Category Archives: Literature

Orwell: Neocon Icon

How do you explain the fact that the John Birch Society used 1984 as its main office telephone number in the 1960s? Or that both Animal Farm and 1984, are force-fed to virtually the entire western world in people’s formative years in their teens, even as Big Brother jacks up repression and surveillance, and pursues ever more cruel and senseless wars?

A look at Orwell’s weaknesses reveals how Big Brother turn the tables on him, getting the last laugh.

Both Animal Farm (1945) and 1984 (1949) are listed on the Random House Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th century (#31 and #13), and have been translated into more than 60 languages, more than any other novels. Orwell “helped prevent the realization of the totalitarian world he described”, according Jeffrey Meyers in Orwell: Wintry Conscience Of A Generation (2001). We are taught in school to revere his warnings against “Thought Police” and the supreme importance of individual rights and freedom of thought.

An antihero’s vaccine

On the surface, he looks oddly heroic—a scholarship to Eton, disdaining Cambridge to serve as a policeman in Burma; his gritty apprenticeship as a writer bumming around Paris and across Britain; escaping death by a whisker fighting fascism in Spain; writing his political allegories as he wasted away from the ‘poor writer’s disease’. The unrelenting pessimism of his work reflects his “inner need to sabotage his chance for a happy life”, observers Jeffrey Meyers in Orwell: Wintry Conscience Of A Generation (2001).

It is as if he wanted to suffer, and make his one love, his first wife Eileen, suffer along with him, first in an isolated, decrepit cottage in Wallington and then exposed to death in Barcelona. She predeceased him in a botched hysterectomy while he was reporting from liberated Germany in 1945, himself fatally ill. Within weeks of her sudden death, he was proposing to various women, but they rejected the clearly very ill Orwell, who insisted in living on a cold, rainy Hebrides island, Jura, miles from the nearest town, without electricity, in conditions guaranteed to kill him.

His identification with the poor and downtrodden, plus his sado-masochistic neurosis (colonial policeman, believer in the strap as teacher, willful destroyer of his own health, bungler in love) resulted in Animal Farm and 1984, which were immediately promoted by his own 1984 Oceania power zone—the US/British empire—as a powerful ideological weapon to fight the other zones—Eurasia (the Soviet Union and Europe, which Orwell assumed would be taken over in toto by a now-‘imperial’ USSR following the nuclear WWIII) and Eastasia (China and Japan).

In 1984, the ‘hero’ Winston Smith ends up an alcoholic, brainwashed into loving Big Brother. In our Oceania power zone, Orwell’s message is mangled, its dystopian reflection on modern society limited to the Soviet Union, which at the time was under Stalin’s harsh dictatorship. The novel was/is taught as a warning not about East and West, but only the East.

This is not what Orwell intended at all. 1984 was a parody of 1948 Labor Britain, now seen by Orwell as just another Soviet Union. Oceania ruled the world, and there was no hope left, East or West. There is no ‘happy ending’ in 1984.

So his message (a pox on both your houses) was lost, and the novel proved to be a devastating weapon only aimed at Oceania’s rivals, not at Oceania itself. Did Orwell help “prevent the realization of the totalitarian world”? Not by a long shot. Oceania is alive and well!

Even as schoolchildren are indoctrinated by Orwell’s gloomy social fables, “Newspeak” and “Thought Police” are more widespread than ever, and we remain under their control.

Orwellian indoctrination, using Orwell as a kind of vaccine, helped Oceania not only to defeat communism, but to move decisively against the remaining enemies after 2001, invading the disputed Middle East/ Central Asia, with nary a peep from the proles. It seems that rather than waking people up to their chains, Orwell’s novels, and their incorporation into mass commercial culture, have acted as a kind of inoculation, inuring people to the totalitarian ‘dis-ease’ even as it metastasizes. How did this remarkable psychosomatic phenomenon come about?

Arrested development

Penniless, scruffy Orwell, so adamantly devoted to (his) personal freedom, so disdainful of capitalism with its commodity fetishism. As he lay dying in an elite London hospital, he fumed against an ad for a sock suspender on the leg of a classical hero: “Physical beauty is a sacred thing and should be shielded from the vile devices of advertisers,” he lectured Malcom Muggerridge. He had witnessed friends like Cyril Connolly sell out to live a sybaritic lifestyle.

Yet he turned against the only group that stood firmly against capitalism, his communist acquaintances. On his deathbed, he married a cynical Connolly groupie, Sonya Brownell bequeathing her his new, very lucrative name. A lifelong republican, he embraced the monarchy. A lifelong atheist, he pleaded for a church funeral and burial. Where and how did the ascetic, working class hero lose it?

Orwell’s neurotic, depressive character, his outsized ego, his repressive public school upbringing and cold, almost fatherless family life, are all there in his writing. He was a loner, and could never work with anyone, let alone a movement, for long. He refused to join any political group, and as the communists rallied around the dictator Stalin in defense of ‘real existing socialism’, it became impossible for him to work with his natural allies against fascism.

In his occasional teaching jobs in the 1930s, he was remembered as ‘liberally’ using a switch to poke and punish students, sometimes on the slightest account. At the same time, he taught some how to make explosives. So he was alternately a dictator and a naughty teenage gang leader thumbing his nose at authority. No room here for a social movement to unite people to overthrow capitalism.

He was haunted by his father’s career as a supervisor in the Indian Opium Department, preparing the deadly narcotic for export to China, and yet stubbornly pursued a similar career, as a policeman in Burma in service to empire, instead of going to university in 1922. He was forced to search out and repress activists in the Burmese national liberation movement, and defend what he came to see as a massive protection racket, under the phony pretext of forcibly civilizing backward natives.

His strongly anti-imperialist Burma Days (1934) was banned there. He got this right, but his uneducated revulsion against capitalism/ imperialism ultimately led him to his simplistic depiction of the world in 1984 of supposedly interchangeable empires brainwashing their masses into subservience, using “doublethink” and Thought Police. But they were not really interchangeable. Orwell’s anti-imperialism was skin deep. ‘Our empire’ was good; theirs—bad.

Even worse, Orwell sketched a future where the perpetual war between the “super-states” was purely for propaganda purposes, ignoring the real post-WWII struggles for national liberation, supported by Orwell’s Eurasia/ Eastasia (Soviet Union/ China).

Most damnable of all, what can only be called Orwell’s vindictive hatred of communism led him down the slippery slope of McCarthyism, providing names to British intelligence of people he thought were communists, even as he protested their dismissal by the post-WWII Labour government, Washington’s willing servant.

Like Salvador Dali, he casually exposed communist friends. Dali did this thoughtlessly to Bunuel in his 1942 autobiography. Bunuel was immediately fired from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and deported at the very moment he was delicately trying to acquire US citizenship. Orwell enthusiastically joined in the witch hunt in his 1949 list of 35 cultural figures who he considered crypto-communists for the Foreign Office’s Information Research Department, people who Orwell felt “should not be trusted as propagandists”.

They included (with Orwell’s comments in brackets): Charlie Chaplin, Michael Redgrave, Orson Welles, Nancy Cunard (silly), Sean O’Casey (very stupid), Paul Robeson (very anti-white), John Steinbeck (spurious writer, pseudo-naïf) Shaw (reliably pro-Russian on all major issues), Kingsley Martin of the New Statesman (decayed liberal. very dishonest).

Can you believe this? Orwell playing the role of Big Brother’s Though Police. Biographer Myers uncomfortably excuses him, saying this was “necessary, even commendable”, and incongruously states that Orwell  “strongly supported civil rights”.

His analysis of the world was as simplistic, rudderless as that of his cardboard characters in 1984: Communism = Thoughtcrime.

Orwell, sex and perpetual wars

Winston, reacting against the Party’s desire to repress sex, mirrors Orwell’s own life, not the policy of either the capitalists, fascists or communists). He admires Julia’s promiscuity, the fact that she is not interested in loving one person but in freeing her animal instinct, liberating her “simple undifferentiated desire, the force that would tear the Party to pieces.”

It seems Orwell was actually embracing Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1931), where promiscuity reigns. 1984 does not allow pornography and prostitution, whereas Brave New World relies explicitly on sex and drugs to be manipulated and serve the status quo.

Orwell’s complaint to Malcolm Muggeridge about the sexy sock ad would have had greater resonance in his hated Soviet Union, where beauty was indeed considered sacred and where such ads did not exist. Soviet ‘ads’ exhorted workers to produce simple textiles cheaply and efficiently for mass consumption, without harnessing the proles’ sex instincts in the service of profit.

In Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985), Neil Postman argues in line with Huxley that our totalitarian social order doesn’t need to deny human rights like free speech, but rather conditions us not to use our rights, by filling our minds with commercial images and harnessing sexual desire to commodities.

The post-WWII wars were by the empire, Orwell’s Oceania, against communism (Orwell’s Eurasia and Eastasia) in competition for Africa, the Middle East, India and Indonesia. The war fever indeed was/is used to keep all the proles in line, but there were clear ideological differences: the wars were wars of liberation of Oceania’s colonies seeking freedom with the help of Eurasia (Soviet Union)/ Eastasia (China). Was this so difficult for Orwell, the anti-imperialist, to foresee?

What Orwell does best is intuit the logic of late capitalism, where war and war preparations by the military-industrial complex become the means to destroy the surplus produced by high tech industrial society, without allowing the proles to become too demanding and realizing that they don’t need a parasitic elite to control them. They are kept in poverty, producing military equipment which is never used.

In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance. A Floating Fortress has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built. In principle the war effort is always so planned as to eat up any surplus that might exist after meeting the bare needs of the population.

Yes, ‘eat up any surplus’ but this is only the logic of Oceania. Orwell somehow forgot that the West was capitalist (based on surplus production and expropriation by the elite), and that the Soviet Union was not tied to this vicious circle of production/ destruction, that it was quite capable of distributing its surplus to its proles to improve their standard of living. 1984 posits three deformed ideologies (for Oceania, Ingsoc), where the proles inexplicably have to live forever in poverty. But the economic logic hered is capitalist, something that Orwell either overlooked or didn’t really understand.

This is unforgivable, as capitalism was alive and well as he wrote, and we expect Orwell to be our “wintry conscience”. America’s commercial culture, full of sexy ads, was apparent to Huxley in the 1930s—Marcuse’s repressive desublimation—the spider’s web to keep the proles captive. Couldn’t Orwell reflect on the sexy sock ad and put two and two together?

Hoisted with his own petard

Orwell’s Big Brother and Inner Party were made to order for Oceania after WWII, when the threat of revolution in western Europe was very real. A vaccine against communism was urgent. In our pseudo-reality, it’s okay to be cynical and critical about capitalism, as long as you don’t get infected with the socialist virus. The Thought Police used Orwell to vaccinate potential revolutionaries.

Late capitalism’s wars, while partly to keep the proles in line, do have other motives, primarily control of the world’s resource, which Orwell dismisses as passe. And the Cold War meant something very different to the Soviet ‘enemy’ and the struggling third world, who were fighting for their existence, not just as a whim of their “Inner Parties”.

Commodity fetishism (the real virus) and the ability of capitalism to manufacture desires (and sort-of satisfy them) eventually infected the Soviet Union and provided a powerful weapon to Oceania in its war to destroy Eurasia. Eastasia (China) abandoned its communist character before it could be destroyed, and has now swamped Oceania with commodities, threatening Oceania itself.

Orwell has come somewhat into his own only with the collapse of his hated Soviet Union and especially since 911 and the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.

All that is needed is that a state of war should exist. … It is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and … is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones: but such knowledge is easily neutralized by the technique of DOUBLETHINK.

Missing the point

That Orwell misread political developments is an understatement. He was politically tone deaf. After returning from Spain in 1937, he adhered to the Independent Labour Party’s pacifism, refusing to support efforts for a common front with the Soviet Union against fascism.

When the Soviet Union was finally a war ally, like the anti-communist Churchill et al, he was briefly pro-Soviet, while broadcasting pro-empire BBC propaganda to India (his first full-time job since he was a policeman in Burma) and writing his anti-communist screeds. His hatred of the Soviet Union now meant opposing the end of empire, as the colonies would turn to the Soviet Union as a model, and like Churchill, Orwell preferred they remain British colonies.

The staunch republican became a fervent monarchist, as protection against the possible rise of a dictator, fearing the totalitarian values of Hitler/ Stalin. But were these dictators the real problem? We can now see that these regimes, which relied overtly on terror, were not so sturdy as Orwell’s dystopia leads us to believe, that human values survive under fallible dictators. The real totalitarian threat was/is the rule of money and commodity fetishism.

Orwell failed to see that the final brick in totalitarianism’s wall was an ideology not of hate and fear, but of sexy legs and smiling models enticing prole-consumers into pursuing will-o-the-wisp happiness in endless consumption. Big Brother’s Victorian strictures are no match for repressive desublimation, especially when the proles are vaccinated by a healthy dose of Orwellian criticism. Orwell’s anti-communist ravings fit the post-WWII West to a T.

Orwell became a model for writers such as Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451 (1953)), Angry-Young-Men John Osborne (Look Back in Anger (1957)) and Alan Sillitoe (The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1959)), Anthony Burgess (Clockwork Orange (1962)), Paul Theroux, John le Carre, and ex-communist Doris Lessing, all of whom had an Orwellian critical view of contemporary society where there is no exit, but—just as important—no alternative.

The perfect ‘free’ culture for capitalism, proudly secular, postmodern, but where TINA (there is no alternative) rules, as famously coined by Margaret Thatcher. Orwell’s legacy proved flexible enough to allow neoconservatives to cite him as they invade countries where dictators are called ‘totalitarian’, or for liberals and leftists to cite him to support their (bland and hopeless) struggles for ‘human rights’. Any evidence of Orwell’s socialism has long been swept under the carpet.

When 1984 hit the stands in 1949, I Anisimov wrote in Pravda of Orwell’s “contempt for the people, his aim of slandering man.” James Walsh in Marxist Quarterly criticized his “neurotic and depressing hatred of everything approaching progress.” Indeed, as Orwell depicts them, the various non-pig animals in Animal Farm and the proles in 1984 are easily misled and cannot be relied on. Only individuals, misfits like Winston/ Orwell can see through the cant, and the possibility of their prevailing is nil. They have no alternative.

As dystopian novels go, Aldus Huxley’s Brave New World (1932, Modern Library’s #5) wins hands down as relevant today, taking Wells’s insight that it’s unbridled technology under capitalism that drives dystopia, and capitalism would use sex as a means of social control. Rebels Lenina Crown and Bernard Marx, a psychologist, travel from the World State to see native Americans living at Savage Reservation, the last remnants of people unprogrammed in the World State, where people are kept under control by the drug soma.

Losing his way

Orwell, the literary traveler/ adventurer, liked to compare himself to DH Lawrence, who also died young of consumption after a repressive upbringing and an unhappy struggle as a writer, but he is in fact closer to TE Lawrence. Lawrence of Arabia and Orwell were both ambivalent towards imperialism, suffered from sado-masochistic neurosis due to their troubled upbringing, and were harnessed to the needs of empire.

DH Lawrence, at least, struggled to overcome his British stiff upper lip, anticipating hippiedom’s ‘free love’ of late capitalism. This is far from Orwell’s experience; he scorned the “bearded fruit-juice drinking sandal-wearers of the roll-in-the-dew-before-breakfast school.” The Arabian Lawrence, like Orwell, unwittingly supported empire and succumbed to self-destructive feelings of guilt and personal inadequacy, famously dying in a motorcycle accident in 1935, consumed by remorse for how his legacy was perverted by empire. Lawrence and Orwell were both 47 when they died.

Like Orwell, Koestler was an adventurer, promiscuous and a cold fish, who also turned against his erstwhile communist comrades and turned out a stream of pessimist screeds that the empire picked up and promoted in its post-WWII Great Game against communism and third world liberation. Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940, #6 on the Modern Library list) and “The Yogi and the Commissar” (1945), like Orwell’s 1984, effectively supported our own Big Brother, who really didn’t need their talents to prevail anyway. Koestler’s suicide pact with his wife in 1983 recapitulates the despairing end of both TE Lawrence and Orwell.

