The River

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Alan Watts Blues

(or, Bruce isn't working but instead giving himself a hell of a downer.)

I’ve got 'em again. So does Mark Woods, it seems. Hell, just look at that picture from Portland on his site, titled The Face of Freedom in Bush’s America. It’s a line of cops in riot gear, all black padded uniforms, black helmets with plastic face shields, truncheons at the ready.

Frightening. Scroll up and you’ll find Noam Chomsky: “People are always concerned about their work and they live in fear. Although there is a lot of crime in the United States, it is approximately the same as comparable societies, but fear of crime is far higher. In many ways, this is the most frightened nation in the world!”

Indeed. We’ve amped up the fear. That’s how the administration sold a bogus war. That’s why we have the Terrorism Alerts. A ruined economy-- that works too, to keep people fearful.

Look at George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, John Ashcroft. Totalitarians. We talk about Iraq being invaded; WE have been invaded. America is in the grip of an oppressor, and so by extension is the globe. American laws are being rewritten, subverted, crushed. The criminals we fear most are our own government, because it isn’t our government; it isn’t anyone’s government. It’s an amoral, controlling elite.

Give me absolute control
Over every living soul

From Van Morrison to Leonard Cohen. One limns the soul, the other the soul-dead.

We all know it, don’t we? We’ve failed. “I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder,” sang Cohen. I wonder if he knew about The Carlyle Group when he wrote it.

But then, everybody knows, he said in another song. And we do, on some level. These are uncomfortable facts.

“No wonder you Americans are afraid of death; you don’t know how to live.” That was a French waiter (give it a funny French accent) in a skit on Prairie Home Companion, a rerun on my radio this past Saturday.

Okay, I could give you the payoff paragraph now; Bruce expounds on how to live. Something about comfortable ruts, autopilot, someone you don’t know and can’t trust seizing control, crashing the plane because destruction is their way, it leads to chaos and need and cheap and profitable ways to fill it – for those that are left. Sorry, that’s how not to live. Who can answer the converse, except you?

Well I’m taking some time with my quiet friend
Well I’m takin’ some time on my own.
Well I’m makin’ some plans for my getaway
There’ll be blue skies shining up above
When I’m cloud hidden
Cloud hidden
Whereabouts unknown

Well I’ve got to get out of the rat-race now
I’m tired of the ways of mice and men
And the empires all turning into rust again.
Out of everything nothing remains the same
That’s why I’m cloud hidden
Cloud hidden
Whereabouts unknown

~ Van Morrison, Alan Watts Blues, Poetic Champions Compose

Addendum: I was about to publish this when I read The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky by Arundhati Roy. This, along with other material at Wood S Lot, would cause many of us to seek cover in the clouds. "The horror. The horror."

It's a great piece, a must-read. I find some hope and strength in the final paragraphs, somehow, I guess because they illuminate both Roy and Chomsky as human beings:

As a child growing up in the state of Kerala, in South India — where the first democratically elected Communist government in the world came to power in 1959, the year I was born — I worried terribly about being a gook. Kerala was only a few thousand miles west of Vietnam. We had jungles and rivers and rice-fields, and communists, too. I kept imagining my mother, my brother, and myself being blown out of the bushes by a grenade, or mowed down, like the gooks in the movies, by an American marine with muscled arms and chewing gum and a loud background score. In my dreams, I was the burning girl in the famous photograph taken on the road from Trang Bang.

As someone who grew up on the cusp of both American and Soviet propaganda (which more or less neutralised each other), when I first read Noam Chomsky, it occurred to me that his marshalling of evidence, the volume of it, the relentlessness of it, was a little — how shall I put it? — insane. Even a quarter of the evidence he had compiled would have been enough to convince me. I used to wonder why he needed to do so much work. But now I understand that the magnitude and intensity of Chomsky's work is a barometer of the magnitude, scope, and relentlessness of the propaganda machine that he's up against. He's like the wood-borer who lives inside the third rack of my bookshelf. Day and night, I hear his jaws crunching through the wood, grinding it to a fine dust. It's as though he disagrees with the literature and wants to destroy the very structure on which it rests. I call him Chompsky.

Being an American working in America, writing to convince Americans of his point of view must really be like having to tunnel through hard wood. Chomsky is one of a small band of individuals fighting a whole industry. And that makes him not only brilliant, but heroic.

Some years ago, in a poignant interview with James Peck, Chomsky spoke about his memory of the day Hiroshima was bombed. He was 16 years old:

"I remember that I literally couldn't talk to anybody. There was nobody. I just walked off by myself. I was at a summer camp at the time, and I walked off into the woods and stayed alone for a couple of hours when I heard about it. I could never talk to anyone about it and never understood anyone's reaction. I felt completely isolated."

That isolation produced one of the greatest, most radical public thinkers of our time. When the sun sets on the American empire, as it will, as it must, Noam Chomsky's work will survive.

It will point a cool, incriminating finger at a merciless, Machiavellian empire as cruel, self-righteous, and hypocritical as the ones it has replaced. (The only difference is that it is armed with technology that can visit the kind of devastation on the world that history has never known and the human race cannot begin to imagine.)

As a could've been gook, and who knows, perhaps a potential gook, hardly a day goes by when I don't find myself thinking — for one reason or another — "Chomsky Zindabad".

Comments: Post a Comment