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Essay

Resurgence of the “New” Discourse

By Ria Banerjee

As the world is teetering on the brink of collapse, we are collectively participating in a mass elegy for a lost world.  The custodians of that world-security, stability-have receded into the archives of our memory. In Heath Ledger’s inimitable performance as the insouciant Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008), he nudges a shattered Harvey Dent to “introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order.” It is precisely this order, a sense of clinging on to the last dregs of meaning that has gone for a toss in the wake of the pandemic.  And yet, the trajectory of human evolution bears testimony to mankind’s relentless quest to forge meaning out of chaos, to seek an eternal consonance amidst the cacophony of dissonance and dissent.

This propensity to fall back on fragments and carve something concrete is the momentum behind the establishment of a new regimentation. Human agency strives, unabated, to discover measures and means in an endeavour to engage with this pathogen in a new way- it is the mechanism of co-existence. But such cohabitation involves the resurrection of a ‘New’ normalcy altogether. Currently, the pandemic has unearthed a fertile field of scholarly inquiry into this domain of the multiple “New” discourses that offer some semblance of a revamped normalcy in the post-Corona world. But what are the challenges encountered as we navigate through this? Are these measures available for and accessible by all and sundry? What are the prerequisites for activating such measures and who are the intended recipients of the ‘New’ normal?

The virtual space in the prelapsarian state (the pre-Corona world that is) was a universe of frivolous escapades; it offered us the much needed succour to unwind at the end of a long day. It was a space to visit and revisit in between the rigmarole of life. And yet, we were acutely aware of the disjunction between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’. The lockdown phase has completely blurred that demarcation- the ‘virtual’ is now the ‘New’ real. Virtual classrooms on virtual platforms are instrumental in ensuring that quality education continues to be imparted without any hindrance. But here is the catch.

Conducting online classes is based on the presumption that everyone is equipped with the necessary amenities. In third world countries where thousands of people are knuckling under crushing poverty and falling prey to unemployment, education becomes a luxury that exists in imaginative spaces. Thus, in effect, the right to education becomes a prerogative of the select few, of the ‘privileged’ coterie who dictates the dominant ideology. While online education has become an imperative in the present scenario, it is equally necessary to ensure that it does not end up magnifying the digital divide and depriving a section of the “basic” right to education.

The pandemic has also aggravated, if not exposed, another kind of lethal contagion. Alienation and estrangement, as studies show, are no longer literary motifs that dominate the creative space — it has a tangible presence and form now. The attendant mental repercussions of being cocooned in our homes for long has escalated the sense of loneliness- the definitive offshoot being bouts of depression, anxiety, angst and a restlessness.

Many have succumbed to emotional meltdown during these volatile times. Ensconced in a world bereft of the comfort and sanctity of human “touch”, we are gradually being sucked into a treacherous whirlwind of monotony and repetitiveness from which there is no respite. Deliberating on mental health at a time when we are compelled to make a ‘world” of our ‘home” is slightly paradoxical.

Home makes for a good cameo appearance, retreating into oblivion for most of the time. The pandemic has catapulted the “home” from relative anonymity into limelight but such is the quirk of fate that we can longer acclimatise ourselves to such an orientation any more — as if, ‘home’ exists in contradistinction to the ‘world’  and has no existence outside of it. Needless to say, the pandemic is exposing before us the chink in the armour. Social distancing might be an imperative now, but a fundamental element of disconnect had long infiltrated the bond between the “home” and the “world” and ruptured it.

 And perhaps, even when we are negotiating the unprecedented changes in our socio-cultural spheres, the greatest challenge is to be with our own selves. The hustle and bustle of life, as it were, had demolished the aspiration to confront the individual in us. The “Me-time” myth was an illusion. Self indulgence (to chill, as they say in common parlance) was never about rejoicing in the sole company of oneself but to unleash the beast in us in the company of others. But self-isolation had interrogated those deeply nurtured ideas. The lockdown had compelled us to shun our non-confrontational demeanour. Looking inward, forging a communion with our lost and suppressed identities had proved to be an art that takes time to master.

While our lives hang on a precarious rope of appeasement and adjustment, the gradual movement from a world dictated by chronological time to one bereft of it has proved to be unnerving. Life was an assortment of events, bound by minute strands of temporal gradations — our approach to life was economic and measured.

The Corona crisis had ended up shattering that temporal yardstick against which we would construct and consolidate the flux of life. Longing for a heartfelt interaction with your beloved in a different time zone can be accomplished through video calls no doubt; online teaching can be smoothly conducted by mastering a bit of technical know-how and yet, does it feel real? Can one accommodate the pulse and throb of life in the click of a button?

So, what are these “new discourses” advocating for? The protocols and maxims we had lived by before the pandemic can no longer contain the crisis we are now encountering. The “new” normalcy is a call to refashion ourselves. Perhaps it is time for us to embrace an emerging world order that will mould us to become better versions of ourselves. Like all the other epidemics, the Corona crisis will remain in the historical imaginary for transmogrifying the world into a dystopian wasteland; the resurgence of the “new” discourses will be a quest for and towards a different utopia.

Author’s Bio: Ria Banerjee is an M.A in English Literature (First Class First) from Shri Shikshayatan College, affiliated to Calcutta University. She is currently engaged as a faculty in Prafulla Chandra College, Department of English.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

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Essay

Chipping Away At Time’s Edifice

By Dustin Pickering

#Minnesota, Sketch by Dustin Pickering

“…history is potent enough to deliver, on time, in the medium to long run, most of the possible scenarios, and to eventually bury the bad guy.”

Nassim Nicolas Taleb, Fooled by Randomness

This essay assumes a personal and historical tone during time of global unrest. It is my response to the murder of George Floyd and seeks to re-imagine what could be from what is.

My great grandfather on my dad’s side loved Black people. He was respected in the small Mississippi town of Monticello where he frequented Black churches at night. As a Southern Baptist, it was an odd thing for him during that period to appreciate the Black community. This was during a time prior to the Civil Rights Era of the 1960’s.

My grandmother grew up in that era and married at age 13. Her husband was involved with Klansmen. She told me stories about violence against Blacks including an incident where she saw a Black man run into a field followed by an angry mob of white men that included the town sheriff. The sheriff told her not to worry about what was going on. She told me in confidence that when the Civil Rights Act made it possible for Blacks to run for office, she voted for a Black woman running in a local election. She told me stories of Blacks being chased from sidewalks and vapidly discouraged from smiling casually at white women, treated as second-class citizens, jazz clubs being raided, Black musicians portrayed as negative influences on youth and women for smoking marijuana, and newspapers with severely racist headlines. The picture was distant to me other than history books. She told me about the first time she witnessed a sit-in. Her shock was outrun by her admiration. She owned the Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley.

These stories will come as no surprise to Blacks, I’m sure. The Black community has suffered repression by white supremacists and societal conditions imposed on them for hundreds of years in the United States. It seems unjust that even Nature is not even-handed. For instance, the COVID-19 virus and AIDS disproportionately affected Black communities. I attended a short discussion with Tantra Zawadi, an activist and poet, several years ago during which she showed a documentary film about the suffering of Black people due to the AIDS virus. I asked her why she thought it hurt her community particularly. She responded that the Black community has learned to not care for itself. That is a long and frightening discussion.

***

It is often assumed that the American Civil War resolved the problems created by slavery. President Lincoln is reported as stating, “I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races from living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” This was quoted from his debates with Sen. Stephen Douglas on September 18, 1858. This statement was made in defense against the Democrats who believed Lincoln would abolish slavery, what was then a radical suggestion.

Frederick Douglass said of class struggle, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”

The Black Codes of the Reconstruction era did just this. Even before the Civil War, such codes were designed to protect the institution of slavery. Blacks were expected to turn their guns over to white men upon the white man’s request. Through convict leasing, private parties could employ the free labor of convicts. This practice provided immense revenue to southern states. Time Magazine writes, “Prison privatization accelerated after the Civil War. The reason for turning penitentiaries over to companies was similar to states’ justifications for using private prisons today: prison populations were soaring, and they couldn’t afford to run their penitentiaries themselves.” In fact, the Thirteenth Amendment abolishes slavery except as punishment for a crime. Privatized prisons historically targeted Black males. African American families still suffer from policies such as the Drug War. The 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act created tougher mandatory sentences for possession of crack, a drug that was cheaper and easy to transport than powdered cocaine, though not much different in substance. Media hype of the 1980’s created the illusion of a “crack epidemic”, thus leading to the tougher sentencing law. This law was amended by the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act. The Sentencing Project Records the racial disparities of incarceration.

Some statements from The Sentencing Project:

“One contributing factor to the disparity in arrest rates is that racial minorities commit certain crimes at higher rates. Specifically, data suggests that black Americans—particularly males—tend to commit violent and property crimes at higher rates than other racial groups. Other studies, however, demonstrate that higher crime rates are better explained by socioeconomic factors than race: extremely disadvantaged neighborhoods experience higher rates of crime regardless of racial composition. Because African Americans constitute a disproportionate share of those living in poverty in the United States, they are more likely to reside in low-income communities in which socioeconomic factors contribute to higher crime rates.”

“The United States government’s War on Drugs has perhaps contributed more than any other single factor to the racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

***

We continue to remind one another to “beat our swords into ploughshares.” We must be hungry.

***

In the 19th century prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, factions of anti-immigrant sentiment developed and coalesced into the Know Nothing Party. They were generally working-class nativists who resented Irish and German Catholics for economic reasons. They came from industrialized cities in the North and spread into the South. The Party was founded in 1844 and rose to prominence in 1853 until the Dred Scott decision and John Brown’s raid proved slavery was a central issue to the nation rather than immigration. John Wilkes Booth was a member.

Once the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) replaced congressional edict with popular sovereignty regarding slavery in territories included in the Louisiana Purchase, what is now known as the Republican Party emerged in the North among anti-slavery advocates and Freesoil debaters. Nativists in the South became entrenched in the Know Nothing cause. Such nativist sentiment evolved into the strict anti-immigration policy in the 1920’s that was oddly lax on northwestern European flow into the United States.

It is a commonly understood fact of history that the northern economy was less dependent on slave labor, and more on the surplus capital provided by taxing the products of slave labor. In Hylton v. US (1796), Justice Patterson wrote, “The constitution declares, that a capitation tax is a direct tax; and both in theory and practice, a tax on land is deemed to be a direct tax… The provision was made in favor of the southern states; they possessed a large number of slaves; they had extensive tracts of territory, thinly settled, and not very productive. A majority of the states had but few slaves, and several of them a limited territory, well settled, and in a high state of cultivation. The southern states, if no provision had been introduced in the constitution, would have been wholly at the mercy of the other states. Congress in such case, might tax slaves, at discretion or arbitrarily, and land in every part of the Union, after the same rate or measure: so much a head, in the first instance, and so much an acre, in the second. To guard them against imposition, in these particulars, was the reason of introducing the clause in the constitution.” (bold emphasis is the essayists)  

In 1895, the Pollack case redefined direct taxation to include taxes on property and income, and the 16th Amendment restored the original definition of taxation whereby to allow the progressive income tax and other measures.