They all lost their way on the imperial map, unable to chart a new course, or better, to draw a new map free of the imperial boundaries. Orwell almost got it right in Burma, but stumbled on his own neurosis, his lack of a clear (Marxist) analytical framework. He rejected any “smelly little orthodoxy” and ended up with a half-baked analysis of a complex political reality.

1984 ‘bad’, Animal Farm ‘good’

Orwell got things horribly wrong in 1984. Stalinism withered and the Soviet Union embraced humanism by the mid-1950s. It was not some totalitarian monster at work, but capitalism, which took over the world, and became ever more poisonous, despite nice, but harmless, critics in the “Outer Party” like Winston/ Orwell (today, Zizek, Chomsky, et al). Capitalism is the real totalitarian genius, fusing political and economic mechanisms in a system where infinite power can be amassed via money, which penetrates all aspects of life including Orwell’s precious “undifferentiated desire”.

This is in contrast to (albeit, failed) communist ideology, which rejected money as the social foundation, and thus had only a limited control over people, never reaching the level of soul and the unconscious, as does the West’s market-driven consumerism. There was no effective Soviet vaccine against the dis-ease of capitalism.

Unlike 1984, Orwell’s Animal Farm has survived as a compelling critique of socialism/ communism. There, the ‘proles’ (animals) have a revolution against the capitalists (humans), and are briefly liberated. Yes, the pigs begin to ape the humans and are seen as no better. This eventually happened, the British Labour Party’s welfare socialism, and later, the communist elites in the Soviet Union and eastern Europe. But the ‘pigs’ (Labourites, communists) were overthrown, and the ‘humans’ (Thatcher, Russian oligarchs) took back the farm. A cautionary tale about ‘power corrupting’.

Israel Shamir takes Animal Farm to its post-communist logical conclusion. “Animal Farm revisited” documents how Stinky, the head pig, sells out the inefficient animal-run farm to a slick farmer bearing Marlboro cigarettes and nylons, and the “excess” animals are promptly carted off to the slaughter house. The few remaining escape to the woods and remember even their porcine tyranny fondly.

Shy and clumsy with people, Orwell was easily manipulated, didn’t really believe in ‘the people’, and never thought much about souls until the atheist panicked on his deathbed, calling for a Church of England funeral. His communist foes at least stuck to their belief in ‘the people’ as a force that would prevail. Oceania (the US) faces genuine countervailing powers (Russia, China, Iran, et al). The resurgence of Islam, and of socialism in the heart of the beast, are signs of a post-1984 alternative reality based on morality and social justice taking shape.

Romanticism and Literature: Serving Human Liberty?

Swift has sailed into his rest;
Savage indignation there
Cannot lacerate his breast.
Imitate him if you dare,
World-besotted traveller; he
Served human liberty.

— W. B. Yeats translation of Jonathan Swift’s Latin epitaph.

Introduction

In this continuing series on the effects of Romantic and Enlightenment ideas on modern culture, I have looked at the negative aspects of Romanticism on fine art, music, cinema and politics. In this article I will examine Romantic and Enlightenment ideas on literature from the eighteenth to the 21st century showing how from the earliest days literature has been a battleground for the future of culture itself. Enlightenment influences on literature led to the concept of progressive culture which took many forms through to today. From realism, social realism, the proletarian novel, socialist realism, concepts of progressive culture have constantly changed in opposition to Romantic ideas of ‘art for art’s sake’. Here we will look at these changes over time and and finish by examining suggested definitions of progressive literature for the future.

Romantic and Enlightenment literature

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement during the eighteenth century in which philosophers and scientists spread their ideas through literary salons, coffeehouses and printed books, pamphlets and journals. It was a time of dramatically increasing literacy and a growing reading audience encouraged by cheaper printed material.

Reading habits changed from public reading of a few books, to extensive private reading as books got cheaper. The Enlightenment was a time for satirists and humorists attacking the conservative monarchical institutions of the eighteenth century. Writers such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope in Ireland and England and Voltaire in France blended criticism, satire and fiction into a new type of literature. While Enlightenment influences tended to be based on reason and science looking outwards, the Romantic reaction stressed “sensibility”, or feeling and tended towards human psychology and looking inwards.

The title page to Swift’s 1735 Works, depicting the author in the Dean’s chair, receiving the thanks of Ireland. The Horatian motto reads, Exegi Monumentum Ære perennius, “I have completed a monument more lasting than brass.” The ‘brass’ is a pun, for Wood’s halfpennies (alloyed with brass) lie scattered at his feet. Cherubim award Swift a poet’s laurel.

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. The Scottish poet James Macpherson’s Ossian cycle of poems (published in 1762)  were a huge influence on Goethe and Walter Scott.  Ivanhoe, published in 1819, was Walter Scott’s most popular historic novel and reflected the Romantic interest in medievalism. In Germany, it was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) that had the most influence on burgeoning German Romanticism. However, the introverted, fatalistic aspect of Young Werther was eventually rejected by Goethe himself who described the Romantic movement as “everything that is sick.”

Literary Realism

Enlightenment ideas took off in a different direction as the scientific method had its influence on literature in the form of the depiction of “objective reality”. Known as Literary Realism and beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, writers such as Stendhal in France and Alexander Pushkin in Russia led the realist movement with a view to representing “subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, as well as implausible, exotic and supernatural elements.”

In this sense Realism opposed Romantic idealisation or dramatisation and focused on lower class society’s everyday activities and experiences in a more empirical way. This led to the the development of the social novel which can be seen as a “work of fiction in which a prevailing social problem, such as gender, race, or class prejudice, is dramatized through its effect on the characters of a novel” and covering topics such as “poverty, conditions in factories and mines, the plight of child labor, violence against women, rising criminality, and epidemics because of over-crowding, and poor sanitation in cities.”

Early examples of the social novel were Charles Kingsley’s Alton Locke (1849) and Elizabeth Gaskell’s first industrial novel Mary Barton (1848). However, it was Charles Dickens whose depictions of poverty and crime that shocked readers the most and even led Karl Marx to write that Dickens had “issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the professional politicians, publicists and moralists put together”. Dickens novels Oliver Twist (1839) and Hard Times (1854) explored many important social questions relating to the negative aspects of the industrial revolution.

Illustration by Fred Bernard of Dickens at work in a shoe-blacking factory after his father had been sent to the Marshalsea, published in the 1892 edition of Forster’s Life of Dickens.

Around the same time in France, Victor Hugo published his historical novel Les Misérables (1862). The novel follows the lives of several characters and in particular the struggles of the an ex-convict Jean Valjean. Hugo uses the form to elaborate his ideas on many topics from the history of France to politics, justice, religion and even the architecture and urban design of Paris. He outlines his purpose in a famous Preface to Les Misérables in which he writes:

So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age—the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night—are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.

The American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968) put such ideas into practice when he spent seven weeks gathering information while working incognito in the meatpacking plants of the Chicago stockyards in 1904. This resulted in the 1906 novel, The Jungle, which exposed the harsh conditions, health violations, and unsanitary practices in the American meat packing industry of the time. The novel was hugely controversial at the time with publishers initially refusing to publish it but eventually the conditions described in the book led to public pressure to pass the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act.

The Jungle is a 1906 novel by the American journalist and novelist Upton Sinclair (1878–1968).

The proletarian novel

As the nineteenth century progressed enlightenment ideas were taken up by socialist movements and produced a new class-conscious proletarian literature created by working class writers. The proletarian novel is a political form of the social novel which comments on political events and was used to promote social reform or political revolution among the working classes.

The proletarian novel achieved significance in different countries in the early twentieth century. It came to prominence during a time of rising fascism during the 1930s when Nazi book burnings were being carried out in Germany and Austria. The political polarisation is evidenced by the writers meetings that took place at the time when the First American Writers Congress (1935) in the USA, the International Writers’ Congress for the Defence of Culture (1935) in France, and the First Congress of Soviet Writers (1934) in the Soviet Union were all held.

Progressive  literature emphasised social development and was part of the general progressive movement of those who wanted science and technology to lead the way for a better society for all. It was opposed to the content and values of regressive literature such as:

Despair, mysticism, the thought that man is helpless and incapable of building one’s own future complete degradation, sexual vagaries, respect for war and massacres, condescension to cultural values, faith in the evil of man and the disbelief in the generosity of mankind, hatred towards ideals, all of these are the main trends of regressive literature. Such regressive trends are advertised behind a veil of arguments which state that art does not have any other responsibility beyond that of being art in itself.

Such a description of regressive literature covers many aspects of Romantic ideas in culture too.

What is progressive culture today?

The multilingual Indian writer K. Damodaran (1912 – 1976) set out his beliefs on progressive literature as a literature in which the writer should adopt a scientific approach towards viewing things, try to eradicate superstitions and blind practices, and not isolate himself or herself from society. He also believed in literatures that preserved regional languages.

Romanticism and Literature: Serving Human Liberty?

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

His work includes novels, plays, short stories, and essays, ranging from literary and social criticism to children’s literature.  (not to mention Swiftian satire).

One writer who puts such ideas into action in both fiction and prose is the Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. While there are many African writers writing social literature about the lives of African people today, Ngugi has been important for his emphasis on the formal qualities of language as well as the radical content of his novels. His use of his local Gikuyu language as the original language of his novels is an important anti-colonial aspect of his purpose for writing. As English moves from being the dominant hegemonic language of earlier colonised countries such as Ireland and Kenya to being super hegemonic globally due to the influence of satellite broadcasting and the internet, such linguistic strategies of Ngugi may become more significant when formally ‘major’ languages themselves also start to come under threat.

Conclusion

While there have been obvious influences of Romanticism on writers like Dickens, it could be argued that the realist impulse was a stronger drive and that Dickens knew and understood the poverty he described so well in his novels. This drive to incorporate and expose all forms of oppression in literary work could be described as one of the fundamentals that links the writers in the centuries old development of progressive literature. But, however progressive literature is defined into the future, it can be sure that its writers will not be appreciated for exposing the dark side of human oppression except by those whose voices too often remain unheard.

• All images in this article are from Wikimedia Commons

Caught in Their Fun House

America… just a nation of two hundred million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable.

Hunter S. Thompson

Now I think poetry will save nothing from oblivion, but I keep writing about the ordinary because for me it’s the home of the extraordinary, the only home.

— Phillip Levine

I’m digging the DV piece, “The Idiot” by Jason Holland, since in a critical mass sort of black hole kind of way, his main thesis is reflective of the experiences many of us in the bloody trenches of dying capitalism see/feel/believe minute by minute.

And after all our idiotic overcomplicated plots and schemes, they are but to mask simple truths the idiot facade tries so desperately to avoid; the inner torments of being afraid of not being good enough, not measuring up to our peers, not meeting arbitrary expectations we either accept from others or set for ourselves, or quite simply feeling like we are not worthy of love. So we play these pointless high stakes games which have a rewards as meaningless and worthless as a plastic trophy just to prove our worth. The idiot is a temporal state of being, although many are finer long term examples of displaying the behaviors of the idiot; however none of us are the perfect idiot. To avoid the affectations of being in an idiotic state it takes conscious effort to live our lives moment to moment with authenticity, to be in a state of awareness of our actions, to always be willing to suffer for something worthwhile and to be consistently well reasoned examiners of what constitutes something worthwhile.

That authenticity, moment to moment existence —  and it should be a reveling of life — is good, but there is a bifurcating of sorts when many of us are still subject to the masters of Big Brother and Big Business. We are suffering the dualism of the Century, and the more we know, the more we seek and the more we grapple, well, the more emancipated we are, but in that freedom comes some pretty harsh treatment by the masters and their sub-masters and all the Little Eichmann’s that keep the Capitalist’s trains moving like clockwork toward the global demise set in their plastic worlds!

And some of us think Dachau and Auschwitz were bad! We have already seen a hundred of them since 1945.

For me, I have the benefit of being a writer, and at this time, I have this new gig I created myself to bring to the Oregon Coast a sense of the people who are here living or who come here to set down their own stories . . . people who do things to make this world better and themselves better. Something in the draw that brings my subjects for my pieces here to the coast of Oregon. These are people, and they are not perfections or cut-outs or pulverized remnants of humanity that Capitalism mostly demands in it shark tank of inane media manipulation and marketing.

I crack open humanity and get people’s contexts — entire stories upon stories laid down, strata by strata, and cover their own formula for the art of living in harmony in a world of disharmony. Reading my stuff, I hope, will allow readers of this rag, Oregon Coast Today,  and its on-line version a better sense of authenticity via people they may or may not even run across in their own lives of being the consummate busy tourist and consumer.

A few of the pieces will be worthy of DV display, and I hope that my attempt at drilling down and “getting people” for who they are and how they got here will better the world, in some small shape. Really small, but small wonders sometimes are the ionic glue of a bettering world.

What is more compelling than the average person captured in a truthful narrative, as counterpoint to a society that delves into the celebrity, the spectacle, the idiocy as Jason puts forth in his piece, “The Idiot.”

In many ways, talking to people who have lived authentic (albeit struggle-prone) lives, or who are just embarking on a nascent stage of multiple iterations of living, I get my sense of grounding in a very flummoxed world of inanity and crass disassociation, as in the disease of pushing away humanity and pushing away the natural world to hitch oneself to the perversions of the billionaire class.

Time and time again, daily, my friends who are still in struggle — still trying to make sense of the perverted world of idiots controlling the message, the economy, the environment, the culture, and the mental-physical-spiritual health of the world, as if this is it, Trump 2.0 — give me news feed after news feed of the quickening of not only idiocy that capitalism and consumerism and war engender in our species, but also examples of the inhumanity driving the agendas of the Fortune 500 Class, the Davos crowd, the Aspen Institute gatherings, et al.

Yet, my friend, Joe the Farmer from Merced, hits the nail on the head by providing his own retort to example after example of the cruelty of capitalism and the US of I — United States of Idiots?

If this doesn’t slap the Hell out of you and rub your nose into the proverbial dog shit of what a criminally insane, inhumane, cruel and thuggish enterprise our government has become, then there is absolutely no hope for your soul. The truth tellers like Manning, Assange, Snowden and others, the brave young guys like Tim DeChristopher that monkey wrenched the sale of oil leases to public lands to try and protect the environment, this fellow that is showing his human side by providing water and aid for those dying in the desert sun, are all facing prison terms or maybe even the death penalty. Their crime? Being a compassionate human being.

What in the fuck is wrong with this country? The republicans enact cruel legislation to protect criminal enterprises, slash taxes for the obscenely rich, while removing any social or environmental protections for the population, (the Flint Michigan water system for example).

The republicans are ruthlessly attacking the environment and endangered species, turning their backs on infrastructure that is endangering peoples lives, while the spineless democrats sit idly by, wringing their hands. The democrats won’t take action against the most openly corrupt president we have ever had, that is daily destroying everything in this country as well as the rest of the world with his insane military budgets, trade wars and climate policies. The democrats response to Trump is to promote Joe Biden, a compilation of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Strom Thurman and just about every other corporate whore they could steal parts off of to make their democratic very own version of Donald Trump.

Both the republicans and the democrats promote austerity for the working people and the poor, while stuffing the oligarchs pockets with gold. Both political Parties support endless war and war profiteers but slash budgets for schools, infrastructure, health care and the elderly. Both political Parties shower money on the police state and a corrupt system of justice and private prisons. Both political Parties are turning their heads to what the oil industry is doing to our water and air with fracking and are in fact have promoted legislation to let the oil industry off the hook when it causes unbelievable environmental damage. Both political Parties are doing nothing to check the nuclear industry that is a environmental time bomb waiting to go off and have promoted legislation to limit the industries liability when it does.

What is wrong with the American people that they sit on their collective asses and do nothing while all this is happening? Are they that fucking stupid? Are they that lacking in human decency? Are they that politically dumbed-down that they won’t even fight for their own interests?

