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THE SCHIZOPHRENIC HEART OF PIG NATION

7 Jun

My position on AGW is now and has always been that it is happening, hence cause for serious concern. I believe we will be forced to deal with the consequences of global scale human economic activity this century. I also believe that introducing a huge political apparatus is both useless and one more nail in the coffin of liberty. My children will be raised to bear this in mind. Sincerely hope this disclaimer is to everyone’s dissatisfaction.

The country is mentally ill. Isn’t it obvious:

Carbontaxyes

Carbontaxno

On the weekends I attend the library which was made difficult this last on account of the protest in favour of a tax! This, in an English-speaking country. The Anglosphere is traditionally resistant to taxation. Obviously a good deal many of us still are, but still hundreds of thousands of people actively support this. Figures. Right now the governing party is backing the ‘yes’ campaign (funny that) and it’s a much better organized effort than those for opposition.

I must confess I laughed when I saw this. The ad is very simple of course. That is its virtue, simplicity. Something that could’ve been set up on a soundstage and shot in less than a day. And the scenario illustrated is absurdly simplistic. There are a lot of problems with it. It really is not such a simple matter. Truly. And, as in America, actors have entered the realm of political discourse. Is that a good thing?

The political ‘solutions’ thus far on offer are, in my irrelevant opinion, at best ridiculous and at worst a cover for some battle of interests or other. My experience of the ALP disinclines me to believe that they’ve all suddenly come over with the love of the planet. I’m skeptical of any proposition that the Gillard government’s war with the mining industry is entirely an ecological matter. On that I shan’t elaborate. No substance, just a hunch.

I liked the people at the ‘yes’ protest. Lots of friendly dogs. The band was cool, finally someone’s got a clue: speeches are dull. Still, there were speeches. There always are. I caught speech-bytes between talking to people who handed me stuff: a pamphlet encouraging me to unite to end mandatory detention for refugees, a glossy booklet covered in oranges: easy vegan recipes. Another says Veganism is the solution: the organic way from crisis to peace.

The speech-bytes kept referring to bad polluters. Polluters. Those polluters, aren’t they bloody awful? Reminded me of lunch at the Hare Krishna restaurant, there was an(other glossy) ad on the table promoting a talk at the Krishna centre: Global Warming: Who’s To Blame. I remember looking up at the lights, hearing the citar drone over the surround sound speaker set, the fan turning. People buying their meals with money given in trade for labour that requires ubiquitous information technology. Stripe-shirt/club tie guys eat spoonfuls of spinach-garnished lemon and garlic chickpeas while checking Facebook, checking email, check text messages, send the report, upload software updates, check movies and absently scan the net for beautiful shining things you want to buy.

Everybody is soooo full of shit.

Who’s responsible for cooking the planet? Everybody. O’ course if you’re an Australian citizen you’re likely to be about 2000% more responsible than the average African. But they would if they could and they want to… so bad. So do the Chinese, and they’re gonna do it. Indians too. Brazil, Russia. These places are getting richer. You can’t stop that. And why should they remain in the throes of pre-modern squalor? The lack of in-depth consideration of these matters on behalf of those who believe it imperative to act immediately appalling.

Equally appalling, tho’ much more effective in the mainstream media, is the assault on the very science of AGW. In this the scientists and the advocates on the opposition have been most useful idiots. There is something sinister of course about the unknown parties who hacked into the Climatic Research Unit’s data in order to sabotage the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. Amongst the denials of the denialists is the vehement refusal to see that powerful interests are waging a propaganda war against policies that mitigate carbon pollution. There’s something totalitarian about the tactics.

But, no matter the bad manners, the CRU’s data reveals a bunch of scientists who violate the very principles of science in order to advance a political cause and a personal interest. This is venal. The human race needs science now and yet it displays an absence of its central discipline which is to remind yourself of your ignorance: how do I know that? But in the realm of politics the facts are irrelevant, or putty to be shaped and trimmed. The CRU acts thus and in response the anti-AGW crew declare the rest of the (solid) data in support of the AGW hypothesis immaterial. It’s not happening. The issue is over.

Meantime the weather patterns change and no-one notices. No-one notices the sky anymore. Do you know what phase the moon’s in right now? Doesn’t anyone think it’s funny to hear mosquitos buzzing around your ears in late May!