The northern industrialized economy continued to exploit Black labor. According to thehenryford.org, “No single reason can sufficiently explain why in a brief period between 1910 and 1920, nearly half a million Southern blacks moved from farms, villages, towns and cities to the North, starting what would ultimately be a 50-year migration of millions. What would be known as the Great Migration was the result of a combination of fundamental social, political and economic structural problems in the South and an exploding Northern economy. Southern blacks streamed in the thousands and hundreds of thousands throughout the industrial cities of the north to fill the work rolls of factories desperate for cheap labor.” The population of Detroit nearly doubled between the years 1910-20 with a significant increase in the Black population. The Great Migration provided companies like Ford Motors with cheap labor from African Americans.

Clearly slavery shaped the United States economy and was a major catalyst of dispute as well as change. Some may argue it was necessary for the New World; however, religious groups such as the Mennonites were abolitionists as far back as 1688. Along with immigration and taxation, today’s Republican Party has utilized these antiquated hostilities; yet, the Democrats have convinced a segment of voters with other reasons. They became the party of ‘civil rights.’ Encyclopedia Britannica defines civil rights asguarantees of equal social opportunities and equal protection under the law, regardless of race, religion, or other personal characteristics.” A July 12, 1964 article in the New York Times states, “…the pressure exerted by militant Negroes had become so great that many businessmen had dropped racial barriers in their establishments. Many others were waiting only for the excuse provided by the new law.” The spirit of the times was changing to oblige equal rights. Some may argue that law does not guarantee equality or fair treatment. However, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated in a rebuttal to Goldwater’s “change of heart, not legislation” approach that he agreed with Goldwater, and although legislation cannot make a man love him it can in fact prevent him from lynching him.

We should not define bigotry, xenophobia, and racial injustice along party or regional lines as the usual contemporary narratives have it. My grandmother and I used to argue about the Old South in contrast to the “New South.” A few years ago, Newsweek ran a cover article along those lines. The changing attitudes of young people and the decline of traditional narratives favoring “states’ rights” were the article’s focus. After reading, I called my grandmother to discuss it with her.

She didn’t seem to agree that the South was changing significantly. She often spoke against the Democrats and their effect on the South historically. Democrats caused enormous civil unrest during the Reconstruction Era, including at the Battle of Liberty Place where white supremacists defeated US troops in an attempted coup against elected governor William Pitt Kellogg. Kellogg was considered a “carpetbagger” by white southern Democrats because of his years collecting customs at the Port of New Orleans. The White League, as the paramilitary white supremacist force was known, intimidated Blacks to prevent them from voting—no poll tax or literacy tests! Reconstruction era Democrats used violence and intimidation to oppose Black emancipation! The grandson of a Confederate soldier, President Lyndon Baines Johnson who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, supposedly remarked, “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference. For if we don’t move at all, then their allies will line up against us and there’ll be no way of stopping them, we’ll lose the filibuster and there’ll be no way of putting a brake on all sorts of wild legislation. It’ll be Reconstruction all over again.” It is sometimes said President Johnson was simply navigating the political realm wisely, much like President Lincoln.

This began the era of “Southern Strategy”. The term “dog whistle” was used to indicate the new rhetoric of “state’s rights” employed by the GOP. “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busingstates’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites,” Lee Atwater stated to explain states’ rights. Atwater further states, “But Reagan did not have to do a southern strategy for two reasons. Number one, race was not a dominant issue. And number two, the mainstream issues in this campaign had been, quote, southern issues since way back in the sixties. So Reagan goes out and campaigns on the issues of economics and of national defense. The whole campaign was devoid of any kind of racism, any kind of reference.” Does making race a central issue hurt or help the cause of equal justice? Have we forgotten the importance of racial dynamics in shaping this country?

I remember as a child in the Reagan 80’s I was tutored to read and write by a Black woman who came to love me as her own. This was in Mississippi, the heart of the Dixiecrat struggle only decades before.

***

In 2013, a high school in Jacksonville, FLA initiated a name change. It was originally named after Confederate general Nathan B. Forrest who was known to have cut off the arms of surrendered black soldiers. My father was at the forefront of keeping the name. I reluctantly signed a petition he created to keep the school’s name even though I strongly disagreed with it. The school’s African-American student population grew to over half the student body. The school used a Confederate flag in its pep rallies. I can see why the name, which was suggested by the Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1950’s, would upset Black students. Nathan Bedford Forrest was also the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. I signed the petition in a lukewarm decision to support my family, believing it was a lost cause. I was later told that the petition would not be used because only current students and their families’ voices mattered in the decision process. My father was irate.

I agree with the decision to change the school’s name. Who wants to be subjected to seeing the symbols of racism—watch videos from the Civil Rights era—symbols used to oppress and intimidate Blacks, or have a school honored after the KKK’s first Grand Wizard who was not even from Florida? I learned of my own temerity and indecision during this dispute. While the petition had few signatories generally, I was one of them. My decision to sign went against my conscience.

The high school is now known as Westside High School.

***

As a matter of general observation, it seems that political grievances are not resolved only politically. 

Continuous police brutality against Blacks throughout history from Emmitt Till to Amadou Diallo, from Rep. John Lewis to George Floyd, is a serious concern. Blacks are 2.5 times as likely to face police violence than other racial groups. In 2019, 1,098 incidents of police homicide were recorded. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, Black people were 24 percent of those homicides while only being 13 percent of the population. In 2017, 1,117 police homicides occurred with 27 percent of them being Blacks. According to a National Institute of Justice study, 50.6 percent of police surveyed believed that it is not unusual for police to turn a blind eye to police misconduct and disagreed that police report abuses of authority at 58.5 percent of those surveyed (Police Attitudes Toward Abuse of Authority, 2000). This study notes that 65.6 percent of those surveyed do not believe the “code of silence” is necessary to good policing. This suggests that in spite of the numbers, our police forces have integrity.

The Black community even retaliates against other Blacks, but Black violent crime is more likely to be interracial. Some solutions to these problems have been suggested. A February 4, 2017 NPR article reports that “as the ration of black officers in police departments rose – up to a certain threshold – so did the number of fatal encounters between officers and black residents… The tipping point appears to be 25 percent. When black officers reach that ratio in the force, the rate of fatal police-involved incidents levels off. The study also found that once a police department became about 40 percent black, the trendline flipped – the more black officers a department has after that point, the less likely the incidence of fatal encounters with black people.” Varieties of strain theory suggest that criminal activity could be due to strain on families, institutional and societal demands on the individual, the Ferguson effect (increased distrust of police due to police violence), and other factors. The National Review reports, “In reality, a randomly selected black man is overwhelmingly unlikely to be victim of police violence — and though white men experience such violence even less often, the disparity is consistent with the racial gap in violent crime, suggesting that the role of racial bias is small. The media’s acceptance of the false narrative poisons the relations between law enforcement and black communities throughout the country and results in violent protests that destroy property and sometimes even claim lives.” The data at mappingpoliceviolence.org notes that Black Americans killed by police are more likely to be unarmed. The broken windows approach encouraged in the 1994 Crime Bill puts undue pressures on poorer communities through increased policing of them. Some suggest juvenile delinquency is caused by the readiness of illegitimate opportunities compared to honest work.

Bloomberg reports a novel addition in this national conversation. Sarah Holder writes in “The City that Remade Its Police Force” that community policing has enabled peaceful protest. Holder writes, “Homicides in Camden [New Jersey] reached 67 in 2012; the figure for 2019 was 25.” With the assistance of New York University’s Policing Department, the police in Camden developed a new manual for use-of-force. (The manual can be read here.) Camden is hoping the rest of the country’s forces follow suit.

***

It seems in recent years there has been some improvement for the Black community.  Graduation levels improved under the Obama administration and Black unemployment is at historical lows under the Trump administration (prior to COVID-19). Economist Walter Williams in The State Against Blacks notes how government policies such as minimum wage and affirmative action have worsened conditions and discrimination. Since the book was written in 1982, unemployment among Black youth is still about 50 percent. Redlining began under FDR by housing authorities has also contributed to impoverishment of Black families. The Community Reinvestment Act, passed in the 1970’s to combat redlining, is even said to have played a role in the Great Recession of 2008 by encouraging subprime leasing.

The riots and demonstrations going on in the United States today as a reaction against the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was not resisting arrest and cried for his life while an individual officer’s knee clamped on his neck, are not historical anomalies. The problems faced by the African American community are rooted in a history that affects us all as Americans. The cheapening of Black lives, the destruction of their communities, and the ignorance prevailing concerning these matters and their causes should be openly discussed.

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Aside from institutional violence, other policies have impacted the Black community disproportionately.

Conservatives believe abortion is rooted in the eugenics cause. As evidence they mention Margaret Sanger, a eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood. According to a 2017 study by American Journal of Public Health, black women had the highest rates of abortion even though white women had more of them.

The study, which also notes a decline in the number of abortions in the USA between 2008-14 says, White women accounted for the largest share of abortions among the 4 racial and ethnic groups examined (38.7%), although they had the lowest abortion rate: 10.0 per 1000. Black women were overrepresented among abortion patients and had the highest abortion rate: 27.1 per 1000.” It has been noted that clinics tend to be in poorer communities, granting easier access to minorities who tend to be economically disadvantaged.  Sanger herself notes the reason for her activism: “If THE WOMAN REBEL were allowed to publish with impunity elementary and fundamental truths concerning personal liberty and how to obtain it, the birth control movement would become a movement of tremendous power in the emancipation of the working class.” (from “Suppression”) Abortion is a socioeconomic issue more than a race issue. The mistake is easily made when we forget that race and class intersect in the United States.

In spite of these facts, Sanger wrote in “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda”, “As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the ‘unfit’ and the ‘fit’, admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes.” While it is true that the poor tend to have larger birth rates with less means at their disposal to care for the children, this passage indicates Sanger’s early commitment to eugenics.

California’s prison system employed the decision of Buck v. Bell to forcibly sterilize 148 female prisoners without consent between 2006-10. Huffington Post writes, “In the past, sterilization of vulnerable populations in the name of ‘human betterment’ was carried out with legal authority and the backing of political elites. What current and past practices share is the assumption that some women by virtue of their class position, sexual behavior, or ethnic identity are socially unfit to reproduce and parent.” (“Sterilization Abuse in State Prisons: Time to Break with California’s Long Eugenics Patterns”, 7/23/2013) PBS.org states, “While California’s eugenics programs were driven in part by anti-Asian and anti-Mexican prejudice, Southern states also employed sterilization as a means of controlling African American populations.” (“Unwanted Eugenics and Sterilization Programs in the United States”, 1/29/ 2016)

However, Coretta Scott King had this to say about Margaret Sanger upon accepting the Margaret Sanger Award for Human Rights on behalf of her husband: “There is a striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.  …  Our sure beginning in the struggle for equality by non-violent direct action may not have been so resolute without the tradition established by Margaret Sanger and people like her.” NPR recognizes in their Race Card Project that “black babies cost less to adopt” because of supply and demand. In other words, there are more black children prepared for adoption and less interest in adopting them.

