Category Archives: Literature

Milquetoast for all Three Meals: All’s Dumb in the United States of A

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
— aphorism

There is dumb-downing, cancel culture (I’ve been cancelled since beginning in 1972 in high school, way before the trendy terminology), forced consent, manufactured bifurcation,  false balance, triangulation, perception as reality, equivocation, a host of propaganda techniques unleashed by Edward Bernays and Goebbels,  and the ugly quartet of  Infantilization-McDonaldization–Walmartization-Disneyfication:

George Ritzer introduced the concept of McDonaldization with his 1993 book, The McDonaldization of Society. Since that time the concept has become central within the field of sociology and especially within the sociology of globalization.

According to Ritzer, the McDonaldization of society is a phenomenon that occurs when society, its institutions, and its organizations are adapted to have the same characteristics that are found in fast-food chains. These include efficiency, calculability, predictability and standardization, and control.

Ritzer’s theory of McDonaldization is an update on classical sociologist Max Weber’s theory of how scientific rationality produced bureaucracy, which became the central organizing force of modern societies through much of the twentieth century. According to Weber, the modern bureaucracy was defined by hierarchical roles, compartmentalized knowledge and roles, a perceived merit-based system of employment and advancement, and the legal-rationality authority of the rule of law. These characteristics could be observed (and still can be) throughout many aspects of societies around the world. — Source 

Understanding the Phenomenon of McDonaldization

Now, we know infantilization was once applied just to young people, teenagers and such, giving them the one-two punch of treating them as if they have the mental capacity of a four-year or six-year old (now, the nanny-state, and the SARS-CoV2 paranoia and ignorance, making youth think a virus leaps from the ground outside while running in track by themselves will give them the DARPA virus — even DARPA isn’t that good, hail to virologist bomb makers at Fort Detrick and Plum Island). Underestimating the potential of 16-year-olds to understand “our” adult world, or the complexities of society. You know, give a 16-year-old the right to vote since it is that group most affected by the bad bad brew of politics and electioneering that will effect them the most and longest. Nope. That concept of infant-making of the American mind, of course, has been scaled up to an entire society fed on pabulum, cultivated through mass media that are geared to childish concepts of consumerism, fear, patriotism, and celebrity culture and bowing to the rich and famous.

Patronizing might be just one aspect of infantilization, but believe you me, I have been in many arenas — social work, education (higher and K12), environmentalism, union organizing, politics, journalism, the arts (literary, photography), urban planning …  and then in so many workplaces as an organizer and social services specialist. I’ve seen some dumbdowning and infatalizing and agnotology from supposed brightest and best coming out of elite Ivy Leadure schools. What has happened in the USA is one broad infantilization and massive Collective Stockholm Syndrome. It took 50 years, or 60.

Walmartization is pretty simple and deadly — Large chain stores moving (bulldozing) into a region (neighborhoods) which then not only devastate local businesses driving and then displacing those workers into low paying chain store jobs, but the money made by these national and multinational chains  leaves the community. It could be a bank chain, or hardware chain. That Home Depot is moving profits to shareholders, to the huge monster at the head of the huge serpent that kills local enterprise, local community support. Community of place is replaced by the transnational community of purpose — that purpose being profits anyway possible, and cutting labor costs, benefits, health and safety. Hell, get those workers on state Obama Care, food stamps, and the leftover public assistance. If you work at Amazon, what’s so wrong with three workers living in a beat up RV?  That Walmartization is about economies of scale, eating the soul of small manufacturers, small retail businesses, mom and pop’s, and, alas, the money leaves the community and goes to the highly paid family owners or company roughriders — the Cabal of millionaires, multimillionaires, hedge funds, and billionaires that are to put it kindly, bloodsuckers, and viruses.

NYC Educator: The Walmartization of Education

Disneyfication is a sophisticated intended and unintended set of processes that basically strips a real place (built environment, nature, etc.) or thing of its original character. That is the strip-mall which has boom and busted, and the great 200 acre malls, or the same 7-11 in a million places, as well as those Starbucks shit stores placed everywhere including the bathrooms. It is both a sanitization of real life, of real character, of real communities. Again, anything negative — like telling the real history of this Indian-killing, slave-owning/killing, union-busting/killing, global terror cop propagating country (sic) —  is removed, hidden, and then, here we are, with facts that are dumbed down with the psychological and marketing intention of rendering any negative, truthful, hurtful subject more pleasant and easily grasped. Replacing the real bar, the real bookstore, the real coffee shop, the real bodega, the real restaurant, the real park, the real playground, the real forest, the real wetlands, the real swamp, the real everglades, the real farm, with something either idealized … or giving something tourist-friendly veneer. There is a fake “Main Street, U.S.A.” everywhere,  and then the ugly side of what makes Milquetoast (but globally deadly) United States of Amerigo Vespucci a dying, wasteful, broken, rotting country.

The Disneyfication of Edinburgh – Bella Caledonia

Now, below will be a short Opinion piece I penned quickly to help my county to realize we have yet another deficit — lack of a literacy initiative, literacy center, literacy professionals and volunteers to help people learn how to read, learn how to decipher children’s schools’ labyrinthine rules and guidelines. To participate in this 21st century, or the Century before this one and the one before that one: learning how to read, and to critically evaluate all the snake oil labels, all the scams, all the hidden fees-tolls-poles-fines-add-ons, to call spade a spade when PayDay comes to town, or when red-lining rules the roost, or when complete and total neighborhoods are fleeced financially, culturally and environmentally.

1963,1966: Campaigns to Repeal Texas Poll Taxes | South Texas Rabble Rousers History Project

Literacy — And I have been at that game since, well, since my first year of college, University of Arizona. I’ve taught in prisons where lack of literacy is one big reason for many being locked away. I ran a communications program at a large military base (Fort Bliss, El Paso) where privates all the way to five or six striper NCOs had reading grade levels of 4 or 5 or 6. That’s fourth, fifth and sixth grade (if they were lucky).

I’ve written about this before — cartoon instructional manuals (usually with a buxom blonde white woman as the instructor in series after series cartoon strips) bending over to show how to arm a Stinger missile or how to use a Vulcan machine missile gun.

The U.S. Army Had an M-16 Comic Book | by War Is Boring | War Is Boring | Medium

If reading isn’t important, than, I suppose every single law drawn up by ALEC and every single omnibus bill, every war lord’s thousand-page contract for this or that bound-to-be-triple-cost overrun killing systems, whether in the air, on the water, underwater, on land, in space, over the web, inside telephones and computers, or inside a bacteria or virus just is not that important.

To the point where 9 or 11 trillion dollars is missing from DoD, and how many trillions have been shelled out to war lords, bankers, virus mercenaries, poverty profiteers?

That I have to work on getting one person into a volunteer-run literacy program as if I am writing the new laws or formulating something unique is troubling (read my Op-Ed piece below).

Functional or complete illiteracy. Remember Jonathan Kozol:

Kozol believes that liberal education in our inner-city schools has been increasingly replaced by “culturally barren and robotic methods of instruction that would be rejected out of hand by schools that serve the mainstream of society.”

Oh baby, did I have Kozol on speed dial in the college classes I taught —

  • Kozol, Jonathan. Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools. Houghton, 1967, revised edition, New American Library, 1985.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. Illiterate America. Anchor/Doubleday, 1985.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. On Being a Teacher. Continuum, 1981.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. Ordinary Resurrections: Children in the Years of Hope. Crown, 2000.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools. Crown, 1991.
  • Kozol, Jonathan. Shame of the Nation: The restoration of apartheid schooling in America. Crown, 2005.

This is what Studs Terkel said about Kozol’s Illiterate America — “Stunning… with passion and eloquence Kozol reveals a devastating truth… and offers a challenge and remedy.”  Source

If it is any comfort to this man, he should know that he is not alone. Twenty-five million American adults cannot read the poison warnings on a can of pesticide, a letter from their child’s teacher, or the front page of a daily paper. An additional 35 million read only at a level which is less than equal to the full survival needs of our society.

Together, these 60 million people represent more than one third of the entire adult population.

The largest numbers of illiterate adults are white, native-born Americans. In proportion to population, however, the figures are higher for blacks and Hispanics than for whites. Sixteen percent of white adults, 44 percent of blacks, and 56% of Hispanic citizens are functional or marginal illiterates. Figures for the younger generation of black adults are increasing. Forty-seven percent of all black seventeen-year-olds are functionally illiterate. That figure is expected to climb to 50 percent by 1990. — Kozol, Illiterate America

Now, that was from a book Kozol wrote 36 years ago. THIRTY-SIX. Those numbers above pale in comparison to this year’s averages. Since we have 335 million in this country, and alas, functional illiteracy is at an all-time high, a larger percentage of people are duped, fooled, cheated, imprisoned, bankrupted, scammed, and structurally murdered because they can’t read or can’t understand what they are reading. Make that 80 percent of people reading the car-seat instructions for their loved one’s safety, in fact, install the car seat INCORRECTLY after reading a 7th grade level set of simple instructions.

Image below: Jonathan Kozol a long time ago teaching reading

Why do I use milquetoast in the title? Here, Kozol, telling it like it is about Dumb Downed USA, with Sleepy Joe — “Joe Biden’s shameful record on school segregation

Advocates for children and civil rights who have not yet given up entirely on the struggle to break down the walls of racial isolation in our public schools may want to take a good hard look at Joe Biden’s shameful record on school segregation. Despite his recent effort to allay concerns about that record, it cannot be expunged or easily forgiven.

In an education-policy proposal released by his campaign on May 28, Biden briefly spoke of encouraging diversity by giving grants and guidance to districts that are willing to pursue it. But he said nothing to disown his long history as a fierce opponent of school busing and a scathing critic of the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Milquetoast to all the idiots who fight me tooth and nail when I explicitly state I never have or never will vote for a democrat or republican for president. That a two-minute scribble exercise called voting does absolutely ZERO for me, and for the causes I fight for, including a literacy center in every rural, suburban, urban community.

Illiteracy is bad all around, but oh is it sweet to the bankers, real estate folk, the doctors, lawyers, accountants, IRS, military, marketers, flimflam folk that rule this country …  as you will read in the short piece I did for the small twice a week rag, Newport News TimesBut what makes this country a house of horrors and run by corporate and war lord whores, is how all of those elites and monsters conspire to make people dumb downed, and that is the McDonaldization-Walmartization-Infantalization-Disneyfication of everything.

Literacy is a matter of life and death, happiness or penury

I used to get my elbows up into many literacy projects as an English and writing faculty member at community colleges, universities, prison school programs and writing/journalism workshops for people who are exploited because of their status as low income or as former felons, and those homeless citizens as well as adults living with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

Events like “Banned Books Month” (October) or National Poetry Month (April) I worked hard to promote/support. Big journalism organizations like Project Censored and groups like Reporters without Borders are still in my blood.

I am now working again in a small rural community dotted with small towns. I am not only supporting folks with job development and on-the-job training and coaching, but I am helping two Lincoln County citizens with reading literacy.

In my situation with Shangri-La, these two are adult men in their 30s who are seeking reading literacy programs.

It may come as a surprise to citizens, lawmakers and politicians alike, but Lincoln County does not have a literacy center. There is no one-stop place for people who need literacy tutoring, whether they are functionally illiterate in their English skills as a U.S.-born citizen, or those who are English as a second/third language learners.

I’m working with a Salem group, Mid-Valley Literacy Center (founded in 2009). Vivian Ang is my contact who is helping train Newport and Toledo-based citizens to help tutor my two clients. This is not an easy task, and Vivian, with more than 20 years of tutoring including at Chemeketa Community College, says it’s hit or miss.

“I do not have any experience with assisting an adult with a learning disability (developmental disability) to learn how to read,” she has repeated to me several times.

An adult who drives a car, works at a factory, runs a large piece of construction equipment, lives on his own and presents as a “regular sort of guy” can be in one of the most dire of circumstances — functional and complete illiteracy.

Wanting to learn how to read when you are in your 30s takes guts. There are stigmas for someone who can’t read an insurance form or simple job application.

The need is high in Lincoln County for adults like this client of mine — born in Newport and educated in Newport’s K-12 system, including special education classes — to learn how to read. But we have many from Mexico, Guatemala and other countries in our communities where learning how to read and speak English is more than just a step toward better pay.

Vivian tells me a story about an Oregon woman, from Mexico, illiterate in English, who had a sick daughter who needed medication to improve. The prescription stated, “Take this medication once a day.” In Spanish, once is the word for the number 11, so, tragically, the mother followed the prescription contextualized in her Spanish reading abilities. At 11 times a day, after a few days, the medication killed her two-year-old daughter.

Navigating housing, employment, the legal system, utility companies, landlords, cultural activities, and representative politics are basically off limits to a person who can’t read or write. The amount of exploitation, fines, fees, garnishments, late payments and other penalties is a regular occurrence for people who can’t read and write.

According to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy (founded 1991), low literacy in the USA costs us as a society $2.2 trillion a year. According to U.S. Department of Education, more than half of U.S. adults aged 16 to 74 years old (54 percent or 130 million people) lack proficiency in literacy, reading below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level.

For my many clients across the board, lack of reading, low reading levels and functional illiteracy can be linked to poorer health, low levels of civic engagement and low earnings in the labor market. On average, more than 70 percent of people following the seventh grade reading level for instructions on how to install an infant car seat fail to follow the proper steps.

I am enlisting tutors for my two clients. I have a librarian and a library technician on board. Three retired women living in Toledo and Newport, too. One of my client’s workplaces is stepping up and paying the nonprofit Vivian runs for the materials and training. That general manager is also providing a private space with internet access to his worker (I’ll call him Samuel) who is illiterate.

He tells me, “I wish I had 22 Samuel’s working for me. He’s an incredible worker, reliable, goes the extra mile.” Source

 

The post Milquetoast for all Three Meals: All’s Dumb in the United States of A first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Imagining Palestine: On Barghouti, Darwish, Kanafani and the Language of Exile

For Palestinians, exile is not simply the physical act of being removed from their homes and their inability to return. It is not a casual topic pertaining to politics and international law, either. Nor is it an ethereal notion, a sentiment, a poetic verse. It is all of this, combined.

The death in Amman of Palestinian poet, Mourid Barghouti, an intellectual whose work has intrinsically been linked to exile, brought back to the surface many existential questions: are Palestinians destined to be exiled? Can there be a remedy for this perpetual torment? Is justice a tangible, achievable goal?

Barghouti was born in 1944 in Deir Ghassana, near Ramallah. His journey in exile began in 1967, and ended, however temporarily, 30 years later. His memoir I Saw Ramallah – published in 1997 – was an exiled man’s attempt to make sense of his identity, one that has been formulated within many different physical spaces, conflicts and airports. While, in some way, the Palestinian in Barghouti remained intact, his was a unique identity that can only be fathomed by those who have experienced, to some degree, the pressing feelings of Ghurba – estrangement and alienation – or Shataat – dislocation and diaspora.

In his memoir, translated into English in 2000 by acclaimed Egyptian author, Ahdaf Soueif, he wrote, “I tried to put the displacement between parenthesis, to put a last period in a long sentence of the sadness of history … But I see nothing except commas. I want to sew the times together. I want to attach one moment to another, to attach childhood to age, to attach the present to the absent and all the presents to all absences, attach exiles to the homeland and to attach what I have imagined to what I see now.”

Those familiar with the rich and complex Palestinian literature of exile can relate Barghouti’s reference – what one imagines versus what one sees – to the writing of other intellectuals who have suffered the pain of exile as well. Ghassan Kanafani and Majed Abu Sharar – and numerous others – wrote about that same conflict. Their death – or, rather, assassination – in exile brought their philosophical journeys to an abrupt end.