…..

The discourse of the ‘yes’ campaign, the ad appearing above, link ‘social justice issues’ with sustainability. This despite the argument that making power more expensive and switching to organic food production etc are the indulgences of the wealthier classes and will hurt the poor. This is only the first contradiction in a miasma of bitter choices coming up over the horizon at us. What about the people of Bangladesh? Millions of poor and uneducated people who live in a land that is already subject to flooding from the mountain monsoonal waters. If the sea rises they will be swallowed up. What about the millions who live in the tropics? Millions? Billions perchance? There are places that could become uninhabitable.

Adam Smith posited a scenario that asks what would you do if faced with the following choice: cut off your hand or a thousand people die? I think his figure was actually higher. But let’s make it a thousand, or maybe a million. One? The choice is, objectively speaking, obvious. Your hand is clearly worth less than even one life surely. But… would you do it? If a thousand strangers were wiped out by earthquake would you be more upset than if you lost your hand in a traffic accident? What about a scenario in which millions must die if you are to avoid medieval impoverishment?

I’m not saying that will happen, but what if?

Modern civilization requires energy. This is obvious. As a personal choice I support the slow food, back to the Earth, permaculture vibe. I’m totally down with it and want to be more so. I want to live in a Earthship house and collect fresh eggs in the morning from chickens that wander free fertilizing the garden. That’s what I want. Other do not. And won’t force anyone to live a certain way. It’s been attempted on me, forget it. And also, inconvenient fact: 6 billion people plus can’t live on food grown in this fashion. It’s impossible. I can, because I’m privileged.

Modern civilization requires energy and our current methods of harvestation are unsustainable. Sustainability’s a word much maligned, it makes some people retch. But it’s important. To sustain civilization is to make it last. This basic idea, surely, is worthy to the vast majority of us. Still we argue about what to do and whether it’s necessary to ‘do’ anything. And the volume’s up so high we can hear none but our own voices. I think it is important to ‘do something’, sure.I also think the public policy solutions thus far are myopic, useless, a front for a rort. Many things but ‘effective’ ain’t one of ’em.

Modern civilization requires energy. We can’t go back. The peasant’s life would kill most modern urban dwellers. Ask anyone who was in the Cultural Revolution. How do we acquire sustainable energy sources? Obviously the Sun’s ideal but there are problems. For example, the production of the world’s best photovoltaic cells would not be lawful in this country. Why? The toxic by-products of the process are prohibited by our environmental laws. Just one problem, not even the main one.

There are others. But at the heart of the ‘solution’ problem is science and innovation. Technological innovation is not something that happens well in a governmental department. Scientific breakthroughs never happen because of political decree. The capitalist behemoth might be partially or entirely repulsive to some reading this but, it works. For producing innovative new technology there’s not been anything remotely close. So is the solution to be accomplished by regulation and taxation? By the State taking control of a process it’s ill-equipped to manage or even facilitate. Should we leave ecological sustainability to politicians? Are lawyers the ones who will save us?

I support a carbon tax policy but not the one that is going before the House shortly. That carbon tax is simply an introduction for a cap and trade system (which seems to me a rort designed to keep developing nations from developing), it is (yet again) over-complicated and targeted squarely at the resource and energy concerns. (Those bad polluters). I don’t think that’s smart. They are actually powerful you know. Do this and you get a war; war is destruction.

That just about brings to the end this wet day’s spray of wild generalizations. I’m just a monkey on a rock trying to fish a few beans of truth from a mountain of bullshit.

I don’t know. Still I have a few convictions. I think we’re gonna get it. I think we should take a chill pill and ‘start disagreeing without being violently disagreeable’. I think we should re-acquire scientific discipline: what do you know and how do you know that? I think we should face all of the problems, consider them thoroughly, and refrain from expressing strong views on matters we haven’t considered. And I think we should maybe stop once in a while, turn off our gadgets and clear our minds (can we?).

The solution is technological and scientific. The solution is ethical, the choices you make everyday, the way you act. The solution is savage: ‘there’s gonna be sorrow try and wake up tomorrow’. The solution is in the minds of brilliant entrepreneurs and engineers we haven’t heard of yet. The solution is stop blaming ‘them’ and realize there’s no Justice there’s just us. The solution is… as simple as that. And infinitely more complicated.