***

Why have we come this far without questioning ourselves, white friends, white family, white society? It seems when the world turns a mirror to us, for us to look at ourselves, we would rather forget, argue, debate, make excuses.

I am not any better. I admit. I am not any better. It is a tough thing to look at yourself and say, “I can do better. I can encourage more equity.”

***

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t about the United States. It isn’t about capitalism or socialism. Research South Africa, for instance, and find that the violence against white people is a result of a system that clearly is in favor of white people. Even post-Apartheid, Blacks are being shafted of opportunities. School books are free for white children. White farmers are wealthier and rely on the work of Black people.

This is an issue with humanity. This is an issue with the world. This is not an issue with specific groups, countries, or factions. I framed this essay in the context of my country, the USA, because this is where I see the most immediate effects of the problem. Being in the center of European imperialism and colonialism from the beginning, the United States is responsible for the lack of equity faced today.

In Timbuktu, Islamist insurgents torched two libraries containing historic manuscripts in 2013. Some of the material in the libraries dates back to the 13th century. On the edge of the Sahara, Africa preserves some of its vital history. In a battle for civilization, extremists torch the buildings. These documents include important translations of Plato, Hippocrates, and other Western thinkers, as well as writings on medicine, art, and philosophy. There are also Medieval copies of the Qur’an. Many of the manuscripts were evacuated with financial help from multiple organizations such as the Ford Foundation founded by Edsel and Henry Ford in 1936. Recalling my comments on Ford Motors earlier, perhaps we have come full circle and things are improving although only slightly? Are Blacks being recognized as independent, fully competent individuals now as compared to the Civil War era?

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It is a difficult and sobering thing to let go of power. In order to see the reflection of one’s skin and the haughtiness of one’s attitude and acts, one must look into the eyes of another’s experiences.

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Capitalism, emerging from the products of slavery through rapid industrialization, left many people out. Since the founding of the United States under the words “All men are created equal, entitled to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” there have been struggles to make this ideal into reality. Once John Jay, founding father, argued that ownership of property should be the sole criteria in considering the right to vote. The values of a capitalist society include the right to the product of one’s labor, free enterprise, and to do with one’s property what one decides in a fair and just manner.

The US Constitution declares we have a right to security in our persons and property. The US Constitution also declares we have a right to freedom of speech, religion, association, and peaceful petition. The world has been inspired by this model of democratic republicanism. The product of many noble minds put together through rational argumentation, the American federalist system provides a positive model for the world in struggles for freedom, as well as great abundance. With its checks and balances, both across government and the economy, the American system is constructed to encourage fairness and rational decision-making among free parties. The right to utilize one’s gifts is the epitome of justice. Human action, not time, will bring these ideals to greater fruition.

The American system is not inherently segregationist, but we still await justice to wash away this culture of supremacy entirely.

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The author thanks Dr. Reza Parchizadeh, Dr. Troy Camplin, and henry 7. reneau, jr. for their editorial contributions and guidance. 

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Mimesis and Movies: Plato, Kurusawa & Kiarostami

Karan Tekwani discusses Rashomon and Certified Copy in light of Platonic Philosophy

“…what questions this will to truth has already laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions!”

“What in us really wants ‘truth’?”

“… we want truth: why not rather untruth?”

Beyond Good and Evil, 1886, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche begins his book, Beyond Good and Evil, with a series of questions challenging the “will to truth”. “Will to truth” can be defined as the human tendency to attach overriding importance to the quest of true knowledge. Perplexed by this obsession with truth, Nietzsche takes up in his later works a fierce critique at the “unconditional will to truth”.

Beyond Good and Evil opens with two important questions challenging the centrality and value of truth. The first question, “What in us really wants ‘truth’?”, concerns the psychological ground of human commitment to truth. The second question —  “Why not rather untruth?”–  is regarding the moral value man ascribes to truth over untruth. 

Plato banished all the poets from his ideal society.

The locus of this dramatic gesture can be found in the dialogues of Book X of Republic, where Plato has Socrates conclude, “we can admit no poetry in our city save only hymns to the gods and the praises of good men” (471). The reasons poets cannot be admitted into the ideal society, “are both epistemological and moral, but whatever the reason they have a word in common: mimesis” (Melberg, 10). Poetry, argues Socrates delivers untrue knowledge, because it offers a second hand imitation of an already second hand imitation. When a carpenter makes his platonic bed, he takes a step away from the ideal form. When a painter paints this bed, he moves even further away. “This, then” settles Socrates, “will apply to the maker of tragedies also, if he is an imitator (mimetes) and is in his nature three removes from the king and the truth, as are all other imitator” (464). This theory of mimesis, that discredits the value of poetry, works at two ends. At the first end we have the assumption that a central “ideal truth” exists and at the final end we presume that an imitation is always of less value.

Nietzsche’s questions, that destabilize the authority and worth of truth, are in direct contrast with Plato’s assumptions, establishing the centrality and value of truth. The questions that Nietzsche asked challenge Plato’s assumptions, giving rise to a new set of possibilities. What if we do not want truth? What if there is no truth? What if untruth is the truth? What if untruth is as valuable as truth? The paper proposes to explore all of these possibilities.

This essay evaluates the fundamental assumptions of Plato’s theory of mimesis, in light of Nietzsche’s questions concerning the “will to truth”. It undertakes this examination through a discussion of two movies:  Rashomon (1950) and Certified Copy (2010). The use of films to critique the assumptions is in line with Plato’s use of the word mimesis “with a primarily visual significance; mimesis suggests image, a visual image related to imitation, re-presentation” (Melberg, 10). And concludes by discussing the influence that Plato’s assumptions have had throughout centuries since their conception.

The theory of mimesis rests on the idea that there exists an ideal form, that poetry cannot capture. This ideal truth is conceived by the God and every attempt of the artist, be it carpenter or painter or poet, takes him a step away from this true reality. This centrality of truth has had such a captive hold over human mind, that in the past few decades various search projects have been undertaken to ascertain the true form of numerous artistic imitations.

The British historian Geoffery Ashe in his The Discovery of King Arthur claims to have identified the “original Arthur” in the fifth-century King Riothamus. In his Robin Hood: An Historical Inquiry, John G. Bellamy argues that the prototype of Robin Hood can be traced to thirteenth-century Robert Hode, a valet to Edward II. Abert Boime, professor of art history, in his paper presented at American Astronomical Society, stated that the night sky in Van Gogh’s famous painting “Starry Night” corresponds to the astronomical facts of June 19, 1889. But what if all these search endeavours are futile? What if neither Riothamus nor Robert Hode nor the astronomical facts are the actual true forms? What if all these, supposedly, true forms are subjective versions of truth themselves? What if there is no central truth to hold authority? Building upon this lack of centrality of truth, Nietzsche in the section four of Beyond Good and Evil writes:

“…we are fundamentally inclined to claim that the falsest judgements are the most indispensable for us that without accepting the fictions of logic, without measuring reality against the purely invented world of the unconditional and self-identical, without a constant falsification of the world by means of numbers, man could not live — that renouncing false judgements would mean renouncing life and a denial of life.”

Nietzsche argues that most untrue forms occupy the positions of central truth. The evidence and argument mechanism, employed to verify facts, does not apply to these untrue truths because these untruths become the “conditions of life”. There is nothing like centrality of ideal truth, every real truth is just an unquestioned untruth. Therefore, Nietzsche questions, “What in us really wants ‘truth’?”

This absence of central truth is best exemplified by Akira Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon. Rashomon literalizes the possibility of multiple untruths contesting to be the central true version.

Brimming with action, Rashomon is Kurosawa’s exploration into the idea that there is no absolute truth. The movie is about a rape and murder, and five different versions of the same incident. Influenced by their subjective perspectives, a priest, a bandit, a wife, a samurai (through a medium) and a woodcutter (who initially offers false story, the correct version), narrate their individual experiences. In absence of any significant clues, the audience cannot tell whose version is true. Kurosawa does not want the audience to decide who is telling the truth, the point is: truth is not absolute, it is relative. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy defines relativism as

“… the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them.”

Each of the characters in the movie espouse truth relative to their ethical, moral, cultural and social backgrounds. In the bandit’s version of the events, he is presented as a skilful fighter. The wife makes sure that her narrative showcases her as a devoted loyal wife. In the samurai’s story, told through a medium, the samurai is portrayed as a heroic man who kills himself when he disgraced by his wife. Though initially in his account the woodcutter does not confess, he later informs that he picked up the lady’s dagger and sold it in the market. Through this relativity of truth Kurosawa highlights that there is no central truth. The fundamental idea of Plato’s theory of mimesis, that there is an ideal true form, collapses when viewed in light of Rashomon’s belief in relativity of truth.

Another idea fundamental to Plato’s concept of mimesis is that only originals are valuable. The conclusion of the theory of mimesis is that since imitative poetry is thrice removed from reality, it is not valuable. According to Plato, any art form divorced from the stamp of truth is not worthy of appreciation. This idea that truth and value are sacrosanct has become prominent in past few decades when means of replication are easily available.

In 2010, the National Gallery of London staged an exhibition entitled Close Examination: Fakes, Mistakes and Discoveries to showcase the various high-tech devices capable of attributing a work of art as authentic. But what if original work is missing? What if the value of fake is more than the original form? What if the fake displaces the original? Developing this argument regarding the value of fake, Nietzsche writes in section two of Beyond Good and Evil:

“For all the value that the true, the truthful, the selfless may deserve, it would be possible that a higher and more fundamental value for life might have to be ascribed to deception, selfishness and lust.”

Nietzsche’s challenges the supremacy sanctioned to truth, arguing that untruth may be equally valuable. The fake can exhibit quality deserving to an original. If untruth is as worthy as truth, “Why not rather untruth?”. This argument rings a scene from Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, when Elle takes James to see a painting in a museum, that had long been considered authentic but was eventually revealed as a copy. Similar to this painting, Kiarostami’s movie blurs the difference between the original and fake.

Certified Copy, released in the same year as the National Gallery exhibition on fakes, unmasks the absurdity of the dichotomy of original and copy. Certified Copy deals with a mysterious relationship between a British writer James Miller (played by William Shimell) and a French art gallery owner Elle (Elle is French for she, played by Juliette Binoche).

James is on a visit in Italy to promote his non-fiction art history book, also called, Certified Copy and Elle invites him to spend a day with her. Elle drives James to Tuscany museum to see a painting called “original copy” that is related to the subject of his book. The museum guide explains, “This is the famous Muse Polimnia, the portrait of a woman, whose dramatic story is told on the cartel next to the painting. For years, this painting was believed to be Roman Art. It wasn’t until the 20th century about 50 years ago, that it was revealed to be the work of a skilled forger from Naples. However, the museum decided to conserve this fabulous portrait as an original. It is actually as beautiful as the original.”

However, contrary to Elle’s expectations, James does not seem captivated. On being asked what did he earn James responds, “They say how much they adore the picture. But they say it is a copy and the original is somewhere around”. James is upset that the painting’s status as a copy, denies acknowledgement of its artistic merit. After this museum visit, James and Elle go for a coffee to café, where the film’s key moment in terms of narrative twist takes place. While James steps outside to attend a call a call, the café owner an old lady, addresses James and Elle as married and Elle does nothing to correct her. Elle keeps up the pretence as they talk of marriage, work and fidelity.