The fact that this government corruption has been allowed to go on for years evidently proves that Americans are that stupid and lacking of compassion and politically dumbed-down. Thank God for guys like Dr. Warren the others that are trying to slap some sense into the American public to show us what courage and being humane is all about. Dr. Warren and company shouldn’t be put in jail but our so called leaders sure as Hell should be for their crimes against humanity.

He’s talking about a desert saint of sorts, Scott Warren, who has the power of his call to duty to give water in milk cartons to anyone crossing the Arizona desert. Now that is a hero, yet, he is facing decades in prison. America!

The charges against Warren “are an unjust criminalization of direct humanitarian assistance” and “appear to constitute a politically motivated violation of his protected rights as a Human Rights Defender,” states Amnesty International’s Americas regional director Erika Guevara-Rosas.

“Providing humanitarian aid is never a crime,” Guevara-Rosas added in a statement last week. “If Dr. Warren were convicted and imprisoned on these absurd charges, he would be a prisoner of conscience, detained for his volunteer activities motivated by humanitarian principles and his religious beliefs.”

Yet how many humans in this crime country even give a rat’s ass about one man who is doing the good that all men and women should be doing?

AJO, ARIZONA - MAY 10: Scott Warren, a volunteer for the humanitarian aid organization No More Deaths speaks with local residents during a community meeting to discuss federal charges against him for aiding undocumented immigrants on May 10, 2019 in Ajo, Arizona. Warren is scheduled to appear in court for felony charges on May 29 in Tucson, accused by the U.S. government on two counts of harboring and one count of conspiracy for providing food, water, and beds to two Central American immigrants in January, 2018. If found guilty Warren could face up to 20 years in prison. The trial is seen as a watershed case by the Trump Administration, as it pressures humanitarian organizations working to reduce suffering and deaths of immigrants along the border. The government says the aid encourages human smuggling. In a separate misdemeanor case, federal prosecutors have charged Warren with public littering, for distributing food and water along migrant trails. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

Read the great piece about these water bearers on the border at the Intercept by Ryan Devereaux.

flood-the-desert-1556916141

So, here, whatever will come of my new column, “Deep Dive: Go Below the Surface with Paul Haeder,” starting June 7, well, I hope people reading this rag — 18,000 and counting and as they are compelled to hit each longer version of each of my profiles on line, Oregon Coast Today — will understand that life is the sum total of one’s search for meaning and worthy work and community involvement.

Maybe this compulsion toward narrative has always been inside me during my early root setting  living in Canada, Maryland, Paris, Edinburgh, Arizona . . . then on that walkabout throughout Latin America, Europe, Vietnam, USA, Central America!

When times get tough, the storyteller gets writing. Ha. Believe you me, the stories we all have collected in this Marquis de Sade world of capital and artery-clogging entertainment and constant death spiral the elites have banked as their Appian Way to Complete Dominance, they make for so much more validation of humanity than anything Hollywood could make.

Point of fact — I attempted to watch the film, Vice, about Dick Cheney, his perverse family, the perversity of neocons fornicating with neoliberalism. It was one of Hollywood’s “cutting edge” dramas. Written and directed by a Saturday Night Live writer. All the usual suspects with Hollywood multi-millions stuffed in their jowls — Christian Bale, Amy Adams, et al.

It wasn’t that good, but I sensed that the filmmakers were all about trying to make something that was “different.” I didn’t nod off during the viewing. But, I unfortunately had the DVD so I went to the extras section, and then, the behind-the-scenes of the making of Vice. This is when things went south real quickly with neoliberal, Democrat-leaning Hollywood creeps. We get every goofy platitude about each and every department’s genius in making this film. Every actor fawns the other actor for his or her amazing performance.

Then the Limey, Christian Bale, yammers on and on about he was all about making Dick Cheney human, going into his good side, being cognizant of Cheney, the human. Rubbish and this is the quality of men, adults, in our society — multimillionaires with gobs of limelight and credit and awards and houses and yachts thrown at them, and they can’t even begin to attack the cause — capitalism, rampant competitiveness, droll I-got-mine-too-bad-you-can’t-get-yours thinking. Hollywood is the anti-culture, the flagging bumbling money changers, the money makers, the money grubbers, and well, everything is about the pockets and the suits and the “executive producers,” i.e. Bankers.

Oh god, what a trip going into these Hollywood people’s hot yoga, macrobiotic diet, four-hour-a-day workout minds. The director, McKay, actually thinks this drama — make-believe — has given the world new stuff, new insights, new news about the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush-Reagan-Bush world of prostitute politics.

As if there were no real journalists working on all the pre-September 11 illegalities of the republican party and then the post-September 11 evisceration of the few rights the people of the world and USA had before full spectrum war on our planet.

As if journalists hadn’t cracked open the Koch brothers, the fake think tanks, all the pre-Truman/post-Truman lies of empire, from Roy Cohen, through to the rigged systems of oppression. Way before any trivial Hollywood wannabe open her eyes.

Entertainment and a few laughs at the expense of millions of bombed-dead people, millions more suffering-a-lingering-death daily because of Hollywood and USA policies and the evangelicals and the Crypto-Christo-Zionists bombing “the other” back to the stone age. The movie, Vice.

Racists, misogynists, misanthropes, one and all. Yet, we gotta love these democrat-leaning guys and gals making films, having millions stuffed up every possible orifice until their brains gel.

Insight into the flippancy that is Hollywood the Power Broker! Watching people like Amy Adams and Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell play this soft-shoe goofball show, and then in the little “Making of the Movie Vice” documentary (sic-infomercial) blathering on and on about the greatness of the script and every cog of the machine that churns out this pabulum, well, it steels me to continue my small-time, no-fame, big-effing-deal gig writing people profiles to bring some sense to a world captured by capital . . . idiocy!

Oh, how we fall in line. Over at Counterpunch, that cloistered world of writers has the countdown for 2018 — Best Films of the Year, as in the most conscious, socially (give me a effing break!) that is. Nothing in American society once it floats on the offal barrel is sacred, socialist, communist.

Peak TV is creating more opportunities for independent film directors, and for new stories to be told. More films from around the world are released on streaming every day, and Netflix spent an estimated 13 billion dollars on content just this year. More cash available can sometimes mean more stories by and about communities of color, women, transgender and gender nonconforming people, and other communities Hollywood has long ignored. But the movie industry is still primarily about making profit, and it’s main business is reinforcing the status quo, including churning out films that glorify capitalism, war, and policing.

Below are 2018’s top ten conscious films that made it through these barriers, plus twenty more released this year that you may want to check out.

[…]

Hollywood doesn’t have a great record in covering presidential politics (remember Kevin Costner in Swing Vote?). Vice, comedy director Adam McKay’s follow up to The Big Short, explores the Bush/Cheney presidency, attempting to make history and polemic accessible to a wide audience. It’s not as effective as his previous film, but it’s a good history, especially for those less familiar with the ins and outs of the early 2000s corporate power grab.

Lighten up already, many a friend and acquaintance tell me. “You are going to burn out like one of the bulbs you use underwater to do your night dives. Way too much shining the hoary light onto the more hoary caverns of American society. Let things go.”

Ha, well, how can we? We are entertained to death, as Neil Postman states:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we desire will ruin us.

This book [Amusing Ourselves to Death] is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

And so it goes, as I trail the acrid dust devil of injustice — my own and the veterans’ and families’ I helped just months ago in Portland as a social worker for, drum roll, homeless veterans (and some came with families, including babies and service dogs).

I’ve written about it here and elsewhere — the Starvation Army. The deceitful, unethical, possibly murderous Starvation Army. You see, where I worked, I had these insane Nurse Ratched’s lording over grown men and women treating them like criminals, and infantiles, and the constant berating and recriminations. It was anything but social work 101. Anything but trauma-informed care. Anything  but caring people, enlightened helpers; instead, think mean, warped people who within their own broken self’s, do all the wrong things for veterans.

I decided to jump ship, and, alas, a few lawyers advised me I couldn’t get far with a hostile workplace complaint until I went through the state of Oregon’s, Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) quasi-judicial pathway.

There was great harm put upon the veterans, great harm put upon the staff, because a director was all into herself and her self-described Jesus Saves bullshit, yammering on about her former  cocaine addiction and booze abuse and 350 pounds of flesh, as well as her own failings as a mother. This place has 100 people living in it temporarily, while Starvation Army receives taxpayer money, all part of the poverty pimping Starvation/Salvation Army’s SOP.

In the end, relying on idiots in any state bureaucracy to carry forth an investigation was not my idea of justice. I did my due diligence and filed grievances, first with the Starvation Army, and, then with BOLI. I contacted VA officials, state politicians, and the media. To no avail. They too are accomplices!

To make a long and stupid Byzantine story short, my prediction of zero assistance and zero admonishing from the state to the executive director and the higher ups of the Starvation Army played out. BOLI is a toothless and empty-hearted agency, staffed by soulless Little Eichmann’s counting their paychecks and amassing points to their state sourced pension fund.

I have moved on, as usual, and the injustice perpetrated upon me is minor in the scheme of things. The veterans, however, already foisted with trauma, PTSD, administrative rape, etc., are still vulnerable to the Nurse Ratched’s of the inhumane social services that serves (sic) non-profits and religious crime syndicates like the Starvation Army.

Here, “How the Salvation Army Lives Off (and thrives with) a Special Brand of Poverty Pimping”

Here, “Alcohol, Atheism, Anarchy: The Triple A Threat to the Pro-Capitalist Salvation Army”

Here, “Insanity of Social Work as Human Control”

I have since my departure been in contact with a few veterans, and talked a few off the proverbial ledge — several that wanted to off themselves because of the Nurse Ratched’s they encounter at the Starvation Army, in the VA, and in non-profits.  This is the reality, and it’s sick, in real perverted American time —  “Hundreds witness veteran shoot and kill himself in VA waiting room”

In December, Marine Col. Jim Turner, 55, put his service uniform on, drove to the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs, and shot himself outside the medical center, leaving a note next to his body.

This is Trump, this is Biden, this is Clinton, this is the lot of them, callous and broken capitalists, who have sold their souls to the devil and brains to Jeff Bezos, et al.
And it ain’t going to get fixed until we cut away the cancer. Really cut away, daily, in small acts of defiance, great collective acts of beating the system.
Not sure what that great director Ava Duvernay says about more and more movies like her 13th or this new Netflix mini-series on the Central Park FiveWhen They See Us will do to eventually get enough Americans (70 percent are racist to the core) to demand change in the criminal injustice system of private prisons, Incarceration Complex, Profitable Prosecutions. That all those cops, dailies, elites, deplorables, Trumpies, and Trump said terrible terrible things about these 5 juveniles, calling them animals, or super predators like the Clinton Klan, well, imagine, an insane 2016 runner for the highest crime lord position of the land, POTUS, Donald Trump, after these five men were released after all the evidence found them innocent, sputtering with his big fat billionaire’s fourth grader’s words that the Central Park Five are guilty, guilty, guilty.

The press coverage was biased. There was a study done by Natalie Byfield, one of the journalists at the time for the New York papers who later wrote a book about covering the case, and it saw that a little more than 89 percent of the press coverage at the time didn’t use the word “alleged,” that we had irresponsibility in the press corps at the time not to ask second questions and literally take police and prosecutor talking points and turn those into articles that people read as fact, and proceeded to shape their opinions about this case that essentially spoils the jury pool, so that these boys were never given a chance.

Trump’s comments in his ads that he took out in 1989 were taken out just two weeks after the crime was announced—they hadn’t even gone to trial, so it was impossible for them to have an impartial jury pool. The printing of their names in the papers for minors, and where they lived, was a jaw-dropper. All of this was done by “reputable” papers in New York that we still read, so I’m curious how these papers take responsibility for their part in this, and also possibly use this to review the part they play in other cases that may not be as famous as this.

Thus, she makes my case — the callous and racist and sexist and xenophobic US Press, and here we are today, 2019, enter Amusing Ourselves to Death and a Brave New World.

The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.

— Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, “Preface”

Alas, though, we have to keep those words coming, even sent to the great gray hearts and souls populating those state agencies whose workers are supposed to investigate the workplace safety concerns of workers, and are supposed to prevent workplace harassment.

I write to break through the fog, and to envelop a new way of seeing my world, for me and for the few readers that dabble in even attempting to start, let alone finish, these missives.

Huxley was right — ” Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.” Brave New World, “Chapter 4”

Between Yes and No, Heaven and Earth with Albert Camus on a Spring Morning

To give up beauty and the sensual happiness that comes with it and devote one’s self exclusively to unhappiness requires a nobility I lack. However, after all, nothing is true that compels us to make it exclusive.  Isolated beauty ends in grimaces, solitary justice in oppression.  Anyone who seeks to serve the one to the exclusion of the other serves no one, not even himself, and in the end is doubly the servant of injustice.  A day comes when, because we have been inflexible, nothing amazes us anymore, everything is known, and our life is spent in starting again.  It is a time of exile, dry lives, dead souls.  To come back to life, we need grace, a homeland, or to forget ourselves.  On certain mornings, as we turn a corner, an exquisite dew falls on our heart and then vanishes.  But the freshness lingers, and this, always, is what the heart needs.  I had to come back once again.

— Albert Camus, Return to Tipasa, 1954

For a writer to fight injustice to the exclusion of creating beauty and living passionately contradicts the deepest desires of the human heart.  Albert Camus taught us this.  The love of life must inform the rebel’s resistance to injustice.  “It seems to me that the writer must be fully aware of the dramas of his time,” he writes, “and that he must take sides every time he can and knows how to do so.”  But his refusal, his no, does not imply a renunciation but an affirmation, a yes, to the joy and grandeur of life that is everyone’s birthright.

This is the difficult way of true art – the rebel writer’s way – the tension that the writer must live with as he shuttles back and forth between one’s heart’s desires and his commitment to resist evil.  What is the point of fighting for a better world if one does not live as if that world were here now, and one’s living and writing were the revelation of that reality.  Camus somewhere said something to the effect that it is not your writings that I like, it is your writing.  He knew that we are always on the way, and our wayfaring should prefigure the enigma of our arrivals.

It is spring as I write and I am thinking of Camus when that exquisite dew fell on his heart that early morning. No doubt Albert felt a bit of heaven.  I’m feeling it now.  Spring, the time of the resurrection of the living dead.  All around new life bursts and blooms in wild array. A mountain stream races down the hillside, shouting its joy that the earth’s new warmth has freed it at last from its frozen sleep.  In the trees all around the birds have returned and sing exultantly of their homecoming.  Almost before our eyes the flowers push their way up to the light.  They have had enough of the underground, hungrily seeking the sun.  It is a beautiful dawn, and I can smell it.  I feel as though I have awoken from a long and deep sleep.  The morning star welcomed me. The sun rose majestically. And across my window three early flies jitterbug in the first light.  The whole earth is conspiring to explode with life and it is asking for our assent.

But dare the living-dead awaken?  Shall we say yes to this paradise?

“This day you will be with me in paradise.”  That’s what a man, convicted of crimes against the state and dying fast, once said.  Like most memorable statements, it is open to various interpretations.  But suppose, instead of offering one, we assume the existence of paradise, and ask a question that lurks unspoken and forbidden in every heart.

For there are some questions so obvious that we refuse to ask them for fear of having to answer.  To be asked such questions seems an impertinence, an insult to our intelligence, and an assault on our integrity.   Don’t be ridiculous, we think, though we don’t laugh.  Isn’t it obvious, we vaguely mutter, secretly knowing it is nothing of the sort.  We are caught off-guard, something we don’t do to ourselves.  Even our dreams escape us.  We prefer to live in the clouds.

But let’s be daring for once.  Let’s put aside all our usual lies and evasions and not be afraid of the truth.  Let’s ask ourselves a few very simple and annoying questions, the kind children ask their tongue-tied parents, and let’s not squirm away from answering.

What images of death do we live with?

