Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My New Friend

I have a new friend: rage. It is with me morning, noon, and night. It is immense, it is lethal, and it is intense.

If it had the ability to travel through my eyes I would be burning holes in the wall. If I could distill it and turn it into fuel, I could sell it to NASA. Hell, I could sell it to Texaco.

I used to experience rage periodically, and rarely. Usually while driving. Road rage. Drivers that drive you crazy by moving like molasses. Drivers that make your hair stand on end when they weave in and out of traffic on the freeway at 90 mph. Drivers that blab away on cell phones while they nearly decimate toddlers and dogs on their way to the supermarket.

After the BP oil spill, rage has become my toxic oil slick. It is subsuming all other emotions. Starving them from oxygen. Blocking them from nourishment.

And yet it feels like a friend. We have a kinship. A propinquity. A bond. We share something: a powerful disdain for negligence. For ignorance. For incompetence. For deceit and greed and selfish narcissistic complacency.

The sheer incompetence of BP and all other corporations is enough to drive you crazy. But it is the apathy, the utter indifference to the destruction of thousands of species of animals, frail ecologies and jobs that has brought me this new found affinity with rage.

Where do these people come from? These executives. These administrators. These bureaucrats. These lobbyists and politicians. These tea partiers and Fox propagandists. These deluded progressives who refuse to entertain the notion that Obama might be another corporate shill, despite his evident charm and intelligence. How did they get like this? How did they become so delusional? How have they so effectively managed to shut down inside? Is it any wonder that zombie movies have become so popular? Did anyone who saw Zombieland not think for a second that it was an accurate reflection of every day life?

If you watched the Rachel Maddow show recently (“How Not To Respond To An Oil Spill”) you saw how negligently the booms were laid out to protect the shores and wetlands and islands on Caminada Bay on Grande Isle off the coast of Louisiana. They looked pathetically useless as BP oil drifted ashore in blobs and chunks and thin blankets of olfactory-burning slicks, creating a dead zone of black gooey sludge. Did BP give a shit at all? They stuck long bamboo poles in the shallows to keep the wind from blowing the booms away. Did it work? Fuck no. Why did they even bother?

I am a stranger to guns, and a stranger to killing. So what can I do? Join all the other impotent bloggers. Vent my rage in pixels. And wish and wait for the revolution to start. And wish and hope that it doesn’t start.

It would be so much easier to be a Tom Paine of the Blogosphere. Write something that evokes a certain nobility of behavior, helps set benevolent, enlightened policies. But people, for the most part, have ceased listening. Ceased reflecting or thinking or digesting. Thought has become onerous. Repugnant. Thought requires effort, and sometimes a little courage. It’s so much more gratifying to fantasize being a superhero. Or rock star. Or a boy in an ivy-clad English school who makes magical things happen by waving a wand. If I had a wand, I wouldn’t wave it. I’d stick it up Tony Hayward’s ass.

Has there ever been a time when communication has been so reduced and cheapened by tweeting and other inanities? How did people become so stupid? Why are they doing such stupid things? Why are they believing and saying and such stupid things? Are people being zapped by stupid rays from Mars? Are we under a stupid attack?

I obsess constantly about executives at BP and Haliburton and Transocean and their utter indifference to human life. All life.

I have grown ever more mystified, perplexed, by human consciousness. How, on the one hand, can it produce a great body of poetry like The Illiad, or Gilgamesh, or the Bible, and yet have such a weird capacity for cruelty? For sadism? For torture and killing? How can a group of seemingly affable young men erupt into laughter and joy at seeing a drone missile blow a group of men, allegedly terrorists, to red mist? For them it is a video game. For the survivors, it is the excruciating pain of flesh ripped from a face, a jagged bone extending from where an arm used to be, a leg shattered to a bloody, gooey pulp.

Yes, not ironically, The Illiad, the Gilgamesh, and the Bible, are full of war, gallantry in action and swords smoking with blood. It might be said that The Illiad glorifies war. This is a paradox for which I do not have an answer. War, admittedly, does it have an aspect that lends itself to heroism, high emotion, and beauty. What I find so distressing, so profoundly evil, is indifference to suffering. It is one thing to face an enemy nobly in war. To do battle face to face. It is another to kill aimlessly, blindly, with no feeling whatever for the sanctity of life.

Human consciousness is vast and unthinkably complex. It is capable of making equations that explain some of the most intricate workings of the cosmos and land a tiny satellite on a potato-shaped asteroid softly enough to take pictures. It is stupefying that an organ of such momentous size and capacity for analysis can be so easily tricked into believing such bald deceits as BP‘s statement that “there is no evidence that huge amounts of oil are suspended undersea,” or Obama’s claim that his administration has "always been geared toward the possibility of a catastrophic event." It does not seem possible. And yet if BP sends a young, congenial man wearing shorts and a backpack to tell a Florida community that BP will see to it there will be no damage to their beaches, they laugh, sigh with relief, pat the fellow on the back, shake his hand, and go home to watch American Idol.