Eventually, a subtle but a meaningful gesture occurs, the old lady steps in front of the seated Elle, blocking her from audience’s view, bends over and whispers something into her ear. After this moment, the distinctions between the real and fake are blurred in the movie. When James returns, both James and Elle act as if they have been married for fifteen years.

It becomes nearly impossible to decipher if the couple are strangers pretending to be married or spouses role-playing strangers. Just as the fake painting had been considered original, the audience realises that what they had believed to be reality was pretence. And now seems to be pretence can be the true reality. Unlike Plato, who works with neat distinctions between the original and the fake to ascribe value to the original, Kiarostami merges the difference between the real and fake to illustrate that untruth can be equally valuable as truth.

Plato’s idea of mimesis marked a turning point in the history of Greek ideas. The assumptions made by Plato: the centrality of truth and the value of truth, were unprecedented in Western thought. Jean Pierre Vernant notes, “Prior to Plato Greek culture regarded images as an actualization or ‘presentification’ of what they represent. Archaic statues of Gods, for example, were understood not simply as illusionistic depictions of a deity but as an actual revelation of a divinity that otherwise be invisible” (Mathew).

This is similar to what James said in his lecture in the movie, “The copy leads us to a better understanding of the original” (Certified Copy). The ancient Greek art, before Plato, was not regarded as derogatory imitation but a means to achieve the immaterial. However, Plato’s idea of mimesis brings a fundamental shift in this trend, by introducing the central authority of truth. Art now becomes a periphery to this centre; whose value is always inferior to the true form.

The true form becomes the standard against which the merit of art is judged. In spite of these changes, the universal appeal of mimesis cannot be denied. Plato’s idea has been discussed, adopted and even challenged, both directly and indirectly, by writers, film directors and critics, throughout the centuries. Its universality is evident in the case studies of this paper: an Iranian director in his French movie of 2010, uses a concept discussed by a Japanese director in his 1950 movie. Plato’s concept of mimesis with its assumptions, has percolated centuries, nationalities and even art forms.

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Acknowledgement

The idea of this paper came from the classroom discussions with Mr. Naveen Panniker in his Literary Criticism classes on Plato’s Book X.

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Karan Tekwani is a postgraduate student at Delhi University. He is passionate about world cinema and wishes to pursue cinema studies in future. 

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

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Essay

One Life, One Love, 300 Children

Keith Lyons writes of Tendol Gyalzur, a COVID 19 victim, a refugee and an orphan who found new lives for many other orphans with love and an ability to connect.

Tendol Gyalzur: “My religion is wiping children’s noses.”

This story is about how one person found joy and happiness, not in accumulating material possessions or going viral on social media, but in finding her purpose through doing service, and making a difference to many, many lives.

Yet it might have turned out differently for Tendol Gyalzur. Her parents and brother were killed as they fled Tibet. As an orphaned refugee she was adopted in Europe. She had every reason to be bitter, every reason to hold a grudge, every reason to hate. It took great courage for her to return to her childhood homeland which had been invaded by China. It took huge sacrifice for her to work with those occupiers who’d orphaned her. And it took a deep love for her to admit that sworn enemies were actually capable of love.

I first met Tendol nearly 20 years ago while I was travelling in the Tibetan borderlands of north-west Yunnan province, in a place which later changed its name to Shangrila in a shrewd move to attract tourists in search of the fictional place of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon (1933). In Zhongdian, a predominantly-Tibetan town which sits at a literally breath-taking 3,300m above sea level, the owner of my guesthouse drew me a rough hand-drawn map on a blank back page of Lonely Planet China showing the route from the Old Town to the ‘Gū’ér yuàn’ (solitary nursery).

I made my way through the rough cobblestone lane maze of the Old Town, past steamy yak hotpot restaurants and karaoke bars where red-robed monks drank beers and barley spirits, to the much-larger New Town with its wide boulevards, guarded bank buildings and muddy construction sites.

After turning right at a new 4-star hotel, skirting alongside a placid lake, and halting just before the town’s new traffic-light junction, I spotted a sign for the orphanage. The arrows took me behind a primary school into a residential area, and up to a walled compound. I knocked on the gate metal door, a couple of guard dogs inside started barking, and eventually, the door was opened by someone in a cook’s apron and sporting the trademark Tibetan alpine rosy cheeks. “Welcome,” she said, and I presented my offering of a bag of warm winter hats, scarves and gloves. “Come in, and I will get Tendol.”

I’ve watched enough television and late-night charity ads in my life to assume that any orphanage will have poor, sad, bedraggled kids confined in drab quarters, but I was not expecting the light, spacious and clean courtyard, with a basketball court and stable with horses. Bright Tibetan motifs of the sun and moon and swirly cloud patterns decorated the trim of buildings, while in small gardens orange and yellow flowers reached for the clear blue skies above.

From one of the buildings out came a woman who, after stopping to tie up the shoelaces of a small child and send them off to play with a hug, introduced herself to me as Tendol. She ushered me into a small reception area where I was given tea, and after explaining about her work, she showed me around the facility, which had spartan but well-maintained tidy dormitories, classrooms for after-school study, and a cosy kitchen.

I was surprised not just at the uplifting environment and its positive vibe, but also at just how content the dozens of children seemed. As a deliberate policy, two aspects of the orphanage’s operation were aimed at mainstreaming and protecting the children. Rather than become a closed institution like most other orphanages in China, the children went to school at the nearby school next to the orphanage, so they could integrate with their peers. To give greater security and remove the fear of being further displaced, Tendol committed to keeping all the children in her care safe from being put up for adoption.

It was one big family, and the children regarded each other as brothers and sister, with the house-parents and Tendol and her husband Losang referred to as parents, aunty or uncle. While most of the children were Tibetan, some were from seven other ethnic minorities including Naxi, Yi, Lisu, and Han Chinese. With orphans found abandoned on the street, or having lost parents, she said how Children’s Charity Tendol Gyalzur doesn’t discriminate on the ethnic origin, the colour of skin, or religion. “Instead we accept those who are most in need of our help and protection.”

While most Tibetans practice Tibetan Buddhism, Tendol was brought up in Europe with Christian values, but her mission was never religious and the orphanages were non-denominational. In an interview she once said her work was practical and pragmatic rather than religious, “My religion is wiping children’s noses.”

“I am the happiest person on Earth,” Tendol would often tell me when I visited her bringing donated clothes and food, or guests. “Really, I am the happiest person,” she would declare, wrinkles appearing around her deep dark twinkling eyes as she smiled, while outside youngsters playing tag, improvised soccer and hopscotch shrieked and chortled. “You can write that down.”

I did take note of her genuine proclamation and was curious to learn about her story, not just of her tangible ‘bricks and mortar’ achievements, but also of her personal transformation which made her in my books more saintly and less dogmatic than the likes of Mother Teresa (now known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta).

So how did an exiled orphan return from Switzerland to establish orphanages and nomadic schools across Tibetan areas during the last three decades? That journey, going full circle, from being an orphan herself to caring for hundreds of orphans, is Tendol’s story. The short answer is that was obviously very hard work, requiring dedication, perseverance, and boundless love. Tendol was supported by her family, especially her husband Losang Gyalzur and two sons, as well as donors throughout the world.

Given Tendol’s tough, turbulent childhood as an exile, refugee and orphan, you might expect her to hold a grudge against those who orphaned her. Yet she was possibly the kindest-hearted person you might ever meet.

I wanted to know about her life and struggles, and how she overcame the obstacles. When I stayed in Shangrila for 18 months, and later lived in the nearby town of Lijiang for a dozen years, I came to appreciate the difficulties for outsiders to live and work in China. For me and many other foreigners, the cost of visas and frequent visa-runs were higher than the actual cost of living.

Every year or so, someone I knew would be fined and deported. Several Tibetan-focused NGOs operating in Lhasa were kicked out, re-establishing in Yunnan, only to face more scrutiny and barriers. Tendol no doubt had to make some compromises in her work, but her continued ‘licence to operate’ seemed to come from her outstanding reputation, key connections and ultimately, from her record of success: she provided a social service for those most in need.

Tendol fled Tibet in 1959 during the suppression of the uprising against Chinese rule, escaping across the Himalayas with her parents and brother. Along the way, during the treacherous journey, her parents and brother died, and at one stage the group of refugees she travelled with left her behind in a remote village. She realised her plight, and ran after the caravan, making it through Bhutan to India, where she was placed in a refugee camp. She didn’t know the names of her parents or brother, nor did she know the date or year of her birth. Her age was only estimated based on the number of baby teeth.

The events of 1959 left tens of thousands dead and saw over 80,000 Tibetans, including the 14th Dalai Lama, flee to India. Tendol was transferred to an orphanage in Dharamsala run by the Dalai Lama’s sister and was chosen to be part of a group of a dozen children to go to Europe in 1963. Before departing to Munich, the Dalai Lama spoke to the children, hoping that one day they would be able to return to help rebuild Tibet and spread happiness, as ‘flowers that would later bloom in Tibet’.

She was adopted by a young German couple, both doctors, and grew up near Konstanz. As well as suffering culture shock and racial abuse for the darker colour of her skin, her less traumatic early memories include being invited to lunch with the mayor of Munich only to be served a bland meal of hominy grits, and being sick from eating too much chocolate at Easter.

In Germany, she met her husband, Losang, a fellow Tibetan refugee who had fled to Switzerland in 1972. They moved to near Zurich in Switzerland (the country with one of the largest populations of Tibetans) and started a family.

When her sons were still young, and when Tendol was 36 years old, she returned to Tibet for the first time in 1990, this time bearing the distinctive bright red Swiss passport with its bold white cross. While other visitors in the capital Lhasa were marvelling at the enchanting Tibetan Buddhist architecture and magnificent high-altitude scenery, she came across two dishevelled children rummaging through trash. She took them to a nearby place to eat, but at first, the manager refused to let them in.

“It was then, for the first time in my life, I realised that the only thing I wanted to do was fight for the rights of these abandoned children,” she said. “I know there are orphans all over the world, but I am Tibetan, and I wanted to help the orphans of Tibet.”

When she described her vision of establishing an orphanage in Tibet to her family and friends back in Switzerland and Germany, many argued it was an impossible dream. After all, she was just a surgical nurse, with little money, up against seemingly insurmountable obstacles to set up a private institution in bureaucratic and xenophobic Communist China.

Haunted by the images of the scavenging Tibetan street-children, which triggered her own memories of being an orphan, she took out her savings and some of her husband’s pension, sought donations and loans from family and friends, and secured some financial support from the Tibet Development Fund. Within three years of that pivotal moment in Lhasa, she returned in 1993 to open Tibet’s first private orphanage at Toelung just outside Lhasa. It started with just six children.

She opened a second orphanage in her husband’s hometown of Shangri-la in 1997, and five years later established a centre in western Sichuan for the children of nomadic herders.