No matter. It’s mostly not under your control. Here’s what is: inhale, breath deep, look up at the sky. In a city it’s the only real nature you ever see.

AIN’T IT JUST LIKE THE NIGHT TO PLAY TRICKS

6 Jun

I woke up with the Monday Morning Blues like everyone else today. Clear skies didn’t help, at first. I boot up my electric tartan screen plagued with lines of so many colors that I’m sure Apple Macintosh has ascended to the heigth of Scottish aristocracy. And they’re welcome to it.

I boot up this magic almost-flat little book that plays music and remembers my brain-farts. Takes pictures, captures physical vibrations in the air. Open the book only to find that one of my favorite songs has disappeared. The one I was hankering for this melancholy morning. There’s a big blank on the list. I play it, nothing. Damn! So I boot up Blonde Redhead instead. Nothing. Shit! So it’s gonna be one of those fuckin’ weeks, what comes Thursday? Sorry Mr Stewart you’ve got three days to live please pay the bill before you leave.

Oh!

The volumes switched off. D’uh! Live without technology for a while and you get stupid. You start doing things like actually noticing the faces in the night-clouds at night. The song’s playing its place on the list remains blank. A secret song. One little skerick of truth left in the world where the hacker can’t find it. Aaaarrrrgggghhhh!!!!!!

The volume’s off, switch it on. See how easy it is when you forget about your teen angst bullshit for five seconds. I’m having a day. Fuck off World.

I don’t know why I was fussing, it was maybe the last beautiful day to be had for a while. Outside the clouds gather and the wind shakes its fist at us. We’re gonna get a blasting. I’m just lost in myself. Transcending ‘self’ is the key to contentment in life. These are words, I tell others, to live by. But I find I’ve gone a long time now wallowing in ‘self’, lost exploring the extinct crevices of I, me, mine, festering at the injuries poured on me by those who should love me. And why don’t they love me – goddammitt!

Oh this morning that bark cabin the mountains looked pretty good to me. But slowly the day manifests as a god one. I’m stuck into the work. And consistently something appears, something that didn’t exist before I sat down this morning. Some semblance of vague satisfaction creeps into me thru the afternoon, maybe my existence is justified after all.

Dusk, and friends gather. Beefs are settled with a minimum of fuss, I catch up with this guy, he’s crazy man. Always fun. Won’t say what but he got away with it. Feel the love, se the smiles. These guys are glad to see me. Why the fuss? Have I been in some kind of prison that I’m always looking over my shoulder to see if there’s a guy with shank? There’s human snakes sure. Always on this planet sumbitches what can you do? Leave it out.

And what about the shit they give me, these friends. Taking shit’s part of the deal, I know that. And haven’t they got plenty from me? The night has fallen but the sun has risen in my soul. Dig it, there’s wind at my back. The Earth is alive, magic returns and there’s two vivid blue eyes out there somewhere got a hangdog droop about them. I got things to do this week, so many things. And one of ’em is to make those eyes laugh.

SUCH PEOPLE IN IT

1 Jun

Iran Rave

From: The Guardian, UK.

I sit here in a postmodern annex of a neoclassical building listening to a compilated playlist of the musical underground of a country that is, technically, the enemy of mine. The newspapers in my city tell me these people are all backward savages but they are heirs of once-great multiple market-place a culture of long standing. And they are young raised in the shadows of a theocratic revolution that brought back the rule of old men with beards.

They are so sick of it.

So behind closed doors they are modern people who listen to modern music, write it and play it. The styles are a dialectic blend of commercial pop music (European mostly) and the multifarious musical tradition of the Levant from a viewpoint centred on what we have long-called Persia. It’s quite… commercial.

What a piece of work is a human monkey, how noble in faculty and not quite infinite in reason. How quickly the spoilt, fat, lazy rat it becomes. How base and venal and sometimes gracefully sublime in the face of hardship. What folly in these craven beasts who remember and yet fail time and again to learn.

Today I am in love with my fellow species, what rare fun we are. The sky is blue and I feel like smiling.