Or, to put it another way, if you believe in life after death, what image of heaven do you entertain?  Not what do you think heaven is, but what do you desire it to be?  If you object and say you don’t believe in life after death, the question is still valid.  For we are, of course , here playing a game of the imagination.  You need only make believe, for the hell of it, that there is life after death. Or life before.

What would you like it to be?  Imagine.  What would you like this life to be?  Maybe that’s the real question.

The trouble with being born, of course, is that we are guaranteed to die and be aware of it most of our lives.  When it comes to dying, we have no choice; death is our fate and against it freedom is a meaningless word.  Living is another matter, though it is not something we generally give much thought, for we can choose not to live when breath is still ours.  We are free to wait lovingly for annihilation by patiently enduring our lives, or we can commit quick suicide.

We don’t have to live, but we must die.  In our bitterness we may curse the fact that we find ourselves alive in the world; we didn’t ask for it.  This is obviously true and equally meaningless. Once we find ourselves alive, death is our destiny, like it or not.  Whether life is a living hell for us or just a dull plod through the years – a “hanging in there,” in those unconsciously evocative words – we hold in our hearts, however buried, images of what we would like life to be like if it were eternal.

That is, we all live with images of paradise, no matter how beclouded or unarticulated they may be.

Now, as I wander out in the early morning lulled by birdsong, I wonder what these images consist of.  What, in our hearts’ desires, do we yearn to become?  What heavens do we wish to inhabit?

For we are now in the school of imagination, what John Keats called the vale of soul-making, and must, like children everywhere, answer the following: Imagine paradise, on earth or in heaven, and describe it in as few or as many words as you wish.  For future reference, learn your answer by heart.

Camus wrote:

Yes, nothing prevents me from dreaming, in the very hour of exile, since at least I know this, with sure and certain knowledge: a man’s work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the details of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

Yes, to open our hearts.  It is naïve, but not stupid.  It is disturbing.  It is surely easy to hide behind the word mystery, or cynically to reply that the world is what it is, a far cry from paradise, nor will it ever be, here or in some supposed hereafter, any different.  The former is the believer’s dodge, the latter the skeptical “realist’s” way of begging the question.  Both are phony.

Only as we become as little children can we enter into the kingdom of heavenly imagination, and it is the fear of ridicule, our own and others,’ that bars the gate.  It is obvious that what happens after death is a mystery.  Why we come and why we go is something that we’ll never know, all beliefs to the contrary.  We live by pure faith, though, as Thoreau noted, we are determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it.  Which we can’t, ultimately.  Knowledge fails.  And anyway, what we know and what we want are not the same thing.  The images of paradise we hold don’t illuminate death in the slightest; they do, however, enlighten our lives.  After all, it is living that is within our power.  We live in possibility.  If we wish to pursue the ideal images of our heart’s desires, we must first make manifest what they are.

What do you want?  I know it is not easy living with a deep but dark longing.  Perhaps it is the fear of disappointment that keeps us in the dark.  Why, when the whole earth rises toward the light, do we shrink back in fear?  Does beauty crush us?

I remember leaving my mother’s house to go to the hospital where my dear father had just died. It was 5:30 AM on the first of May. Stepping outside, the birdsong and flowering bushes illuminated by the rising sun staggered me. How could this be: life and death in one hour, one moment.  Where now was my father as his son walked through a garden of delight?  Where was that man whom I had kissed a few hours before?

What do I want?

Albert, you wondered too when you created your alter-ego Jacques Cormery in your novel, The First Man, and placed him at his father’s grave site.  It was just a novel, as they say, but you were there and said:

All that was left was this anguished heart, eager to live, rebelling against the deadly order of the world that had been with him for forty years, and still struggling against the wall that separated him from the secret of all life, wanting to go farther, to go beyond, and to discover, discover before dying, discover at last in order to be, just once to be, for a single second, but forever.

Just once and one time only.  Isn’t that it?  No reruns.  No playbacks.  One life.  Eternal.

Then what?

Perhaps our greatest fear is to passionately want something from life and death, “to go beyond” with Albert, to ask for something independent of society’s and others’ wishes, and to dare intuit it into existence.  Society drones: Don’t dare feel it, don’t dare say it, don’t ask for too much.  Narrow it all down, life is much too much, narrow it all down.

Sometimes I think that because so many people have meekly accepted this dictum that they are unconsciously in love with death, assuming that all their problems and the anguish of being placed between yes and no, heaven and earth will then cease.  Oftentimes I think that we are living in the age of nihilism that Nietzsche predicted long ago, a time in which the will to nothingness is most clearly expressed in the sterile pursuit and embrace of things, a “paradise” of consumer goods at the expense of livingness.

“I cling like a miser to the freedom that disappears as soon as there is an excess of things,” writes Camus, grasping in a few words a key link between a just and unjust world where most people are subjected to violence and degradation at the hands of the wealthy and powerful who seek to devour the earth.

Ah, but here we are walking in the spring sunshine, the time for resurrection and for truth.  The whole earth is rising beneath our feet. We can feel it.  The trees are budding forth and leaving toward the stars.  We can see them. We can smell the earth warming in the rising sun.  Perhaps like Camus, the spring smells seize us by the throat, and we find ourselves delirious with love and desire as “the gods speak in the sun and the scent of absinthe leaves,” as we wander through a reborn world.

So why don’t we say what we truly want?  Can we even imagine it?  Or is what we want so pathetic – more things, more money, anything to boost our egos and impress others, improve our appearances, elevate our social standing – that to admit it reveals the hollowness of our lives?  Are our desires so vague and culturally constricted that they must be repressed lest they make us realize how spiritually dead we are when all around us resurrection calls us to awaken to new life?

Suppose rather than hiding behind the lies and evasions that we use to divorce ourselves from the tree of life, we dare to speak from the indivisible root of truth and desire, or true desire, the eternal tree.  For to live truly and to die is to create out of that planting a full flowering, an exposed existence rooted in the earth and reaching to the stars.  Then, heaven will be our destiny, for it will proceed from our passions and usher in a glorious spring.

And yet, as Camus knew, our little imaginary heavens can lull us to sleep when world events call to us to rise up and say no.  Yes, but no, too.  Desire needs will to renew the world.  The lover who luxuriates in the spring sap rising must be a rebel.  “But the true life is present in the heart of this dichotomy….Life is this dichotomy itself,” he tells us.

To live authentically is to live between yes and no.

Dostoevsky, who shared with Camus the belief that we must rebel to save the world, had Karamazov rightly say that if all are not saved, what good is the salvation of only one?

To which he added: “Life is a paradise and we are all in paradise, but we refuse to see it.”

So it seems on this morning in spring as resurrection fills the air.  And even though this feeling will fade, Camus is right that its freshness will linger, an exquisite reminder of why we must rebel joyously.

You are right, Albert, “We must simultaneously serve suffering and beauty.”

A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

Special for Dissident Voice and LA Progressive, part of National Poetry Month, 2019

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I’m thinking a lot about creativity. About young people, 6 or 7 years of age, so ripe for learning and how we as mentors and teachers should not only respect how their inner voices count, but allow them that exploratory space.  Words as expressions of rebellion. Empathy. Rage. Regret. Laments.

Words, sold now as marketing tools, have less and less power as we have devolved into a country of business-speak, unheralded words of death-ray politicians, tweeting twats and Tweedledum’s and Tweedledee’s. Words even in creative writing programs are branded, marketed and sold as, hmm, a type of group think. MFA (masters of fine arts) programs are destructive to the outsider’s realm of seeing, hearing, touching and his or her own consciousness and subconsciousness.

Poetry, of all the practices, seems the least understood and many times destroyed the most by instructors and teachers attempting to over-analyze or over-classify what it is they think poetry – and a poet – is.

Here, early on, I’ll forward a big slash to the market of the MFA – creative writing programs, their in-house literary journals, and the bourgeoises siphoning off any remarkable revolutionary thought in creative writing.

Rebellion, and Nicaragua, and the Sandinistas fighting against the dirty and perverted capitalist dictator, Somoza. Here, first, revolutionary, Gioconda Belli.

What Are You, Nicaragua?

What are you—
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you—
a flight of birds
guardabarrancos
cenzontles
hummingbirds?

What are you
a roar of rivers
bearing polished, shiny stones
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you—
A women’s breasts made of earth
Smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you—
Singing of leaves in gigantic trees
Green, tangled and filled with doves?

What are you—
Pain and dust and screams in the afternoon
“screams like those of women giving birth”?

What are you—
Clenched fist and loaded gun?

What are you, Nicaragua
To cause me such pain?

Thinking like a kid is what the credo should be for adults, especially in this lobotomized world of consumption and endless war and digital dungeons. Dreaming like a child. Sketching worlds and fantastical dreams like a youth.

Instead, many MFA programs are like buttoned-down harbingers of the generalized professing: “Believe us professors and grad students as we are the key to creative writing, and do not stray, as we are the arbiters of fine arts, the word, poetry, life.”

John Steppling:

The practice of writing, the philosophy is, Firstly, a resistance to formulas and solutions. Writing and art pose questions, and if the mystery leaves the work, leaves the process, then usually, the work has died. Institutional forces demand standardized steps and conditions in their creative writing programs … because the institution knows, deep down, that art is there to destroy it. Even the word “creative” is probably suspect, but such are the conditions under which writing is taught. It is an intuitive and unconscious process, and even if done, for some film work, in partnership – it is still solitary.

One cannot write outlines and then follow them. This is what CPAs do, or insurance salesmen preparing their district conference sales quota speech. If one were to know where a narrative was going, one would have a stillborn project on one’s hands. The play or screenplay has within its narrative, an idea of itself. Narrative provides a space for character. The truth of a character is at once indelible and totally opaque. This idea is the reason, I suspect, we have art at all.

Art is not about communication, nor is it about moral instruction. It is about awakening. But it is also a discipline, and a practice. Those Neanderthal cave paintings, found in places where only one person might see them, at a time, is worth keeping in mind, at least when audience questions arise. You don’t write for an audience. Nor do you write for yourself. That is the paradox and the riddle.

Being able to recognize the truthful from kitsch is the basic foundation for starting on having a practice.

I’ve been a poet a long time, since, of course, virginal youth, and then into my teens, until death do me part. My journey has been, as Steppling states above (referencing story and play/screen writing), a series of awakenings.

The shadow of lamentations, too. Nothing heroic is happy and set upon a political or moral frame without first forcing us all to ask primal questions – questions about self in a world that’s insane. At least now, from pre-Industrial, or I imagine, starting with the ripping of tribal tides with so-called conquest societies, colonizers, we have to ask those age-old questions how to live through the mother and father haven been ripped up by superstitious and perverted religious and economic principles (sic). Insanity now, but our own relocation of the disconnected, by artists, is our sanity in an insane system, capitalism.

Words expressed – poetry – is the shaping of the amphora on the potter’s wheel. That wet healing clay, squished between fingers and synapses. The remarkable lifting of sediments from earth into the shape of creation, imagined first, then reimagined with each pump of the pedal of the wheel, each turning, each fingering and palming of clay into a work of art. Poetry.

National Poetry Month Poster 2019

This month, April, has been generally deemed as National Poetry Month. In the schools I’ve taught at. In some of the libraries I’ve perused, the posters and highlighted books are prominent. In many ways, pushing the word, and celebrating this form of creative expression is both herculean in the sense that almost everything in the USA has been co-opted by consumerism and blatant crass middling thinking and presentation; and it’s worthy of effort to have people leave the business world, the world of making money, into one of making stanzas. In addition, many slam poetry or spoken word events have been tied to the National Poetry Month, started almost a quarter of a century ago in the USA.

Here, National Academy of Poets has the month branded:

National Poetry Month each April is the largest literary celebration in the world, with tens of millions of readers, students, K-12 teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, bloggers, and, of course, poets marking poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.

While we celebrate poets and poetry year-round, the Academy of American Poets was inspired by the successful celebrations of Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March), and founded National Poetry Month in April 1996 with an aim to:

  • 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,

I’ve had some good opportunities to be around poets and live with them and their words. Heck, just a few weeks ago, here I was, in the Central Oregon coast, with Oregon’s Poet Laureate, Kim Stafford, whose own skin is tattooed with the words of his famous poet father’s literary gravitas – William Stafford. Here, my piece in LA Progressive and elsewhere, including the literary journal, Cirque“A Poet, the Pacific Flyway, and a Sonora Flash Flood Memory.”  And my poem about reconnecting to Stafford’s son, Kim, here on the Oregon Coast, a new home for me: “Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from ‘Oregon Trail’

Over the years I have front and center cajoled with poets, seeing myself as one of their peers while living in precarity and calling forth lamentations as a poet. It started seriously when I was an 18-year-old in Tucson hanging out with poets and fiction writers, as part of the University of Arizona’s poets/writers series. I used to hang out at and take classes in rooms at the Poetry Center at the U of A. I’ve helped out poet Richard Shelton with his writer’s workshop at the Arizona State Prison, and he wrote a book about his big project that involved many different cohorts and writers with some tough-living inmates: Crossing the Yard: Thirty Years as a Prison Volunteer.

Here I was, still a youth in 1975, when Shelton taught me in poetry classes and started his trips up to death row at the Arizona State prison. I got to be a part of that, Richard’s prison workshops. Not so ironically, shortly after graduating and becoming a journalist and part-time college faculty, I started incorporating that “prison workshop” ethos in so many other of my writing gigs with my own students in a federal prison, La Tuna, NM. I’ve done writing workshops, including poetry, with gifted and talented students in Austin, TX, and with gang-influenced youth in Segundo Barrio, El Paso. I’ve carried through with writing workshops in a life-long learning program at the University of Texas—El Paso, where I had, as an example of some of my students’ histories,  survivors of Dachau write about their lives, and women who knew Pancho Villa, and other interesting older folk, write poems while we worked on their memoirs. Writing workshops for just-released inmates in a homeless program in Portland, and writing projects with homeless veterans and their families, and poetry workshops for fourth graders, and more, have cascaded into my life.

Poetry teaching was always the razor edge way to get people to open up that creative and deeply drawn area of their humanity that is more etched with meaning than their own epigenetics or more fluid of their self-worth than the corpuscles flowing inside– the embedded humanity and horror of being alone in this world. Poetry, as Sapphire shows, can be triumph, momentarily, over evil and the scars evil produce in us all.

Here, though, some quick turn of words to express what poetry is from poets themselves:

Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before. —Audre Lorde

I grew up in this town, my poetry was born between the hill and the river, it took its voice from the rain, and like the timber, it steeped itself in the forests. —Pablo Neruda

Poetry is the lifeblood of rebellion, revolution, and the raising of consciousness. —Alice Walker

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

As a direct line to human feeling, empathic experience, genuine language and detail, poetry is everything that headline news is not. It takes us inside situations, helps us imagine life from more than one perspective, honors imagery and metaphor – those great tools of thought – and deepens our confidence in a meaningful world. —Naomi Shihab Nye

Luckily, Angie with Dissident Voice and Dick with LA Progressive and Hollywood Progressive are opening up the digital venues for my limited standing column (in the month of April), as a format for some musings and personal and monumental ideas around the power of the word, poetry. Call it a cry out for something more real than the echo chambers of modern America.

More real than all the stuff I end up writing about in LA Progressive’s Terminal Velocity – Man Lost of Tribe or for Angie at DV which usually is tied to the politics of negotiating our own humanity and community and self inside the war that is killer capitalism. The most creative and psychologically real and satisfying things come to me as people I’ve touched and who have touched me, and, of course, learning to think like a mountain, as Aldo Leopold calls it in his Sand Country Almanac – imagine the poetry in this excerpt by Leopold, one of the fathers of conservation and environmental sanity:

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.…I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea.

It’s not a quaint thing, this poetry. Actually, many people do write poems, and see themselves as poets. Really, not just MFA students or older ladies waxing religious rhymes, but plumbers, construction workers, nurses, bookkeepers, and every form of human life.

