Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Weak Are Meat

            Have you watched “Cloud Atlas”? The movie, based on the novel by David Mitchell, left me scratching my head. After the second viewing I had a better idea of what was going on but still wondered how many themes and sub-themes I’d missed.
            I did come away with two themes. First, the actions of individuals, though small and seemingly inconsequential, matter. That theme is important because of the second theme: the weak are meat, and the strong do eat.
            The weak are meat, and the strong do eat.

            Wow! That sounded a bell in my psyche that is still resonating. It struck me as one of the clearest, most concise summaries of the history of human interaction that I’ve ever heard.
            The weak are meat and the strong do eat.

            That’s why we spend our lives trying to lift ourselves above the masses. We spend our lives trying to lift ourselves above the rank-and-file because we know that ordinary people, the masses, the weak must forever toil in the fields, the factories and the bedrooms of the strong, and when they call, we must go and die in their wars.
            The weak are meat and the strong do eat.

            Some 2500 years ago a notable thing happened. In the ancient city state of Athens, ordinary people realized that the only way for the weak to become strong is for them to unite. They realized that they could rule themselves. It was revolutionary! Ordinary people could choose one of their own to sit as head of the government. It was the birth of democracy.
            It had a short life of a couple of hundred years. The strong don’t like to share power so, after a time, the strong took over and democracy perished. There was probably a really good reason for it. Perhaps there was the threat of terrorism. The strong may have said, ‘we’re strong and we can take care of this emergency, and when this threat is eliminated, we’ll give democracy back to the people.’ They didn’t, of course. They never do, and democracy died. It lay dead for more than two thousand years. Then another group of ordinary people saw how destructive the power of the privileged few could be and they decided that the people should rule themselves, and so democracy was set as a foundational principle of the United States of America.

            You and I were taught that those in authority over us actually care about the people. We were taught that they care about us and will protect us from our enemies. That might have been so, once upon a time, but I don’t believe it’s true any longer. We have trustingly followed the Judas goats – our political, social and religious leaders – into the pen, and we are just about ready for the slaughter. We hear the insistent bleating of a few, but we ‘pooh-pooh’ the nuts and ‘conspiracy theorists’. ‘That can’t happen in America!’ we say.
            It is happening in America. Democracy, it seems, has a short shelf life. After only two hundred years, American democracy is dying. It may already be dead. Since September 11, 2001, our constitutional rights and guarantees have steadily been stripped away under the guise that the strong are protecting us from terrorism.

            I grew up during the Cold War. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. In those days there was the real possibility that nuclear missiles could fall upon American cities, but the government didn’t take that as an opportunity to strip away our constitutional rights. Or maybe back then we still had politicians who cared about the constitution and the people.
            I have come to believe that the most insidious and deadly terrorist threat facing America today is the threat posed by the faceless powerbrokers who sit behind the scenes and by the smiling politicians that they carry around in their pockets. I’m not afraid of outside extremists. I am afraid of those men and women who crave absolute power and who will not stop until they have taken away every last one of my freedoms.

            I wonder if I’ll go to jail for that. Back when we had free speech and the free exchange of ideas, that thought would never have come to mind, but there aren’t any guarantees any longer. Democracy, that rare and beautiful flower, is dying. You and I are watching it die.
            I hope you won’t take this as a rant against the current administration. It isn’t. It’s a rant against every administration because it doesn’t matter who sits in the main seat. He has no power. He’s led to believe that he does by the fawning flatterers, but he is being worked like a marionette to secure the agendas of the strong. He may not even realize it, but he is. It’s my position that John Kennedy was the last president who understood that the people had to be protected from the power elites, and that is what got him killed.

            So what will we do, you and I? Will we sit quietly, sip our lattes and turn a blind eye to the wave of tyranny and oppression that is already drowning freedom and liberty in America? The fate of our children and of their children hangs in the balance.
            These are uncertain times, but amidst the uncertainties of life, this much is certain: the weak are meat and the strong do eat.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Deaf Cannot Hear