But let’s be serious for five minutes. Last week the US President, a man that ‘liberals’ admire, ordered an elite group of his soldiers into the territory of another country. A nation that is technically an ally. Sorta. And without its permissision taken human life and retrieved information thereby. Yet it is the smaller nation that has been publically shamed in the discourse of geopolitical theatre. Well the human life taken was that of a man who has precipitated the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. He challenged the world’s hyper-power.

According to the law of the-way-things-are, he had it coming. Interesting finale, stranded in an Islamabad fortress, jaded and regretful. Yet another man who’s realized too late that he’ll never know his children. An isolated false Messiah, catching up on a lifetime’s worth of masturbation.

Never stop making you laugh these monkeys. Rare fun amidst the grim smoking corpses.

As usual, only the radical Left can call it like is: an explicit act that extends and consolidates the American Empire. And it was carried out by a man who stood against this expedition way back when it was most unpopular to do so. He had no choice. The true Machiavels amidst the dreaming neocon crew saw that. They understood that future ‘American interests’ (which Americans?) lay in securing certain territories and resources. They got the States into a war it could not extricate itself from. And somewhere today they are smiling to themselves. At the ranch maybe, sipping a tumbler o’ the Macallan perhaps, awaiting a phone conversation that will change lives. Smug in a truth that is never spoken aloud.

There’s a Punisher graphic novel by Garth Ennis. I won’t summarize but one of characters is a much-feared Russian general who commanded in the Afghanistan theatre. At one point we see him ordering his men to behead a ponytailed journalist on the tarmac of Khabul airport. The dude had written a book that wasn’t appreciated. Anyway, this guy has a bit where he philsophizes about the American Cold war victory. His take on their strategy was that they’d bomb places flat and build McDonalds amongst the rubble. Some over-simplification, but apt. Mostly America rains fire down on people by remote control. Domestic casualties have, since Vietnam, become increasingly unacceptable. Bombing Usama bin Laden’s house was an option available to Obama. He chose a helicopter drop instead. He sent in human individuals, an act that required personal courage (on the part of the soldiers) in a way that remote explosion does not.

This is the first time I’ve approved of Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

I knew he would not withdraw the troops. That to do so would be so detrimental to American interests – increased terrorism, oil price spikes and shortages – it would be electoral suicide. Considering the economic situation the States was in when he took office, considering the solutions he’s chosen, his second term is already far from assured. To withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan would create a Jihadist power base. Possibly Pakistan would fall and then we would be dealing with a nuclear-powered enemy that prefers the herafter to this life. Dig it, you boho free spirits o’ the world. When that happens the party is over. These are the facts. I don’t like ’em, but, like, so what?

I knew Obama was basically a highly skilled technocrat. I just hoped he wasn’t as much of a creep as Tony Blair. And no he ain’t. (Hard call that.) But when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize whatever skreck of ‘hope’ I may have harboured was dispensed with. Obama got the prize essentially for not being a Texas good ol’ crony-capitalist cracker. For actually knowing how to be internationally polite. He had done nothing to earn a peace prize (even the Nobel which, after Kissinger, is a joke). But if he hadn’t accepted, if he’d said thanks but no thanks, I don’t deserve it just now. Well then I would’ve been impressed. But he calculated: another paragraph on his WikiBio? Why not? He’s just another player just like the rest of them, go figure.

But, if he had to raid a Pakistani house without permission (and yes he did) then it was noble to send in American individuals to face their public enemy #1, to demonstrate personal, physical courage. He showed that he understood the military message of 9/11. A message that has been receieved with obtuse denial in Western public discourse. Point out that it takes physical courage to go wilfully go your death in furtherance of a cause, that furthermore such courage is in short supply domestically… do that and you get demonized by people who don’t understand why the Romans really fell.

If you’re going to do Empire you might as well get it right.

Ah! enough let us stop making sense. The song’s in Farsi but it’s a classic rock song. Funny when you realize that the rock song’s structure derives from the tradition music of the region. He really likes the Rolling Stones this guy.

Next an indigenous style, I wouldn’t know what it’s called. It’s like hip-hop, chants and beats, but it ain’t hip-hop. It’s derived from antiquity. And sure, there’s hip-hop on the disc, electronica too. And punk rock! The playlist veers East and West. It lurches into the past and back to the future. Some of it is MOR schlock that’d make fills you with the urge to find Celine Dion and vomit on her dress. But some it makes you move man. It’s funky, get you right down in your belly and balls. The lyrics are sometimes Farsi, sometimes English. Cultural imperialism o’ course. But the English songs decry the Military-Industrial complex bullshit in a form that’s straight outta Detroit! All you flag wavers out there, do you get that? All you post-structuralist pseudo-radical demonizers of the Evil socio-economic demographic, do you understand?