Back in Europe, particularly in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France, she gained more support from those inspired by her work. After dividing her time between both worlds she eventually moved to Shangri-la, spending time at the two other facilities and returning to Europe to report on progress and fundraise.

Although the authorities appreciated her work, and would often find or refer children to her care, the local government didn’t provide much in the way of resources. I remember one time Tendol showing me a large screen television gifted to the orphanage by officials, and lamenting the lack of government support for her humanitarian work. In later years, the government was more supportive, offering to fund teachers’ salaries and helping with clothing, food, housing and transportation. Chinese have been among the sponsors and volunteers, though the vast majority of the funds to maintain the operation have always come from abroad.

While some children’s charities gain sympathy and support by showing emotive images of deprived downtrodden children, Tendol didn’t rely on this tactic to attract donors. Instead, the charity showed the children doing activities, playing, and having fun, with some before and after photos showing the transformative for some of the orphans found abandoned on the streets.

Her husband joined her in Shangrila, and one of her sons, who had been a professional ice hockey player in Switzerland, relocated to establish a craft brewery, one of the highest in the world, which also employs adult orphans as part of a training and apprenticeship scheme. Songtsen’s two restaurants also give skills to youngsters in the tourism-oriented economy.

As the children in the orphanage grew older, some went on to tertiary study, vocational training and jobs. One of the former orphans from her Lhasa home became house parent in Shangrila. Tendol once confessed to me the challenges of seeing the children grow into adults. “It was a big change for me, from looking after them as children, to seeing them start careers, get married and have families.”

She hoped that in the family-atmosphere of the homes the children would not only strengthen their identity and independence but also live and work peacefully together. Each child had daily and weekly duties including keeping the premises clean, with teenagers, often seen hanging out laundry, helping the cooks prepare meals or playing for younger residents.

Volunteers were enlisted to help teach the Tibetan language, which was in danger of dying out, and as well as completing homework the residents were given lessons in Tibetan and English. When I lived in Shangrila I often visited, bringing other travellers to play with the kids. Teachers would devise fun games, musicians would teach new songs, and a juggler would entertain the children. When a new performance hall was completed, the interaction could take place indoors, with the children sometimes welcoming visitors with traditional songs and dances. The openness of the orphanage and its standing in the community meant you were as likely to see Tibetan monks or government officials come to study the innovative model as you were overseas sponsor groups or student volunteers.

After Songtsen joined his parents in 2008, an additional grassland property gave the children more space to run around in. The father of the orphanage, Losang, was an accomplished horseman, and a number of the children learned the skills of Tibetan horse riding, with several winning prizes at Shangri-la’s annual horse-riding festival.

Later when I moved to Lijiang, four hour’s drive away, I would still visit, sometimes taking small groups and families. If Tendol was in town and not away at the other orphanages or back in Europe, she was more often than not in a meeting or doing necessary paperwork. But she always made time, getting up from her desk to give me a big hug, sometimes lapsing into German (she admitted to mistaking me for a German-speaker as this was her main working language in liaising with sponsors and donors).

She was proud of all of her children. Around the walls of her office, certificates and prizes awarded her children joined photographs of her Swiss family and birth sons. Tendol had a big family that went beyond her own and her homes. She was also quick to point out that her endeavours weren’t just a one-way exchange, saying she’d learned a lot from the children, and that others might learn how to live in peace from them.

She said at the start she saw the Chinese as enemies. Her children would throw stones at any Chinese. But she was able to turn those enemies into friends and allies, and Chinese have been among those supporting her work.

As she passed retirement age, and Losang turned 70, they gradually closed the orphanages, with the remaining children now under the care of well-run government orphanages, and the couple returned to Switzerland. The Shangri-La Brewery and Soyala restaurant still remain in Shangrila.

Last year Tendol’s achievements were outlined in the German-language book Children of Tibet: The Unbelievable Story of Tendol Gyalzur, published in Switzerland. Publishers Woerterseh would like to release an English translation.

However, the last chapter of Tendol’s life of service in helping 300 children came earlier this month, when she succumbed to coronavirus, and died in Switzerland. The New York Times was one of the media offering a tribute to her life, in its new ‘Those We’ve Lost’ section highlighting the lives of those who have died from COVID-19. In Shangrila, one media outlet praised her inspirational life overcoming many obstacles, poetically declaring, “Love is boundless, and able to turn dry lands into a lush pasture.”

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Keith Lyons (keithlyons.net) is an award-winning writer, author and creative writing mentor, with a background in psychology and social sciences. He has been published in newspapers, magazines, websites and journals around the world, and his work was nominated for the Pushcart prize. Keith was featured as one of the top 10 travel journalists in Roy Stevenson’s ‘Rock Star Travel Writers’ (2018). He has undertaken writer residencies in Antarctica and on an isolated Australian island, and in 2020 plans to finally work out how to add posts to his site Wandering in the World (http://wanderingintheworld.com).

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Can Humanism Survive the Onslaught of Hate

By Dr Ram Puniyani

Lately when India has been undergoing the massive crisis of the Corona epidemic and the offshoots of its mishandling, we have also seen the pandemic being used to demonise a particular community in India. These hate mongers, operating through powerful medium of TV, and widespread social media which also has resorted to Fake news has intensified the Hate against religious minority. In this vast phenomenon, it seemed that all is lost as far as amity between people of different religions is concerned. Despite this broad generalisation one feels happy when one comes to know of few incidents where religious communities come forward to help each other.

The most touching such incidence of amity came forward in the form of story of Amrit and Farooq. They were travelling in a truck from Surat to UP. On way Amrit, a worker, fell sick and most other travellers, asked him to leave the truck in the middle of the night. As he was offloaded, he was not alone. His friend Farooq, another worker, also came down with him. Farooq put the sick Amrit in his lap and cried for help which caught the attention of others and an ambulance landed up to take Amrit to hospital!

In another incidence one worker, who had a differently able child, took the bicycle of another person, leaving a touching letter of apology, saying that he was helpless as he has to travel with his children and there is no other means. Many a people reported it as a theft of the bicycle while the owner of the bicycle, Prabhu Dayal took it in a stride. The one who took away the bicycle was Mohammad Iqbal Khan.

In Sewri Mumbai, Pandurang Ubale, a senior citizen died due to age related and other problems. Due to lock down his immediate relative’s could not organize the funeral. His Muslim neighbours came forward and did his last rites as per the Hindu customs. Similar cases are reported from Bangalore and Rajasthan.

In Tihar jail, the Hindu inmates joined the Muslim in keeping the Roza (fasting). While mosque in Pune, (Azam Campus) and a Church in Manipur has been offered as a place for quarantine. In another lovely incident a Muslim girl takes shelter in a Hindu home and the host gets up early in morning to prepare and give her food for Sehri, a pre morning meal before Rosa begins.

One can go on and on. Surely what is reported must be a tip of the iceberg as many such incidents must be going on unnoticed and un reported. The feeling one was getting after the section of media jumped to communalise spread of Corona, coined words like Corona bomb, Corona jihad, one felt the efforts to break the mutual trust between Hindus and Muslims may succeed totally after all. The deeper inherent humanism of communities has ensured that despite the Hate being manufactured and propagated by communal forces for their political agenda, the centuries old amity and the fraternity promoted by freedom movement will sustain itself somewhere, though it is suffering deep wounds due to the religious nationalists.

India’s culture has been inherently syncretic, synthesising the diversity in various forms. The medieval period which is most demonized, and as many of the sectarian ideologues are presenting it as a period of suffering of Hindus, the fact is that it is during this period that Bhakti tradition flourished and literature in Indian languages progressed during this period.

Even Persian, which was used in the court of kings interacted with Awadhi and produced the Urdu, which is an Indian language. It is in this period when the most popular story of Lord Ram was written by Goswami Tulsidas. Tulsidas himself in his autobiography Kavaitavali writes that he sleeps in a mosque. As far literature is concerned many outstanding Muslim poets wrote wonderful poetry in praise of Hindu Gods, one can remember Rahim and Raskhan’s brilliant outpourings in praise of Lord Shri Krishna.

The food habits, the dress habits and social life emerged with components from these two major religions. The sprinkling of Christianity in different aspects of Indian life is as much visible. It was the symbol of deep interaction of Hindus and Muslims that Muslims followed the Bhakti saints like Kabir and many a Hindus visit the Sufi Saint Dargahs (Shrines). This interactive element is vibrantly visible in Hindi films. Here one can see the outstanding devotional songs in praise of Hindu gods composed by Muslims. One of my favourite’s remains, ‘Man Tarpat hari Darshan ko Aaj’ (My soul is longing to see Hari). This song was written by Shakil Badayuni, composed by Naushad Ali and sung by Mohammad Rafi. The latter must have sung innumerable devotional songs.

Our freedom movement, despite the divisive role of British, the Muslim communalists and Hindu communalists, brought together people of all religions, in the struggle against colonial powers. Many a literary people painted the beautiful interaction of diverse communities. During freedom movement, and in the aftermath as communal violence flared up, the likes of Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, and towering above all Mahatma Gandhi tried to douse the fire of violence through exemplary efforts, efforts in which Muslims and Hindus both reciprocated despite the hate spread by the communal forces.

One recalls here the efforts of those friends, who laid down their lives to combat the fire of Hate. In Gujarat the names of Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali will always be remembered as they laid down their lives, as a team, to restore sanity. This interaction is very deep and the present Government cannot tolerate the impact of Islamic-Muslim component in our culture. That’s precisely the reason that attempts are on to change the names of cities (Faizabad-Ayodhya, Mughal Sarai-Deen dayal Upadhyay etc).

The deeper interaction of communities is present in all facets of our society. The examples during Corona crisis have again brought to fore the fact that Indian culture is essentially a product of synthesis of different aspects of many religions prevalent here.

Dr Ram Puniyani was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, and took voluntary retirement in December 2004 to work full time for communal harmony in India. Email: ram.puniyani@gmail.com

This article was first published in Countercurrents.

Categories
Essay

Pandemic Paxicide

By Dustin Pickering

Globally, three million children a year die of hunger or malnourishment according to theworldcounts.com. The site also notes the number is dropping steadily. In a May 2019 editorial ,Voice of America reports, “Today, some 821 million people suffer chronically from hunger. And although this is significantly fewer people than the numbers we saw a decade ago, hunger still kills more people than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.”

Why then does the coronavirus, which has claimed more lives in the United States than other countries at 91,163 total deaths, offer cause for a global economic shutdown? Belgium hosts the highest rate of mortality in the world from the virus at 16.4 percent. In the United States, Cook County, Illinois records 61,212 cases of the virus as of May 17 according to John Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center. There are 315,174 total global deaths attributed to COVID-19 so far, with the highest confirmed numbers in the United States. Transmission of the virus, says this Chinese study, is elevated by cooler and less humid climates. This possibly explains why areas such as New England and Chicago are heaviest affected, especially New York City.

This essay does not intend to question the lifestyle of American citizens or the policies of the global leadership. However, it may take that tone but I ask that you dig deeper. I propose a question to the reader: why does a mutation of the COVID bug command so much initiative from us whereas global hunger does not seem too much of a concern? How long before the equitable world we all wish to see appears before us?