In Mahmoud Darwish’s seminal poem, ‘Who Am I, Without Exile’, the late Palestinian poet asked, knowing that there can never be a compelling answer: “What will we do without exile?”

It is as if Ghurba has been so integral to the collective character of a nation, and is now a permanent tattoo on the heart and soul of the Palestinian people everywhere. “A stranger on the riverbank, like the river … water binds me to your name. Nothing brings me back from my faraway to my palm tree: not peace and not war. Nothing makes me enter the gospels. Not a thing …,” Darwish wrote.

The impossibility of becoming a whole again in Darwish and Barghouti’s verses were reverberations of Kanafani’s own depiction of a Palestine that was as agonizingly near as it was far.

“What is a homeland?” Kanafani asks in ‘Returning to Haifa’. “Is it these two chairs that remained in this room for twenty years? The table? Peacock feathers? The picture of Jerusalem on the wall? The copper-lock? The oak tree? The balcony? What is a homeland? .. I’m only asking.”

But there can be no answers, because when exile exceeds a certain rational point of waiting for some kind of justice that would facilitate one’s return, it can no longer be articulated, relayed or even fully comprehended. It is the metaphorical precipice between life and death, ‘life’ as in the burning desire to be reunited with one’s previous self, and ‘death’ as in knowing that without a homeland one is a perpetual outcast – physically, politically, legally, intellectually and every other form.

“In my despair I remember; that there is life after death … But I ask: Oh my God, is there life before death?” Barghouti wrote in his poem ‘I Have No Problem.’

While the crushing weight of exile is not unique to Palestinians, the Palestinian exile is unique. Throughout the entire episode of Palestinian Ghurba, from the early days of the Nakba – the destruction of the Palestinian homeland – till today, the world remains divided between inaction, obliviousness, and refusal to even acknowledge the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his decades-long exile, Barghouti did not engage in ineffectual discussions about the rightful owners of Palestine “because we did not lose Palestine to a debate, we lost it to force.”

He wrote in his memoir “When we were Palestine, we were not afraid of the Jews. We did not hate them, we did not make an enemy of them. Europe of the Middle Ages hated them, but not us. Ferdinand and Isabella hated them, but not us. Hitler hated them, but not us. But when they took our entire space and exiled us from it they put both us and themselves outside the law of equality.”

In fact, ‘hate’ rarely factors in the work of Barghouti – or Darwish, Kanafani, Abu Sharar and many others – because the pain of exile, so powerful, so omnipresent – required one to re-evaluate his relationship to the homeland through emotional rapport that can only be sustained through positive energy, of love, of deep sadness, of longing.

“Palestine is something worthy of a man bearing arms for, dying for,” wrote Kanafani. “For us, for you and me, it’s only a search for something buried beneath the dust of memories. And look what we found beneath that dust. Yet more dust. We were mistaken when we thought the homeland was only the past.”

Millions of Palestinians continue to live in exile, generation after generation, painstakingly negotiating their individual and collective identities, neither able to return, nor feeling truly whole. These millions deserve to exercise their Right of Return, for their voices to be heard and to be included.

But even when Palestinians are able to end their physical exile, chances are for generations they will remain attached to it. “I don’t know what I want. Exile is so strong within me, I may bring it to the land,” wrote Darwish.

In Barghouti too, exile was ‘so strong’. Despite the fact that he fought to end it, it became him. It became us.

The post Imagining Palestine: On Barghouti, Darwish, Kanafani and the Language of Exile first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Eye of the Wolf: Measuring Myself through Death

If I were asked what I want to accomplish as a writer, I would say it’s to contribute to the literature of hope.

— Barry Lopez, About This Life

A passing. A death. Moving on. Back to earth. A new journey.

Image result for Barry Lopez Oregon

He filled the air with lyrical words and ideas grafted to our role as writers and people living inside and with our natural world. He was steadfast in his role as a naturalist of sorts, but through and through he was a word conjurer.

He came to me when I was young, inside his book about wolves. I was in Arizona jumping the skeletons of saguaros with my 360cc Bultaco and learning the art of passage: working with ministers and laypersons helping Central Americans cross that political line between USA and Mexico.

Barry Lopez’s written words were in my heart.

The wolf exerts a powerful influence on the human imagination. It takes your stare and turns it back on you. … from Of Wolves and Men

Luckily for me, I heard wolves in 2002 along the Clearwater in Idaho, being let free on Nez Perce land.  Now, 42 years later, the tributes to his life, his writing, and how he touched soil and words come trickling in.  But the Lopez I also know is the young man who went to Norte Dame and considered being a Trappist monk, while a deep scar from his youth galvanized into his very being and turned him away from much man’s ways.

He is a writer who helped humanity understand their stories are valuable. I remember the television interview of him years ago, with Bill Moyers. Again, Lopez stressed he may be considered a nature writer but, in reality, he is writing about humanity.

Every story is an act of trust between a writer and a reader; each story, in the end, is social. Whatever a writer sets down can harm or help the community of which he or she is a part.

He was a gifted wordsmith. And like Winona LaDuke, he wanted to “recover the sacred.” The land shapes us all, and for Lopez, he spent time in that land – five years in the arctic as a biologist. His own biography is compelling in that odd American way.

Barry with his wife, Debra Gwartney, and his daughters Amanda, Stephanie, Mary and Mollie. Finn Rock Oregon, 2016
RIP — 1945-2020

Nascent Dreams

He was born Barry Holstun Brennan in Port Chester, New York. His family moved to Reseda, California, after the birth of his brother, Dennis. He was raised in a low-income single-parent family for a while, and his mother married Adrian Lopez, a businessman, in 1955. Adrian adopted Barry and his brother, and they both took his surname.

He died with laurels, awards, and 20 books to his name. Years fighting prostate cancer didn’t lessen his ferocity for wanting to be a “writer of help.”

For me, Walt Whitman says it in a nutshell, what it was to be Barry Lopez: “Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”

Part of Barry’s call to duty is acting as a bridge, a translator, an intermediary for humanity (Western Civilization) which has in general lost that language of animals. We have forgotten to talk to our brothers and sisters.

He stated in an interview with Nick O’Connell.  “I’ve always been deeply interested in animals, in what they were doing and where they lived. They are for me parallel cultures. I think about them a lot and spend a certain amount of time with them. Natural history is the metaphor I feel most comfortable with as a writer—a kind of natural history that includes geography.”

When Lopez was 11, his family relocated to Manhattan, where he attended the Loyola School, graduating in 1962. He attended the University of Notre Dame, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees there in 1966 and 1968.

He also attended the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Conquest’s Lesson

He ended up planting his field of muses to grow into an Oregonian. In this process of tending his writing and spirituality in this adopted land, he always spoke of this amazing place that for thousands of years was home of people with a real land ethic. People who planned to live here generations into the future. Who planned their lives, habits and culture around the fact they would not be leaving, or engaging in some Diaspora.

That manifest destiny, that interloper mentality of settlers, Lopez also discussed with me and my students, since I had spent much of my life in land conquered by Spain – Mexico and Central America. And others who knew Barry personally also write about this root in his own intellectual life.

An amazing journey in time, space, and history, “The Passing Wisdom of Birds,” from Crossing Open Ground still drills into my core.  Lopez writes about Hernan Cortez’s destruction of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec Capital known today as Mexico City. Not surprisingly, Charles V called this Aztec jewel “the most beautiful city in the world.”

We know the story – after being driven out of the city a year earlier by Montezuma, Cortez then returns with a larger army and with vengeance in his heart and vindictive violence as his tool of domination. Lopez writes, Cortez’s army “laid siege to the city. Canal by canal, garden by garden, home by home.”

This is the barbarity of the Old World launching its systematic destruction of a people, culture and their own praxis by gestating in a new land as conquistadores with guns, the holy cross and racism. Cortez set fire to the great aviaries and nests of wild birds found throughout the city. Lopez writes,

The image I carry of Cortez setting fire to the aviaries in Mexico City that June day in 1521 is an image I cannot rid myself of. It stands, in my mind, for a fundamental lapse of wisdom … an underlying trouble in which political conquest, personal greed, revenge, and national pride outweigh what is innocent, beautiful, serene and defenseless — the birds. … Indeed, one could argue, the same oblivious irreverence is still with us, among those who would ravage and poison the earth to sustain the economic growth of Western societies.

I spoke with Barry when he addressed classes at Eastern Washington University and the two Spokane community colleges where I taught. I brought up the chaos of the country when we spoke. That was  in 2006. It was easy to rebuke much of America then as it was clear to pundits, academicians and writers this country was adrift (some déjà vu now, uh?). Easy to blame media, computers, celebrity culture and political impotence, for sure, but Lopez stressed to me and the students that we were widening the cultural disconnect with the land.

He actually posed this very question in the end of that essay, “The Passing Wisdom of Birds.” Is it possible to move beyond a moment in the Valley of Mexico when we behaved as though we were insane? Lopez’s answer can be found in Arctic Dreams:

Staring down pecatta mundi that day on the tundra, my image of God was this effort to love in spite of everything that contradicts that impulse. When I think of the phrase ‘the love of God,’ I think of this great and beautiful complexity we hold within us, this pattern of light and emotion we call God, and that the rare, pure ferocity of our love sent anywhere in that direction is worth all the mistakes we endure to practice it.

Think Like a Mountain

He hitched his entire life to the land, and the mental manifestation of what land language and biotic ethics mean to people who hold land as more than “just” sacred.

The land is the very essence of our own DNA, as many of us attempt to mine lost narratives in order to understand people who know the land and its inhabitants and geological prominence like the backs of their hands.

Sure, I met Barry Lopez several times – in bookstores and classrooms: Missoula, Seattle, Spokane, Portland. His Arctic Dreams and Of Wolves and Men I read early in my own writing career.

I am part of the geology connected to Lopez. I live on the Central Oregon Coast, and the fires we had in 2020 tore through his and his wife Deborah’s property. The land will heal, but his 50-year personal archive of all his writings went up in flames.

Here on the Alsea River along the Pacific, I smelled the drifting ashes of those fires for weeks.

During the fires, Debra and Barry ended up in Eugene, and many have stated Lopez repeated these universal healing words we know from nature when asked what was next: “rebuilding, repairing, and replanting.”

I remember another appearance, at Spokane’s Auntie’s Bookstore, 15 years ago when he was reading from a new collection for which he choreographed, along with his wife, Debra Gwartney – Home Ground.

More than 45 writers, including Barbara Kingsolver, Charles Frazier, William Kittredge and Terry Tempest Williams, riffing with words found at the intersection of human culture and physical geography:  examples include just these — “portage” and “outcrop,” “windbreak” and “dry fall.”

What distinguishes American literature — especially from European literature — is this deep attachment to place [Lopez told Ann Colford of the Pacific Northwest Inlander].  And it’s not just in the usual suspects, like Cather and Steinbeck and Melville and Thoreau; it’s there in everybody’s work. Truman Capote. Updike. One of the impetuses in choosing the marginalia was this sense of, ‘Look at all these people and how they think about the landscape.’

ACE – Adverse Childhood Experiences

I have to end this remembrance of Barry Lopez with another path he crossed in his life, at a very young age, an adverse childhood experience for which I ended up also intersecting as a social worker for homeless, veterans, youth and those living with a developmental disability.

Lopez and I talked about the precarity of my own work as a part-time adjunct, part-time journalist, failed novelist with a New York agent and other gigs tied to social services. When I last spoke with him, I had not yet launched into working with the disenfranchised:  substance addicted humans, or the just-released prisoners, homeless and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The impact of Lopez’s childhood trauma and repressed PTSD hit me hard. I read his 2013 article in Harpers because someone who had remembered my reviews of two of his books when I was a reporter and Sunday book editor for the El Paso Times contacted me on Facebook.

“Did you see that amazingly open, truthful and sad article he wrote about his own abuse? Wow?”

Lopez was nearing seventy when he wrote this piece in Harper’s Magazine – “Sliver of Sky — Confronting the trauma of sexual abuse” (January 2013).

He was seven when his family was introduced to this man, who ran a sanatorium and was known in California for his ability to help alcoholics kick the habit. Lopez’s story of shame, packing away trauma, sublimating that five years of abuse he experienced into a life — on the surface and deeper within through his own passages with nature, writing and teaching (he visited over 80 countries) – wallops any empathetic reader hard. While Lopez is compared to Henry David Thoreau and William Faulkner, he was in one sense carrying a shattered child inside.

Here, one of the less graphic passages from the Harper’s memoir –

From what I have read over the years in newspapers and magazines about scandals involving serial pedophiles, I have gathered that people seem to think that what victims most desire in the way of retribution is money and justice, apparently in that order. My own guess would be that what they most want is something quite different: they want to be believed, to have a foundation on which they can rebuild a sense of dignity. Reclaiming self-respect is more important than winning money, more important than exacting vengeance.

Victims do not want someone else’s public wrath, the umbrage of an attorney or an editorial writer or a politician, to stand in for the articulation of their own anger. When a pedophile is exposed by a grand-jury indictment today, the tenor of public indignation often seems ephemeral to me, a response generated by ‘civic’ emotion. Considering the number of children who continue to be abused in America — something like one in seven boys and one in three girls — these expressions of condemnation seem naïve. Without a deeper commitment to vigilance, society’s outrage begins to take on the look of another broken promise.

Sitting at the Table of Greats

Sure, my own life in the wild, inside nature, communing with manatees, hornbills, hammerheads or what-have-you has also been tied to not just the “land ethic” that Aldo Leopold wrote about, but also to recovering the sacred, which to me are the people who are in, by, because and for the land.

There is no climate change mitigation for vanishing forests, coral reefs and rivers unless there are holistic and deep green relationships we build within the biotic community as we work with the community of Homo Sapiens.

Interestingly, the work I have done with sexually-abused veterans, people living as homeless, and even those who are deemed “people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” as well as the work as a community college and K12 teacher, all tied into the threads that Barry Lopez gifted me to understand that connection – or in most cases, disconnection – we as a society have lost to the land.

Image result for Arctic Dreams

Yet Barry Lopez’s message, even among all the dire calls to action to stop the polluting, the razing, the clearcutting, the harvesting, the burning, the damming, the killing, comes to me in one of the last things he published – a forward to a biography of Richard K. Nelson,  Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson by Hank Lentfer (July 2020, Mountaineers Books).

This is an elegant and amazing connection to his own life writing in an old chair that Lopez had to mess with to keep viable as the place he found the fortitude and the ferocity of spirit from which to write and keep connected to Nelson man who was a real person of the people and land.

It seems appropriate for me to reflect first on the undistinguished chair I’m sitting in as I try to put together a few words to introduce you to this biography of Richard Nelson. I bought the chair long ago in a second-hand store, in Springfield, Oregon. I’ve had to repair it occasionally, to ensure its sturdiness. Two worn-out seat cushions, one atop the other, make it easier to occupy for hours at a time. Two newel posts brace a tapered backrest of wooden spindles. The caps of the newel posts gleam from the rub of human hands over the decades.

I’ve written seventeen books sitting in this chair, and I hope to complete a couple more in the years ahead. In the early 1980s, because I sensed that resting my back against a pair of cured blacktail deer hides from Richard’s hunts would put me in a more respectful frame of mind when I wrote, and that they might induce in me the proper perspectives about life, I wrote him and asked for his help. Would he honor our friendship by sending me a couple of blacktail deer hides? These were from deer he’d been given as a subsistence hunter (as he understood that relationship with them) in the woods near his home.