Arrghh! Again, forget about it! Be stupid, be a child. Persian metal is really beautiful, a style that really suits the Farsi tongue.

Now it’s Euro-Soul like Sade or Grace Jones. I’m warm again. There’s an empire, there’s a lot of them. And who knows what evil lies in the human heart. But, today, forget about it. The sun is shining and we should be making hay. I wanna party with these guys. Now!

What time is it in Tehran?

LETTER TO A YOUNG ORWELLIAN

24 May

Dear Y-

We all do the politics/ethics thing quite badly. Our culture is schizophrenic. And too complicated. The good ideas that will save the world are organized into armies. Armies dominated by obtuse boneheads (like all armies). Thus the good ideas unite with a million bad ideas that share a worldview and fight.

One of the good ideas advocated by the Left over the 20th century is the notion that human diversity is desirable and that people should not be impaired by socio-biological characteristics: race, sex, sexuality(?) etc. This has been pushed to a radical edge and manifests in the more ridiculous aspects of identity politics (eg the English teacher who refused to let her class attend Romeo And Juliet because of its heterosexism.). The Right have their own bad ideas of course but I’d only need to write of them if you were a conservative. You aren’t. But if you agree with the points above then obviously people of different worldview are not to be castigated or demonized.

They simply just think differently and about different things. Progressive policy is often disastrous because the Left simply refuse to think economically. The Right’s error is in that accepting the injustices of society as natural. They persist in doing that but accept change once proved final and beneficial.

Margaret Thatcher once said the Left open doors, the Right walks thru them. She personified this. During the 1970s what is known as the feminism’s second wave raged thru the modern world. The ‘patriarchal right’ would have scoffed at the idea of a woman wielding power. They would say that she could not lead a political party, could not enforce caucus discipline, could not inspire fear in her enemies and allies alike, could not make the hard decisions, could not lead a country in times of war. These are not the Left’s ideas of good politics but they are the very basis of politics and you cannot transcend them by ignoring the truth of them. The old sexist farts would say all that stuff about women. And the feminists in the streets and lecture halls only talked of that stuff as a vestige of the ‘patriarchy’. They weren’t much interested in economic reform or geopolitical strategy. But they had their impact in the 70s, enough to put the heebees into the misogynist crew.

In 1979 Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister and spent the next ten years putting paid to every single objection that patriarchy threw at a female head-of-state. Her policies, of course, were repulsive to the Left, but she did every single thing the forces of reaction said a woman could never do. And she did it in a way that earned the eminent respect of the Establishment. The Left opened a door but the Right walked thru it and because it was the Right that walked thru it. It changed things – permanently.

There’s a Ying/Yang movement here. It’s not some Mungabean Aquarian Group Hug scenario. There are some very nasty people on the Right and the Establishmentarian Rule of the Toffy Gits is like small pox, to be eliminated sometime. However, there are also some very nasty people on the Left and when they take power, millions die. The human race has a tendency to split along some kind of Backward/Forward line. There will be animosity. But it has been, should be and can be a lot more constructive then it is.

Thing is, this is all a religious war. Literally. The modern Left/Right fandango is the direct descendant of centuries of dichotomous bollocks. It goes back in a twisted and incestuous way to the 17th century wars of religion, underpinned by a conflict of interests. Socio-eonomic interests – the old tug of war between haves and have-nots as always. This will not be eliminated tomorrow morning and for those of us who may seek to nevertheless move in that direction it’s incumbent to assess the lessons of the past before deciding which way that is. And in the meantime to ‘first do no harm’. This is what I mean by switching to ethics.

The rent-a-crowd mob’d say that I was advocating apathy in the face of the Capitalist Machine they hold responsible for everything from racism to prostitution. But their one contribution to political history is compiling data on progressively minded citizens (sign the petition!). Anarchists have succeeded only in enabling the government to turn major cities into jail when a Confab of the Masters of the Universe is coming to town. The real forces for change are underground and quiet. They exercise power but do not draw attention to it. And they do so as sovereign individuals. Much more powerful than the Moo Bah-Bah Crowd.