Already the Coronavirus lockdown has an economic cost reported at BBC here. We are seeing oil prices in the negative in the USA, stock values declining, looming recessions worldwide, and massive unemployment due to the response. Industry is slowing in China where the virus is said to have originated. All in all, we are seeing global political conflicts ranging from who controls the narrative to what cure will work best while political leaders tell citizens “business as usual”, or in contrast turn to authoritarian measures. Richard Hoftstader writes of the paranoid leader in “The Paranoid Style of American Politics”, “He does not see social conflict as something to be mediated and compromised, in the manner of the working politician. Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, what is necessary is not compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated — if not from the world, at least from the theatre of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for total triumph leads to the formulation of hopelessly unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid’s sense of frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same feeling of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.”

In this work on social psychology, Hoftstader further writes: “It is hard to resist the conclusion that this enemy is on many counts the projection of the self; both the ideal and the unacceptable aspects of the self are attributed to him.” Clearly the authoritarian and paranoid styles merge in conspiratorial logic. The Other must face blame, ostracisation, or anything to distract the populace. The paranoid leader in authoritarian style pins the fearful onto the opposition; it is that fear which he or she embodies in this action that makes the leader effective to others.

Authoritarians thrive on fear, hostility, and incomprehensibility so it is no wonder they are cropping up during these emotionally heated times. Regardless of whether or not coronavirus is indeed “a little flu” , Brazil’s president makes himself the central issue. He is the victim of a conspiracy. Even President Trump in the United States practices better diplomacy — he suggests that he has worked with governors in all the states, of both parties, and they are working together. He also notes in an April press conference that the pandemic shows why the United States must be an ‘independent nation’.

In spite of the media’s attempts at Paxicide and character assassination, the Global Happiness Report tells us that in 2020 more than half the world’s citizens are in urban areas and that “Cities are economic powerhouses: more than 80 percent of worldwide GDP is generated within their boundaries. They allow for an efficient division of labour, bringing with them agglomeration and productivity benefits, new ideas and innovations, and hence higher incomes and living standards.”

In the Communist Manifesto, Marx’s praise of the bourgeoisie speaks for itself: “The bourgeoisie has subjected the country to the rule of the towns. It has created enormous cities, has greatly increased the urban population as compared with the rural, and has thus rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life.”

What is this pandemic and what is the panic around it? Returning to Hoftstader’s comments on the paranoid style, it seems the establishment has pruned and developed it. As the United States faces the worst unemployment rate in history since the Great Depression, and a study predicts a possible extra 75,000 deaths due to despair from the conditions imposed by the virus, there is no easy way to measure the economic costs of this pandemic.

Even now, Chinese officials say the virus may be changing as new cases show symptoms much later, and take longer to test negative. No one knows what the future harbors. The uncertainty itself is torturous as the Well Being Trust and The Robert Graham Center study relates its reasons for calculating higher numbers of deaths of despair, “unprecedented economic failure paired with massive unemployment, mandated social isolation for months and possible residual isolation for years, and uncertainty caused by the sudden emergence of a novel, previously unknown microbe.”

The human is a social animal. Imposing bizarre restrictions on our social lives seems unnatural, especially under conditions we cannot assess.

There are also socioeconomic factors that are emerging in this crisis. The chart shows that workers with less than high school education are suffering the highest rates of unemployment at 21.2 percent, and education level seems to even further reflect on one’s employment according to the chart. Perhaps it is time for a radical restructuring of the economy and tax policy, which may be possible suggests an article in MIT Technology Review. It’s not quite what you expect, however. For instance the article tells the reader that “The tax policy that the AI Economist came up with is a little unusual. Unlike most existing policies, which are either progressive (that is, higher earners are taxed more) or regressive (higher earners are taxed less), the AI’s policy cobbled together aspects of both, applying the highest tax rates to rich and poor and the lowest to middle-income workers. Like many solutions that AIs come up with—such as some of AlphaZero’s game-winning moves—the result appears counterintuitive and not something that a human might have devised. But its impact on the economy led to a smaller gap between rich and poor.”

Let’s not confuse this with flat rate or regressive tax rates that countries like Estonia or Russia used to build capitalist markets. We have capitalist markets in the United States, and do not need to build them. But will we have markets as rich and sturdy post-COVID? The uncertainty is mind-boggling, and the propaganda regarding the virus is frightening.

Janet Yellen of the Brookings Institute tells CNBC that GDP in the United States may be down 30 percent in the second quarter due to the virus. She said, “This is a huge, unprecedented, devastating hit, and my hope is that we will get back to business as quickly as possible.” This interview took place in April 2020. The first quarter already saw a drop of 4.8 percent according to the BEA.

According to a March 2020 Bloomberg article, China’s GDP is at -20 percent in Q1. The article quotes Michelle Lam, a greater China economist at Societe Generale SA in Hong Kong, “We expect infrastructure stimulus to be much stepped up to support aggregate demand and tax and fee cuts to cushion the COVID-19 shock, especially now external demand will be much dampened by the global pandemic.”

President Trump is also calling on infrastructure development, as reported in this CNBC article. When he first entered office, he wanted a two trillion dollar infrastructure package while interest rates were at zero but the Fed upped the rates.

Perhaps, the pandemic paxicide is also bringing some agreement.

The fact is we will not know what COVID-19’s inception into the world will bring until the future arrives. Have we seen any white horses yet? Or is the garbage mounting in sea? As government spending escalates, I think it is safe to assume we are running a course only our imaginations can dream. Meanwhile, migrant workers in India continue to suffer while people use their plight to further their reputations. In the USA, as mentioned we see a downward spiral in the future of blue-collar workers.

It is time we consider something new. While the entire system collapses, we must rebuild because if the future isn’t certain, one thing is: we must make the future. Possibilities are already emerging for us, such as this initiative in Portland.

“’Hope’ is the thing with feathers,” wrote Emily Dickinson who also wrote “Will there really be a ‘Morning’?” Perhaps there will be. A more equitable world stands before us if we wish to make it.

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Dustin Pickering is the founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He has authored several poetry collections, a short story collection, and a novella. He is a Pushcart nominee and was a finalist in Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story contest in 2018. He is a former contributor to Huffington Post. 

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL. 

Categories
Essay

Rebellious Thoughts At The Café de Flore

By Gaither Stewart

Whether revisionists and debunkers agree or not, the Café de Flore on Paris’ Boulevard Saint Germain is a living institution. Since its founding in 1870 it has existed as a café and a second home for French-speaking writers, artists and intellectuals of the likes of Apollinaire, Camus, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, and frequented by Hemingway and Truman Capote. In the 1920s and 30s, the Flore was the meeting place of the Right, after World War II of the Left. Forming a triangle with the famous but touristy Deux Magots (today taboo for the Parisian intelligentsia) and the Brasserie Lipp just across the street, the history of the Flore has always been linked with Paris, culture and political ideas. A remarkable vocation!

For purposeful urban walkers like Henry Miller certain cityscapes like Parisian coffee houses palpitate with the violent ideas that have made great cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, Berlin, Munich and Budapest. It is impossible to pass the Café de Flore without pausing a moment to imagine Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre ensconced at a back table in that left-bank citadel of thought on a rainy November day, in fervent discussion of the rage and the alienation and the revolt and the urge for revolution of their age.

In their works those existentialist intellectuals wrote the biography of European rebellion born with the French Revolution. Much of their thought was discussed or born in the Flore. Now, out on the boulevard just looking in, you might pause to wonder who is going to write the history of the great modern American Revolution, perhaps im gestation. When will it begin, some now wonder? Or has it already begun somewhere in the guts of America? The Flore stirs such thoughts in some minds.

There in the Café de Flore the two bold intellectuals, Camus and Sartre re-hashing again and again the idea of the metaphysical rebellion born in the western world after 1789, certainly evaluating also the year of 1848, the year Michael Bakunin and Friedrich Engels witnessed in a delirium of hope the second wave of revolution sweep across Europe, from Paris to Berlin and Vienna. Wave after wave of rebellion and revolution.

Sitting on the terrasse of the Flore today you can still evoke images of Paris 1968 here, right in front of you on this boulevard where many of the mobile scenes passed, an explosion only vaguely imagined by Sartre and Camus. The year that briefly, so very briefly, changed the world began here—until the tide of reaction rebounded, sweeping the eternal liberal bourgeoisie back into place in the world.

But readers of Camus will recall his conditioning in his books every Sartrean provocation with his own conviction of the Greek idea of limits. And you wonder who was right.

THE MASKS

Social masks are a threat. Yesterday, as today. In peace or war. In Fascism or in the revolution of workingmen. The bourgeoisie’s support for liberals has always been and always will be a great mystification to confuse the revolutionary. That is the reason for our mistrust of bien-pensant liberals, yesterday as today. The more liberals turn to the Right, the happier the bourgeoisie and the greater its support for “liberal” causes. And therefore the marriage of liberal democracy and market capitalism.

As it stands the gap between the people and what we call bourgeois capitalism is unbridgeable. Protest does not count a whit. Though the ultimate tremendous effect on the people of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria is unimaginable, popular protest meanwhile still goes unheeded. Actually, the conclusion is simple: superpowers should never be confused with democracies.

Rebellion is a story of saying ‘no!’ But rebellion is not revolution. Today more than ever before rebellion against the current state of affairs and the transformation of rebellion into revolution is the task of the socially aware. With your back to the wall, in an over-loaded era, when the necessary decisions quiver and vacillate and become elusive, you nonetheless must choose.

Revolution is not only the explosion. Revolution is a long up and down period of drastic social change. Of the final reversal of everything that once was and its breath-robbing transformation into the new. Revolution is the new. Reaction to it represents the old.

REBELLION OR REVOLUTION?

Therefore the difference between rebellion and revolution is fundamental. Protest, peace marches and sit-ins are rebellious, not revolutionary. It’s a kind of either/or. However, rebellions do form a chain. In explosive ascendance. For there is no revolution without goal-conscious rebellion at the start, without saying “no!” to what was before. On the other hand, we see over and over that rebellion does not automatically produce revolution. As a rule it subsides and disappears until the next time.

So where do we stand today? Where are we in America? In Europe?  “An armed uprising anywhere is an absurd proposition”, an important person in my life recently wrote me. Those words underline the fundamental condition, the point of departure: consciousness. The consciousness, the awareness of one’s desperate situation makes rejection of that situation possible. Refusal to continue along the same old dead-end paths, refusal to accept them any longer. That awareness can lead first to rebellion, and from there it might mushroom into revolution. Might, because the three steps are not automatic and consequential. One does not necessarily lead to the next.

Unfortunately, social awareness is yet to be born in a concrete form in America. But that first basic step is in active gestation in today’s pandemic crisis. Some people are thinking. Why no public health care? Why no employment? Why the wars? You can imagine its bursting forth. To be followed then by contagious rebellion. And then, revolution can be made. Revolution is not a spontaneous affair; it is a result.

