours of the day and imagined myself an observer. But I have not been observing and I have not been living. Boredom is not a place or a condition attached to paraphernalia. Discontent inspires dreams of paradise, but paradise inspires discontent. In the myopia of my boredom, in the malls of Utopia, I dream of discontent and continue to desire . . . Utopia.
It has been a foggy year but there may yet be an exit.
"For thirty years people have been asking me how I reconcile X with Y! The truthful answer is that I don't. Everything about me is a contradiction and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There is a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don't reconcile the poles. You just recognize them."- Orson Welles (1915 - 1985)
"It is in vain that we search for an essential difference between good and evil, for their constituents are the same. The crucial distinction lies in their structure, i.e., the manner in which the pieces are assembled. Evil is disintegration, an angry juxtaposition of alienated opposites, with parts always striving to repress other parts. Good is the synthesis and reconciliation of these same pieces." – Charles Hampden-Turner / Maps of The Mind
Hamlet: What have you, my good friends, deserv'd at the hands of Fortune, that she sends you to prison hither?
Guildenstern: Prison, my lord?
Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why then 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.
2nd law of thermodynamics and evolution
Christian Right Lobbies to Overturn the Second Law of Thermodynamics
Gracias por fumar
In personal game news, it seems a power surge has fried my old faithful xbox black. I was in the middle of a particularly challenging boss battle in Stranger's Wrath when clouds of black smoke suddenly huffed from the poor old creature's vents. Strangely enough it was at almost this point in the game two or three months ago that the police interupted my diversion to steal a few of my things ... including Stranger's Wrath. I replaced the game through a roundabout process which took a good month and a half only to play the game up to more or less the same point and be shut down by manic electricity. Giving this a positive slant which is really not my way, I guess I have an additional reason to buy a 360 when I get to Canada. But what then to do with the stack of original games i just bought and had shipped to me here in la jungla? Whatever ... strange priorities really.
(thanks to j. chadwick for the title)
"In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined
On the hills like Gods together, careless of mankind."
The Lotos-Eaters, Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
As archetypal human dilemmas go, none captures the insistent insouciance of the crumbling western consumer dream quite like the lotus eaters in The Odyssey. At once aware of the world's cruelty but determined to fulfill mythological promises of paradise, Odysseus' men gathered in their war weary, fatuous circles to reaffirm their delusions, stoned to the rafters on the plant of bliss. There amongst the oblivious, they tried to assuage the cognitive dissonance grumbling from the memories of victories gained at the cost of so many dead. They whole heartedly embraced the lie by opening themselves unequivocally to whatever mental contagion would bring them peace. What harm is there, I hear myself repeating with them, to take a brief respite from work, weariness and the knowledge of inevitable death? I, too, have been raised to believe I deserve some happiness.
Hence I have run not walked from the culture of which I knew too much. The growing brown shirt movement and racial intolerance of Canada, the pro-war, anti-socialist, blame the poor, shoot the hippo, jingoism of recent memory has walked me quietly and quickly to the nearest exit. Yet, nowhere is lotus bliss more apparent than in the escapism of an ex-patriot community. On the one hand we are proud and self congratulatory for having perceived and rejected the evil doing of our homelands, only to demand a contradictory anti-intellectualism towards anything that would disrupt our pleasant dream. It isn't uncommon for people to misinterpret local law, that foreigners are not permitted political involvements, as justification for not discussing politics at all. As such, social, political, economical or ethical acumen can be read as deplorable and deportable dissention. Far beyond murder it is to point out the palm fronds crashing down amongst our idyll.
In the house across the way there is no activity. This is sufficient to confirm something is wrong. I have come to the street of big houses to tend the Voltaire-ian gardens of some fellow escapees and have become accustomed to the rhythm of this little pseudo suburban road. My neighbor moves and shakes, comes and goes, like the steady wash of waves on our seemingly happy beaches. But not this week.
The facts are non-existent. There is no newspaper and no form of communication but gossip. All that seems true is that he was taken from his restaurant by men with guns.