In my experience, no other non-native hunter’s ethical approach to this archetypal form of fatal encounter was as honorable as Richard’s. He hunted to feed his family, imitating the way his Iñupiaq, Koyukon, and Kwich’in teachers had taught him to, through the example of their own behavior in engagements with wild animals—humble, grateful, respectful. I felt the hides might care for me as I stumbled my way through life, in the same way that our friendship with each other would take care of both of us in the years ahead.

Even without the deer hides stitched to my own office chair, or the close camaraderie and corresponding with Lopez, I too feel the words of poets and writers like Lopez will “take care of me in the years ahead, wherever that passage way Mother Earth leads me.”

Image result for Raven’s Witness: The Alaska Life of Richard K. Nelson

I am reminded that Lopez believed a writer’s job is “to be of service.” Again, Lopez stated many times that we as writers are not placed in this role to tell people what to think. Our job is to help people frame their own thoughts. And to know their own stories and be able to tell those stories to themselves, their circle of family, or in the case of Lopez, to the world.

cover of Of Wolves and Men by Barry lopez

See Thank you, Barry Lopez from Orion Magazine Staff!

Barry, forty years ago you taught me that all stories are about relationship: who I am to all creatures where I am . . . who I am to who you are . . . who we are to who we will become. So goes, now and always, my story with you.

— Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laurette

The post The Eye of the Wolf: Measuring Myself through Death first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Million and One Ideas that Would Transform the Globe

Writing is not a searching about in the daily experience for apt similes and pretty thoughts and images… It is not a conscious recording of the day’s experiences ‘freshly and with the appearance of reality’… The writer of imagination would find himself released from observing things for the purpose of writing them down later. He would be there to enjoy, to taste, to engage the free world, not a world which he carries like a bag of food, always fearful lest he drop something or someone get more than he.

— William Carlos Williams,  Spring and All

Ahh, just proposing a few hundred “things” to transform the globe into a world where people control their destinies within groups of people who have their destinies in their best interest is teetering on insanity. It’s not what good people in good capitalist company do, allow, or talk about seriouisly.

No Kid Hungry: How you can help end childhood hunger - Between Us Parents

You see, Capitalism lite or Capitalism hard is the same dog-eat-dog world of fend for yourselves, do or die, sink or swim, err, unless you can form a cabal of elites, with their colonies of soldiers and lawyers and bankers and land dealers to entitle you to a different playing field. Inverted Totalitarianism.

Get a group of like-minded sociopaths, get a group of investors who want to make a quick buck, get millions who consume the lies of the business journals, the lies of the celebrity scum that end up controlling the narrative on everything, from how the local dog catcher should or shouldn’t do their job, all the way to the pigs over in Fukushima now letting (sic) out the isotopes of cancerous love into the Pacific. Imagine, the power of that cabal of industrialists.

It’s the same story told with a different spin, but we know the routine — Hanford, bombs, government contracts, the Tri-Cities (Washington state where the bomb material for incinerating one of the Japanese cities was cooked up) “benefitting” from the construction jobs, the nailing and sawing and framing, all the scientists and the support teams (up to 15,000 back then in the 1944) eating out, and that is the disaster and shock and war lord capitalism’s central feature — colonizing people. That entire nuclear material making house of nuclear cards based on bad scientists coming into town, and then the system of capitalism runs like a smooth Atilla the Hun School of Economics. Farmers out in Eastern Washington, and bam, the big bad bomb making boys with their pencil necks, their big cars, their big booze bills, the cigarettes, the new homes with backyard in ground pools, the ancillary and tertiary junk of the consumer/capitalist kind, colonizing in this dry land. Until the smoothly and finely-tuned and well-greased death machine ends up decades later running amok in the people’s thyroids, in the DNA and RNA of papa and mama, and alas, now Native fishers as young as 24 have thyroids removed, and the warning label now says, cut away all the fatty bellies of salmon — NOT recommended not for human consumption. Read my two-part series here at Dissident Voice.

Just the Facts About Hunger in the US & The World | WhyHunger

Capitalism — not for human consumption. That is, all those hyphenated additives and ingredients in baby’s formula, all that stuff sprayed into everything, all those extruded plastics, all those soldered joints, all those capacitors and Prius batteries, the entire thing is not for human consumption.

Now, then,  how can anyone go up against this narrative, or flip the script, or make paradigm shifts and cultural transformations, when the entire mess is defended by the very people, say in Appalachia, where entire mountain peaks are blasted away, trout rivers blackened by the dust, and babies born fifty points or more below the barely average thinking (IQ) capacity of a Trump or Biden evil spawn. Dirt poor, no teeth, USDA Mac’ n’ Cheese food pantry boxes, and, bam, here we are, 2020,   and the dumb as dirt country is being run by thieves, rapists, bombers, land razers, polluters, perverts, sociopaths.

Explore the Issues – FoodBank

Then the compliant ones, all the big burly tough Americans, especially on the GOP and MAGA side, who feign toughness, think they are blustery in their attacks on educators, intellectuals, scientists, youth, raging grannies, women, environmentalists, multi-culturalists, but the bottom line, they are the flag wavers, the slaver statue defenders, the clear cutters, the wolf killers, the church goers, the big truck lovers, lock step on Saturdays for their college football, their Friday night big high school grid iron, their Sunday hour of hate with Jerry Falwell or Billy Graham. Everything about the mythology of America — the white land, everything about the authority of the white patriarch, everything about the Stars and Bars — those are the MAGA/GOP lovers, and they want it their way or the highway. Or the way of the AR-15, and anyone moving in protest shot on sight. Amazingly openly racist, and anything or anyone  that speaks of questioning the Yankee Doodle Dandy and Confederate narrative, the MAGA go ballistic, and their slave patrol cops come in shooting.

This is not to say the other groupings tied to the Democratic party are that much more independent, or fore-thinking. This is the way of capitalism, and the bourgeoise, the professional middle managers, the cultural warriors, all the PC and cancel culture and the co-opting of movement’s, the kids and adults purchasing Che printed on the t-shirt with Pink Floyd emblazoned under him, that is the other side of the capitalist isle. Really, two different breeds, possibly, the products of epigenetics, and both believing in the unholy contract within both the rule of law and the rules of engagement. A contract is a contract, sign on the dotted line for your next lemon.

War, Branding, Amusements, Infantilism, Disneyifcation, Commercials,  Retailopethicus, and the land of milk and honey, through the veins of mother earth, clotted, and the fissures of Turtle Island, radiated, and massive murder and slavery, legitimized. Not much more of that history can be 1619 Project leveled to define this country.

Hunger in America

Until, everyone, on all sides of the political manure pile, are the enemy of transformational living and collectivism.

How many times have I gone up against college presidents who actually come from the ranks of MBA schools, or with degrees in “institutional leadership” (yes, and WTF degree, PhD no less).

Try out the Journal for Higher Education Mangers, running with the AAUA, American Association of University Administrators.  Then, yes, The Journal of Research on the College President. They have their lobbying arm, their professional insiders, their army of propagandists. Always, top down, and nothing to do with teaching and teachers.

10 cities where an appalling number of Americans are starving | Salon.com

Look, more is not better, and bigger is not better, but in capitalism, in supposedly valiant and worthy areas  like education, that is, working with humans to allow themselves to share/advance knowledge and nurturing systems thinking and expanding critical interdisciplinary skills; to learn to work across disciplines, cultures, nations, well, you might think the idea is to work socialistically to bring our societies and our various countries toward some decent survivability and mutual aid across all lines. . .  Each person is an individual in a systems thinking collective. But the reality is that bigger is better in destructive capitalism, schooling or Amazon fulfillment center;  and competition is not just expressed on the basketball courts. Each school, trying to hook the next and the next generation of potential students. More and more Club Med amenities. Working on the Amusing Themselves to Death. A nice tidy $100,000 school loan bill for that undergraduate degree no one in America gives a shit about.

It’s not about intergenerational, multi-dynamic cross-educational pathways to community and collective healing and mutual aid; i.e., emancipation from the consumer path. It’s about the big fish in the ocean eating the most sardines. It is all about free (sic) market hucksterism, and the constant getting one, two, three thousand things over on your fellow citizens. Compatriots for Americans is the opposite of compassion.

Ya think those provosts and institutional leaders and VPs and Human Resources pros give a shit about the actual individual student, or the workers keeping the system, and their big pay checks, going?

Nope. I have worked with colleges where the outliers like me, left of left, are not only denigrated, but marginalized and sacked. I have worked with colleges where exploitation is the maximal form of employment. The student is not always the center of things, and alas, now the student is a customer, or in a time of Plan-Demic, a data donor on a huge Digital Dashboard.

If you want to talk about technocratic and technological fascism, you will not be embraced in neoliberal circles, and lite liberal circles. Not in most departments at the universities. Forget the community colleges, where more and more college across the land have drone technology programs. You know, bomb them back to the stone age from the comfort of your Lazy Boy lumbar supported counsel chair. No matter how much the liberals spew about CSA’s (community supported agriculture) and Farmer’s Markets and the like, they still feel as if technology, Artificial Intelligence, all the apps and tools of the managerial class, the tracking tools, the aggregating tools, all the “so called” medical and banking and taxing tools, well, the show must go on in their Zoom Doom minds. How do you stop it, they might ask. How? And, for the most part, many of them profess that tracking who does and who does not get the vaccinations, who does and who doesn’t agree with the entire narrative, well, that is a-okay to put them on some kind of passport, wristwatch with all the goods on that person.

These are scary times, and desperate times call for desperate/fascistic/ technological neutering measures. That is the narrative of both MAGA/GOP and the Democrats/

Every Dissident Voice and Facebook post, all the entanglements of the process of exploring ideas and expressing opinions, it is like a forever chemical — data, and stories and tweets and postings, they stay in the digital hell of the overlords, ready to be paraded out anytime. I have been told, “You didn’t get the job because they ‘Googled you.'” And those millionaires and billionaires and soon-to-be trillionaires have offered up the backdoor keys to NSA and given all the other alphabet soup agencies of oppression and repression, all the info, as well as given it to any major or minor corporation having the $ to access EVERYTHING. The outfall is, of course, revolt, dissent, dissidence and clarity of dissension will be, well, verboten if one is to survive in this Global Digital and AI/CCTV/Big Brother panopticon — which is now not just an institutional building and a system of control designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century. Now, each internet, each bureaucratic, each retail transaction, each consumer moment being observed by a single security guard — the AI God in the Cloud.

The Republicans, the Democrats, the Libertarians, all of them, want that level of control. Even the Chinese, do. This is the value of oppression, economies of scale, the conundrum of each nation out for itself. Each hundred million souls or each half a billion humans must go after the goods, the others be damned.

This is the psychopathic way of “the market,” the bulwark that is the steal jaws of competitive markets, where the commons is always a tragedy, where the Greek Tragedy is played out every nanosecond in the arms of mothers and on the lips of babes, as land is paved over, jawed open, blasted clean, denuded, soil and life and people and animals turned inside out, used in the grand corralling of the minds and bodies. We are the sheep and cattle in the elites sophisticated system of domestication, husbandry, monocropping plants and people.

Social-intellectual-spiritual-dreaming control. Pre-crime is not some Phillip K. Dick fantasy, it is, rather, the reality of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, started decades ago with every transaction, every educational move, every financial move, every medical move, every legal or illegal move monitored, checked, and filed away. AI and Google and the plethora of other evil app providers and software makers, well, they have the web spinning as I write this.

But this screed is not about that so much as it is about my writing. Another novel, started, on a roll, and yet, daily, I am sure, minute by minute somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I wonder “why?” Who the fuck will read this book, and how do I market it, and if I am so radical and communist, in my philosophy, should I be worried about who reads it and how it gets read? The Collector and Story Teller, the working title, very very loosely based on people I meet, including one fellow, who I feature here at Dissident Voice ––  Down and Out in Portland: Retired in Style in Waldport, OR

The problem is I am a novelist without an audience, in this shit-show that was big time publishing in the 1980s through the 2000, when I had an agent looking to score semi-small/median with the NYC/Boston publishing houses, that has shifted big time, until the big bucks are thrown at the putrid people, the Obamas paid in the tens of millions for lies and more lies; all the tell-all crapper books; all those Master of Fine Arts style sessions; and, well, a stack to the moon of how to get rich-how to get laid-how to get self-actualized-how to get one or a million scams  on your neighbor – how to get a million bucks/spirituality/love/instant success/happiness/multiple orgasms without any work.

Publishers Adapt Policies To Help Educators - Flipboard

I get the scam of publishing (one shit-load of rejection slips and letters, even… “well, mighty evocative, mighty powerful, but not our cup of tea,” and I get the competition is ruthless. In fact, you can create great art, and it will, alas, stay locked up in a file case or hung up in papa’s garage next to the Vargas women.

Imagine, Vassar College and Smith College interns, reading piles upon piles of manuscripts (that was in the 1990s-2000s), and if the first two lines, or in rare cases, the first two pages didn’t catch their attention, then, bam, the slush pile. Rejection City.

My New York agent wanted like hell to get my books/novels sold, but he too was up against this pedestrian bullshit East Coast triple bias.

Now, at age 63, what’s the point of lashing out lines and incredible concepts and narratives, when, well, here we are — a nation of triple consumers. Students called consumers, that is, customers. The entire fear city shit of the plan-demic with all those yellow bellies up against the functionally illiterate masses. To mask or not to mask, that is the fucking question? Really! No fucking MAGA or Christian Pervert will read my stuff. Let alone buy it. Cancel culturists won’t buy/read my fiction. Highfaluting “artistic” types won’t. The pile of mush getting churned out on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, all of that, this is the American gel, the mush and mutilated crap of the elites and the Duck Dynasty folk. Podcast after ever-deadening podcast sucking up more attention spans. The incredible right-wing news (sic) feeds. The incredible unintelligible pop culture, the hate culture, the faux Buddhist shit, the entire mess that is the United States’ has that “artistic” tastes which are more than just banal; they are cancerous.

But here I am, trying to get to the point: In one scene in the fast-paced book, The Collector and the Story Teller, my protagonist, Raymundo Pena, or just Ray, is trying to solve a murder and disappearance of The Collector, Aubrey Searles, and find Aubrey’s disappeared wife, and in that process, he ends up at the food pantry, the food distribution point for the poor and the downtrodden. A very short-lived scene, but real, and telling.

MFA in Creative Writing | | College of Liberal Arts | Oregon State University

Of course, you guessed it, me, the author, having worked in a few places that we call “food pantries,” and now, with the plan-demic, Ray ends up talking to a make-believe few characters working at and utilizing the pantry.

It’s a short chapter, but the reality is this — This country, broken from sea to shining sea, is way bey0nd the massive slippage either of the two prostitute parties will grasp or admit (maybe both of them, and their majority backers, have zero idea how threadbare systems are in the USA for massive poverty and massive slippage of the American people).

Hunger was bad ass before the plan-demic, the entire lockdown, the shuttering of businesses. A mean country, under any bloody Yankee-Confederate flag. Food stamps cut and cut every year. The punishment society ramped up every month, full of token groping rules and laws, making people line up for fucking voting now, for hours, so imagine the shit that poor people and hungry children have to go through for basic assistance (they don’t get it) and then ramp that up and put in poor undocumented people and hungry undocumented children have to do just to get calories.

The 20 Best Graduate Level Creative Writing - College Rank

Now, the local food bank, shortage after shortage. No turkeys, no dry beans, shortage after shortage. Plenty of Mac’n’Cheese cartons given away, and the bread and cookies and cakes, thrown at the pantries. Piles. Mountains of them. Packaged for the next apocalypse, with so many preservative an embalmer would get wet just thinking about that a 20-line ingredient (chemical) list.