The poem is a distilled world, as Rita Dove says. Neruda also has it right – it’s where you are from, inside the body of the world, as in forests, oceans, inside rain: that’s the germination of a poem. And, poetry should be rebellious and about revolution as Alice Walker states, and lived, as she told me twice when I’ve been to her readings and workshops.  That poetry is a bridge over fears, as Lourde states, makes so much sense. Bridging humanity over the troubled waters of the inhumane.

The direct line to human feeling . . . . and making our lives deeper in confidence, so much so there is transformation, even for the oppressed and imprisoned, giving meaning in the world and life is meaningful, no matter the circumstance, as Shihab Nye states.

I remember talking with Czeslaw Milosz at a reading in Austin, Texas. I was trying to drill down what poetry was, how I could parachute into the lives of gang members, spooks (inhalers of volatile compounds like gasoline), homeless war vets, young adults with developmental disabilities, survivors of sexual assault and invoke some solid concepts on why the poem – no matter what form it takes – is what Naomi states: imaging life as it can or should be or is honoring the word and creative practice of language in the art of detailing.

He was near the end of his life when he told me, In reality, whatever the poet attempts to say, all words are a type of lamentation. Despair, maybe, colored by something else that pushes down the blackness of humanity in this age of destruction.  Something like that. He went deeper, though. As seen in this interview in the Paris Review:

Of course, it’s true that people talk too much and without restraint. But poetry imposes certain restraints. Nevertheless, there is always the feeling that you didn’t unveil yourself enough. A book is finished and appears and I feel, Well, next time I will unveil myself. And when the next book appears, I have the same feeling. And then your life ends, and that’s it.

Two poems by Czeslaw Milosz to start the month:

In Black Despair

In grayish doubt and black despair,
I drafted hymns to the earth and the air,
pretending to joy, although I lacked it.
The age had made lament redundant.

So here’s the question — who can answer it —
Was he a brave man or a hypocrite?

A Felicitous Life

His old age fell on years of abundant harvest.
There were no earthquakes, droughts or floods.
It seemed as if the turning of the seasons gained in constancy,
Stars waxed strong and the sun increased its might.
Even in remote provinces no war was waged.
Generations grew up friendly to fellow men.
The rational nature of man was not a subject of derision.
It was bitter to say farewell to the earth so renewed.
He was envious and ashamed of his doubt,
Content that his lacerated memory would vanish with him.

Two days after his death a hurricane razed the coasts.
Smoke came from volcanoes inactive for a hundred years.
Lava sprawled over forests, vineyards, and towns.
And war began with a battle on the islands.

Next: Poetry as environmental sanity and rebellion!

Orson Welles in End Times

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead is Morgan Neville’s not–very-helpful addition to the canon of “Who Was Orson Welles and How Did He Do It?” documentaries, of which I have already seen several, since I’m a fan. It didn’t make me particularly enthusiastic about The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’ simultaneously released final monsterpiece (42 years in coming!) which is the nominal focus of the documentary. The footage of Welles pastiching European New Cinema (which did a fine job all on its own) and somehow critiquing toxic masculinity by having John Huston chew scenery while slathering the bronze body of his talentless late-life muse Oja Kodar across the screen (talk about having your cake and eating it) and wasting the talented Susan Strasburg in a vengeful bitch-critic role left me cold and rather sad (in solidarity with critics, I suppose, and Antonioni, and the billions of women who may be any number of worthy things without ever being the muses of iconic film directors).

I may still go to see the film, out of completism, which for Welles fans is an exercise in frustration and almost Borgesian impossibility. Or maybe I’ll watch it on Netflix, since I assume my subscriber fees helped pay for it (both films are Netflix productions). As fans know, there’s usually at least one scene or shot in any Orson Welles film that actually makes you see in a new way, and that’s worth the price of many misfires.

The documentary is also full of baffling and irritating choices: why have Alan Cumming narrate, PBS style, but in various extraneous and tricksy settings, such as through a monitor in a faux editing room? Why shoot interview subjects side-on or over the shoulder—one of them, Henry Jaglom I think, even questions this on camera—or wearing headphones, in bled-out black and white? Why not identify any of them with title cards, at least once? Why are some only voiceovers, never seen at all?

Who knows? But if you have to ask, you’re being unnecessarily distracted from the subject.

Still, I’m glad I saw it; it gave me a lot of Welles to contemplate, and that caused me to reflect on the Greater Meaning of Movies. And this is because Welles was massive, iconic and chimerical enough to be a metaphor for the medium itself, during a time the cinema will not see again, for good or ill. He was like Prometheus, bringing fire to the masses, and condemned to exile and slow torture by the vengeful gods of the System for doing so.

Welles was also big enough to bookend High Anglo Culture historically: the artist most equal to the challenge of interpreting on stage or screen—in the final decades of unobstructed Anglo cultural dominance—the work of that foundational artist, Shakespeare, who literally reinvented our language in the incipient years of the empire, which, its life fatally extended by settler colonialism, and having linguistically and economically conquered the world, is finally on the knife-edge of ultimate decline. And Welles in turn gave us a new cinematic language for the story Shakespeare had mastered in that earlier time: the rise and fall of the Great Man.

It was sheer myth, what Welles created, what he seems to have lived for, myth in both the modern sense of fabrication, and the ancient sense of a story of cosmic significance. Twentieth century movies and movie-going were the first and last gasp of a universal secular mythology: once upon a time we went to temples to commune with gods, larger than life, made of light, who danced before us, or really forever just beyond, touching us without being touched. But they were also fictions, embodied by small (if pretty) actual humans wearing the giant masks of projection. And Welles, consummately among his peers, understood that in human life, duplicity and transcendence were inextricable. That’s probably why his masterpieces are masterpieces of surface, to paraphrase the late Pauline Kael (who apparently earned herself the Strasburg caricature in The Other Side of the Wind for this insight).

But now that the ending he wrote for his own story is at last before our eyes, both as document and as fiction, are we allowed to ask what it was all for? Not the quest for mythic expression, the creation of narratives of cosmic significance, which we will need as long as we remain human, but the particular myths, the stories, his own Promethean story—where do they fit in our contemporary psychic toolbox? Do they have the power to persist in the future as they have dominated the past?

Tragedy, the rise and fall of larger-than-life heroes, comes out of a culture of surplus, because the rise that precipitates the ruin is only possible where there is lots to gain. A culture that raises up Prometheus or Faust has the luxury of not needing to honor humility or resilience, because it has the resources to waste on great striving and great loss.

That seems unlikely to be the culture of the future.

In The Age of Derangement, Amitav Ghosh notes how ironic it is that, so far, only lowly genre fiction, and not much of that, seems able to grapple with what will likely be the defining phenomenon of our lives: the exhaustion of the biosphere and the chaos that will engulf us if we run it to death the way our ancestors ran down the mammoths. So-called literary fiction is obsessed with meticulously chronicling the phenomena and mapping the psychology of individual lives; so-called serious films may have extended their subject matter to include a bourgeois liberal embodiment of certain social issues in an individual’s story, but our culture’s back is turned when it comes to a situation so monstrous it requires nothing less than the mythic, the cosmological approach to storytelling.

And in that onrushing storm, the Great Man is lost and useless. The Great Man degenerates, as the Faustian bargain unravels, into a telegenic fascist, a blank-eyed billionaire eyeing only the next quarter’s returns, a slug-like Hollywood mogul strip-mining the humanity of naïve and vulnerable starlets. They aren’t even interesting villains, not a Hamlet or Macbeth or a Charles Foster Kane among them. All the while, a much bigger story, the story of how to survive and thrive in a living world, goes untold.

Peter Bogdanovich quotes Welles: “no story has a happy ending, unless you stop telling it before it’s over.” That’s a riff on Hemingway’s “every true story ends in death.” (Hemingway, possibly more than Welles himself, is the artist Huston is meant to be channeling in The Other Side of the Wind.) That’s the tragic view, and tragedy is an exclusive creation—one might say a self-fulfilling prophecy—of the boom-and-bust West. But comedy is universal, and survival is always comic, as the literary scholar and biologist Joseph Meeker (author of a seminal work of eco-criticism, The Comedy of Survival) reminds us. Comic heroes and heroines forgo transcendence for adaptation, fluid identity, minimization of risk and conflict. Their talent is a profound and sophisticated understanding of context, not a blind will to subdue the elements.

To make Welles’ late films and many others, lives were broken, bonds of friendship and love betrayed, chaos unleashed, all to chase some flickering remnant of magic that’s hailed as timeless even as it’s already fading back into all the other stories incessantly bubbling up, the rising din of billions who just got a toehold in modernity, and are only beginning to understand that their assigned job in it is to harvest the grapes of wrath. Magic forged in a privileged medium that won’t survive in any meaningful way in inundated cities, migrant camps, or vast resource-poor settlements where electricity has become an impossible luxury, won’t survive or have meaning in the sparkless eyes of the mechanical beings or burrowing animals that will haunt the ruins we’re rushing toward.

We murdered, we suppressed the age-old stories of connection to plants, animals, women, soil, one another. In one place on earth after another, the humble stories were displaced by Promethean pulp fiction, and now the price of that so-called progress may be the whole earth, and every living thing upon it. We may not even have Ozymandias’ “trunkless legs of stone” to gaze upon in a thousand years, much less the cinema of Orson Welles.

To avert this, sometime in the 21st century, during the lives of those now living or just being born, Prometheus must die, not merely be punished by serpents gnawing at his liver. He must die, or we will.

But for a little while longer, the shadows still dance before our hungry eyes, in lavishly restored Beaux Arts movie palaces like the Castro Theater, attended by the cultured and well-fed in the lucky rich cities like San Francisco, or in the booming multiplexes the slightly less felicitous drive to in their dinosaur boxes just off the life-abhorrent superhighways, or on the ever-smaller screens we’re increasingly encouraged to insert between ourselves and all innate perception, full stop. On those screens still flicker daily the stories of the Great (White) Men, their lushly violent dreams, their overweening, complex projects, their hapless, idolatrous muses—rising and falling like the stock market in speed-up, making us believe, in our timorous and misplaced awe, that when they finally fall for the very last time, our whole world goes down with them.

The Apocalypse Not Now

It was balmy and breezy by the bench where I sat outside a public library east of Atlanta, Georgia, brooding about the state of the world.  It seemed like the end times, and I had just attended a fire and brimstone sermon, not perused the mainstream and alternative press. I had just spent a few hours on the internet, noting so many articles that announced that the world as we know it was coming to an end, or maybe just the world.  The American Empire was collapsing, the U.S.A. was a failed state, climate change would soon destroy the world if nuclear war didn’t do it first, etc.  Many of these articles were predicting that soon the elites who run the U.S. would be getting their comeuppance because of hubris and overreach and, like the Roman Empire, the die had been cast and disaster was on the horizon.  Such prognostications were appearing in publications that covered the political spectrum.  All of it was fear-inducing, notwithstanding one’s political beliefs.  Left, right, and center had reasons to be depressed or elated by the claims, depending on one’s politics and existential reality.  And, need I surmise, the writers of these jeremiads were probably writing from a position of personal privilege, not scrounging for their next meal.

And it was a beautiful mid-October day.  The benches by the adjacent church were full of homeless people, their meagre belongings arrayed at their feet.  The susurrant sound of the leaves of the sycamore tree that formed a sacred canopy above me was lulling me to sleep.  In my half-asleep state, I, a northerner, was dreaming I was a Georgian civilian hiding behind the enemy’s lines, those lines being General Sherman’s Union Army’s artillery that was arrayed a few miles to my west and was shelling Atlanta.  And in this reverie I was also aware that, as I wouldn’t have been in 1864, that Sherman would soon leave Atlanta and lead his troops on the savage “march to the sea” that would earn him the appellation as the American father of total warfare that would become America’s tactic from World War I until the present day, a form of warfare that has brought apocalyptic death and destruction to millions around the globe.  Lost and frightened in this half-dreaming state with my eyes closed, I was startled by a thud and dim awareness of a shadow to my left.

Awakening, I saw that a homeless man had sat next to me. We said hello.  “Sorry to give you a fright,” he said, “but all the benches by the church are taken.”  We got to talking.  He told me that he had been homeless for almost two years, that he had originally been from Indiana, where he had graduated from the University of Indiana, and that when he was laid off he was unable to pay his mortgage and had lost his small house.  He looked to be in his late thirties, with a scruffy beard and a very tired face.  His name was Paul.

Among his tattered belongings, I was surprised to see an old paperback copy of a book sticking out of a side pocket of one of his bags.  I knew the title – Raids on the Unspeakable – by the anti-war Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, who died in a very mysterious manner in Bangkok, Thailand fifty years ago this December 10.  Merton’s death was the third that year of prominent and influential anti-war fighters:  Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy having earlier been assassinated by forces of the American national security state.  Nineteen sixty-eight had been a very bad year for peace and peace-makers.  It was a year of endless war and strife, a time when everything seemed to be collapsing.  And here we are.

Paul told me he had picked the book out of a box of books that had been set out for garbage pickup.  He said he had read a few of the essays and one in particular had struck him.  It is called “Rain and the Rhinoceros.”  I knew and loved the essay and was startled by the serendipity of our meeting.  He said the reason the essay struck home to him was because he had grown up on a farm in Indiana and had spent much of his youth outdoors.  He loved the natural world, and his mother and grandmother had early introduced him to the “Hoosier Poet,” James Whitcomb Reilly, whose poems he had memorized.  He proceeded to recite a stanza from one of them for me, as I, mesmerized, watched his expressive face light up.

Oh! the old swimmin’-hole! When I last saw the place,
The scenes was all changed, like the change in my face;
The bridge of the railroad now crosses the spot
Whare the old divin’-log lays sunk and fergot.
And I stray down the banks whare the trees ust to be—
But never again will theyr shade shelter me!
And I wish in my sorrow I could strip to the soul,
And dive off in my grave like the old swimmin’-hole.

Then his face grew dark again, tired and forlorn.  He said that when he lost his home, the last piece of mail he opened was his water bill, and it was sky high.  He thought it appropriate that since he couldn’t afford a home, he couldn’t afford water, the water of life that should be free.  And that’s what so resonated for him in the Merton essay.  Merton’s opening paragraph, which he opened to show me, goes like this:

Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.

“When they will sell you even your rain,” he said sadly.  “They sold me a bill of goods.  The American dream!  What a bad joke, here I am, a college graduate, not a drunk or drug addict, and I’m living in a tent in the woods in a ravine by a golf course.  Some nights I think they make it rain on me for fun, as if to say: here’s your free water, you loser.”

He asked about me, and I told him who I was and why I was there.  I mentioned the end-of-the-world articles I had been reading earlier, realizing as I did that I was saying a dumb thing to this this poor guy whose world was in tatters already.

Then he taught me this, as if he were Socrates asking questions.  I paraphrase:

If you were Merton’s “they,” those who rule the American Empire and your oppressed subjects were restless and awakening to their plight, what message would you want to convey to keep the peons from rebelling?  What strategies, short of direct violence, would be most effective in rendering even the relatively well-off middle class passive and docile?  What, in other words, is the most effective form of social control, outside economic exploitation and fear of penury, in a putative democracy when all the controlling institutions have lost the trust of most of the population?

Then, without skipping a beat, he answered his own questions.  You would, he said, tell them that the sky is falling, the empire is collapsing, that the rich rulers are going to get theirs when the system collapses on itself and that this is in the process of happening right now.  So sit back and watch the show as it closes down.  The end is near.

Then he said he had to go.  Lunch was being served at the nearby soup kitchen and if you didn’t get there early, they sometimes ran out of food.