Regards
A

HAVEN’T SQUANDERED MY RESISTANCE

11 Apr

I was born with much luck, early sufferings – actually surfeit of said luck – had convinced me otherwise, so much so that I squandered many an opportunity to advance higher in the socio-economic pyramid. You have to start at the bottom of the ladder.

My grandfather’s people came here in the nineteenth century when Australia was, as Eric Hobsbawm put it, a paradise of labour. They prospered and became part of that most Corinthian of columns in the Sydney Establishment: the prosperous Irish, products of the excellence of Catholic education. They were dead set in the middle of that column; modestly well-off.

The family business was a small to medium sized firm attached to the construction industry. An Australian institution: the Blue Collar Enterprise. The son and heir always had to start of at the bottom and work his way up. Of course, promotion was assured. 🙂

But what wisdom in such a monarchy? By the time the Son became the Boss he knew the business from the ground up. He’d see what needed changing and what didn’t. How it all worked. What it was like to work here and there. Trouble was the limited pool from which to draw labour. It was, of course, explicitly sexist (girl had babies, boys had jobs). And the son might be guided by tradition but the chances are, sooner or later, you’d get a right berk or downright nasty bastard. It’s difficult for the rich to not spoil their children. Another rub. Thing is sometimes, fellas (quite often really) it’s the girls who’d make a better boss. The Spartans were miserable old sods, but they had wisdom when is came to their women.

It occurs to me that, in my own weird way, I’ve pretty much done the same thing. For what end I don’t know. I do not own the future, but, it is still open. I have relinquished opportunities yes: for prosperity, for advancement, for sex. But I have not relinquished my capacity to choose the many paths available to me in this Our Year of the Almighty Whatever – two-oh-one-one. I have a wide experience, I know what it’s like night shift in a factory. I know what it’s like 7am right thru to the early hours of the next morning. Paper cup coffee swallowed in gulps on the run while answering the relentless call of an electronic master. It never stops long enough for you to quietly view the beauty of the city skyline from high up behind a glass and steel window.

Ferris Bueller said life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around every once in a while you might miss it. If you work the skyscraper high-life; if you get all the way to helicopter level where you only ever need touch the ground to switch to the Gulfstream en route to allover; the higher you go… The more you need to remember what Ferris said. I like the view from high up but it ain’t worth the palava.

Other people I’ve known are heading for that apex of the democratic monoliths that mark the architectural symbol of early Technological Civilization. And, if they’re well-grounded in a spiritual tradition, it doesn’t drive them crazy. If not, well I’ve seen these people – drink.

Dry-cleaning everything is a bitch, forget about it. But I could’ve chosen that life. If I had, I wouldn’t be me tho’, I’d be someone else. And, if it was me personally, I don’t think that someone else would be very nice. It’s moot now because that life is a path closed to me. That sort’ve thing you have to commit when you’re at what Americans call Junior High. I have options but also many burnt bridges.

I am privileged and fortunate. Others are not, they have been chosen for a difficult path. Hard, hard, hard! From the time they’re born. Last night I made another friend (weird: Sunday nights!) and he’s Jewish and Muslim and Christian. We met and spent hours talking, so different and yet connected. He’s struggling, he has a kid, chancy employment opportuities. The migrant experience. The refugee experience. I saw a fragment of his world. Interesting, this city’s third-world underground.

Born on the roof of a Saudi jail, this guy. Truly. Brought up an ultra-orthodox Muslim and now converted to Christianity. Still he’s a son of Beta Israel, believed by many to be famed lost tribe of the ancient Hebrews. He believes Jesus was black. My friend has changed his name to that of a very popular saint (not Francesco d’Assisi). We ate dinner in a restaurant run by Hindus. Lots of Ohm signs about. But also a painting of the Buddha and a newsclipping of Mary MacKillop’s canonization.