The events of 1968 on Boulevard St. Germain parading before Camus and Sartre were spontaneous and in time sputtered and extinguished amidst waves of predictable reaction. Spontaneity however helped plant the seeds of rebellion which each time splinter into a little streams and die out if minor objectives are achieved. But an overturn of everything that was and still is has to be nourished and managed.

Meanwhile, we of today have to deal with the very first step. With awareness. Without awareness of our real condition every act of rebellion is gratuitous and infantile, like. stamping one’s foot and saying “no” just to be ornery. Essential is the awareness of the real reasons for rebellion.

That is where 99% of Americans and Europeans stand today: dissatisfied but enmeshed in a cloud of unawareness of our real situation. Afraid to look into a mirror and see ourselves for what and where we are.

LIMITS

I try to imagine them today, the post-World War II intellectuals, in the Café de Flore, arguing, discussing, plotting, distinguishing. But ours are other times. New times. More complex times. They are not discussing revolution in Parisian cafés today. Maybe un petit peu of rebellion. Un petit peu of protest. Sneers and accusations against the reactionary, austerity-loving, European Union. Some lament the evaporation of the French-German-Italian Left. Staring into the Café de Flore from the street I imagine Sartre and Camus’ disappointment in the European Left, steadily losing ground to the nationalist, fascistic right everywhere.

But revolution? Non, merci! The only visible signs of even revolt against multinational Europe governed by its great banks subsidized by the taxes of the working classes are disgruntled Italy’s complaints against the European Union for its failure to help in the time of need when Italy was the only EU country infected by the coronavirus.

The French philosopher, Alain Badiou, once said in an interview with Rome’s La Repubblica that “often revolt remains entrapped in the modern world, reduced to a mere symptom of the illness. In the West, revolts are for the most nostalgic persons who aim at conserving the golden epoch of welfare in the name of an already superseded past.” The Occupy Wall Street movement, though with praiseworthy intentions, represented a handful of the endangered middle class. It was a petit bourgeois protest, in the absence of a link with the real disinherited of the planet. Few even remember it today.

DISTINCTION BETWEEN REBELLION AND REVOLUTION

In his book The Rebel, Camus deals with the Greek emphasis on “limits”. Even revolt (rebellion) has limits. In Camus’ vision “bad revolution” knows no set limits. On the contrary, so as not to degenerate into terror, the “good” revolution relies on the true sources of rebellion. Therefore, the “good revolution” must draw its inspiration from a system of thought which is faithful to its origins: thought that recognizes limits in the first place. Camus was not Robespierre.

Marx and Engels and Lenin spoke at length about this tricky topic. It’s good to refresh one’s thoughts at the source. The classical distinction is that made between a non-Marxian, spontaneous “insurrection” or “rebellion” or “uprising” and a formal revolution according to communist precepts. Of historical spontaneous insurrections, the classical case is the Spartacist revolt in post-World War I Germany, whose ill-conceived program soon met with defeat. The justicialist peasant revolts throughout the Middle Ages, which Luther denounced, shared that semi-anarchic aspect, even though at times they were led by charismatic figures, Spartacus himself being one.

One might say: My heart is with spontaneous insurrection, my reason is for eternal rebellion morphing into revolution.

This however is a false contraposition. For eternal rebellion is bound to morph into revolution, which perforce becomes “permanent revolution” or “constant revolution”. Rebelliousness without a real cause is a juvenile or neurotic disorder, a waste of human potential.

Lenin, Mao and Fidel suggested “constant revolution” or, “constant cultural-political revolution,” as the cure for the gradual corruption of a revolutionary project. Under conditions of “eternal revolution” (which the bourgeoisie caricatures as constant chaos) the masses do not retreat from the direct exercise of power as can easily happen. They do not sit back and become spectators of history, leaving all power in the hands of representatives who, with the passing of time, become a new privileged stratum, not a CLASS, as many claim!” (Milovan Djilas, The New Class)

BRUSSELS

The European Union (EU) appears today as the bourgeois restoration following the signs of rebellion that spread across the world after 1968. Some years ago the then French President Sarkozy in his role as rotating President of the EU assured his political model, George Bush, that the situation in Europe was under control. Aggressivity and rigidity were things of the past. The twenty-seven European nations had a common position. No more divisions. No more sass. Europe now spoke with one voice. Albeit a reactionary voice. And today reaction continues to sweep across Europe from Paris to Budapest, from Berlin to Rome.

This reactionary Europe is in a quiet, still subtle revolt against its brothers in the United States. This capitalist, reactionary Europe, though wounded by American hegemonic measures, wants to be heard, not however in disagreement with American capitalism. I fear it just wants more of it … a bigger piece of the cake.

The typical customers at the fashionable Café de Flore are no longer the intellectuals. Before the virus epoch began, tourists camped out on the heated veranda were looking for celebrities. Also on the terrasse and at the window tables inside the old café were the TV celebrities and the chic graduates of Paris’ elite schools like the ENA (Ecole National d’Administration) or the ESSEC business school, all dressed in their uniform, body-hugging black clothes and short black topcoats and fashionable stiletto pointed shoes. These elite school graduates—many of whom are the heirs of 1968—in our crisis situation today demand more and more lenient laws on firing and hiring. They evoke the American and British systems. Their motto is that of elite capitalism: “Fired today, a new job tomorrow.”

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Gaither Stewart is a veteran journalist, his dispatches on politics, literature, and culture, have been published (and translated) on many leading online and print venues.

First published in Countercurrents

Categories
Essay

A Fresh Perspective: The Bull that Thought

By Mike Smith

I have an instinctive abhorrence for blood-sports. I can remember when many years ago Woman’s Hour on BBC’s Radio 4 misjudged its audience and promoted a female bullfighter in a spirit of misguided equality and was roundly condemned.

So, you might find it surprising that one of my favourite Kipling stories is about a bull-fight. ‘The Bull That Thought’, from the 1926 collection, Debits and Credits – home of several favourites, including the clever ‘The Eye of Allah’, and the poignant ‘The Gardener’ — is one of those Kipling stories that stands out, not merely from his own work but from just about anything else one might have read.

A framed story, like many Kipling stories, it is one of those told to its first person narrator, in this case in the presence of the reader, by one of those “men on steamers and trains” who Kipling reminds us in that much earlier tale Preface, which seems both tale and preface, is where stories come from The tale is told over a magnum (or probably larger) of fine old champagne, “between fawn and topaz, neither too sweet nor too dry”, by a Monsieur Voiron.

The eponymous bull is called Apis, and in Voiron’s youth was itself a calf. Voiron has been brought up on a cattle farm among herdsmen, and bulls, in The Crau and the Camargue regions of France. Retired after a life in the Colonial Service, and returned to his family farm, Voiron recounts the tale of Apis, who far from being a mindless beast has brought intelligence to the games of bull-fighting that were played in the yards and fields of his homeland.

In fact, Apis has shown himself to be an exceptional tactician, and a “natural murderer”  “almost indecent but infallibly significant”. The ownership of the bull passes into the hands of Christophe, a peasant herdsman on the estate, and he sells the bull to Spaniards, who fight their bulls, not with padded horns, but to death of either bull or matador. Voiron tells how he and Christophe travel across the border to see what must be Apis’ first and final fight.

Slightly more than half of this fourteen-page story is devoted to the description of that fight. All the tricks and turns that the bull has learned in his youth – leading to the death of horses and other bulls – is put to the test as Apis faces Villamarti, a local matador out to show his prowess. The bull destroys the forces sent against him, tricking them into errors, killing both horses and men, yet managing too, to convince the crowd, at least to begin with, that he is making merely clumsy mistakes, rather than clever ambushes. Finally, having destroyed Villamarti’s reputation, he is left in a bullring which, traditionally he cannot be allowed to leave alive. Already the Guardia Civile are handling their carbines.

Salvation comes in the shape of Christo, who like Christophe is a peasant herdsman at heart. He is also the oldest, wisest, and dullest of the matadors against whom the bulls have been pitted. He alone recognises the cleverness, and value of Apis, and the bull recognises him too. The two of them put on a marvellous display, edging nearer to the gate from which no bull has exited the arena under its own steam. Finally, Christo’s cloak thrown over the bull’s back, the old matador demands the gate be opened for him and his friend. Amazingly it is. The bull has spared him, and he has saved it. Both know the game they have played and won.

Finishing his tale, Voiron confesses that he and Christophe did not see the next bull – “an unthinking black Andalusian” — killed, for they were weeping like children. He ends the story by proposing a toast ‘to her’, and Kipling phrases it with just a hint of ambiguity as to just who that ‘her’ might be.

It’s not simply the story of the underdog winning that I like. Apis is hardly the underdog, even when outnumbered in the bullring! It’s what the story reminds me of about Kipling. Because of his enthusiasm for Empire, and the association of that Empire, despite its Britishness, with England, we can be fooled into thinking of Kipling as an English writer. But in reality, he was much broader than that.

His British soldiers, of the ‘Soldiers Three’ stories, are stereotypes of working-class voices from several regions of Britain, but none of them have Kipling’s voice. They seem as foreign to him as the Muslim and Hindu ayahs, servants and soldiers of his India, perhaps even more so.  And in the story ‘An Habitation Enforced’, it’s tempting to see the American and his wife who become nouveau Lords of the Manor in the English village to which they have moved as proxies for Kipling and his Sussex house, Batemans. In ‘The Village That Voted The Earth Was Flat’, and They, Kipling’s narrators slip easily into the identity of the British Establishment, but the English are always seen from the outside by this writer.

The writer, any writer, is likely to be to some extent an outsider, an observer, even when his or her readers perceive them to be insiders, and Kipling seems to be at a similar distance, or proximity to most of his characters, even those whom he calls “mine own people”.

In The Bull That Thought, Kipling’s narrator is a car-owning, continental travelling ‘Englishman’, which puts him in a very tiny minority of the British population. But the story allows us to see another aspect of Kipling’s identity, for he was a lover of France, and can present his French raconteur with absolute credibility, perhaps even authenticity.

The tale within a tale is a common technique and was used by many storytellers. Coppard used it, and he is about as far as you can get from Kipling where English identities are concerned, and so did and so do many others. Sometimes, the primary narrator simply introduces the tale and lets the secondary narrator carry on. Sometimes the frame is completed with the outer narrator appearing at the end to tie things up. Here, Kipling keeps a conversation between the two going, his primary narrator intervening to remind us who is talking to whom, and that both of them are setting into that enormous champagne bottle! “Monsieur Voiron replenished our glasses…”

Occasionally, as if to drive the narrative on, he asks questions: “Why did you want to send him to Arles?”And once he even has to bring Voiron back to the subject in hand as the old man veers off onto another train of thought:

‘…Now, as compared with our recent war, Soult’s campaign and retreat across the Bidassoa–’

“‘But did you allow Christophe just to annex the bull?’ I demanded”

            The opening frame takes up more than a page of the story, as the narrator recalls his trip to “westward from a town by the Mouth of the Rhone’”and his plan to road test the speed of his motor car on “thirty kilometres as near as might be” of a road “mathematically straight”. Voiron, a guest at the same Hotel takes an interest, and after the event suggests the celebratory meal during which he will tell his story. Though we get a fairly full account of Voiron’s history, we also get a subtle nudge about the narrator’s, for he has with him a Mr Leggat “who had slipped out to make sure” and “reported that the road surface was unblemished”. Leggat is our traveller’s chauffeur/mechanic. The purpose of such a frame is to let us know what sort of person we are listening to, and by extension, how to judge those to whom he is talking, and who he will suffer to talk to us.   