When the police assaulted the zocalo in Oaxaca during the last teacher's strike they apparently captured some 500 people who they then deported to the state of Nayarit in a recapitulation of Guantanamo Bay. Some of those people were just unlucky enough to have chosen that particular moment to go shopping for eggs. They were tortured of course. I only know this because one of the locals is a psychologist who was involved in post traumatic stress treatment for the detainees. Most refused the treatment because they had already seen psychologists in their Nayarit prison and had been made aware of the intricacies of "treatment" by their captors. They were encouraged, in the midst of what must have been one of the most horrific moments of their lives, to see their discontent as a skewed perspective, to see their grief as the product of their improprieties.
For the new president, Felipe Calderon, the biggest problem Mexico faces at this moment is the transportation of drugs up the coast. Of course, only drug users would also be dissenters in the beautiful dream that is green and pleasant Mexico. That the teachers of Oaxaca and the APPO are dissenters, trouble makers, surrenders them to the inquisition of Calderon's anti-drug army. That Calderon's anti-drug army may be involved in the drug trade is an irony that has certainly fried the sensibilities of the Mexican public.
Contrarily, for too many of the gringos the protests in Oaxaca are about better wages and an inexplicable, culturally endemic unrest. One can practically hear John Wayne's voice pronouncing with no hint of wavering self-doubt that the natives are restless, while completely ignoring just why that might be. The facts are non-existent. There is no newspaper and no form of communication but gossip. All that seems true is that mangos fall from the trees like manna from heaven.
We all, surely, have anxieties about how the world could be and have all had our anxieties lured into dreary congeniality by our fear. Uncertainty and the reluctance to speak about what is not sure, what disrupts, has quieted our cynicism, defensiveness and critical judgment. But such "positive" thinking, trying to pass off our muzzles for some kind of zen, doesn't change the world. It just shuts out what is inconvenient about it. And in the confusion criminals of every kind make off with whomsoever they wish as we nod our heads in passive accord.
Despite the fragmentary appearance of the community's reaction to the kidnapping, there is an unsettling theme running through our conversations. I noticed a distinct relief of tension in myself when I was told the victim was involved in questionable business practices. The event was removed from the paranoic dread of random violence and delivered into the realm of justice, cause and effect, good and evil, god. Such specific comings and goings surely have nothing to do with us general rabble. I have rejected the event's suggestion of wholesale human malevolence for the comfort provided by non-involvement.
Yet, I keep thinking of the detainees in Nayarit being told that their dis-ease, their sins against the state, had incarcerated them. I think of a boss who tried to have the only aware person in the department fired for having too much initiative, I think of a co-worker who, after the fact, spoke shockingly well of a job she had hated and with bubbly enthusiasm reminded me that life was all about enjoyment. I think of Odysseus' men rejecting stark life completely for peaceful somnambulism. And I surely agree that life cannot be unwaveringly about fear and pain. And yet it is, in as much as it is about coming to terms with perennial suffering. We have no patience for the process. We hope that there is somehow a quick resolution to our strife and we consume the answers like cigarettes. We consume. We congratulate ourselves on our enlightenment and cluck and strut with our chests puffed out at those who "resist." We go on vacation. We leave.
"What you resist persists" goes the popular Jungian quote that has been used to substantiate the bland inertia of our era. To think is to sin against our safe, shell-like personal truths. Because truth, our truth, is a selfish little, self serving, self created reality, that any real thought would pop like a blister. We dread knowing. We can not go back to the same old strife, the same old pain, the same old same old.
Jung was not offering a solution to our dilemma in his clever aphorism. It is only to our generation of sound byte addled head nodders that "don't think about it" could somehow resolve the confusion of so many years of baffling human cognizance. We want ... no ... we demand the answer now and it is narcissistically easy to embrace the lotus. But Jung also said, "There is no coming to consciousness without pain." Yes, we must be Buddhist and strive for acceptance, but no, we can not be insincere about it. We should not just embrace this or that because it serves our purposes and we just don't want to suffer anymore ... should we?
We have theories about our disappeared neighbor. We dabble in explanation, justification, discrimination to give our disregard the appearance of awareness. Meanwhile, we dream in paradise and offer money, subservience, condemnation. We allocate blame to individual negativity when people are visited by strife, anything to stay in the hidden port, to hold fast to our vacuous, guiltless peace. Yet, should those who stoke the all consuming machine have need of more fodder, they will know exactly where we can be found.