Amongst the Faithful, these days, there are those that crave war and there are those instinctively moving toward other creeds – including Atheism – in a spirit of catallaxy. My friend is a mystic and it’s hard to follow him sometimes but he is amongst the latter, he moves toward convergence in a spirit of peace. All the while knowing that outside in the cold distance, a wild cat growls. He knows a lot more about religion then I ever will. I am lucky, I have have been born lucky consequence of war-torn centuries and persistent wilfulness. Of conquest, plunder, slavery, lies: and glory too. What a piece of work is Man:

Jeffersonuniversity

My friend has it tough because his ancestors were on the other side of all that business. I am lucky to meet him. He thinks I am his guide perhaps, but he is mine. I am lost, I think I’m found, I realize I’m still lost and then I find one also lost. But he has read the map. He will show me the way on the other side of the wall erected ‘twixt Reason and Dream in the Western World. What will I show him? How should I know, I don’t own the future. No-one does.

HORSEMEN HAVE LEFT OUR PRECINCTS

7 Apr

Aurelius

In Joseph Brodsky’s “Homage to Marcus Aurelius”, he writes:

He wasn’t a great philosopher, nor was he a visionary; not even a sage; his Meditations is at once a melancholy and repetitive book.

True, all of it. Aurelius never introduced a new concept like Descartes, he never codified a tradition like Aristotle, he didn’t announce the problems of an age like Nietzsche. There is nothing new or especially penetrating in Meditations, so why is it my favourite book of philosophy?

I’m not widely read enough to qualify to teach the stuff but I’ve read some and retained that that appears to apply to actual life as I know it. Aristotle’s Politics, for example, is a healthy anchor for a dream-prone mind that may be tempted to believe Shepard Fairey’s contribution to the last presidential election. It’s in Aristotle’s run-down of the history of Greek polities, in Machiavelli’s similar musings that you’ll find at least one facet of Nietzsche’s Eternal Return well polished and gleaming in its depressing lucidation. But Meditations, this book that is “no match for Epictitus”, is the book I cling to in times of trouble. It is for me what the Gospels are for Christians. And I suspect, despite his disinterested qualifications, Brodsky felt the same.

How would Aurelius feel among us barbarians, Brodsky asks? “For we are barbarians to you, if only because we speak neither Greek nor Latin. We are also afraid death far more than you ever were, and our herd instinct is stronger than the one for self-preservation.” Perhaps therein lies one clue for the Meditations is stuffed with the contemplation of death, of its coming and of its ultimate desirability. It is, after all, in concordance with nature. Is there fear at the heart of this interest in the subject? But in his words is there not also comfort in the continuity?

Aurelius was probably the closest thing to the Platonic ideal of the ruler we’re ever likely to get. Democracy, that guards so well against tyranny, won’t permit of the likes of Aurelius consequence of the same constitution and statutes therefrom. He was a reluctant ruler. His ambition had been to follow his ancient Greek masters to the Agora and the Academy. When he accepted the highest office he left that behind. Meditations is therefore not really a book of philosophy. The man had no time to write such. It is a kind of moral diary:

Meditations is thus a patchy book, nurtured by interference. It is a disjointed, rambling internal monologue, with occasional flashes of pedantry as well as of genius.

We live in the democratic age of the car. And we fear death perhaps because “we can’t conceive of dwindling into particles again”. That “after hoarding so many goods [it’s] unpalatable”. The fact that Aurelius was a virtuous and powerful may have something to do with the aura of his work tho’ I doubt it much. My reasoning is grounded in my capacity to visualize without much trouble someone coming upon the small volume, drawing inspiration from its contents without ever knowing who Aurelius actually was.

But still I can’t entirely discount the fascination with the Equestrian Age – of which High Rome was the high point – extant amongst the wistful and nostalgic. Indeed, Nietzsche’s problem of rank may manifest in small part in a longing for the definitive hierarchies of the eras of sword and sandal; of toga and marble. What’s the fascination? The straight up metaphysics of a dead civilization whose glory has never been quite surpassed, even by the Americans? Perhaps the spiritual cure for those of us, acutely aware of the soul but unable to bear with the rigid absolutes of Christianity that appear to deny the complexity beloved to some of us: the universe is change, life is opinion. Aurelius was aware, as an adherent of the Greeks, of what we do not know. Many advocates of Abrahamic Monotheism appear to believe that that, that is not in the Book is not worth knowing. They certainly believe that the Book cannot be questioned. Aurelius asks questions. His convictions are based on them. I think (and feel) that it’s as it should be.