Henry Giroux employs the term zombie to describe the grotesque and ethically comatose society in which we, the still living, now find ourselves. “The zombie - the immoral, sub-Nietzschean, id-driven ‘other’ who is ‘hyper-dead,’ but still alive as an avatar of death and cruelty - provides an apt metaphor for a new kind of authoritarianism that has a grip on contemporary politics in the United States.”

“But the new zombies,” he goes on to say, “are not only wandering around in the banks, investment houses and death chambers of high finance; they have an ever increasing presence in the highest reaches of government and in the forefront of mainstream media. The growing number of zombies in the mainstream media have huge financial backing from the corporate elite and represent the new face of the culture of cruelty and hatred. Any mention of the social state, putting limits on casino capitalism and regulating corporate zombies puts Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh into a state of high rage.”

High rage did he say? Does that mean I actually have something in common with Palin, Beck, and Limbaugh? It is a sobering thought.


Gian Lombardo said...

The first step in being indifferent to others' suffering is making those others non-human. If you look into others' eyes and do not see yourself, you can do infinite cruelty.

John Olson said...

True. I hear you, Gian. My rage does not. How might I see myself in the eyes of Tony Hayward? Or Warren Anderson? If such a person, or capacity, is within me, which it may very well be, I need to be vigilant, and guard against its manifestation. Your words are an antidote to this poison. But what can you do if you can't find any eyes? Evil can assume an amorphous, non-identifiable form, what McClure calls "institutionalized evil." John Yoo at Berkeley comes to mind. Hanna Arendt said good can be radical; evil can never be radical, it can only be extreme, for it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension, and yet it can spread like fungus (or oil) over the surface of the seas, and earth, and lay waste, as it is doing now, to the entire world. It is hard to humanize the magnitude of such evil, much less try to see yourself in its circumfusion. Hence, rage. Primordial, elemental, radical rage. There is a monster in the fog. But does it have eyes? Or is it more like that invisible monster in the Predator movies?

Steven Fama said...

Your new friend scares me.

Yet I find it compellingly fascinating too, similar to a fire-breathing dragon in a myth-legend.

People on TV + radio who comment on contemporary events, particularly of the political kind, are given their positions because they are the BEST in the world at provoking exactly the kind of reaction you write about. They are manipulators of the worse kind, they are paid to goad and incite and in fact have the pulpit and forums they do ONLY because they can do it.

Thus, I advise, same as Hamlet did to the players with regard to sawing the air too much with the hands: "Pray you avoid it." If you don't, I swear to friggin' everything, it will kill you. Turn it off, please!

And also, read Rexroth, everything he wrote, the poetry and the essays. It's alot and maybe you'll find something helpful to talk about with your new friend.

What do I take from Rexroth -- a man that no one can deny was as pissed as any human can be at what he saw and felt in the world around him?

It's all a grand and wondrous cosmic joke, this life of ours, so have a little fun. And that in the face of dross, corruption, and horribleness, the heroic = bravery, courage, and magnanimity. He says that's the lesson of The Iliad and plenty else, and I think maybe he's right. Not that I'm there, mind you, but I think he's right.

John Olson said...

Roberta has suggested that I write a new inferno. Not a bad idea. I wonder how well that worked for Dante.

And then there are the heart-pounding words of Mario Savio: "There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"

Looks to me like Savio was no stranger to rage. And thank goodness for it. His words launched a movement, which resulted, eventually, in ending the war in Vietnam.

The talk show hosts that fan hatred and rage for the sheer sake of hatred and rage, not to mention the millions of bucks they make doing it, are right wing. The left wing talk shows, if you take, say, Thomas Hartmann as an exemplar of the field, simply encourage critical thought. They are superbly skilled at rational discourse. They promote, at the most extreme, civil disobedience.

Hamlet's fundamental mistake, of course, was taking far too long to take action, stewing in his own juices, and then acting on impulse, and out of self-loathing for his inaction, kills the unseen good old man. Moral: always check behind the curtain.

Who can watch Hamlet without feeling the same hunger for retribution? For justice? How can anyone watch what BP has done to the gulf of Mexico and not feel the same hunger? The same rage? It is true that life is fundamentally ephemeral, an amusement park ride, thrills, spills, and then you die. It is a gross misdirection, in light of that, to take anything too seriously, including evil and social injustice. But then, why not go the other direction, join the Hells Angels, inscribe God Is Dead on the tank of my Harley, and go plundering the countryside, following the goading of my id? Is there, as the Jews, Muslims, and Christians believe, an objective morality? What is the nature of evil? Why do Christians, Muslims, and Jews, who all believe killing is wrong, fight and kill one another so readily, so efficiently, and so cruelly? My friend rage is irrational much of the time, but not entirely a negative energy. Riding this dragon has taken me some distance toward... toward what, I'm not sure. But wait... what's that sign up ahead? Resignation: population 300,000,000. And growing.