I've been passing my days of unemployment trying to get some of my old music up on the internet. Why? Yes good question ... portrait of a man with too much time on his hands. Anyway, let's move on. As it turns out myspace is the usual option for such endeavours so I have wandered into the land of absolute vanity and posted a ms music page. It's a staggeringly slow process as the pages flip over and crash and constant advisements of a 24 hour wait until the tiny edit you have made comes up. As we say in Mexico, or at least the Mexicans say in Mexico and I steal from them because I love the expression, que hueva. So, here then, without further ado, is the twelve year old disc that is still sitting in untold, unopened boxes under someone's bed in Canada.
Deary me I am a sentimental old sot. And now back to the gardening ...
It is customary here in Puerto Escondido, when the need to extend one's visit arises and the infinite bureaucratic bludgeoning of immigration becomes impossible, to venture forth to the mysterious border of wild and wily Guatemala. Here, it is said, one may renew one's vows with green and pleasant Mexico and return to her bosom with a minimum of border guard abuse. Seeing as how the crucible set before me by immigration was unquestioningly beyond my grasp, on Monday at 5:30 I set out for the southern reaches of Chiapas to try my luck at the quick frontera exchange.
As Murphy pointed out, nothing ever comes off without a hitch, and this seems to be especially so for me in southern Mexico. Many might point out that according to nouveau esoterica my bad attitude makes such things happen, to which I blow my nose in their general direction. I try my best, like every good monkey, to take the ill tidings of life at their own sway. I simply don't try to lie to myself about how romantic it all is, or that the stupidity of people who suffer under poverty is somehow an enobling simplicity. As Nietszche says, " ... aware of life's terrors, (a person) affirms life without resentment." It is only when we expect the disappointments of life to somehow edify us that their inability to lend more than pain leaves us feeling poisoned.
The truth is that the border of Mexico / Guatemala is a nasty several mile wide example of everything that is wrong with humanity. Poverty, greed and its accompanying lack of imagination and hope when it comes to the problems of existence combine here with the vapors of brimstone. OK, they're just people doing their best and if that means trying to get as much as they can from stupid tourists like myself, then that's the way it is and I shouldn't be resentful.
I can only plead that stupidity is something insidious and contagious. If poverty makes low IQs, and the spread of poverty and low IQs and rampant population growth among the poor makes the world stupider and stupider, the reactions of those who should know better are becoming more and more in concert. I was raised to not categorize, to give each individual an even break, to give each person the opportunity to be uniquely stupid. But as I am judged by those with what I believe is a myopic point of view, I lash out with my own vindictive stupidity. As I am gawked at like a three headed dog dressed in golfer's attire I find my tiny mind taxed to the limit of its patience. It's that look WE get from THE OTHER, that look that says WE really don't know anything about what's going on anywhere at anytime otherwise why would WE eat anything but tortillas, why would anyone eat their meat other than thin and well done, why would anyone believe in anything but the catholic god, why would WE believe in anything, why would anyone laugh and do nothing, why would WE go to war, that gets my back up. One believes the other is stupid and the stupid are incredulous.
Amidst the stumbling rabble of which I too often must count myself I met a man named Nehemias, named after the biblical character assigned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. While the cambistas crowded round me to try to steal my passport and dole out bad exchanges on pesos and quetzales, Nehemias, in no extraordinary way, offered polite conversation. And returning from Malacatan I was offered a fair price for a taxi, and after braving the cambistas one last time, was given a six month tourist visa when all I asked for was three by a joking and laughing immigration officer. As a matter of fact, almost all the immigration officers were decent, helpful people. But despite such small kindnesses, it's the belief in getting the better of that other's ignorance as a sign of cleverness, and seeing apparent cultural unawareness as a sign of stupidity that leaves enduring bone chips in one's joints. It may be that in the absence of truth the rules that we invent and have the strength to uphold will be the laws of existence. We might be persuaded to believe that the thoughtless money grubbing of the cambistas is something more in the nature of necessary evil, the cruelty of survival. But I cannot help but be petulantly and, yes, stupidly resentful because I want individual strength to uphold the chimeric niceties of a respectful social contract. As the saying goes, "Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity." Stupidity, not cruelty, is survival's paradigmatic quality; to survive at all costs without a thought as to why is the nihilistic footnote to the world's folly.
And I, sir, have a full belly and the pretensions of a garden to guard my vanity.
"The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself." - Friedrich Nietzsche