As he walked away, I thought of my vast ignorance and the society of illusions and delusions that I was living in, a constant streaming theater of the absurd.  I wanted to cry for this man and all people, even myself, as he disappeared around the corner.  He seemed to carry his loneliness in the old backpack that weighed him down.  As he turned the corner, he looked back and waved, a smile on his face.  I felt overcome, and when I recovered my bearings, I noticed he had left the book on the bench.  But by then he was long gone.  I opened it to a page that was dog-eared, and read these words of Merton, another solitary man in the woods, his solitude a choice, not, like Paul, an imposed necessity, at least the living arrangement part:

It is in the desert of loneliness and emptiness that the fear of death and the need for self-affirmation are seen to be illusory. When this is faced, then anguish is not necessarily overcome, but it can be accepted and understood. Thus, in the heart of anguish are found the gifts of peace and understanding: not simply in personal illumination and liberation, but by commitment and empathy, for the contemplative must assume the universal anguish and the inescapable condition of mortal man. The solitary, far from enclosing himself in himself, becomes every man. He dwells in the solitude, the poverty, the indigence of every man.

Next to this paragraph was the word “Paul,” written in blue ink.

It was such an achingly beautiful day.  I got up and left the book on the bench, as I too walked away, after writing “Ed” in black ink next to Paul’s blue.

We are all bruised, aren’t we?  But often times those bruised the most have the most to give.

This is Paul’s gift.

True Heroes Don’t Die: Their Hearts Get Eaten again and again

Today’s hero in popular culture is a corrupted version of Milton’s Satan, a collaborator with the rigged game of a tyrannical God. His errors are the violations of God’s law, but God does not really mind since he knows that humans could never follow these arbitrary rules. Satan is God’s deniability.1

Shelley (and Mark Twain)2 recognized this and therefore sought a heroic character who does not pretend to compete with God and refuses to deny his alliance with humanity.

This mistake denies him a simple death and condemns him to the punishment of repetition.3 The inability to prevent the recurrence of history and all the pain this brings.

In Portugal, the parliamentary budget debates of the past years – at least as reported in the national media – gave more attention to the German finance minister (as representative of the richest EU state and the banks domiciled there, who are leading creditors to subordinate member-states like Greece and Portugal) than to the vocal complaints of Portuguese citizens.4 This is even more bizarre when considering the preliminary conclusions about the catastrophic fires in our country in 2017.5 For decades now we have been told that the failures, the mistakes, of European democracies (especially in Southern Europe) have been caused by the absence of heroic leadership (whether by individuals or parties). Such heroism would mean that elected representatives and governments would make the hard choices against the will of their electorates needed to remedy the “errors of fiscal irresponsibility” that are the cause of our misery. Of course, discretion or good taste impede calls for “heroic autocrats” these days.6 The “heroism” is supposed to be more anonymous and perhaps less accountable. This raises the questions of what are those “errors” and what “heroism” really means in this context.

1. The Portuguese national poet Luís Camões wrote a sonnet in which he says that he would have been ruined by “love alone” – his errors were incidental.7

Camões, however, was a pre-Revolutionary poet and we might assume that he was lamenting failed love, more than history. The point is that while all love fails—it is the pre-condition of humanity and therefore it is reborn.

  1. What does ERROR mean? ERROR can be best understood today as the inadequacy of the human individually, and as a species, to respond perfectly to the environment. Sometimes error or creativity is just what is needed by a stagnant culture. This is the central thesis of Morse Peckham’s Man’s Rage for Chaos.8 In this book, Peckham began to ask the question “whether there is a biological explanation for the arts?” Any answer to this question must begin with the fact that humans are born into a world in which they are dependent on others (in particular, adults) for food and protection for a rather long time compared to other animals. Furthermore, virtually everything humans do to survive must be taught and learned. And as anyone can observe it is virtually impossible to learn anything perfectly – so humans spend most of their time making “mistakes”. We have learned at least since the 19th century to distinguish between mistakes that are errors, mistakes that are crimes, and mistakes that are “creative”. Therefore it probably makes more sense NOT to ask “do we learn from mistakes?” but what do we mean when we say we have “learned” anything?
  2. Consider the meaning of “hero” and “heroism”. Heroism is a role.9 In Western culture the basic models for heroes are derived from interpreting classical Greek and Roman mythology. In fact Os Lusíadas, for which Camões is most famous, is also an explicit comparison with ancient Greek heroism. The hero, as we all know, is by definition an exception. Something she or he does has to be beyond what the majority do – otherwise it would be indistinguishable from the behaviour of that majority. If the majority follows conventional rules of behaviour, then heroism is and heroes are unconventional – that is to say first of all mistakes, failure for whatever reason to behave in accordance with conventions.

However the heroes of classical antiquity – at least as conventionally presented – were part of what might be called the divine universe. Their acts were mistakes – violations of the conventions among the deities, errors made by gods and demi-gods. Man was at best a conduit, not an agent. To the extent that heroism was relevant to humans it was by virtue of human submission to the gods. One of the best examples of this is the myth of Sisyphus.10

  1. Until the late 18th century this divine drama – at least in Europe had been transferred from the celestial to the terrestrial monarchical system. One can see this in the arts of the period. The transfer of divine law from the ancient gods, to the Church and then to monarchies, did not go unchallenged, as the English Civil War demonstrated. Milton defended his staunch republicanism by turning Satan into the hero of his Paradise Lost.

However by 1789, the convention of divine law – whether vested in the Church or in the monarch – was threatened by what turned out to be a major cultural crisis, but exploded in the French Revolution. Critics of the Revolution, both contemporary and since then have blamed the mass violence and wars triggered by the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy on a massive error: the belief that human equality and democracy could substitute for what was now called “natural law”. Opposed to this was a wide spread optimism that having swept away the obstacles of kings and priests, it would be possible to create a religion of humanity. In fact, in the first years of the Revolution there was a movement to reorganise religion in France by creating a cult with appropriate rites and festivals as a substitute for the Catholic Church. What is important here is that significant participants in the Revolution recognised that the abolition of the monarchy and the secularisation of the Catholic clergy were negative acts and that a culture, especially one undergoing change needs positive acts. So while opponents of the Revolution preferred to focus on violence and destruction, the most dedicated – in this sense, “heroic” – participants knew that a revolution had to be creative to survive. They had to be unconventional in the creation of new conventions.

Two major English poets were especially known for their support of the French Revolution. Both wrote works, which interpreted the heroic role and thus created new ideas of heroes and heroism. However, they came to disagree profoundly both on the consequences of the Revolution (in their day) and the meaning of heroes and heroism.

For purposes of simplification, there was a negative and a positive form of heroism. These were exemplified in the works of Byron (negative) and Shelley (positive).

Shelley introduced his positive hero by contrasting Prometheus with Satan, who was the hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost. In his introduction to the play Prometheus Unbound he wrote:

The only imaginary being, resembling in any degree Prometheus, is Satan; and Prometheus is, in my judgment, a more poetical character than Satan, because, in addition to courage, and majesty, and firm and patient opposition to omnipotent force, he is susceptible of being described as exempt from the taints of ambition, envy, revenge, and a desire for personal aggrandizement, which, in the hero of Paradise Lost, interfere with the interest. The character of Satan engenders in the mind a pernicious casuistry which leads us to weigh his faults with his wrongs, and to excuse the former because the latter exceed all measure. In the minds of those who consider that magnificent fiction with a religious feeling it engenders something worse. But Prometheus is, as it were, the type of the highest perfection of moral and intellectual nature impelled by the purest and the truest motives to the best and noblest ends.11

The hero imagined by Byron — today we still have the term “Byronic hero” – was very different. Although recognising that the conventional rules of behaviour were no longer adequate, the Byronic hero sees this as an individual error. In the end this error is incorrigible and can only bring death. The development of this conception of heroism can be seen in the four cantos of Childe Harold. In this narrative poem Byron effectively describes his transformation to an enthusiast of the Revolution to one who laments its failure and the defeat of Napoleon and finally resigns to death in the belief that the Revolution was futile, pointless, that nothing can be changed.12

Shelley completely opposes the view Byron espouses in the Canto IV.

To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite; To forgive wrongs darker than death or night; To defy Power, which seems omnipotent; To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
 From its own wreck the thing it contemplates; Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent; This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
 Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free; This is alone Life, Joy, Empire, and Victory.13

  1. A century ago another revolution shook and shocked the West – the October Revolution. It too was a signal of the crisis and an attempt to transcend it. Again the roles of heroism had to be reinterpreted. The reaction to the October Revolution was at least, if not more, violent (because of technological developments) than that triggered by the French Revolution.

The negative heroism (Byron) became violently opposed to the positive heroism (Shelley). Attempts to understand this conflict have been distorted by what can only be called a sloppy use of the terms and an even sloppier explanation of the forces and political entities involved. For example whereas the history of the period from 1917 until 1945 was seen as a collective struggle for socialism in Russia and wherever it was supported in the world on one hand. The alternative explanation has been that the struggle has been for individual liberty. Thus the hero in the West ostensibly fights against all forms of social control, which inhibit his individualism. The hero in the “East” on the other hand fights for the integrity of the society and the strength of collectivity.

The principal theorists of what might call Byronic heroism in politics were Isaiah Berlin in Britain and Leo Strauss in the US.14 The complement to this Byronic form of politics has been an economic doctrine called the Austrian School15 but also neo-liberalism. There was a negative reaction to the French Revolution, which only saw the violence and the anarchy. And there was the negative reaction to the October revolution in the 20th century. Strauss and Hitler were right in line in hating communism. So was Churchill. Berlin too. They hated the optimism and hope of the October revolution. They had to worry about their own masses, who wanted to be free and to benefit from their own labour.

In fact, after 1945 it was still communism/socialism, which enjoyed the enthusiasm of most of the masses in Europe and rest of world. Contrary to the images created by Hollywood, most people in Europe knew that it was the Soviet Union that had defeated Hitler’s empire and communists who had been the most disciplined resistance to fascism in the occupied territories. 70 years later the record is public about how much money and political pressure the US had to devote to persuade Europeans not to vote for the optimism of the October Revolution.16

  1. In 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it the so-called “socialist bloc”, left the West with what might be called a “Byronic victory”. Ostensibly this has been the triumph of the individual over all forms of collectivity/disparagingly called “collectivism”. But what does that really mean? What is the actual end of Byron’s notion of heroism and its derivatives “negative romanticism” and negative liberty?
  2. The apparent victory of negative heroism has actually left us with the death of value. The hero’s acts are violent, fervent and ultimately futile – and what is worse, he knows it and accepts the destruction as the price.

This was an answer by those for whom the revolutions had failed and although revolt may have been inevitable, in the end it was necessary to admit that “god was right”, “monarchy was best” and “humans are incorrigible”.

The consequences of this collapse could already be seen in the ascendancy of Austrian/neo-liberal economic doctrines beginning in the 1970s. This was coupled ironically with an abandonment of any pretence that democracy – in the sense of popular rule for the general welfare – was an acceptable social system. This is ironic because from 1945 until 1974, nearly the entire world was engaged in struggle to obtain the promises of democracy whether that inspired by 1789 or by 1917. Just when more countries became independent than at any time in history, democracy and a social state were abandoned as the primary model of political-social order. The hero in all of this was the entrepreneur or politician or even military officer who was willing to take the hard decisions needed to suppress popular, democratic aspirations for the sake of the supreme human objective of personal profit.

Despite numerous economic crises, not to mention endless wars, there is still a widely propagated belief that the problems will be solved by more heroism, negative heroism that is. The heroes in our society are supposed to act deliberately against their own interests or against the interests of those they ostensibly represent. This is the Byronic heroism which if carefully analysed can be seen as the font of nihilism – not creativity or humanity. The Byronic hero has resigned to defeat, accepts the world as hopelessly corrupt and therefore the gods/ potentates as the least possible evil. It is the heroism of suicide.

In fact, many ordinary people resist this kind of heroism because it is obvious that it is a death wish.

The contrast to this heroism is positive heroism that for purposes of simplicity can be identified with Shelley – in particular, Shelley’s reinterpretation of the Prometheus myth in his dramatic-lyric poem Prometheus Unbound. This enigmatic poem is a deliberate response to Byron’s underlying nihilism. It poses the conflict between individualism and society as a pseudo-problem – one created by subservience to the gods. In other words he says that the game between god and man has been rigged and there is no way out except to stop playing on god’s terms. It is god (the gods) who creates the conditions under which man is opposed to himself and to his fellow creatures. The individual that Byron described and supposed he lived was a product of his desire to be reconciled with authority to be happily submissive. Shelley’s Prometheus refuses to play god’s game. In doing so he becomes emblematic for the refusal to be divided and exploited by the gods.

Shelley’s freedom is exactly Berlin’s positive liberty – the ability to create one’s own systems and structures or what is generally called in political science self-determination. Negative liberty, which Berlin from his sinecure at Oxford espoused as the only defensible form, is merely freedom with in a system one cannot change, as freedom to buy and sell in the free market or capitalism.

In Act IV, Shelley does not describe a utopia – a nowhere in which there is nothing to do and all questions are answered, all problems are solved. That is the usual opposition to the vision of Shelley and the positive Romantics or the committed revolutionaries of 1789 and 1917. Instead Shelley shifts from a drama in which Prometheus has had to deal with his oppressor and tormenter as punishment for bringing man fire (knowledge), to Prometheus as the emblem of all human potential when knowledge is attainable by all and can be used to live in the world. The meaning of the heart that grows back each time it is consumed is precisely the opposite of Byron’s song of futility in Childe Harold. It is the heart – the love of man – that is renewed in the struggle to live and use the knowledge attainable. Prometheus has not sacrificed himself. It is not a Christian parable because Shelley’s Prometheus is not a surrogate – he is everyman, unmediated in life itself and without god or any other tyrant to dominate him. Prometheus is not everyman as an individual. One ought perhaps to say Prometheus is only comprehensible as Man or Humanity. The liberal individual of the Enlightenment was the imitation of god, god the autocrat, the tyrant. Shelley believed that this individual was an insidious fiction – and for humanity a very destructive fiction.

From 1789 until 1918 the key social event for humanists was the French Revolution. From 1918 until 1989 the key social event was the October Revolution. The October Revolution magnified the French Revolution to a global scale. 1989 can be seen as the final collapse of the French Revolution as the central ideal of what is paraded as “Western humanism”.

Of course that does not mean that the ideals of the French Revolution and October Revolution were extinguished, only that the potential of Western states to promote humanism in whatever form collapsed.

One of the reasons for this collapse can be seen in the prevalence of what has been called “negative Romanticism” and its negative (nihilistic) hero. Nietzsche anticipated this, essentially arguing that the Byronic hero – the possessive individual (in the sense of defined by property, rather than humanity) – was a destructive ideal. In that sense Nietzsche did not promote fascism, as is often supposed – although his sister did – but prophesied its destructive power.

The October Revolution globalised the French Revolution and it was met by globalised fascism leading to the Second World War, which was an even more violent reaction than the wars against Napoleon. Although the Soviet Union, led by its own Napoleonic figure in the form of Stalin, was able to defeat the centre of European fascism, it was only at the cost of a kind of “Congress” solution in 1945 with the NATO under US dominance emerging as the power to isolate the Soviet Union and prevent the expansion of the ideals of the October Revolution.17

WWII destroyed European control over its empires and ironically magnified the influence of the Soviet Union beyond its own ambitions for change in the world system. Thus from 1945 until 1975, revolutions continued to threaten the new “Congress” dispensation.18

By 1989, however, the Soviet Union was exhausted and so were all the countries that had struggled to become independent based on the ideals of 1789 or 1917.

1989 marked what must unfortunately be seen both politically and economically, but also socially and ecologically, as the consequences of the “negative liberty”, negative heroism, and above all the nihilistic response to the French Revolution – a return to divine despotism and clerical domination.

“Heroism” is by definition an act that violates convention, an error – at least in the eyes of those who feel compelled to follow conventional rules of behaviour. That heroism is an exception. So how can human society be organised “heroically” when that would mean constantly violating any conventions – any rules that might be agreed for the benefit of human life?

The hero as we have learned to appreciate him has always been a part of the deity – his violations were always within the confines of what the gods decreed – and priests interpreted.

For Shelley there were no gods. Prometheus joined the human condition, the human species. He took fire to share with humanity. He did not bring divine perfection—the gods were never perfect either. Shelley’s Prometheus was chained to the Earth like humans are as a species. In his view the renewing heart, is not a brief illusion.