Welcome to capitalism, a million choices, but “not really choices.” Which Red Dye No. 5 or Yellow No. 55 Dye do you want in your kids’ cereal puffs? Which inorganic compound do you want sprayed on the baby’s mashed potatoes? Which percentage of sugar-hydrogenated oil-salt lick do you want in the toaster cinnamon buns? How much lead in the pipes and fluoride in the toothpaste? That is America. And we get more hungry every minute. The Hunger of the Elites, hoping for more marks and suckers born every living minute. Hunger. For love. Hunger. For community. Hunger. For justice. Hunger for air. Hunger. For shelter. Hunger. For food.

Hunger Facts | Move For Hunger

The post A Million and One Ideas that Would Transform the Globe first appeared on Dissident Voice.

We Need To Talk About Romanticism

Satire on Romantic Suicide (1839) by Leonardo Alenza y Nieto (1807–1845)

Introduction

Why do we need to talk about Romanticism? What is Romanticism? And how does it affect us in the 21st century? The fact is that we are so immersed in Romanticism now that we cannot see the proverbial wood for the haunted-looking trees. Romanticism has so saturated our culture that we need to stand back and remind ourselves what it is, and examine how it has seeped into our thinking processes to the extent that we are not even aware of its presence anymore. Or why this is a problem. The Romanticist influence of intense emotion makes up a large part of modern culture, for example, in much pop music, cinema, TV and literature; e.g., genres such as Superheroes, Fantasy, Horror, Magical realism, Saga, Westerns. I will look at the origins of Romanticism, and its negative influence on culture and politics. I will show how Enlightenment ideas originally emerged in opposition to an absolute monarchy and the fixed dogmas of the Church and led to the formation of a working class ideology and culture of resistance.

Romanticism and the modern world

The whole exuberance, anarchy and violence of modern art … its unrestrained, unsparing exhibitionism, is derived from [Romanticism]. And this subjective, egocentric attitude has become so much a matter of course for us … that we find it impossible to reproduce even an abstract train of thought without talking about our own feelings.
— Arnold Hauser, (1892–1978), A Social History of Art, Vol. 3, p. 166

Romanticism arose out of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century as a reaction to what was perceived as a rationalisation of life to the point of being anti-nature. The Romantics were against the Industrial Revolution, universalism and empiricism, emphasising instead heroic individualists and artists, and the individual imagination as a critical authority rather than classical ideals.

The Enlightenment itself had developed from the earlier Renaissance with a renewed interest in the classical traditions and ideals of harmony, symmetry, and order based on reason and science. On a political level the Enlightenment promoted republicanism in opposition to monarchy which ultimately led to the French revolution.

The worried conservatives of the time reacted to the ideas of the Enlightenment and reason with a philosophy which was based on religious ideas and glorified the past (especially Medieval times and the ‘Golden Age’) — times when things were not so threatening to elites. This philosophy became known as Romanticism and emphasised medieval ideas and society over the new ideas of democracy, capitalism and science.

Romanticism originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1890. It was initially marked by innovations in both content and literary style and by a preoccupation with the subconscious, the mystical, and the supernatural. This period was followed by the development of cultural nationalism and a new attention to national origins, an interest in native folklore, folk ballads and poetry, folk dance and music, and even previously ignored medieval and Renaissance works.

The Romantic movement “emphasized intense emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as apprehension, horror and terror, and awe—especially that experienced in confronting the new aesthetic categories of the sublimity and beauty of nature.” The importance of the medieval lay in the  pre-capitalist significance of its individual crafts and tradesmen, as well as its feudal peasants and serfs.

Thus Romanticism was a reaction to the birth of the modern world: urbanisation, secularisation, industrialisation, and consumerism. Romanticism emphasised intense emotion and feelings which over the centuries came to be seen as one of its most important characteristics, in opposition to ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ Enlightenment rationalism.

Origins of Enlightenment emotion

Whence this secret Chain between each Person and Mankind? How is my Interest connected with the most distant Parts of it?
Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746), An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725), Treatise II: An Inquiry concerning Moral Good and Evil, Sect. I.

However, this ‘cold’, ‘unfeeling’ scenario is actually very far from the truth. In fact, the Enlightenment, itself, had its origins in emotion. Enlightenment philosophers of the eighteenth century tried to create a philosophy of feeling that would allow them to solve the problem of the injustice in the unfeeling world they saw all around them.

Anthony Ashley Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) believed that all human beings had a ‘natural affection’ or natural sociability which bound them together.  Francis Hutcheson (1694–1746) wrote that “All Men have the same Affections and Senses”, while David Hume (1711–1776) believed that human beings extend their “imaginative identification with the feelings of others” when it is required. Similarly, Adam Smith (1723–1790), the writer of Wealth of Nations, believed in the power of the imagination to inform us and help us understand the suffering of others.1

Portrait of Denis Diderot (1713-1784), by Louis-Michel van Loo, 1767

For the Enlightenment philosophers the relationship between feeling and reason was of absolute importance. To develop ideas that would progress society for the better, a sense of morality was essential. Denis Diderot (1713–1784) a prominent French philosopher of the Enlightenment in France, for example, had strong views on the importance of the passions. As Henry Martyn Lloyd writes:

Diderot did believe in the utility of reason in the pursuit of truth – but he had an acute enthusiasm for the passions, particularly when it came to morality and aesthetics. With many of the key figures in the Scottish Enlightenment, such as David Hume, he believed that morality was grounded in sense-experience. Ethical judgment was closely aligned with, even indistinguishable from, aesthetic judgments, he claimed. We judge the beauty of a painting, a landscape or our lover’s face just as we judge the morality of a character in a novel, a play or our own lives – that is, we judge the good and the beautiful directly and without the need of reason. For Diderot, then, eliminating the passions could produce only an abomination. A person without the ability to be affected, either because of the absence of passions or the absence of senses, would be morally monstrous.

Moreover, to remove the passions from science would lead to inhuman approaches and methods that would divert and alienate science from its ultimate goal of serving humanity, as Lloyd writes:

That the Enlightenment celebrated sensibility and feeling didn’t entail a rejection of science, however. Quite the opposite: the most sensitive individual – the person with the greatest sensibility – was considered to be the most acute observer of nature. The archetypical example here was a doctor, attuned to the bodily rhythms of patients and their particular symptoms. Instead, it was the speculative system-builder who was the enemy of scientific progress – the Cartesian physician who saw the body as a mere machine, or those who learned medicine by reading Aristotle but not by observing the ill. So the philosophical suspicion of reason was not a rejection of rationality per se; it was only a rejection of reason in isolation from the senses, and alienated from the impassioned body.

Michael L. Frazer describes the importance of Enlightenment justice and sympathy in his book The Enlightenment of Sympathy. He writes:

Reflective sentimentalists recognize our commitment to justice as an outgrowth of our sympathy for others. After our sympathetic sentiments undergo reflective self-correction, the sympathy that emerges for all those who suffer injustice poses no insult to those for whom it is felt. We do not see their suffering as mere pain to be soothed away when and if we happen to share it. Instead under Hume’s account, we condemn injustice as a violation of rules that are vitally important to us all. And under Smith’s account, we condemn the sufferings of the victims of injustice as injustice because we sympathetically share the resentment that they feel toward their oppressors, endorsing such feelings as warranted and acknowledging those who feel them deserve better treatment.2

Cooper, Hume and Smith were living in times, not only devoid of empathy, but also even of basic sympathy. Robert C. Solomon writes of society then in A Passion for Justice: “There have always been the very rich. And of course there have always been the very poor. But even as late as the civilized and sentimental eighteenth century, this disparity was not yet a cause for public embarrassment or a cry of injustice. […] Poverty was considered just one more “act of God,” impervious to any solution except mollification through individual charity and government poorhouses to keep the poor off the streets and away from crime.”3

Enlightenment emotion eventually gave rise to social trends that emphasised humanism and the heightened value of human life. These trends had their complement in art, creating what became known as the ‘sentimental novel’. While today sentimentalism evokes maudlin self-pity, in the eighteenth century it was revolutionary as sentimental literature

focused on weaker members of society, such as orphans and condemned criminals, and allowed readers to identify and sympathize with them. This translated to growing sentimentalism within society, and led to social movements calling for change, such as the abolition of the death penalty and of slavery. Instead of the death penalty, popular sentiment called for the rehabilitation of criminals, rather than harsh punishment. Frederick Douglass himself was inspired to stand against his own bondage and slavery in general in his famous Narrative by the speech by the sentimentalist playwright Sheridan in The Columbian Orator detailing a fictional dialogue between a master and slave.

As Solomon notes: “What distinguishes us not just from animals but from machines are our passions, and foremost among them our passion for justice. Justice is, in a word, that set of passions, not mere theories, that bind us and make us part of the social world.”4

The Man of Feeling  (Henry Mackenzie)

Writers such as the Scottish author Henry Mackenzie tried to highlight many things that he perceived were wrong during his time and showed how many of the wrongs were ultimately caused by the established pillars of society. In his book, The Man of Feeling, he has no qualms about showing how these pillars of society had, for example, abused an intelligent woman causing her to become a prostitute (p. 44/45.), destroyed a school because it blocked the landowner’s view (p. 72), and hired assassins to remove a man who had refused to hand over his wife (p. 91.), etc.5 Mackenzie shows again and again the injustices of British military and colonial policy, and who is responsible. As Marilyn Butler writes:

Henry Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling (1771), is pointedly topical when it criticizes the consequences of a war policy – press-ganging, conscription, the military punishment of flogging, and inadequate pensions – and when, like the same author’s Julia de Roubigné (1777), it attacks the principle of colonialism. An interest in such causes was the logical outcome of art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity. It was a period when the cast of villains was drawn from the proud men representing authority, downwards from the House of Lords, the bench of bishops, judges, local magistrates, attorneys, to the stern father; when readers were invited to empathize with life’s victims.6

It took a long time for the ideas of sentimentalism (emotions against injustice) to filter down to the Realism (using facts to depict ordinary everyday experiences) that Dickens used in the nineteenth century to finally evoke some kind of empathy for people impoverished by society. As Solomon notes: “It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that Dickens shook the conscience of his compatriots with his riveting descriptions of poverty and cruelty in contemporary London, […] that the problem of poverty and resistance to its solutions [e.g. poorhouses] has become the central question of justice.”3

Buss, Robert William; Dickens’s Dream; Charles Dickens Museum, London;

European literary sentimentalism arose during the Enlightenment, and partly as a response to sentimentalism in philosophy. In England the period 1750–1798 became known as the Age of Sensibility as the sentimental novel or the novel of sensibility became popular.

Romanticist emotionalism: the opposite of Enlightenment sentimentalism

Classicism is health, romanticism is sickness.
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832)

However, sensibility in an Enlightenment sense was very different from the Romanticist understanding, as Butler notes:

It is, in fact, in a key respect almost the opposite of Romanticism. Sensibility, like its near-synonym sentiment, echoes eighteenth-century philosophy and psychology in focusing upon the mental process by which impressions are received by the senses. But the sentimental writer’s interest in how the mind works and in how people behave is very different from the Romantic writer’s inwardness.7

She writes that ‘neither Neoclassical theory nor contemporary practice in various styles and genres put much emphasis on the individuality of the artist’ (p. 29). This is a far cry from the apolitical, inward-looking, self-centered Romantic artists who saw themselves outside of a society that they had little interest in participating in, let alone changing for the better. Butler again:

Romantic rebelliousness is more outrageous and total, the individual rejecting not just his own society but the very principle of living in society – which means that the Romantic and post Romantic often dismisses political activity of any kind, as external to the self, literal and commonplace. Since it is relatively uncommon for the eighteenth-century artist to complain directly on his own behalf, he seldom achieves such emotional force as his nineteenth-century successor. He is, on the other hand, much more inclined than the Romantic to express sympathy for certain, well-defined social groups. Humanitarian feeling for the real-life underdog is a strong vein from the 1760s to the 1790s, often echoing real-life campaigns for reform.8

This movement over time towards the Romanticist inward-looking conception of emotion and feelings has had knock-on negative effects on society’s ability to defend itself from elite oppression (through cultural styles of self-absorption, escapism and diversion rather than exposure, criticism and resistance), and retarded ‘art’s frequently reiterated dedication to humanity’. Solomon describes this process:

What has come about in the past two centuries or so is the dramatic rise of what Robert Stone has called “affective individualism,” this new celebration of the passions and other feelings of the autonomous individual. Yet, ironically, it is an attitude that has become even further removed from our sense of justice during that same period of time. We seem to have more inner feelings and pay more attention to them, but we seem to have fewer feelings about others and the state of the world and pay less attention to them.9

Thus while Enlightenment sentimentalism “depicted individuals as social beings whose sensibility was stimulated and defined by their interactions with others”, the Romantic movement that followed it “tended to privilege individual autonomy and subjectivity over sociability”.

Romanticism as a philosophical movement of the nineteenth century had a profound influence on culture which can still be seen right up to today. Its main characteristics are the emphasis on the personal, dramatic contrasts, emotional excess, a focus on the nocturnal, the ghostly and the frightful, spontaneity, and extreme subjectivism. Romanticism in culture implies a turning inward and encourages introspection. Romantic literature put more emphasis on themes of isolation, loneliness, tragic events and the power of nature. A heroic view of history and myth became the basis of much Romantic literature.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, painted by Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier

It was in Germany that Romanticism took shape as a political ideology. The German Romanticists felt threatened by the French Revolution and were forced to move from inward-looking ideas to formulate conservative political answers needed to oppose Enlightenment and republican ideals. According to Eugene N. Anderson:

In the succeeding years the danger became acutely political, and the German Romanticists were compelled to subordinate their preoccupation with the widening of art and the enrichment of individual experience to social and political ideas and actions, particularly as formulated in nationalism and conservatism. These three cultural ideals, Romanticism, nationalism and conservatism, shared qualities evoked by the common situation of crisis. […] The Germans had to maintain against rationalism and the French a culture which in its institutional structure was that of the ancien régime. German Romanticism accepted it, wished to reform it somewhat, idealized it, and defended the idealization as the supreme culture of the world. This was the German counter-revolution. […] They endowed their culture with universal validity and asserted that it enjoyed the devotion of nature and God, that if it were destroyed humanity would be vitally wounded.10

The reactionary nature of German Romanticism was demonstrated in its hierarchical views of society, its chauvinist nationalism, and extreme conservatism which would have serious implications for future generations of the German populace. As Anderson writes:

The low estimate of rationalism and the exaltation of custom, tradition, and feeling, the conception of society as an alliance of the generations, the belief in the abiding character of ideas as contrasted with the ephemeral nature of concepts, these and many other romantic views bolstered up the existing culture. The concern with relations led the Romanticists to praise the hierarchical order of the Ständestaat and to regard everything and every-one as an intermediary. The acceptance of the fact of inequality harmonized with that of the ideals of service, duty, faithfulness, order, sacrifice – admirable traits for serf or subject or soldier.11

Anderson also believes that the Romanticists remained swinging “between individual freedom and initiative and group compulsion and authority” and as such could not have brought in fundamental reforms, because: “By reverencing tradition, they preserved the power of the backward-looking royalty and aristocracy.”12

Thus Romanticist self-centredness in philosophy translated into the most conservative forms for maintaining the status quo in politics. Individual freedoms were matched by authoritarianism for the masses. The individual was king all right, as long as you weren’t a ‘serf or subject or soldier’.