            I wrote this more than a year ago after my first ‘cardiac event’. I don’t know why I didn’t post it then. I’m sure there was a good reason which I don’t remember. Anyway, something recently reminded me of this, so here it is.
             Some of you know I was recently in the hospital because of a minor heart attack, or ‘cardiac event’. I’ve looked at that experience to see what, if anything, there might be to take away from it.
            The first thing that comes to mind is this: the deaf cannot hear and the blind cannot see.
            Okay, two things here: one, this is not a new revelation. Two, if it seems so obvious that the deaf cannot hear and the blind cannot see that it isn’t worth mentioning, well, you may be right. And you may be wrong.
            This first struck me when the cardiologist came to see me. There was some question as to whether or not I had actually had a heart attack. It was quickly evident to me that he wasn’t conversing with me. He was talking at me, telling me that they thought I’d had a heart attack and that a heart catheterization would reveal the truth. He wasn’t hearing what I was saying when I asked if he was proposing that I put myself in a possibly life threatening position just to verify someone’s opinion. To him I was the ignorant and contrary commoner whose ignorance simply needed to be trampled. To me he was a pompous, know-it-all ass. Looking back, I think it’s likely that neither of us heard the other.
            There were other times during my stay when other doctors and nurses didn’t hear what I was asking or saying. To be fair, I’ll admit that there must have been times when I didn’t hear what they were saying to me, either.
            As I lay waiting (and waiting and waiting and waiting) to go for the catheterization, I was able to calm my mind and get into that semi-dream state where your body and mind are relaxed as if asleep but your mind is active. This thing of hearing but not hearing played across the stage of my mind, and it occurred to me how terribly lonely and frustrating must have been the lives of the prophets who were compelled by the divine to address a people who could neither see what the prophets were showing them nor hear what they were telling them. Yes, the people saw something, heard something, but they neither saw what they should have seen nor heard what they should have heard. In some cases, they heard the opposite of what was being said, which led them to persecute the prophet.
            I want to think that some of this deafness is accidental or that it is somehow beyond our control, but I don’t really believe that to be the case. We willfully refuse to see that which comes into conflict with one or more of the layers of our preconceptions. We refuse to hear that which picks at the threads of the tapestry we have woven for ourselves and which we call ‘the truth’.
            Obviously this subject begs a number of questions which, perhaps, you’ll ponder. For my part, I don’t have the energy to address them and, frankly, I’m a little overwhelmed by the mystery of seeing but not seeing and hearing but not hearing. We always assume that we hear and understand what’s being said to us, but honesty demands that we acknowledge that there must be times when we don’t hear or see and when we don’t understand. And here’s the kicker: we are so skillful at self-deception, so dedicated to guarding the layers of our preconceptions that we may not know when it’s happening. Personally, I find that unsettling.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Good People

            Do you ever think about the question of good and evil? I do, often. I think about other things, too, like putting food on the table and keeping a roof over our heads, but the questions that create a dialog in my mind are the questions which seem to have no final answer, like the question of good and evil.

            The issue came up when a man with contacts in the film industry offered to write the screen version of What Rough Beast and to offer it to his contacts. Is that cool or what? I was absolutely blown away by the possibilities. But I backed away.

            What? Why?

            He felt strongly that we should change the premise. He wanted to insert a cause: a natural plague or manmade chemical disaster which disrupted the mental processes of most people and made them violently paranoid. He wanted to turn What Rough Beast into another zombie movie. Well, that’s been done, as you well know.

            Don’t get me wrong. I like some zombie/crazies movies. I’ve seen Will Smith in I Am Legend a half a dozen times. Will Smith is a great actor. With some adjustments here and there, Will Smith could play Jonathan Taylor in What Rough Beast. And I like the Resident Evil films. Milla Jovovich, the star, is strong and vulnerable at the same time. Michelle Rodriguez was in the first film and they brought her back for the most recent episode. I think Michelle Rodriguez is a terrific actress. I don’t know why Michelle Rodriguez hasn’t been given a leading role. (I named Will Smith and Michelle Rodriguez three times (now four) because I’ve read that three mentions in a blog will trigger something and maybe Will Smith or Michelle Rodriguez (five) will notice that I wrote about them, and getting noticed is part of the game.) Anyway, the point is, I enjoy that type of movie, but I didn’t want to see What Rough Beast turned into just another zombie movie.

            You see, here’s the thing: the only monsters I write about are the ones we see in our mirrors every morning. They’re attractive and polished and, oh, so very well-intentioned. They see poverty, pain and injustice in the world and they’re going to do something about it – some day. What is that old adage about the road to perdition being paved with good intentions?

            Someone who read What Rough Beast asked if I really had such a low view of humanity. That’s a good question. I believe people live with internal contradictions. We’re capable of notable acts of kindness and equally notable acts of brutality. So long as the world respects us, we are civil, even genteel, but if the world threatens us, it’s Katie, bar the door. Have you watched the TV series, Doomsday Preppers? The people are pleasant and civil – the family next door – but they’re armed to the teeth and if there is a cataclysmic event, don’t show up on their doorsteps because they will shoot you. We don’t need an outside cause. We only need a trigger, something that threatens our persons, our families or our survival. That’s the premise for What Rough Beast.

            You may wonder if this has anything to do with the philosophical question of good and evil. It’s a simple observation that ordinary (good) people are capable of dreadful (evil) acts, and these are the people (you and I) that I write about.