However the potential of positive heroism has not been exhausted. It has merely lost its historical agents. Prometheus has had his heart consumed and now must bear its slow but sure replacement.

  1. Plausible deniability is a concept attributed to the US national security policy to characterise the imperative of covert action. The principle is simply that any covert action should only be performed if, should it be exposed, it is possible to deny official responsibility for the action. Then CIA director William Colby explained the doctrine as understood by the Agency in hearings before the so-called “Church Committee”, (US Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with respect to Intelligence Activities) on 16 September 1975.
  2. Mark Twain (1909/1962) Letters from the Earth. Twain’s satirical treatment of the Creation is presented in the form of correspondence between Satan and his heavenly brethren, the archangels.
  3. Another version of this article was delivered at the VI Conference of CITCEM, University of Porto, expected publication in 2018. The conference theme was derived from the Camões Sonnet No. 193.
  4. At the time, the German finance minister was Wolfgang Schäuble (from 2009-2017) Schäuble has been a CDU member of the German federal parliament since 1972, the longest serving active member of the party that has dominated German politics since 1949.
  5. 2017 there were massive forest fires throughout central Portugal. In one notorious case, Pedrógrau Grande, many people were burned alive in their cars as they tried to escape via the few roads in that rural area. Preliminary investigations showed that aside from the natural conditions conducive to fires, the failure to invest in training and equipment for local forest management and fire departments and the chronic neglect of the rural areas by national government aggravated the damage immensely.
  6. Portugal’s autocrat (1928-1968), António de Oliveira Salazar was initially invested with wide powers as finance minister on the pretext that courageous fiscal authority was needed to save Portugal.
  7. Camoes, Luís. Erros meus, má fortuna, amor ardente Sonnet CXCIII (My errors, cruel fortune and ardent love, trans. Richard Zenith, 2006.)

    Erros meus, má fortuna, amor ardente/
    em minha perdição se conjuraram;/
    os erros e a fortuna sobejaram,/
    que para mim bastava o amor somente.Tudo passei; mas tenho tão presente/
    a grande dor das cousas que passaram,/
    que as magoadas iras me ensinaram/
    a não querer já nunca ser contente.Errei todo o discurso de meus anos;/
    dei causa [a] que a Fortuna castigasse/
    as minhas mal fundadas esperanças./

    De amor não vi senão breves enganos./
    Oh! quem tanto pudesse que fartasse/
    este meu duro génio de vinganças!/

  8. Peckham, Morse. Man’s Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior and the Arts, (1965).
  9. Carlyle, Thomas. On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, (1841), James Fraser, London. All societies set up heroes who embody their values. Heroes are essentially a religious way of looking at life. Jesus is a hero, too. Prometheus is a type of Jesus.
  10. Camus, Albert (1955) – The Myth of Sisyphus (first published in French in 1942).
  11. Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1927). Complete Poetical Works. Published by Oxford University Press. London, p. 201.
  12. Byron, George Gordon (1936). Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and other Romantic Poems, Published by Doubleday. New York, p. 173. For example, Stanza CV (Canto IV):

    And from the planks, far shatter’d o’er rocks,/
    Built me a little bark of hope, once more/
    To battle with the ocean and the shocks/
    Of the loud breakers, ad the ceaseless roar/
    Which rushes on the solitary shore/
    Where all lies founder’d that was ever dear/
    But could I gather from the wave-worn store/
    Enough for my rude boat, where should I steer?/
    There woos no home, nor hope, or life, save what is here/.

  13. Shelley, p. 264.
  14. Berlin, Isaiah (1958) Two Concepts of Liberty. Leo Strauss was a German-American political philosopher and proponent of “natural law” doctrine, who while a professor at the University of Chicago has been credited as the intellectual mentor for what is called in the US “neo-conservatism”. Although Berlin is often considered a “liberal” whereas Strauss is considered a conservative/ reactionary, a principal historical motivation in both is their venomous reaction to the Russian Revolution.
  15. The Austrian School of economic dogma. Its most notorious contemporary propagandist was Milton Friedman. However Friedman was simply a populist acolyte of the economic theorists who were spawned in the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and after WWII found their home in the United States, many of whom gave birth to what was known as the “Chicago School” since it was spawned at the University of Chicago (along with a host of unsavoury German-speakers from north of the Salzach river).
  16. Agee, Philip/Wolf, Louis (1978) – Dirty Work: The CIA in Western Europe. Lyle Stuart and Dorset Press. New York,  This is just one of several books/collections which drew attention to the covert operations of the US government to manipulate elections throughout Western Europe after World War II, principally to prevent popular European communist parties from winning elections.
  17. See NSC-68, promulgated in 1947, this policy document defined the US national security strategy and objectives. It remained classified until the late 1970s.
  18. Of the three key US diplomats of the so-called Cold War era, Dean Acheson, John Foster Dulles, and Henry Kissinger, it is telling that Kissinger’s academic focus was on the political order created by the reactionary Congress of Vienna, designed to suppress democratic and revolutionary movements after the defeat of Napoleon.

Drawing Straws: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for an American to understand the truth

In a sense, blowback is simply another way of saying that a nation reaps what it sows. Although people usually know what they have sown, our national experience of blowback is seldom imagined in such terms because so much of what the managers of the American empire have sown has been kept secret.

It is time to realize, however, that the real dangers to America today come not from the newly rich people of East Asia but from our own ideological rigidity, our deep-seated belief in our own propaganda.

― Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, Second Edition: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire

There are no more leaps of faith, or get out of jail cards left anymore.

The first casualty of war is truth.

Lofty heights of defining the first amendment are just overlooks onto the crumbling mythology of a democracy, where the people – citizens — vote for laws directly. We have a republic, a faulty one, the source of which is the power derived from billionaires, financiers, arms merchants, K-Streeters and the attendant moles allowing the government to break every charter of human concern.

So, in that regard, we in this corptocracy have the right to be fooled every minute, suckered to not know a goddamned thing about democracy in big quotes.

The very concept of manufactured consent and a controlled opposition destroys much of the power of agency and so-called freedom of assembly, association and travel.

The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.

― Noam Chomsky, The Common Good

The best way to control the opposition is to lead it ourselves.

― Vladimir Lenin

But, alas, we have blokes who see the world not as a black and white dichotomous illusion of the for v. against bifurcation, but a world of flowing back to what words should mean, a world that allows the filters to be smashed like high polished glass and instead deploying a magnifying glass to point toward the very source of the blasphemies and strong arm robberies that have been occurring in the Republic the very first moment the beaver hat was put on and the first treaty scripted by the powdered wigs of Washingtonian Fathers and broken, ripped to shreds, seeded with the dark force that is the white race.

Here comes Tools for Transparency into the mix of triage to uphold the declaration of independence, and the few tenets of the constitution that are supremely directed to we-by-for-because of the people, AND not the corporation, monopoly, Military-Retail-Finance-Ag-Energy-Pharma-Prison-Medical-Toxins-IT-Surveillance-Legal Complex. This project is the brainchild of a former Marine who “came to life late in the world” of pure skepticism about the powers that be and his own questioning of the motivations and machinations of his government and political representatives. Sometimes it’s hard to don and doff the uniform of a trained/manipulated/choregraphed killer and make any sense of the orders belted out and campaigns designed with no benefit to the invaded peoples other than the demented good (bad) for that gluttonous octopus parasite called capitalism as it entangles its tentacles on each invaded country’s birthright, history, natural resources, land and people through the power of the high explosives bomb and the usury bond.

“Heck, before starting this project, I didn’t even know we had 535 representatives in Congress,” states Brian Hanson.

So goes the beginning of this start up, Tools for Transparency, an on-line clearing house for what Hanson hopes will be a light shed onto all the backroom dealings we as consumers of news just aren’t privy to. Or that’s at least what Brian Hanson is shooting for in this atmosphere of “fake” news, “really fake” news, “non” news, “no” news, “distracting” news “manufactured” news, “rabbit hole” news, “lies are truths” news, or newspeak.

The Beaverton, Oregon, resident is the father of this platform which is still in its infancy, as the former Marine throws his all into the project.

The 37-year-old Hanson is a Pacific Northwest product, having dropped out of traditional high school and landing up in an alternative high school where the instructors were outside the box. He recalls reading Shakespeare, doing two weeks of study on the Nez Perce peoples, and a class report on the Battle of Wounded Knee. With gusto, he told me that his class made a video of the trail of tears and presented it to the local Shriners.

For this father of a special needs daughter, he easily lets roll off his tongue, “black sheep,” both an emblematic moniker and symbolic of his travails, having stuck with him throughout his life, from high school, to the Marines (“where I learned to get responsible”) to today: divorced, single dad, precarious income stream. On top of that, he’s living in his elderly parents’ garage/converted small studio apartment.

After the Marines, where he specialized in communications, and field wiring, he worked on a community college degree, eventually ending up with a BA from Portland State University in psychology.

The disciplines of cognitive behavior therapy and behavior analysis “got to me” first in college, initially through the inspiring teaching of a San Bernardino community college instructor who helped the young Hanson stick it out after Hanson smashed up bones in a motorcycle accident: a spill that caused him to miss half the classes. This faculty member went the extra mile, Hanson says, allowing him to do outside work and test make-ups.

I was fresh out of the military and had no idea what I was doing. This professor missed dinners with his family, missed his kids’ recitals, to allow me to make up tests. . . . I’ve been a lifelong feminist because of this man, who instructed me on his own philosophy tied to feminism. I never had a male role model like that before.

Hanson kicked around, came back to Beaverton, worked with developmental disabled youth and then foster youth, where I met him when we were both case managers for 16-to 21-year-old foster youth.

We talk a lot about consumable information, as Hanson explains his gambit with his new information web company. It’s an age-old conundrum, what George Lakoff puts down as narrative framing. That was a big issue in the Bush Junior (W) election cycle, how born-with-a-silver-spoon George W had snookered Joe Six-Pack and NASCAR country with his Yale education, dicey National Air Guard record and Bush’s rich charmed life, getting a professional baseball team (Texas Rangers) as part of the family bargain.

The illustration is dramatic to both Hanson and myself, as we talked about Mad Men, the Edward Bernays and Milton Friedman schools of propaganda, framing stories (lies) and setting out to paint good people as bad, heroic politicians like Salvador Allende of Chile as Commie Baby Killers. Even now, Bush, the instigator of chaos in the Middle East, with all the cooked up lies and distractions of his own stupidity (like Trump), and, bam, W is reclaimed (in the mainstream mush media) as something of a good president, and especially by the likes of the Democratic Party misleadership. Bush, millionaire, entitled, crude, racist, and, bam again, we have dirt poor kids from Appalachia or Akron joining up through the economic draft of standing down the armies of burger flippers to fight illegal wars, and then to come home creaking decrepit shells of their old young selves to fight for oil and geopolitical checkmate brinkmanship of the World Bank and Goldman Sachs order. Here we have an old Connecticut political family, from Prescott Bush, putting the grandson out on tens of thousands of acres of scrub brush near Waco, Texas, with 4×4 hefty pick-up trucks and chainsaws (George is deathly afraid of horses), and we’re all good to call him a man’s man, roughing it West Texas.

Honest George or Rough-rider Teddy or Ahh Shucks Reagan, Yes We Can/Si Se Puede Obama, One Thousand Points of Light Bush Sr., Make America Great Again Trump — the news isn’t the news, and patriotism is the graveyard of scoundrels and their bromides.

A huge turning point for Brian was this last election cycle, with Trump getting guffaws and trounced in the court of public opinion as a wimp, liar, cheat, misogamist, racist, buffoon, narcissist, from people all over the political spectrum, during the beginning of the election cycle. But then once Trump got in, family feuds and friendship breaks occurred: “How was it that this relationship I had with a male buddy, a true friend, going on 27 years, just gets dumped because I was questioning Trump as a viable candidate and questioning his integrity?”

The age-old battle – turning blue in the face trying to explain to a friend, or anyone, that candidate x is this and that, based on the historical record. In Trump’s case, there is a long written, legal, quotable/citable record of this guy’s dirty dealings, bad business decisions, his lechery, racism, sexism, blatant unmitigated arrogance, criminality. For Hanson, it’s a no-brainer that anyone in their right mind might question Trump’s validity and viable character when he threw his toupee into the ring.

A great friend just dropped Brian. Took him off social media, stopped socializing, screen to black, and this broken friendship was racing through Hanson’s mind because of the new normal: the targeted toxicity of social media feeds, and the social and psychological conditioning which this huge chasm between red state/blue state ideology has meted out to an already bifurcated flagging American consumerist society.

Even having a respectable, clean and thorough debate about Trump is almost impossible, Hanson said while we talked over beers at the Yukon Bar in Sellwood. This huge cultural divide exists as far as individuals’ skills sets and critical thinking skills. The more technical the stuff like climate change or the deep state military industrial complex, people’s world views get challenged. They just don’t have the tools to dig deep into a bill passed (and endorsed) by their local representatives.

Again, “consumable” as a tool to enlightenment or at least knowledge comes up in our conversation, and Hanson has done the following thought experiment literally hundreds of times – “I hear an opinion in the news – FOX, MSNBC, the Young Turks – and I can spend four hours digging up truths, and how that opinion got to us.” What he’s found is the consumable stuff the typical news consumer gets is absolutely counter to the reality of that news’ origins, facts and context.

His Tools for Transparency cuts through the opinion, and as he proposes, makes the world news and the even more Byzantine and elaborate proposed legislation and lobbying groups behind “the news” approachable, again, consumable.

He taps into his college days taking courses in industrial organizational psychology, seemingly benign when the American Psychological Association gets to mash the term into a three-fold brochure by defining it for prospective students as business as usual for corporations, and humanity is better because of this sort of manipulative psychology, but . . .

In reality, it’s the science of behavior in the workplace, organizational development, attitudes, career development, decision theory, human performance, human factors, consumer behavior, small group theory and process, criterion theory and development and job and task analysis and individual assessment. It’s a set of tools to keep workers down spiritually and organizationally, disconnected, fearful, confused and ineffectual as thinkers and resisters, and inept at countering the abuse of power companies or bureaucracies wield over a misinformed workforce.

The shape of corporations’ unethical behavior, their sociopathic and the draconian workplace conditions today are largely sculpted and defined by these behavior shapers to include the marketers and the Edward Bernays-inspired manipulators of facts and brain functioning. This begs the question for Hanson, just what are today’s hierarchy of needs for the average American? Physiological; Safety; Love/Belonging; Esteem; Self-Actualization.

Of course, Maslow added human’s innate drive toward curiosity. Ironically, the lower scaffolds of the pyramid are deemed primitive – eating, sleeping, drinking, as are the safety needs and social needs such as friendship and sexual intimacy. In one sense, we see it played out – one cannot philosophize on an empty stomach and for Aristotle, his observation is prescient – ‘all paid work absorbs and degrades the mind.’

Hanson and I talk about the existential threats of climate change, terrorists, war, and our own mortality. We are in that hyper-speed moment in history when technology changes at breakneck speed, and disruptive technologies’ create disruptive economies which in turn give us disruptive communities.

We are avoiding the inevitability of collapse, peak oil, peak everything, so we construct comforting (read: dopamine-triggering and sedating) realities, tied to bourgeois values, consumeristic habits, customs, degraded culture, moral codes that are antithetical to our own agency, and, then, religious fervor.

Hanson states:

How do they get us to take actions against our beliefs? This conditioning now is based on not just ‘buy my product’ to attain unattainable standards. Today, we, as a society, are terrified if we can’t attain that level of status or standard,

Hanson’s singular (one of several) bottom lines is that his Tools for Transparency has to find a way to be consumable, and a second one Hanson repeats posits the solutions to our problems have to be profitable: “How can he create a market for alternative information profitable?”

Tools for Transparency uses the platform Patreon, founded five years ago as a platform that allows patrons to pay a set amount of money every time an artist creates a work of art. Hanson’s web site and service, then depends on loyalty, fee-paying patrons.