Beyond morality: Working Class perspectives on Reason and Sentiment

We have never intended to enlighten shoemakers and servants—this is up to apostles.
Voltaire (1694–1778)

Around the same time of the early period of Romanticism, Karl Heinrich Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) were born. They grew up in a very different Germany. Capitalism had become established and was creating an even more polarised society between extremely rich and extremely poor as factory owners pushed their workers to their physical limits. On his way to work at his father’s firm in Manchester, Engels called into the offices of a paper he wrote for in Cologne and met the editor, Marx, for the first time in 1842. They formed a friendship based on shared values and beliefs regarding the working class and socialist ideas. They saw a connection between the earlier Enlightenment ideas and socialism. For example, as Engels writes in Anti-Duhring:

in its theoretical form, modern socialism originally appears ostensibly as a more logical extension of the principles laid down by the great French philosophers of the eighteenth century. Like every new theory, modern socialism had, at first, to connect itself with the intellectual stock-in-trade ready to its hand, however deeply its roots lay in economic facts.13

However, once they had connected themselves to the Enlightenment they soon saw the limitations of both Enlightenment concepts of reason and sentiment. They realised that the new bourgeois rulers would be limited by their conceptions of property, justice, and equality, which basically meant they only applied universality to themselves and their own property. The new rulers were buoyed up by the victory of their ideological fight over the aristocracy but incapable of applying the same ideas to the masses who helped them to victory. Thus Marx and Engels viewed the struggle for reason as important but limited to the new ruling class’ world view, just like the aristocracy before them:

Every form of society and government then existing, every old traditional notion was flung into the lumber room as irrational; the world had hitherto allowed itself to be led solely by prejudices; everything in the past deserved only pity and contempt. Now, for the first time, appeared the light of day, henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression, were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on nature and the inalienable rights of man. We know today that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealised kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realisation in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man; and that the government of reason, the Contrat Social of Rousseau, came into being, and only could come into being, as a democratic bourgeois republic. The great thinkers of the eighteenth century could, no more than their predecessors, go beyond the limits imposed upon them by their epoch.14

As for sentiment, they were well aware of the Realist critical nature of modern writers (the Realist movement rejected Romanticism) and indeed praised them (e.g. G. Sand, E. Sue, and Boz [Dickens]), but limited themselves to offering some advice. While recognising that progressive literature had a mainly middle class audience (and were happy enough with these authors just ‘shaking the optimism’ of their audience), they knew that this was not by any means a socialist literature and were

I think however that the purpose must become manifest from the situation and the action themselves without being expressly pointed out and that the author does not have to serve the reader on a platter — the future historical resolution of the social conflicts which he describes. To this must be added that under our conditions novels are mostly addressed to readers from bourgeois circles, i.e., circles which are not directly ours. Thus the socialist problem novel in my opinion fully carries out its mission if by a faithful portrayal of the real conditions it dispels the dominant conventional illusions concerning them, shakes the optimism of the bourgeois world, and inevitably instills doubt as to the eternal validity of that which exists, without itself offering a direct solution of the problem involved, even without at times ostensibly taking sides.15

Sentimental literature focused on individual misfortune, and constant repetition of such themes certainly appeared to universalise such suffering, so that, as David Denby writes, “In this weeping mother, this suffering father, we are to read also the sufferings of humanity.” Thus, “individualism and universalism appear to be two sides of the same coin”. Sentimental literature gives the reader the ‘spectacle of misfortune’ and a representation of the reaction of a ‘sentient and sensible observer’ who tries to help with ‘alms, sympathy or indeed narrative intervention.’ Furthermore, the literature of sentiment “mirrors eighteenth-century theories of sympathy, in which a spontaneous reaction to the spectacle of suffering is gradually developed, by a process of generalisation and combination of ideas, into broader and more abstract notions of humanity, benevolence, justice.”16

Workers in the fuse factory, Woolwich Arsenal late 1800s

This brings us then to the problem of interpretation, as Denby suggests: “should the sentimental portrayal of the poor and of action in their favour be read as an attempt to give a voice to the voiceless, to include the hitherto excluded? Or, alternatively, is the sentimentalisation of the poor to be interpreted, more cynically, as a discursive strategy through which the enlightened bourgeoisie states its commitment to values of humanity and justice, and thereby seeks to strengthen its claims to universal domination?”17

While such ideas of giving a ‘voice to the voiceless’ was a far cry from monarchical times, and claims of commitment to humanity and justice were laudable, the concept of universality had a fundamental flaw: “The universal claims of the French Revolution are opposed to a [aristocratic] society based on distinctions of birth: it is in the name of humanity that the Revolution challenges the established order. But for Sartre this does not change the fact that the universal is a myth, an ideological construct, and an obfuscation, since it articulates a notion of man which eliminates social conflict and disguises the interests of a class behind a facade of universal reference.”18

Striking teamsters battling police on the streets of Minneapolis, Minnesota, June 1934

Thus for Marx and Engels defining concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, that is, a universal moral theory, could not be achieved while society is divided into classes:

We maintain […] that all moral theories have been hitherto the product, in the last analysis, of the economic conditions of society obtaining at the time. And as society has hitherto moved in class antagonisms, morality has always been class morality; it has either justified the domination and the interests of the ruling class, or ever since the oppressed class became powerful enough, it has represented its indignation against this domination and the future interests of the oppressed. That in this process there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, no one will doubt. But we have not yet passed beyond class morality. A really human morality which stands above class antagonisms and above any recollection of them becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life.

Marx and Engels worked towards that morality through their activism with working class movements and culture. Their critical writing also formed an essential part of working class ideology and culture of resistance and has remained influential in resistance movements the world over.

The culture of resistance today still uses realism, documentary, and histories of oppression to show the harsh realities of globalisation. Like during the Enlightenment, empathy for those suffering injustice forms its foundation. And unlike Romanticism, reason and science are deemed to be important tools in its struggle for social emancipation and progress.

Conclusion: Enlightenment and Romanticism today

When we are asked now: are we now living into an enlightened age? Then the answer is: No, but in an age of Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

There is no doubt that the influence of Romanticism has become ever stronger in twentieth and twenty-first century culture. Romanticist-influenced TV shows on Netflix are watched world wide. Love songs dominate the pop industry and superheroes are now the mainstay of cinema. Even Romanticist nationalism is making a comeback. Now and then calls for a new Enlightenment are heard, but like the original advocates of the Enlightenment, they are limited to the conservative world view of those making the call and whose view of the Enlightenment could be compared to a form of Third Way politics, that is, they avoid the issue of class conflict.

  1. Anthony Pagden, The Enlightenment: And Why it Still Matters (Oxford Uni Press, 2015) p. 72/73.
  2. Michael L Frazer, The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Oxford Uni Press, 2010) p. 126/127.
  3. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 13.
  4. Ibid., p. 45.
  5. Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling (Oxford World’s Classics Oxford Uni Press, 2009.
  6. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 31.
  7. Marilyn Butler, Romantics, Rebels and Reactionaries: English Literature and its Background 1760-1830 (Oxford Uni Press, 1981) p. 29/30.
  8. Ibid., pp. 30/31.
  9. Robert C Solomon, A Passion for Justice: Emotions and the Origins of the Social Contract (Rowman and Littlefield Pub., 1995) p. 37.
  10. Eugene N. Anderson, German Romanticism as an Ideology of Cultural Crisis, p. 301-312. Journal of the History of Ideas, June, 1941, Vol. 2, No. 3, pp. 301-317. Published by University of Pennsylvania Press.
  11. Ibid., pp. 313-314.
  12. Ibid., p. 316.
  13. Marx and Engels, On Literature and Art (Progress Publishers: Moscow, 1978) p. 270.
  14. Ibid., p. 271.
  15. Ibid., p. 88.
  16. David J. Denby, Individual, universal, national: a French revolutionary trilogy? (Studies of Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, 335, Voltaire Foundation, 1996) p. 28/29.
  17. Ibid., 117.
  18. Ibid., p. 27.

Doublethink Doublethink: It’s Two Thinks in One!

If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.

— O’Brien to Winston Smith in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Seventy years ago, on August 29, 1949, the Soviets successfully tested their first nuclear bomb, and became the only other state power on the planet, after the United States, with nuclear WMD. Thus commenced an ever-expanding arms race between the two global powers in what became known as the Cold War. Democracy versus Totalitarianism, duking it out, like rock’em-sock’em robots (sold in America; means of production: Marx!), in proxy battles from Central America to the Middle East to Vietnam — held in check by one lone term of engagement: MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. America has been at war with Russia my entire life. That year also saw the publication of George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which enacts a future where such forces — Oceania and Eastasia — have gone from Cold to Hot.

Thirty five years later, the real-world Oceania and Eastasia, flashed hot eyes at each other, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev not blinking. Reagan was all Bonzo giddy, feeling oats he hadn’t felt since his Hollywood Western days, pressing a presumed advantage — telling Gorby to “tear down that [Berlin] wall,” touting Star Wars (an ICBM missile shield defense system), and waxing so jocular, at one point, that during a break in a radio interview Reagan’s flippant words (“the bombing begins in five minutes”) put the Soviets on edge — and red alert. (An even more flippant NBC commentator quipped that the alert may have been triggered by a lone drunken Russian officer).

But it wasn’t all a Deep State chucklefestival. Two graphic films depicting nuclear annihilation, Threads (1983) and The Day After (1984) reminded everybody just how close to MAD Oceania and Eastasia were getting. Tensions were ratcheted to the breaking point: The Soviet economy was teetering; the Berlin Wall fell five years later; the USSR crumbled and Gorbachev eventually gave way to the Russian Trump — Boris Yeltsin. Oceania giddyupped into Eastasia with strings-attached das kapital shortly thereafter. Not every Muscovite was gleeful to see the Golden Arches roll into town, driven by the clown-Christ of capitalism, Ronald McDonald. Nyet, some nationalists griped, while scarfing down a Quarterpounder™ with cheese — and borschtroot — and condemblating how to meddle in future American helectoral process.

Thirty five years later, we have our own clown-Christ of capitalism, pre-kompromised, installed in the Oval Office, the result of, US intelligence agencies allege, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Since then, a form of sado-masochistic paranoia seems to have gripped the nation — the president (“Fake News”), the MSM (“Putin’s Puppet”), the People (“they looked left, they looked right, but they couldn’t tell the difference”). In his new biography, The Ministry of Truth, Dorian Lynskey notes that just four days after Trump’s 2017 Inauguration, “US sales of [Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed] by almost 10,000 per cent, making it a number-one best seller.”

Lynskey attributes this panic-driven sales soar to claims by the new administration that Trump attracted the “‘largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.’” It was a wild claim, immediately debunked by the MSM, but doubled down on by Trump adviser, Kelly Anne Conway, who dismissed the glaring evidence and pronounced that the new administration would be opting to go with “alternative facts.” Alarm bells went off across the media frontier. As Lynskey’s citing of the statistic suggests, this sounded an awful lot like the “doublethink” gobbledygook of Orwell’s totalitarian nightmare, Nineteen Eighty-Four. If people were going to be living in a parallel universe, they wanted to know what to expect.

Like Dorian Lynskey’s previous work, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs, in The Ministry of Truth the author shows he is adept at showing the confluence of ideas expressed by the voices of myriad protest leaders, whether through song or, if you will, dystopian visions. Ministry is a biography limited to an exploration of the etiology of Orwell’s masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (and to some degree, Animal Farm).

In Part One, Lynskey traces the roots and evolution of Orwell’s creative and political ideas, his experiences fighting fascists and communists; and, the literary influence of H.G. Wells, Eugene Zamiatin, and a wealth of others in a cross-pollination and intertextuality that not only help define the genre but demonstrate the interpenetration of human ideas in general. In Part Two, Lynskey traces “the political and cultural life” of the novel, from Orwell’s death to Trump’s Inaugural.

Like so many other European and American Lefties who signed on as mercenaries to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-39, George Orwell came away from the shattering experience thoroughly disillusioned, his ideals in disarray. “The fascists had behaved just as appallingly as he had expected they would,” Lynskey writes, “but the ruthlessness and dishonesty of the communists had shocked him.” He’d come to fight in a great battle of Good versus Evil — writers like Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gelhorn and John Dos Passos had come to bear witness — but “[w]hat he found was ‘a bad copy of 1914–18, a positional war of trenches, artillery, raids, snipers, mud, barbed wire, lice and stagnation.’”

Further, reading battle reports, Orwell discovered “that the Left-wing press [was] every bit as spurious and dishonest as that of the Right.” However, aside from the usual horrors of the war and the way they were reported, Orwell did experience moments that would prove useful in his writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Lynskey writes, “Orwell found in the trenches a superior version of the cleansing egalitarianism that he had found among the tramps, and it made him a socialist at last.” A ‘cleansing egalitarianism’ (Brotherhood) is a key theme in his dystopian novel.

In another incident helpful to his fiction, he refused to shoot a fascist with his pants down, mooning melancholically, and noting of the brotherly Francophile that he was “visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don’t feel like shooting at him” while he’s shitting. But in a later incident, Orwell is so rattled by a rodent that he opens fire, “thus alerting the enemy and triggering a fierce firefight,” that was nearly catastrophic to his comrades in arms. Rats turn out to be Winston Smith’s greatest fear, at the end of the novel, and the means to breaking down his ego.

Probably the biggest disappointment Orwell took away from the war was the behavior of the communists; he’d served with a Marxist militia unit (POUM) and saw their atrocities close up. Lynskey wonders:

Why did Orwell criticise communism so much more energetically than fascism? Because he had seen it up close, and because its appeal was more treacherous. Both ideologies reached the same totalitarian destination but communism began with nobler aims and therefore required more lies to sustain it.

The left hand of the Right clasped, behind the back, the right hand of the Left, in any photo shoot together — if you looked hard enough.

Orwell began reading up on Stalin’s regime, including American journalist Eugene Lyon’s description of Stalin’s Five Year plan, which included “the nose-thumbing arithmetic” of “2+2 = 5,” which is so crucial to Winston Smith’s brainwashing. He read Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, whose depictions of purges and show trials (think, Goldstein, and, later, Winston Smith) further amplified his contempt for Stalin and his fear of totalitarianism. The two world wars, I and II, with the Great Depression in between, had drained civilization of its hope, vitality and wherewithal. Out of the morass rose ogres — Franco, Mussolini, Stalin, Hitler, and arguably even Truman (if you counted the dread that the questionable use of the Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki represented) — as if to finish us off.

However, no one had a greater influence on Orwell’s generation than the literary colossus, H.G. Wells. Prolific, prescient, extraordinarily innovative, and widely regarded as the father of modern science fiction (Mary Shelley just rolled over in her grave, uneasily), in some ways Wells was the perfect tonic for an age that had torn humanity apart with with world wars, tyranny, and economic misery disseminated across the globe.

“Wells predicted space travel, tanks, electric trains, wind and water power, identity cards, poison gas, the Channel tunnel and atom bombs,” writes Lynskey, “and popularised in fiction the time machine, Martian invasions, invisibility and genetic engineering.” He also developed notions of a “World Brain” and anticipated the World Wide Web (sorry, TimBL). Further, he was a force behind the establishment of the League of Nations. Wells was an inspiration in a time stuck in the human morass described by T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland.

Wells, in turn, was inspired by early readings of Plato’s Republic, Thomas More’s Utopia, and Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, all of which required the reader to imagine with the narrator an alternative or new-and-improved world. Thus, Wells bequeathed us The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Outline of History, The Shape of Things to Come, and an enormous trove of essays and other public writings with enormous influence. All of these were enormously important to Orwell as he developed his own utopian visions.