Perhaps it’s the lofty aspiration to Virtue expressed in the book. The Christian God is one with which “you trade in virtue to obtain eternal favours”. But to Aurelius and myself this renders virtue a mere commodity. Something one does out of fear and desire. The value of Aurelian virtue, Brodsky writes, lies “precisely in its being a gamble, not an investment”. There is no pay-off.

So finally it’s the metaphysics being aesthetically agreeable perhaps. Or perhaps, like Epictitus and unlike so many others, this is a book of philosophy that serves you in times and places when you are made acutely aware of your limitations – your lack of liberty. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – in this limited life with its fear and its addlepated herd – perhaps I read it because it was written to no-one but its author.

I’m sure Aurelius would be surprised, perhaps delighted/perhaps dismayed, to see the Penguin Classics edition in all the bookstores. The thoughts, the aphorisms, open up any page and read a chunk. It’s good. Maybe Aurelius is, far from the face of antiquity, the ideal philosophy for the Modern Era. Short, to the point, practical and honest advice in easy to digest bite-sized pieces.

BETTER LIVING THRU CHEMISTRY

5 Apr

Here we are, the beginning of the third millennium and what have we done? We’ve been places, we’ve eradicated the Pox, the Plague, the Scourge, almost. We have not done away with the Curse, tho’ the tampon ads get slicker every year.

tampexad

I remember some ad from the late 70s. Lots of David Hamilton photography; a beautiful mother with her blossoming teenage’d daughter walking thru the forest in springtime. The reassuring maternal voice-over in the compulsory diction of the private-school educated Sydneysider hard-nosed career bitch: navy suits, pearls, Oil of Ulan. Fundraiser committees associated with the Liberal Party. What euphemism did she use? Heavy days. Heavy days seem a bit of concern. Heavy days may ruin a sun-blessed walk in the bush.

Some time ago, trashy historical novels tell me, working class women referred to their periods matter-of-factly while those women that did no housework kept it strictly discreet. The hard-boiled 19th century with its frenetic sexual morals, it’s cold lit analysis, its silent anxieties. Menstruation? Unmentionable save in medical circles where puritanical men got together and tried to solve this bit of biological madness called Woman. Now it’s the basis for specialization in the spreading apparatus of information processing: symbols, sounds, colour and form pitting you up against impossible dreams, all in aid of moving the merchandise. And still there’s the need to use euphemism about something as basic as a placental mammal’s menstrual cycle and the blood that comes forth from it.

We’ve gone to the moon but still can’t face that? White pants? Well at least the ad doesn’t refer to heavy days. Sometime later there was an ad where a slick young supermodel type uses a maxi-pad to clean blood from the floor before the men in the trenchcoats arrive. Can we see a story that evolves from the days when advertising tampons and pads was a clinical euphemism. Internal protection? That’s a bit saucy? Kids might ask questions. Internal, what’s inside?

If there’s continuity in these ads it’s in the stress on privacy, comfort and non-interference with work. The 50s ad says to the housewife that she can rely on tampons not to have her menstrual cycle interfere with her work; the 90s ad says to the young career bitches that the threatening masculine pack will be held at bay; the current ad says we know this is stupid, we know that we’re being manipulated but hey, at least they’re honest and… cool pack! The thread that runs thru the ads is that this is the solution to a problem: mass manufactured and wrapped in clean fresh plastic.

“Are you sure I’ll still be a virgin?” There was a time not so long ago that that was an actual concern. These days the world agrees with Clint Eastwood, what’s so great about virgins? Well that’s the mainstream position. Coming up the rear, religion returns and girls in certain circles pledge to their father they’ll remain pure until their wedding night. A revival of tradition? Ah.. but these are 21st century girls so of course there’s promise of a material pay-off.

I have my doubts that satisfaction is guaranteed.

Time was when the Moon Cycle was a mystic thing, then it was a symbol of degradation – a basis for disgust. And now it’s a problem that must be solved rationally in a mode consistent with Modern Civilization’s requirements that everything have a smooth pristine clinical and colour-co-ordinated surface. People say, well at least it’s not a big deal anymore. And I say: exactly! It isn’t. Shouldn’t it be? I’m sure there are families for which it is still, bewildering as it might seem, a moment of profound shame and embarrassment.

Are there families out there that celebrate?