The result thus far for Hanson is nascent, but growing. I asked him how his daily routine tied to this dream can be synthesized in a nutshell:

My daily routine is actually starting to wrap up at this point, it has never been very consistent as a single start-up founder anyways. For the most part my site is not sophisticated enough to continue in perpetuity yet. Too many requirements for data and input that cannot be done on a static basis. So I am mostly working on a static prototype I can display, build an audience with.

For the most part I have been diving headfirst into legislative bulk data sets. Making connections between publications, finding creative ways to link (intentionally I think) differently formatted data together. Working to construct cohesive and understandable information. When I get tired of staring at data sheets, I will work to develop relationships with business people, work on marketing techniques, reaching out to colleges and programs, learning about business development, corporate securities, federal regulations pertaining to my business, or some general outreach (mostly family right now, you’re the first real contact outside my main family I am working with). There really isn’t anything routine about what I am doing, because it is mostly just me and a single developer friend working on the site.

We talked about other issues tied the militarization of society, and I posed some long-winded questions cut and pasted below:

1. What makes what you are doing relevant to the click bait/screen addicted generation?

2. You say you were terrified for the lives of the family members, the country. Blacks and Hispanics tell me that finally, the whites get what we have been experiencing for decades, since the beginning of the country. Speak to that reality. This has been and is a white supremacist country, and with that operating procedure/system, poor people, disenfranchised people, people of color especially, are on the chopping block for those white elitists and the militarized mentality of law enforcement and even our daily lives as a renter class.

He and I talk much about Black Lives Matter, and why this new movement is relevant in 2018 as it would have been in 1950 USA or 1850 America.

And I do not for a second believe it has ever not been exactly this way. Every regime has to have a solider class that it uses to enforce the social hierarchy. And the solider class is always expected to use violence to enforce ideology. The threats are always transient, ever shifting, but the response is doggedly the same. Authoritarianism flourishes in this environment, we sacrifice freedoms for security, and our world shrinks a little more.

Brian believes there is an awakening today in this country, and that the examples of movements such as those in Portland where youth are out yelling against the police state, and then how we are seeing individual officers returning firing with violence against those youth:

The viral video of an officer drawing his pistol on a group of school age children is terrifying.

We talk a lot about the devaluing of language and intentional discourse which includes the abilities of a society to engage in lively and cogent debate. For me, I know the forces of propaganda are multi-headed, multi-variant, with so much of American life seeded with lies, half-truths, duplicitous and twisted concepts, as well as inaccurate and spin-doctored history, which has contaminated a large portion of our society, up and down the economic ladder, with mind control.

Unfortunately, our language now is inextricably tied to emotions, as we see leftists (what’s that?) and so-called progressives screaming at the top of their lungs how Trump is the worst president ever. Black so-called activists, journalists, stating how the empire (sky) is falling because Trump talked with Putin. Imagine, imagine, all those millions upon millions of people killed because of all the other presidents’ and their thugs’ policies eviscerating societies, all those elections smeared, all those democracies mauled, all those citizens in the other part of the world hobbled by America’s policies, read “wars, occupations, embargoes, structural violence.” It is a daily reminder for us all that today, as was true yesterday, that we are ruled by masters of self-deception and our collective society having a feel good party every day while we plunder the world. Doublethink. Here:

Orwell’s point:

To tell deliberate lives while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

Herein lies the problem – vaunting past presidents on pedestals while attacking this current deplorable, Donald Trump. The reality is the US has been run by an elite group of militarists, and by no means is Trump the worst of the worst, which is both illogical and unsupported by facts:

Yet, we have to mark the words and wisdom of those of us who have been marking this empire’s crimes, both internal and external, for years. Here, Paul Edwards over at Counterpunch hits a bulls-eye on the heart of the matter:

After decades of proven bald-faced crime, deceit and the dirtiest pool at home and abroad, the CIA, FBI, NSA, the Justice Department and the whole fetid nomenklatura of sociopathic rats, are portrayed as white knights of virtue dispensing verity as holy writ. And “progressives” buy it.

These are the vermin that gave us Vietnam, the Bay of Pigs, Chile, the Contras, Iraq’s WMD, and along the way managed to miss the falls of the Shah and Communism.

Truly an Orwellian clusterfuck, this. War Party Dems misleading naive liberal souls sickened by Trump into embracing the dirty, vicious lunacy Hillary peddled to her fans, the bankers, brokers, and CEOs of the War Machine.

Trump is a fool who may yet blunder us into war; the Dems and the Deep State cabal would give us war by design.

In an innocent way, Brian Hanson is hoping to dig into that “objective reality,” with his Tools for Transparency. He might be unconsciously adhering to Mark Twain’s admonition: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” Maybe Tools for Transparency will get under the onion peels of deceit, a consumeristic and kleptocratic debt-ridden society to expose those culprits’ origins – where or where and how and why did something like the Flint, Michigan, poisoning of people’s water happen? Who signed off? How did it, the deceit (felonies), weave its way through a supposedly checked and triple-checked “democracy”?

As we parted from a free jazz concert in Portland, he has some pointed words for me: “I will keep working on you Paul to get some hope about society, about the world. I’m going to keep on you.”

The Sexual Passion of Winston Smith

Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice.
— Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
— D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

The so-called consumer society and the politics of corporate capitalism have created a second nature of man which ties him libidinally and aggressively to the commodity form.  The need for possessing, consuming, handling and constantly renewing gadgets, devices, instruments, engines, offered to and imposed upon the people, for using these wares even at the danger of one’s own destruction, has become a ‘biological’ need.

— Herbert Marcuse, One Dimensional Man

There is a vast literature analyzing the political prophecy of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.  Big Brother, double-speak, telescreens, crimestop, etc. – all applied to our current political situation.  The language has become part of our popular lexicon, and as such, has become clichéd through overuse.  Blithe, habitual use of language robs it of its power to crack open the safe that hides the realities of life.

There is no doubt that Orwell wrote a brilliant political warning about the methods of totalitarian control.  But hidden at the heart of the book is another lesson lost on most readers and commentators.  Rats, torture, and Newspeak resonate with people fixated on political repression, which is a major concern, of course.  But so too is privacy and sexual passion in a country of group-think and group-do, where “Big Brother” poisons you in the crib and the entertainment culture then takes over to desexualize intimacy by selling it as another public commodity.

The United States is a pornographic society.  By pornographic I do not just mean the omnipresent selling of exploitative sex through all media to titillate a voyeuristic public living in the unreality of screen “life” and screen sex through television, movies, and online obsessions.  I mean a commodified consciousness, where everyone and everything is part of a prostitution ring in the deepest sense of pornography’s meaning – for sale, bought.  And consumed by getting, spending, and selling.  Flicked into the net of Big Brother, whose job is to make sure everything fundamentally human and physical is debased and mediated, people become consumers of the unreal and direct experience is discouraged.  The natural world becomes an object to be conquered and used.  Animals are produced in chemical factories to be slaughtered by the billions only to appear bloodless under plastic wrap in supermarket coolers.

The human body disappears into hypnotic spectral images. One’s sex becomes one’s gender as the words are transmogrified and as one looks in the mirror of the looking-glass self and wonders how to identify the one looking back.  Streaming life from Netflix or Facebook becomes life the movie.  The brilliant perverseness of the mediated reality of a screen society – what Guy Debord calls The Society of the Spectacle – is that as it distances people from fundamental reality, it promotes that reality through its screen fantasies.  “Get away from it all and restore yourself at our spa in the rugged mountains where you can hike in pristine woods after yoga and a breakfast of locally sourced eggs and artisanally crafted bread.”  Such garbage would be funny if it weren’t so effective.  Debord writes:

The spectacle is not a collection of images, but a social relation among people, mediated by images….Where the real world changes into simple images, the simple images become real beings and effective motivations of hypnotic behavior.

Thus sex with robots and marrying yourself are not aberrations but logical extensions of a society where solipsism meets machine in the America dream.

As this happens, words and language become corrupted by the same forces that Orwell called Big Brother, whose job is total propaganda and social control.  Just as physical reality now mimics screen reality and thus becomes chimerical, language, through which human beings uncover and articulate the truth of being, becomes more and more abstract.  People don’t die; they “pass on” or “pass away.”  Dying, like real sex, is too physical.  Wars of aggression don’t exist; they are “overseas contingency operations.”  Killing people with drones isn’t killing; it’s “neutralizing them.”  There are a “ton” of examples, but I am sure “you guys” don’t need me to list any more.

Orwell called Big Brother’s language Newspeak, and Hemingway preceded him when he so famously wrote in disgust In a Farewell to Arms, “I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice, and the expression in vain….Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene…”  This destruction of language has been going on for a long time, but it’s worth noting that from Hemingway’s WW I through Orwell’s WW II up until today’s endless U.S. wars against Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, Libya, etc., there has been the parallel development of screen and media culture, beginning with silent movies through television and on to the total electronic media environment we now inhabit – the surround sound and image bubble of literal abstractions that inhabit us, mentally and physically.  In such a society, to feel what you really feel and not what, in Hemingway’s words, “you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel” has become extremely difficult.

Language, as the Greeks told us, should open up a clearing for the truth (Greek aleitheia, unhiddenness) to emerge so we can grasp the essence of life.  And so it is ironically appropriate that Orwell’s Winston Smith discovers such essence, not in analyzing Crimestop, his tormenter O’Brien, or Doublethink, but “in a natural clearing, a tiny grass knoll surrounded by tall saplings that shut it in completely” where he secretly meets a young woman who had passed him a note saying she loved him.   Away from the prying eyes of Big Brother and his spies, amidst bluebells and a torrent of song from a thrush, they come together almost wordlessly.  “Winston and Julia clung together, fascinated” as the thrush sang madly.  “The music went on and on, minute after minute, with astonishing variations, never once repeating itself, almost as if the bird were deliberately showing off its virtuosity…He stopped thinking and merely felt.”  Here the secret lovers affirm their humanity, the truth of sexual intimacy that is the enemy of all abstractions used by the powerful to control and manipulate normal people and to convince them to participate in killing others.  “Almost as swiftly as he had imagined it, she had torn her clothes off, and when she flung them aside it was with that same magnificent gesture by which a whole civilization seemed to be annihilated.”  Reveling in love-making in a free space outside the Party’s control, they felt they had triumphed.

But as we learn in 1984 and should learn in the U.S.A. today, “seemed” is the key word.  Their triumph was temporary.  For sexual passion reveals truths that need to be confirmed in the mind.  In itself, sexual liberation can be easily manipulated, as it has been so effectively in the United States. “Repressive de-sublimation” Herbert Marcuse called it fifty years ago. You allow people to act out their sexual fantasies in commodified ways that can be controlled by the rulers, all the while ruling their minds and potential political rebelliousness. Sex becomes part of the service economy where people service each other while serving their masters.  Use pseudo-sex to sell them a way of life that traps them in an increasingly totalitarian social order that only seems free.  This has been accomplished primarily through screen culture and the concomitant confusion of sexual identity.  Perhaps you have noticed that over the past twenty-five years of growing social and political confusion, we have witnessed an exponential growth in “the electronic life,” the use of psychotropic drugs, and sexual disorientation.  This is no accident.  Wars have become as constant as Eros – the god of love, life, joy, and motion – has been divorced from sex as a stimulus and response release of tension in a “stressed” society.  Rollo May, the great American psychologist, grasped this:

Indeed, we have set sex over against eros, used sex precisely to avoid the anxiety-creating involvements of eros…We are in flight from eros and use sex as the vehicle for the flight…Eros [which includes, but is not limited to, passionate sex] is the center of vitality of a culture – its heart and soul.  And when release of tension takes the place of creative eros, the downfall of the civilization is assured.

Because Julia and Winston cannot permanently escape Oceania, but can only tryst, they succumb to Big Brother’s mind control and betray each other.  Their sexual affair can’t save them.   It is a moment of beauty and freedom in an impossible situation.  Of course, the hermetically sealed world of 1984 is not the United States.  Orwell created a society in which escape was impossible. It is, after all, an admonitory novel – not the real world.  Things are more subtle here; we still have some wiggle room – some – although the underlying truth is the same: the U.S. oligarchy, like “The Party,” “seeks power entirely for its own sake” and “are not interested in the good of others,” all rhetoric to the contrary. Our problem is that too many believe the rhetoric, and those who say they don’t really do at the deepest level.  Fly the flag and play the national anthem and their hearts are aflutter with hope.  Recycle old bromides about the next election when your political enemies will be swept out of office and excitement builds as though you had met the love of your life and all was well with the world.

But understanding the history of public relations, advertising, propaganda, the CIA, the national security apparatus, technology, etc., makes it clear that such hope is baseless. For the propaganda in this country has penetrated far deeper than anyone can imagine, and it has primarily done this through advanced technology and the religion of technique – machines as pure abstractions – that has poisoned not just our minds, but the deepest wellsprings of the body’s truths and the erotic imagination that links us in love to all life on earth.

In “Defence of Poetry,” Percy Bysshe Shelley writes:

The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination.

We are now faced with the question: Can we escape the forces of propaganda and mind control that run so very deep into American life?  If so, how?  Let’s imagine a way out.

Orwell makes it very clear that language is the key to mind control, as he delineates how Newspeak works. I think he is right.  And mind control also means the control of our bodies, Eros, our sex, our physical connections to all living beings and nature. Today the U.S. is reaching the point where “Oldspeak” – Standard English – has been replaced by Newspeak, and just “fragments of the literature of the past” survive here and there.  This is true for the schooled and unschooled.  In fact, those more trapped by the instrumental logic, disembodied data, and word games of the power elite are those who have gone through the most schooling, the indoctrination offered by the so-called “elite” universities. I suspect that more working-class and poor people still retain some sense of the old language and the fundamental meaning of words, since it is with their sweat and blood that they “earn their living.”  Many of the highly schooled are children of the power elite or those groomed to serve them, who are invited to join in living the life of power and privilege if they swallow their consciences and deaden their imaginations to the suffering their “life-styles” and ideological choices inflict on the rest of the world.

In this world of The New York Times, Harvard, The New Yorker, Martha’s Vineyard, The Washington Post, Wall St., Goldman Sachs, the boardrooms of the ruling corporations, all the corporate media, etc., language has become debased beyond recognition.  Here, as Orwell said of Newspeak, “a heretical thought…should be literally unthinkable, at least as far as thought is dependent on words.  Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express.”  The intelligently orthodox, he adds, must master the art of “doublethink” wherein they hold two contradictory ideas in their minds simultaneously, while accepting both of them.  This is the key trick of logic and language that allows the power elites and their lackeys in the U.S. today to master the art of self-deception and feel good about themselves as they plunder the world.  In this “Party” world, the demonization, degradation, and killing of others is an abstraction; their lives are spectral.  Orwell describes doublethink this way:

To tell deliberate lives while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.  Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink.  For by using the word one admits one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

It may sound silly to say, but language, as its etymology tells us, begins with the tongue (Latin, lingua).  And the tongue is a bell, tolling out its meaning.  Indeed, all language springs from the body – is body language. And when language becomes abstract and devoid of blood, it becomes etiolated and unable to convey the truth that is the mystical body of the world.  It becomes a viper’s tongue, dividing the “good” people from the “bad” so the good can eliminate the bad who have become abstractions.

When Winston Smith and Julia hid in the arbor and for once felt free and alive as they fucked – despite its transitoriness – Orwell was suggesting something that his dystopian novel denies is possible: that we can escape our own 1984 in 2018 by returning to fundamentals. Whitman told us that if anything is sacred it is the human body, and he sung “the body electric.”  This is the task of artists: to sing the words that tell the truth the propagandists try to deny.

James Joyce writes in The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

Welcome, oh life!  I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.

Perhaps we should add: in the smithy of our souls and bodies.  His fellow Irishman, William Butler Yeats, brings us down to earth with the words:

Now that my ladder’s gone/I must lie down where all the ladders start/In the foul rag and bone shop of the heart.

“Yes, I said. Yes, I will, yes.”