But Orwell had seen what he’d seen in Spain, and knew the dark heart of Uncle Joe Stalin, and was, writes Lynskey, like “many writers [of his generation] consumed by the idea of decadence and decline.” H.G. Wells’ cautionary utopianism didn’t quite cut it for the lot of them. “It is no exaggeration to say that the genre of dystopian fiction evolved as it did because so many people wanted to prove H. G. Wells wrong,” Lynskey writes. There seemed to be something of the Wagner-Nietzsche competitive intimacy in Orwell’s approach to the Genius; while Wells emphasized Siegfried, Orwell and friends were all about the Götterdämmerung.

Orwell was a social democrat at heart, but he longed for something deeper and more radical, which seems to be why he was so devastated by the failures of communism. Plato had taught him that if humanity could see the Good, and the error of their ways, uncovered by dialectical reasoning, they would pursue it naturally, out of self-interest. This melancholic view (that would later infuse Winston Smith’s experience of his world) gets reinforced when he comes across the work of American Edward Bellamy — specifically, Looking Backward — 2000 – 1887.

As Bellamy’s title suggests, the novel moves backward, progressively, towards the squalor and dehumanization of the early Industrial Revolution. Lynskey notes:

When he looked around at the United States of America in the Gilded Age Bellamy saw a “nervous, dyspeptic, and bilious nation,” wracked by grotesque inequality. Millionaire dynasties controlled the industrial economy, while the labouring classes worked sixty-hour weeks for low pay in unsafe factories and sweatshops, and lived in foul slums.

In the novel, the protagonist Julian West falls into a Rip Van Winkle-like sleep in 1887 and wakes up 113 years later in a “socialist utopia,” where crime is regarded as a medical problem treatable with drugs. This got Orwell thinking.

But perhaps the single most influential piece of literature that Orwell came across, in the lead-up to writing Nineteen Eighty-Four, was Eugene Zumiatin’s We. As Lynskey points out, by coincidence Orwell had already completed an outline for his dystopian novel when he discovered Zumiatin’s work. They share some structural similarities: each features a fall guy who becomes the focussed target of hivemind hatred; a shy protagonist driven astray from his social programming by flashes of free thought and a sexually-liberated female; thought police (Guardians for Zumiatin), and forced mind-mending (from ‘I’ thinking to ‘We’ thinking). Orwell believed that Aldous Huxley nicked some ideas from We.

But Orwell had a turn at the accusation as well. Lynskey writes, “Karma came for Orwell in the form of several critics who accused him of plagiarising We.” But Lynskey dismisses them, insisting that the genre itself is rife with such borrowings and intertextuality. He answers historian Isaac Deutscher’s claims thusly:

[Deutscher] accused the author of borrowing “the idea of 1984, the plot, the chief characters, the symbols, and the whole climate of his story” from We… [but] Deutscher wildly overstated the similarities between the novels. Two: as we have seen, Orwell had already written his outline months before he read We. Three: Orwell made repeated efforts to get Zamyatin’s novel republished in English…. surely not the kind of thing that plagiarists usually do.

So there. “Originality is a vexing concept in genre fiction,” Lynskey adds.

But Lynskey is even more caustic with Ayn Rand, one of Orwell’s more vocal critics. Writes Lynskey, “There are critics who insist that Ayn Rand could have written her 1938 novella Anthem without ever having read We, and good luck to them.” Rand penned the novella “in three weeks,” and, Lynskey claims, it “is We rewritten as a capitalist creation myth, with paradise as a building site…The book’s working title was Ego.” He clearly objects to her Objectivism. Talk about getting hoiked into your own spittoon.

Later in his life Orwell faced more pressing criticism than the question of whether he plagiarized Zumiatin. Perhaps, so traumatized by what he’d seen in Spain and saw happening in Stalin’s Russia, Orwell developed a list of 38 writers — communists or sympathizers — that he turned over to the Information Research Agency, a government agency, that he recommended they not hire because of questionable allegiance to the Labour party. Apologizing for this behavior, Lynskey writes, “It is legitimate to be disappointed by the very act of sending such a list to a government agency (even a Labour one), but the edited version was at least largely accurate.” Hmm.

Some critics were having none of that apology. Lynskey quotes Marxist historian Christopher Hill who opined, “I always knew he was two-faced. There was something fishy about Orwell…it confirms my worst suspicions about the man.” But the late great polemicist (“Beat the Devil”) Alexander Cockburn “couldn’t disguise his glee: ‘The man of conscience turns out to be a whiner, and of course a snitch, an informer to the secret police, Animal Farm’s resident weasel.” (His full article is a fun read.) Does this spell the end of Orwell’s Truth? Should we never read him again? I don’t know, but, when you think about it, Winston Smith’s character takes on new dimensions with this incident — that final betrayal of all you love and everything, and all its implicit future snitching to protect We.

However one feels about Orwells’ late-life failures, Nineteen Eighty-Four has exerted its familiarity and gravitas since his death in 1950. We are all familiar with the terms of our engagement with his work. Lynskey writes:

The phrases and concepts that Orwell minted have become essential fixtures of political language, still potent after decades of use and misuse: Newspeak, Big Brother, the Thought Police, Room 101, the Two Minutes Hate, doublethink, unperson, memory hole, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and the Ministry of Truth.

Of those terms, perhaps the answer to the equation “2+2=” may be the most pertinent to the contemporary political situation we find ourselves facing in Washington and around the world. How would you answer, brother?

Nineteen Eighty-Four’s principal concerns have been reprised in Western culture, in one form or another, for decades. For example, Lynskey describes the “aviphobic” David Bowie’s fall into “paranoia and panic” in the 70’s and how it affected his work (his Diamond Dogs album was originally meant to be called 1984.) Bowie was not alone in his feelings of demise. “IRA bombs…stagflation…a miners’ strike…an Arab oil embargo…blackouts, petrol rationing, reduced television service, and non-functioning elevators, Britain began to feel like the opening pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” writes Lynskey. In the 80s, with the advent of personal computing, even commercials, such as Apple’s highly controversial ‘1984’ Super Bowl Ad, were produced to reflect a desire to break free from mind-imprisoning Conformity. In 1990, a film version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale was released, which extends the Orwellian vision into what could be a near-future reality.

Today, Oceania is otherwise known as Five Eyes, and Oceania moves in history in a world of the wars, never-ending, destruction by remote drones and online corporate-government profiling, leading toward neo-fascism or some new unthinkable form of totalitarianism. It remains to be seen when the public should have begun its Orwellian panic, whether it was in the aftermath of 9/11 — or sooner — or with the Carnivalesque decay of Exceptional Democracy. “We are an empire now. We make our own reality,” is attributed a coy Karl Rove, and it sounds like a celebration of doublethink, a movement in the direction of 2+2=5.

Lynskey wants to locate it with the Trump Inauguration, with the return of Doublethink and Newspeak. But he does remind the reader:

Orwell’s fear that “the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world” is the dark heart of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It gripped him long before he came up with Big Brother, Oceania, Newspeak or the telescreen, and it’s more important than any of them.

Lynskey’s words are well-taken, but I believe we must beware that Trump might be Goldstein and that hating on him has been preordained.

Toward the end of his life H.G.Wells lost his mojo for mankind. In his last published work, Mind at the End of its Tether, Wells wondered aloud, as it were, if it wasn’t time to replace the human species with something more evolutionarily desirable. Like Nietzsche, Wells seemed to long for a Zarathustrian Übermensch; he tired of being a tightrope walker in the largely indifferent marketplace of conventional ideas.

Five more years of Two-Minute hating on Trump should do it (maybe even just one). Like a soul orphaned in a mechanized world — like Winston Smith — I can almost hear a fat lady singing as it all comes out in the wash she’s hanging on the line:

Totallo!

Totallo!

I love ya

Totallo!

You’re always

A coup

A way!

Woof.

Politics and Writing in the Time of COVID-19

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It is a bright cold day in April and clocks are striking thirteen. You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.

Gary and Yves Engler, father and son authors, discuss being funny, being serious, cancelled book tours, exploding sacred myths, pandemics, their latest books, and writing in the time of COVID-19.

(This conversation has been edited, because that’s what happens to writers.)

Gary Engler: How are you feeling about your tour for House of Mirrors — Justin Trudeau’s Foreign Policy being cancelled?

Yves Engler: It’s a pretty big financial hit, especially if we can’t make it up in the Fall. Tours are a big part of my income.

G: Other than that how is COVID-19 treating you?

Y: Weirdly it’s actually been pretty good. I’ve been making great progress with my new book because there’s nothing to do except research and write. Grandma care has rescued us from the daycare shutting down and I withdrew a dozen books about Haiti from the Bibliothèque Nationale the day before it closed to the public. How about you? How do you spend your days stuck alone in Saskatoon?

G: Like you, at first I found social distancing to be very conducive to writing. I scrambled to get  Don Cherry is Fired, A Puck Hog has a Nervous Breakdown and Learns to Play Feminist, Anarchist Hockey published in record time. It’s now available as an eBook on Amazon and I’m hoping all those hockey fans who miss the Stanley Cup playoffs will switch off the reruns and read it.

Y: That’s got to be the strangest title for a novel ever. Although it does pretty much describe the book. Anarchism, feminism and hockey, who would have thought you could combine all three in one story?

G: It took a long time to get it just right.

Y: Wasn’t I playing junior hockey when you started writing the book?

G: Thanks for rubbing it in. Actually I was still working in the Vancouver Sun sports department so you were probably in bantam (14-15 year-olds).

Y: You’ve been working on a book for 25 years? Boggles the mind!

G: I was doing other things — journalist, union rep, four other novels, two non-fiction books. Not everyone can pump out a book a year. Especially ones that require extensive research. The new one you’re working on, what will that be?

Y: Thirteenth. My twelfth is a history of the military, Stand on Guard For Whom? — A People’s History of the Canadian Military that comes out in the Fall.

G: And an article every week. Your whole life, since the age of three when you liked something you did it, never tiring. You loved numbers and counting and you were wired on that before discovering hockey. That was the biggest thing in your life until 19. Then you just stopped. A few years later Canadian foreign policy piques your interest and you’ve been wired on that ever since. From hockey to writing and researching, no one saw that coming.

Y: The more you learn, the more you understand what you don’t know. School, you, Mom, everyone told me Canada was generally a force for good in the world but when I started looking, the details didn’t add up. You start questioning. Do you remember a coffee mug you had that said ‘Question Everything” on its side?

G: I do. Everyone at the Sun got one when the newsroom moved from Granville Street to the waterfront.

Y: Well I started questioning everything about what Canada was up to around the world. What I found was rather than being motivated by ‘doing good’ our foreign policy mostly supported the British then American empires and the interests of corporations and wealthy people. That’s the truth discovered when I question everything.

G: Strange. A quest for truth, that’s what motivated me to turn from journalism to fiction. What journalism uncovers is too shallow. Like fact checking what Donald Trump says. It’s necessary, but what about getting at the truth of why 45 per cent of Americans voters actually like and support their president.

Y: You’re saying fiction gets at that better than journalism?

G: Yes. My Fake News mysteries — American Spin, War on Drugs and Misogyny — get closer to describing reality in the Donald Trump era than you’ll find in newspapers. Fiction allows you to describe how people are feeling, what they’re thinking, self-doubts — pieces of human experience that seldom make their way into the news.

Y: Sorry, I’m calling you on that one. This interior truth is no way near as important as objective reality. Why has Canada been trying to undermine the Venezuelan government for at least a decade? To answer this question requires facts, not fiction.

G: My fiction aspires to much more than just ‘interior’ truth. I’m after Truth with a capital T. Like 1984 and Animal Farm about totalitarianism or Catch 22 about war. Joseph Heller was able to tell more truth in a novel about the experience of military life than all the reporting about the Second World War. Look, I agree good journalism is critically important, but so is fiction that entertains and helps us make sense of the world.

Y: Most people are finding that hard right now.

G: With lots of time at home maybe more people will begin to question everything.

Y: Or meekly accept everything their government is telling them.

G: That’s why I wanted to write a novel combining sports and politics. And the FAKE NEWS Mysteries. We need to reach people who enjoy escapist fiction and those who watch hockey in order to counter the pro-capitalist narrative that is everywhere. To get the truth out, to build economic democracy, to create an alternative vision of how we can organize society we must talk to as many people as possible, not just to those who already agree with us.

Y: In theory, in the long run, I agree with you, but my experience has been that the first step is to target as many of the existing dissidents as I can with my writing. Once ‘the left’ is onside with understanding the problems of imperialism, capitalism and nationalism, then we can more effectively go after a wider audience.

G: You don’t think ‘the left’ understands nationalism, capitalism and imperialism?

Y: No, unless you define ‘left’ very narrowly. Most people who consider themselves socialists or who dislike capitalism are fooled by appeals to support ‘their’ country, ‘their’ military, ‘their’ leaders. They are told over and over and over again that ‘we’ are the good guys and that countries ‘over there’ are the ‘bad guys’. The rich and powerful have been dividing and conquering us for an awfully long time. It won’t stop until we build a powerful enough international movement of people who understand how this bullshit oppresses us.

G: Do you think the current pandemic will be good or bad for international understanding and solidarity?

Y: Who knows? Both the broad left and the broad right are divided on the question of nationalism versus internationalism.

G: We can’t let the right own the idea that we must look after ourselves, because we should. Communities everywhere should be as locally self-sufficient as possible. The pandemic has illustrated that very clearly.

Y: Sure, but we can’t fall into the trap of only looking after ourselves. Of making the ‘other’ our enemy. We need to apply something as simple as a modified Golden Rule to the entire planet. ‘What we want for ourselves we must work towards for everybody.’

G: Surely COVID-19 makes the necessity of that much clearer. It really does prove we live in one world.

Y: So you are an optimist

G: Pessimism has never made sense to me.

Y: What are you working on now?

G: It’s called Love and Capitalism in the 21st Century, something I started over 20 years ago. It spans the time from the dot.com boom to today. This pandemic has given me the perfect ending.

Y: So you’re happy that COVID-19 has kept you home alone in your basement office typing away on your laptop creating the next great Canadian novel?

G: Happy? No. Being alone writing is great for about four or five hours a day. But then you miss human contact. Even writers need some of that.

Poetry: Rhyming not necessary but some assembly required

This sense of viral isolation, dread and global make-over (for good and worse) gets the proverbial juices flowing of our local and national bards. It’s not a stretch to say there are many people on our coast and farther east who consider themselves to be “poets.”

With a liberal dose of simile, any number of cultural and natural events hearken the phrase, “Blank is like poetry in action.”

Ever see a dolphin in the wild under water? Ever see Carl Lewis compete in the long jump? Ever see a skateboarder compete in an extreme sports competition? Ever see a peregrine falcon dive at over 220 miles an hour?

“Poetry in action.”

April is deemed National Poetry Month. Through the work of the Academy of American Poets who saw the success of other celebrations such as Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), writers, poets and teachers helped found Poetry Month.

The aim is simple:

• highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets,
• encourage the reading of poems,
• assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms,
• increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media,
• encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books; and,
• encourage support for poets and poetry

Where I now live, the Oregon Coast celebrates writers – poets – through conferences, workshops, organizations and, of course, readings. For now, like the summer Olympics, the live lyrical works and in-your-face performances by poets have been cancelled.

However, there are on-line options. Our own count librarians are putting up more resources and are encouraging poets (and other writers) to record their performances. AAP’s web site has plethora of live filmed readings and activities for young and old.

I asked the Toledo, Oregon, head librarian her take on the written word’s value in a time of crisis. Deborah Trusty stated: “So, the value of literature is great, as it has always been because it speaks to the universal human experiences. ‘Now,’ whenever now is for anyone, is always a good time for literature and an opportunity to contemplate the deeper feelings and experiences of what it means to be a human BEING.”

Yes, poetry can be dreaded, only because it has been poorly taught and presented.

Portland poet Marianne Klekacz states clearly, “ I think many people are intimidated by poetry, a reaction that probably dates back to middle or high school. Elementary school students seem to get it immediately, because, I suspect, they haven’t had the imagination trained out of them yet.”

She told me she once hosted the annual William Stafford birthday party in January and the April Poetry Month readings at the Newport Library. “My book [“When Words Fail”] was published in 2009. It can be found in the library, but since that is now quarantined, if you’ll send me a mailing address, I’d be happy to send you a copy.”

William Stafford is one of the country’s preeminent poets, one whose work is relevant in this time of Covid-19. His son Kim (also a Willamette University faculty member) was poet laureate of Oregon until last year.

Here are some definitions of poetry:

Mary Oliver — “Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”

Salvatore Quasimodo — “Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”

Rita Dove ¬– “Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful.”

James K. Baxter ¬¬– “The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.”

When I requested writers in our area to tell me what they believe the value of poetry is, many failed to respond. A sign of poetic solitude? A dystopian look at the world from one of the country’s most beautiful places from which to create words, music, art, dance and more?

Marianne was profuse in her responses, as was the Toledo head librarian.
Marianne recommends Peter Sears’ work – he was Oregon’s poet Laureate a few years ago.

She said, “I got involved with poetry late in life, pretty much by accident, and have wallowed in it ever since. I probably have more books of poetry (as opposed to books about poetry) than the Newport Library.”

Poet Leanne Grabel too recommends Sears. “Peter was a friend. I used this in classes often to teach metaphor. Taught in lock-down residential treatment. Kids loved this.” Here is the Sears poem Leanne adores:

My Emptiness Rides in the Back Seat, Propped UP

Don’t look now but that’s my emptiness smiling at us
from the back seat of the car with the hat on that’s too small.
I give him hats that fit and he chucks them out the window.
Then flops over, face down,
probably laughing his eyeballs out. I prop him up.
Maybe I should get him like a baby chair.
Or tape him to the back seat.
Yesterday he caught me looking at him
in the rearview mirror.
That smile, I can’t take it.
I threw fresh mints back over my shoulder at him
as hard as I could.
I threw the towel at him that I use to wipe the windshield
and almost piled into a Dodge 4×4.
That’s it. I stop the car, take him out, sit him
on a wooden bench in the park, and walk back to the car.
Yeah, just leave him there.
He’s my emptiness, I can do what I want with him.
He’s such a baby. Maybe he should have to do it on his own.
Well, I barely get around the block
when I whip the car around and head back for the little whuss.
I mean, how long can he last on his own?
So I am getting out of my car
when I happen to glance at the back seat.
There he is, my emptiness, with one of those dumb hats on,
waving my car keys.

Over at Dissent Magazine, there is a great interview of Carolyn Forché.

[“Witnessing War, with Carolyn Forché” — The author of What You Have Heard Is True talks about her political education in El Salvador, by Patrick Iber]

I cut my teeth on Forché. She ended in El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s. After, she toured the US — 49 states in a sort of Blitzkrieg of truth telling about the despotic regime in Salvador propped up and trained by USA. Americans doubted her experiences, denying the realities of the death squad imperium of the School of the Americas murder college.

I spoke with her at the University of Arizona where she appeared at the Poetry Center, and I met her years later at a reading at the University of Texas — El Paso. Heck, here is an old Dissident Voice piece I did, This Land is Their Land, and We Are the Illegal Aliens

I ended up working with Salvadoran refugees in El Paso, and that story was written several times, including the El Paso Herald Post which then sent it out to their sister newspapers.

Here, a recent update of that experience with Casa Annunciation, Shifting Baselines in a Time of Climate Change, Systems Stagnation, Life and Death in a Time of Amnesia

Time of Amnesia

Here, some art therapy from some of the children at the refugee center.

Time of Amnesia

Again, there is this huge tension between MFA/masters of fine arts creative writing “poets” living off of tenure track jobs, and those of us who are revolutionary. This poem, by Forché, is powerful now, and then, 1978:

The Colonel

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English. Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was some talk then of how difficult it had become to govern. The parrot said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves. He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.
— May 1978

We are Not Allowed to Watch, Listen, and Read What We Want Anymore

Now that almost all of us, all over the world, have been forced into staying in what could be easily defined as house arrest, there is suddenly plenty of time to read books, to watch great films, and to listen to splendid music.

Many of us, for years, have been sadly repeating again and again: “if only we would have time…”

Now there is plenty of it – plenty of time. The world has stopped. Something terrible is happening; something we never wanted to occur. We sense it, we are terrified, but we do not know precisely what it is. Not now, not yet.

Fiction has become reality. Albert Camus and his Plague. Jose Saramago and Blindness.

We did not really know that something like this could take place; even those of us who have close to zero trust in the wisdom of Western civilization.

Today, again, I read the same argument that has been sending chills down my spine each time it is repeated. And repeated it is being, now regularly, at least in Europe. There, Fascism is clearly back. Dr. Luboš Motl, a Czech theoretical physicist, who was an assistant professor at Harvard University from 2004 to 2007:

And they believe that the structures which allow them to survive – the governments, banks, and so on – are ‘evil’. Some are just financially illiterate. But others know what they are saying, and rejoice in demanding that trillions be sacrificed in order to infinitesimally increase the probability that a 90-year-old will avoid infection and live a little bit longer. They don’t accept their dependence on society and the system at all. They don’t realize that their moral values, their ‘human rights’, are only available if paid for by prosperous societies.

A doctor… my God! A “prosperous society” means, obviously, a capitalist, Western society. Imperialism, neo-colonialism! To the people like him, clearly, not every human life is equal. ‘Value’ depends on age, and perhaps on race?

It has always been like this in the West, but at least it was concealed somehow. Now it is out in the open. And I am shaking. Not from fear, but from revulsion. I definitely do not want to live in “Motl’s world.”

*****

But back to the main topic of this essay.

Now we finally have that proverbial time to read, to watch films, and to listen to music. Involuntarily, but time we have, nevertheless. We also have plenty of time to think, think, think.

The great and now diseased Uruguayan writer, an icon of the left, Eduardo Galeano, once told me, at his favorite Café Brazilero in Montevideo:

In order to be a great writer, one has to be a great listener, first.

I have to add: And a great reader, observer.

You can only produce great books, films and essays after you listened to thousands of people speak; people rich and poor, bright and senseless. And after reading hundreds of books, and watching hundreds of excellent films.

It is impossible to change the world for better after only consuming the cheapest pop and porn.

My Russian/Chinese mother, a painter and architect, has always told me, ever since I was a child:

Even if you end up being an abstract painter, you cannot cheat the basics: you have to first learn how to draw a face, a human body. You have to know the classics, philosophy… Only then you can let your fantasy to go wild.

Now, with the repulsive era of the COVID-19, we are all grounded.

Time to catch up on what we have been neglecting in terms of those intellectual inputs.

We are seated down on our sofas, we open our laptops, ready to download great films and music, and… and… nothing!

*****

Go to Netflix and try to order something very basic, like films belonging to the brilliant Japanese new way cinema. Try to watch the latest, incredible Iranian contemporary film, or some wonderful Czech masterpieces such as “On the Roof”, or “Terrorist Woman” (“Teroristka, in Czech”).

You will not succeed.

Go to Apple TV, and you will encounter the same result, “almost nothing”.

Sure, you can still watch some excellent international films if you fly the Emirates, or Air France, but remember, you are grounded!

In a panic, you rush to YouTube, only to discover that if you speak Russian or Czech or Spanish or Chinese, you can watch the best from these countries, mostly for free, but only in their original tongues, no subtitles. But if you want to share them with your friends and family members, who rely on English, you will only encounter trailers and short excerpts.

How many languages do my readers speak? I understand 8, at most 9. Therefore, I cannot watch films in Vietnamese, Chinese, Farsi. They all have excellent directors.

Countries like Russia and China are making all their classic films available, and for all, right there online. But the U.S.-U.K. censors and greedy distributors make sure that you will never be able to watch them for free, or even for a fee, in English or with English subtitles.

You are supposed to watch Hollywood crap, and toothless BBC upgraded sitcoms. You don’t like it? Tough luck!

At some point, you start frantically searching for different ways on how to get your hands on the important works of art.

Many, after several days of futile attempts and searches, simply give up and begin to watch whatever shit is available.

For years and decades, like a beaver, I have been accumulating DVDs and CDs, from all over the world. At present I have some 800 CDs, between Asia and Latin America, and hundreds of DVDs, even VHSs.

There is a reason for it – and I always knew that there would be. I do not trust the regime.

I have never relied on the electronic formats of films and music, or on storing my stuff in some ‘cloud’ and on sticks, or hoping that what I want would always be available through Amazon, YouTube, Netflix, Apple TV and other brutal businesses.

At this moment, my predictions have come true: you cannot even watch Fellini’s La Dolce Vita on Apple TV! Or, forget about the best films made by Pasolini, early (socialist realism) films by Kurosawa, 1930’s Shanghai New Wave, or most of the masterpieces by Tarkovsky.

Yes, I have accumulated a tremendous film and music library in all formats.

I repeat: I simply don’t trust the Western regime.

Especially now when making the world population dumber and dumber, more and more complacent is becoming, as it appears to me, the main goal of the Western apparatchiks.

Remember when they created those “zones” for DVDs? That was the beginning. Our planet was fragmented, in the name of business, and of copyright protection. But, in fact, the reason was absolutely clear: people were not supposed to understand each other. They were not supposed to understand directly how the others saw the world. Only the “hubs” like London, New York or Paris were allowed to decide and pre-chew how the conquered part of humanity could interact, intellectually, culturally and ideologically.

*****

The books; oh yes, the books!

They have not started burning books, yet, as they did in Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451”. I repeat, not yet.

But the system has made sure that books which even slightly challenge the system are hardly made available to the public.

It goes without saying that I made sure to count on two massive personal libraries, in both Asia and in Latin America.

Remember, they told you how ‘un-ecological’ printing paper books really was? Funny, you were never told how toxic tablets, computers and mobile phones are. What you were also never told is that if you begin to rely fully on electronic books, the tap can be closed at any moment and doing what you do, you will be locked out from the information.

In Asia and South America, I accumulated thousands of essential (and not so essential) books. And I am a proud co-publisher of a small, but vigorous publishing house Badak Merah (‘Red Rhino’). And I never agree to publish any of my own, more than 20 books in 35 languages so far, electronically, before they are first printed on paper.

These days, paradoxically, unless you live in London or Paris, New York, but also Moscow, Beijing or Havana, the chances are that you will not get books of your choice in those huge, bookstore chains, at least at the first attempt.

You will get bombarded from the moment you enter the store, with junk, pop, and feel-good stuff until they distract you from all the serious, essential topics.

Actually, I am not even sure that in the West these days it is possible to build a great personal library, from scratch, anymore!

*****

Yet, it is almost impossible to analyze “emergencies” (both real and ‘injected’) like the coronavirus, without consulting philosophers and the above-mentioned novelists, like Saramago, Camus and Bradbury.

To understand Chinese and Russian philosophers would be very handy for comprehending why both countries have so successfully combated the virus, and are now helping dozens of nations all over the world; even those that have been tormenting them for years and decades. To read and understand Cuban revolutionary, internationalist thinkers, would shed some light on the present situation, too.

But the chances are you will not be allowed to do all that.

Yes, the taps are closing, and Westerners are increasingly resembling zombies, or, more precisely, ISIS.

Mostly, they cannot get their hands on important books that would make them think, analyze and understand. But most of the time, people don’t even have any desire to read, watch and listen to things that would help them to comprehend what is taking place around them, anymore.

Instead of listening to the human beings on all the continents, individuals, particularly those living in the West, predominantly hear only about themselves. It is some sort of “selfie-style” interaction with the world. Or a Porn Tube-style one, which relies more on one’s hand, than on one’s brain.

Individuals who live in this sort of realm are taught to take simple commands, to react without thinking too much, and above all, to obey.

In the meantime, intellectual collapse is approaching; or it is already here.

Now, people like me, are realizing that they are not allowed to read, watch and listen to what they want, anymore. But at least we have already listened to a lot before. And we have great ammunition of books, films, music.

We are still writing about what is happening.

But soon, perhaps very soon, the great majority of individuals, will stop to even worry about such topics. They will simply accept: shut up and accept, and read, watch and listen to what is pushed down their throats. Or, to use new terminology – they will self-quarantine intellectually.

If such a scenario arrives, it will become irrelevant whether COVID-19 or some other epidemy is destroying our human race. Because it would not be a human race, anymore.

That is why, right now, we have to defend each and every human being, each life, whether sick or healthy, even if the person is 90 or 100 years old. And we have to defend great books, films and music because in them is our knowledge, our humanity, as well as the key to our survival.

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook – a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Incredible Lightness of Quetzalcóatl

From the far distance sounded the muffled howling of a family of monkeys, monos gritones, passing the night in the crowns of the mighty trees. It echoed through the jungle like the roar of an angry mountain lion. Gruesome and terrifying, it seemed to tear the night apart, but it did not disturb the jungle. It sang and fiddled, chirped and whistled, whined and whimpered, rejoiced and lamented its ever-unchanging song with the constancy of the roaring sea.

B. Traven, “Trozas”

Note: This is part two in a series on Mexico and the passion and the glory of an American (me) rejiggering his relationship to finally yawn out of the swill of this sick North American consumer fiesta and move away. We’ll see how that unfolds, as I too am in the grip of viscous repeated battered country abuse syndrome!

*****

She holds onto her role as daughter in this patriarchal land — Mexico. Not sure how patriarchal it would have turned out if the Spanish sword, swine, syphilis, santos, holy see, germs had never set root in this New World.

She’s 52, unmarried, unable to birth progeny. She spent years in the USA to gain a stake so she might get a sliver of her father’s property for which to build a little casita.

Her brothers get the father’s and deceased mother’s land and small houses, small parcels. Claudia has a small school supply store in Axochiapan (her deceased mother’s for years) but she can’t make a living at it thanks to Sam’s Club, Target and Walmart and other box store cancers. She has her younger sister in Cuernavaca, and she works three jobs to barely survive with her technical degree in computer repair and IT. These two women — Claudia and Alejandra — have more “la capacidad” in their pinky fingers than all of America has in its jowls. Claudia was so broke she ended up buying 30 buenas noches (poinsettias for the Christmas time) to sell on the street in upscale neighborhoods in Cuernavaca. She made no sales as Land Rovers and Lexus coupes zoomed by.

The plague of propaganda, low prices, low quality, and brand loyalty has run rampant in this southern land, like dengue mosquitoes lighting upon the children while still in vitro.

Years ago, both Alejandra and Claudia spent time in a print plant in Gresham, Oregon, and most of their siblings had also thrown in around Portland, and many more hoofed it through the causeway to Minneapolis. Many made it to the El Norte without proper papers from the US Gestapo.

Claudia thinks sometime in 2020 she might be eligible to return to the USA. For Alejandra, that’s five years down the pike. We’ll vouch for and sponsor both of them.

Both are proud, smart, feminist, and self-determined. They are full of empathy, and would give the shirts off their backs to help friends, family, anyone in need.

They worked hard in El Norte, conjoined efforts, lived small, and saved money. Mexico was always in their dreams, and they were here to try and build something back home.

Back home, 90 years of bastard politicians in the two parties  — PAN and PRI —  literally have ripped off trillions from Mexico’s coffers;  and the bastards’ bastard, USA, El Yanqui, and the other financiers and the dirty industry honchos, all have a history of theft and murder, and are still readily staged to exploit, which is another word for steal.

Very little is allowed to be manufactured in Mexico — cars, buses, equipment, more. NAFTA allows for a pipeline of US-made and US-provisioned stuff that the Mexicans could easily produce. We all know what the NAFTA two-step American gut disease is.

Claudia’s hardy but sad, admitting to bouts of depression; and her friend, my spouse, came to see her for the very first time for a visit to Claudia’s homeland. To her small pueblo where cane fields, corn forests and a few cows populate the land. All of that, plus me, new in my spouse’s life with a trainload of history with Mexico, Latin America, La Raza, hatred of El Yanqui, created a unique mix of ingredients that bonded us quickly as we went through by car (a friend of Claudia’s rented a new KIA Sole to us cheap) and saw many parts of Morelos and Guerrero.

These are powerful rendezvouses you’ll never get from Holly-Dirt Netflix originals. This story is not closed, but it’s universal.

In the chaotic Stockholm Syndrome lives of North Americans, nothing about the struggle to overthrow the chains of Capitalism and crony corruption resonates since North America is one flagging mall-dragging country, where the population is compliant in the workplace, but mad as hell on the troll worlds of on-line “discourse.” Sort of the salt peter of revolution and real deterministic radical action — the world wide web; Holly-dirt; Youtube; the infantilism and Chlamydia of mainstream pop culture;  wacko political correctness; the four seasons of  24/7  violence for younger and younger males with their sweaty warped joysticks; the endless joke-joke of Americans relishing in their own stupidity and air power; the endless useless pedantics in academia, the courts, and the state department.

It is so real, how falsely revisionist the North American concept of history for this Turtle Island. Trump is the culmination of all of the superficiality, all the Ponzi schemes, all the bankruptcy courts, the insipid hubris of the stupid, all the PT Barnum hustle, all the smoke and mirrors, all the self-aggrandizement, all the narcissistic syndromes, all the puffed-up faux bravado of a man (and many MAGA men) who would last 10 seconds in a field with some of my former veterans who are mad as hell at the lies of empire, the lies at the top, the failure of ALL POTUS’s.

Not one has the capacity to understand “third” world people, or people in Mexico, or the races, the Indians, the tug of the white supremacists who launched their hairy bodies into Mesoamerica to play their swindle for King-Queen-Captain-Cardinal on a people who had pretty much figured out things for several millennia before the hordes of hustlers and rapists and murderers from Iberia and the Anglo lands penetrated their soil and jungles and bays.

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Cuernavaca

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry was one of my top 100 books a while back. It shows the anachronistic debased values of a British envoy, drunkard, impotent, and the the emerging pathogen of Nazism embraced by the industrialists and that included some in Mexico. The Power and the Glory, too, by Graham Greene. The passion, impassioning, and possessiveness of men. Macario and Treasure of Sierra Madre (B. Traven and John Huston books and scripts respectively) and Night of the Iguana.

Contemporary writers in Mexico and some of their well-known titles also inspire:

In Search of Klingsor by Jorge Volpi.
The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel.
Diablo Guardián by Xavier Velasco.
Down The Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos.
The Uncomfortable Dead by Paco Ignacio Taibo II and Subcomandante Marcos.
Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa.

More here, Mexico’s Finest Contemporary Writers: Tracing a Cultural Renaissance

More authors I’ve danced with during mescal-induced jaguar nights: Luis Spota, Carlos Fuentes, Octavio Paz, Juan Rulfo, Jaime Sabines, Martin Luis Guzman, and Valeria Luiselli.

And the simple poetics of Mexicans who were determined to break the yoke of the oppressors:

My sole ambition is to rid Mexico of the class that has oppressed her and given the people a chance to know what real liberty means. And if I could bring that about today by giving up my life, I would do it gladly.

Pancho Villa

In that first blow to the deaf walls of those who have everything, the blood of our people, our blood, ran generously to wash away injustice. To live, we die. Our dead once again walked the way of truth. Our hope was fertilized with mud and blood.

Subcomandante Marcos

Like all of Latin America, Mexico after independence in 1821 turned its back on a triple heritage: on the Spanish heritage, because we were newly liberated colonies, and on our Indian and black heritages, because we considered them backward and barbaric. We looked towards France, England and the U.S., to become progressive democratic republics.

— Carlos Fuentes

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My good friend from Tucson, John, who became bi-lingual early in his life before his three years as an Army LT,  ended marrying a woman from Cuernavaca. I was at the wedding 33 years ago. He’s got three daughters, and he’s been divorced a while. She came from upper class environs, and he was a Navy commander’s son living in the desert. He and I like our motorcycles, and he is now a translator on the international market, from home, via Skype, phone, what have you. He’s single again, living the desert rat life of many a gringo who has gotten a taste of Mexico in their blood and entwined it into his children’s DNA.

He forewarned me to not head to Cuernavaca or the State of Guerrero or anywhere away from the quintessential tourist zones. He was citing US State Department provisos, whichever news feeds he reads, and the broken down minds of his fellow Arizonans.

Of course, he and the State Department are dead wrong, as was Reagan’s idiotic ambassador to Mexico, Gavin. But with Trump and idiotic millionaires like Maddow and the like, the USA is one starched up Marvel comic book world of good and bad, light and evil, where the highest thinkers (sic) are at least a couple of notches below Lex Luther’s mental prowess, for sure.

The result of this xenophobia is a large city, Cuernavaca, that in December had very non-Mexican few tourists. The city is looking tired and worn, as is most of Mexico, excluding the industrial complexes, mining operations, smelting outfits, et al.

The ebb of life, though, even in the threadbare places in Mexico, is compelling. Laughter and hands held. The peek-a-boo amazing sights, sounds, and smells around every corner and in every walkway.

Our second largest trading partner behind Canada, Mexico is a shell of a country in many ways. Ugly Botoxed white women and men on billboards, their green and blue eyes like a cold lizard’s, and on TV, in positions of power, while la gente is continually denigrated and spat upon by the elites.

Axe

We are hatchets of steel and fire.
We live to reap and illuminate.
With the metal,
we fell the trunk.
With the flame,
we illuminate the cut,
the felling of what we are.

Carmen Boullosa

 

Diego Rivera, Liberation of the Peon, B. Traven

Invasions

Trump told the previous president of Mexico that he would be sending in the American cavalry to take care of “those bad hombres.”

He accused Peña Nieto of harboring “a bunch of bad hombres down there” and warned:

You aren’t doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn’t, so I just might send them down to take care of it.

But there is a history of US meddling, both through “diplomatic channels,” through the economic structural violence our hit men are known for, and with troops:

When Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, he inherited a chaotic diplomatic relationship with Mexico. Two years earlier, the country’s longtime head of state, Porfirio Díaz, had been deposed. Over three decades in power, Díaz had been strongly aligned with American economic interests, which came to control 90 percent of Mexico’s mineral resources, its national railroad, its oil industry and, increasingly, its land. Resentful of the “peaceful invasion” from their northern neighbors, in 1911 middle-class and landless Mexicans overthrew Díaz and installed a noted public intellectual and reform champion, Francisco Madero, in the presidency. Not long after, the military, under the leadership of General Victoriano Huerta, deposed and executed Madero.

Displaying his deep piety and moral conviction, Wilson declared that he would never “recognize a government of butchers” and declared his intent to “teach” Mexico “a lesson by insisting on the removal of Huerta.” To that end, he sent two personal envoys to Mexico City to instruct the country’s political leaders—“for her own good”—to insist on Huerta’s resignation. The mission fared poorly. For one, the envoys—William Bayard Hale, a journalist, and John Lind, a local politician from Minnesota—spoke not a word of Spanish. Lind privately regarded Mexicans as “more like children than men” and conducted himself accordingly, to the detriment of the mission.

[…] At first, Villa sought to align himself with Wilson, but as his grasp on power became more tenuous, he sought to raise additional resources by taxing American corporations and through general banditry. He took matters a step too far when his forces confiscated the sprawling Mexican ranch of American publisher William Randolph Hearst and briefly invaded a New Mexico border town, crying “Viva Villa! Viva Mexico!”

Incensed, Wilson raised a “punitive expedition” of 10,000 soldiers under the direction of General John J. Pershing. Equipped with all the modern trappings of war—reconnaissance aircraft, Harley Davidson motorcycles—the invading army searched high and low for Villa. It was like finding “a needle in a haystack,” Pershing would soon complain. Though Villa’s forces continued to plunder and maraud, the Americans proved incapable of finding and capturing the rebel leader. When Villa surfaced briefly in Glenn Springs, Texas, with his troops, only to disappear soon thereafter, the Wilson administration was left mortified and bereft of an explanation.

American entry into the Great War allowed Wilson and Pershing to save face. In February 1917 the expedition returned to American soil. Within weeks, Pershing sailed for Europe to command the nation’s war effort.

Trump has now warned the new Mexican president that he will deem drug cartels as terrorist organizations, igniting the TNT of war and invasion. This was on all the people’s minds when I was traveling just days ago in Mexico; even in the conservative mass media. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) said:

But in these cases we have to act independently and according to our constitution, and in line with our tradition of independence and sovereignty.

War is irrational. We are for peace.

AMLO’s comments came after Trump fired off a series of tweets Tuesday morning offering Mexico “help in cleaning out these monsters.” Trump:

The great new President of Mexico has made this a big issue, but the cartels have become so large and powerful that you sometimes need an army to defeat an army!” Trump said. “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!

No matter how barbaric the cartels are, and how in bed they are with the police, army, government, the barbarism of the US is in line with the Spanish and Portuguese slave traders. Each and every weapon manufactured and sold in the USA that gets south of the border is part of that barbarism. Every line of coke and hit of Meth consumed by the great happy USA population is a bullet to the head of the innocents of Mexico.

Like Italy, Mexico is at the whim of the Church and Mafia. Like Western Culture, every blinking moment in every individual’s life is determined by the billionaires, their cabal of financial and retail felons. We are at the whim of the heads of Boeing, Exxon, Raytheon and any number of resource extractors and consumer bombers. Fortune magazine praises the millionaires and billionaires and their disruptive industries, technologies, financial instruments. All of it is still American sodomy of a race, a culture, a place, a land.

In Mexico, the juxtaposition of Nestle bottles everywhere or the VW’s and the Dodge’s is easily supplanted by the hard lives of Mexicans still eking out livings and conjugating their traditions, no matter how deeply Western Plastic Culture and Consumer Goods have infiltrated their land.

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Family Wedded to Culture, Land, History

Yanquis and Stars and Bars flag wavers are the sum total of their genocidal roots destroying First Nations’ peoples and the enslavement of Africans, but also the deep racism and bigotry perpetrated against not just Filipino and Chinese and Japanese, but against the Jew, Eastern European, German, Irish, Italian, et al.

Drowning women deemed witches, complete decimation of the grasslands, the wetlands, the bayous, the slaying of buffalo and wolf and grizzly, and the metal machines cutting into earth and stoking the flames and smoke of today’s generation of cancer-riddled people. I have these trolls attempting to harass me, trolls who listen to that ape of a man, Stephen King of Iowa, who drivels his white supremacist crap on how the white Christian lands/peoples have contributed 90 percent or more of the marvels of modern humanity — from the internet to microscopes, from splitting of the atom to cinema, from supersonic jets to soda pop. These pigs are on the airwaves, both of the Tucker Carson kind and the liberal Hollywood and media types continually showing the great boom of intelligence in the Western White World, or in many cases, the great achievements of the Judaeo-Christian.

“Shit-hole” country may have come out of the racist whites’ moldy mouths decades/centuries before Trump’s bloviating (how many US presidents have shown outright racism against  ALL nations of color?), but it’s in the minds of liberals, democrats, those so-called professional class, the college educated, and the journalists and diplomats. Most Americans see the words “backwards” or “not evolved enough” or “heathen” or “simpleton” when they see Mexico or Mexicans.

[link] The irony is that Trump’s own ancestors came from Africa, as did all mankind. In the book and documentary “The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey,” the geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells traces the human migration out of Africa. He travelled the world for a decade to trace genetic markers by taking blood samples—from Bushmen in the sweltering Kalahari Desert and the Chukchi in icy Siberia to the Hopi in the American West—to prove the trail of the human migration. Wells concludes, “Old concepts of race are not only socially divisive but scientifically wrong.”

In the end we know which country is the shit-hole, the shitty one, and its collective stupidity and infantilism continues to lobotomize the masses. I teach k12, and the food these kids eat and then waste is criminal, but emblematic of the American project of exceptionalism and the right to pollute, throw away, discard, waste, over-consume. The youth have no culture, no art, no interest in anything but making a few dollars fast.

The reality is this throw-away society is right now generating, through this corrupt capitalism, more and more discarded peoples in this country and in other countries. The AI-Robot-GIG-Uber-ization-Amazon-ification-Economies of Scale-Centralization will again generate more and more disposed of humanity — in the USA, and elsewhere.

We know socialistic systems of organizing are the only way to stem this destruction. Read or watch  any number a a million essays, interviews, books on the subject.

What capitalism has done is gut Mexico, forcing families to break up sisters and brothers, sons and  daughters, uncles and aunts, grandkids and cousins, friends and lovers, husbands and wives to head to El Norte tob e exploited by capitalism on steroids and to weather the scourge of racist Americans, police, policies, bureaucracies, attitudes.

The amount of hate against Mexicans or Latino/a people is high in USA.

In their own country, the people of the land in Mexico are now sugar coated, eating crappy food, drinking soda, and hauling their bodies full of hormone disrupters, full of petro-chemicals, GMOs, nitrous oxide, and a million other particulates created by the full-scale NAFTA exploitation and the theft of their own culture, land, resources by the white devils in their own country — the elites educated in the Milton Friedman school of destruction.

Brotherhood

I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

Netflix, The 43 — This docuseries with Paco Ignacio Taibo II in it, disputes the Mexican government’s account of how and why 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College vanished in Iguala in 2014.

Paco Ignacio Taibo II—leader in the 1968 Mexican student strike, journalist, social activist, union organizer—is widely known for his crime novels, and is considered the founder of the neo-crime genre in Latin America. One of the most prolific writers in Mexico today, more than 500 editions of his 51 books have been published in over a dozen languages. Taibo has won many awards, including the Grijalbo, the Planeta/Joaquin Mortiz in 1992, and the Dashiell Hammett three times, for his crime novels. His biography, Guevara: Also Known as Che (St. Martin’s Press, 1996), has sold more than half a million copies around the world and won the 1998 Bancarella Book of the Year award in Italy. Taibo organizes the Semana Negra (Noir Week), a crime fiction festival held every year in Gijón, Spain.

Taibo: Yes. I wanted to destroy the old idea that history is science and fiction is fantasy. Everybody knows that is not true. It’s a game: Just Passing Through starts asking if it’s really a novel, if it’s rather a history book, because of this and this and this. And then, in the second paragraph, it says: this is a novel, this cannot be a history book, it’s full of fiction. Then, in the third paragraph, what the hell is a novel, what the hell is a history book? The game is trying to destroy this secure attitude of historians to history and this secure attitude of fiction writers about fiction. There’s nothing secure in history. I don’t like security. History shouldn’t be a secure space, a comfortable space. Comfortable for whom? Readers? Writers? It’s the opposite.

We’ll go deeper in this reclamation of what it means to be in, live in, be with, hold onto Mexico and Mexicans!