And at the end, it is Voiron to whom he gives the closing words. That leaves us with Kipling’s narrator when the telling ends. There is no comment either from Kipling’s narrator or himself. We make of it what we make of it, and it’s more, I think, that what we might expect our narrator, or his storyteller, or the author himself to believe about the practice of bullfighting.

The nature of the fight that Apis wages against his tormentors, both as a young calf and as a full grown bull, and Voiron’s attitude to it, and to him, and to the outcome of that final battle, can be seen as an examination of attitudes to war and violent conflict in the wider sense. Voiron has “supervised Chinese woodcutters who, with axe and dynamite, deforested the centre of France for trench-props”, and he drifts into talking about Soult’s Napoleonic War campaign in Spain. In short stories, and especially in ones by masters of the genre as Kipling was, there are no drifts into irrelevancy, only the illusion of them. Voiron draws a specific parallel just after he has described Apis as a “natural murderer”: “One knows the type among beasts as well as among men.”

 The date of publication, of 1926, falls well within the deep and long shadow thrown by the first ‘Great’ war of the twentieth century, and Kipling knew well the cost of it. In the stories ‘Mary Postgate’ and ‘The Gardener’ which bracket, by publication this one, he confronts directly both the private and the public grief, but here, might there be an oblique critique as well?  Yet not of the cleverness of the tactics as shown by Apis, so much as the attitude of those who live to tell the tale and of the outcome they long for. That “type among beasts” and men, Voiron asserts, “possesses a curious truculent mirth”.

Does the calculated brutality of the bull, and its sense of honour and of humour echo qualities that Kipling observed in those who fought in the trenches for which Voiron’s Chinese workers “deforested France”?      

Mike Smith lives on the edge of England where he writes occasional plays, poetry, and essays, usually on the short story form in which he writes as Brindley Hallam Dennis. His writing has been published and performed. He blogs at www.Bhdandme.wordpress.com 

Categories
Essay

COVID-19 and The New York Times as an Ideological Gatekeeper

By Gary Olson

“Accumulate, accumulate! That is Moses and the prophets.”

— Karl Marx

I’ve been negligent in failing to acknowledge my gratitude to op-ed writers at the New York Times for their frequent doses of insidious misinformation which demand disassembling and refutation. They didn’t disappoint on May 5, 2020. In the lead op-ed, “Will We Get Used to the Dying?”, Editor-at-Large Charlie Warzal expresses his gut-wrenching feeling that Americans are already beginning to adapt to Covid-19’s deadly consequences. After informing readers that the Federal government has ordered an extra 100,000 body bags and that a reliable computer model projects 3,000 deaths per day in early June, Warzal suggests that most Americans are likely to “simply carry on with their lives” and finds parallels with the indifference now shown toward mass shootings across the country.

Warzal goes on to offer a detailed and accurate laundry list of Trump’s sins of commission and omission on Covid-19. He blames American citizens for their childlike notions of personal freedom “where any suggestion of collective duty and responsibility for others becomes the chains of tyranny…where the idea of freedom is also an excuse to serve one’s self before others and as a shield to hide from responsibilities.” He concludes — rightly I think — that “this kind of freedom has a price that will be calculated and then set by a select few. The rest of us merely pay it.” Setting aside the fact that Mr. Warzal opines from his laptop in Missoula, Montana and in all likelihood will not be one of those “paying the ultimate price”, what else can we learn from this article?

What we see here is an honest explication of horrific symptoms but a troubling, almost “blame the victim” explanation in lieu of addressing the actual cause of the problem. First, the narrow notions of “freedom” that Warzal skewers didn’t arise out of thin air but have been carefully cultivated. This rapacious system logic overtook the nation in the post-Reconstruction era of the Gilded Age and has remarinated the world of business and finance since the time of Thatcher and Reagan. Today the muting of empathic impulses is almost complete as the “common interest” is subjugated to the cultural construction of selves based entirely on market values. Even morals have been deregulated.

The “freedom” Warzal cites but fails to connect to the larger system is only the freedom to pursue economic self-interest as a hyper-competitive, perpetual consumer. As Noam Chomsky has asserted, “[T]he very idea that we’re in it together, that we care about one each other, that we have a responsibility to one another, that’s sort of frightening to those people who want a society which is dominated by power, authority, wealth, in which people are passive and obedient.” Or, as the famed primate scientist Frans de Waal succinctly puts it, “You need to indoctrinate empathy out of people to arrive at extreme capitalist positions.” The United States is not unique in this regard but the extreme difference in degree almost makes it a difference in kind.

Second, what we see in Warzal’s piece is the ideological demarcation line which can never be crossed by journalists who aspire to reaching the profession’s elite echelons. In this case, he leaves the impression that Trump and a “select few” others made the decisions about opening up the country but in fact it’s an entire class of people. who, paradoxically, also don’t have a choice of sending a certain percentage of workers to needless death. Wall Street and the politicians who serve it are compelled to take this action under the ineluctable logic of ceaseless capitalist growth and profit-making — or watch their system totally collapse. This is the dirty truth that can never rise to the level conscious thought much less ever be uttered.

Third, in perusing the online Comments section (1,085 and now closed) we find an entirely predictable response that’s confined to debating gun control and trashing Trump. The latter attribute our problems to Trump’s ego and personal ambition. A tiny fraction condemns Americans for the selfishness but if there’s a single comment that raised any deeper questions, I missed it.

Now, lest I be misunderstood, I’m not suggesting the Times’ editorial board gathers around a virtual table like a coven of diabolical conspirators and conjures up creative narratives to deceive the paper’s readers. Quite the contrary is the case. They are enablers for a class of individuals who behave according to system which has an inherent dynamic: expand or perish. As such, these cultural coordinators for the powerful, take on beliefs that are deeply entrenched and congruent with their perception of journalistic integrity and the responsibilities accompanying it.

Advancing views of elite interests is a prerequisite to attaining and retaining these positions. And there’s an enormously satisfying symmetry between their beliefs and their self interest. Their role of frontline, ideological gate keepers affords them substantial economic rewards, privileged lifestyles and immense status among their peers. And just to be clear, these folks are sharing their genuine convictions. Psychologists tell us that people experience cognitive dissonance from lying repeatedly so they come to believe what they’re writing and saying. They don’t lose sleep over it and it’s safe to describe their behavior as psychopathic.

Gary Olson is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. His most recent book is EMPATHY IMPERILED: Capitalism, Culture and the Brain (New York: Springer Publishing, 2012). Contact: olsong@moravian.edu.

First published in Countercurrents.org

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are solely that of the author.

Categories
Essay

The Idiot, Goethe, and the Comet

By Helga Neumayer

I believe in stories. I am looking for stories.  And, yes. I can describe myself as a story lover. But, naturally, there are some stories I don’t want to know anything at all about. “Net so genau-au (Not too many details)” as Austrian artist Ostbahn-Kurti used to sing.

Stories have a life of their own. Suddenly, they come and bewitch you. It is useless to ignore them. You are surrounded by them. When you close your eyes, they come back in dreams.

Failing

Offended and frustrated, I left “my” German class. I had offered a proper elected lesson out of a textbook dated 2015 with exercises. The class did not participate.  They made fun of my lesson. They now wanted to learn something about love, etc. One of them complained noisily in front of the class:

“Teachings would be out-of-date!”

That hit!

There was some consolation in the trainers’ room.  My colleagues understand such situations. Anyhow, it affected me. 

I had some questions stashed away into my backpack:

“Do I do antiquated work?”

“What can I still expect from teaching classes?” 

“Is it worth the expenditure?”

Diversion

Anyway, I had to go to the public library.

I had to be surrounded by books. I needed to gaze on the soft hills of the Wiener Wald — the Vienna Forest. They calm me down.  For me, it has the same effect zapping through TV channels.

I can beam myself away, for example, among the bookshelves between I and K, let’s say, between a new Kaminer and an early Kaestner.  Then, I can glance at the DAF/DAZ shelf, at the textbooks for German as a foreign or second language.

Something new?

There was: The Complete Idiot. Simple speech. 

One guy does everything wrong. A drunkard.  Always talking about sex, something that he does not have.  No friendships to care about. Impolite. No luck in life.

Hefty language.  

I took the book. It helped.  For the next lesson, after a weekend of stomach ache and migraine, I had three different proposals for the class. In the so called “open-learning class,” participants are motivated to choose their own learning matter; they will choose what they like to learn at the moment. At the end, they are even allowed to play cards. Cards are in vogue — and, even at break times groups of card-players can be seen focussing on the game at hand.

Not this time. The participants concentrated mainly on the three stories of The Complete Idiot which I had offered them in copy form.  By themselves, they came to ask for expressions in detail, to be sure to understand everything properly.

Two close friends finished the three stories quickly and asked for the whole book, to retire with it in the leisure corner on the sofa. At the end of the lesson, they asked me where to buy the book.

A book!

With this experience, I gathered new courage. Finally, I was not at a very wrong spot.  Not old-fashioned. Not entirely in the wrong universe. 

The story could go on.

A few weeks passed.  The borders of The Complete Idiot — thus mine — could expand, furthermore, in the area of language.

The rail of love is a rail, which does not know limits.

Next time, I found Goethe’s Werther on the shelf.

 An audio book.

I cannot claim that in my younger years classical literature spoiled my love for literature, in general.  Those years just passed by. Consciously, I read one or another text as considered “advanced” only. For example, Goethe’s West-East Divan, after having inhaled Hafez.

It was pure joy.

Werther, however, fell into my hands for the first time now.  It was a simple version for the young people from Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe whom I had to bring closer to the German language. So, we started with the beginning of the story when you can already adumbrate a passionate approach, but you already feel that the darling sweetheart is in other hands.

Listen two times.

Re-narrate once.

Read once. 

And then it was getting exciting.

How would the story proceed?

The feedback was gorgeous.

Stories over stories.

They embraced continents, generations, and fiction.

Exactly what turns out to be literature.

Prevailing tenor: love is surely no reason for suicide!

The quiet young man from the Ivory Coast in the back row got very emotional. He recounted about his brother, who left all his kin, because his love for the woman of his heart was refused by his family.  He emigrated to Germany and does not even answer the phone when a family member calls. 

A young Syrian woman believes that an arranged engagement with an unloved person can surely be cancelled, and everything will work out fine. And the young Ukrainian — the most radical of all — without further ado — navigates a comet out of the infinite nothing into the ballroom of the society of lovers, and extinguishes the whole raunchy bunch and brings the story to an early end.

And myself?

Well, me, I am now complying with the standard requirements of Marcel Reich-Ranicky,  a canonical literary critic, who in 2002, declared that every literate German speaker must have read Goethe’s “Werther”.  But quite possibly, my version, in simple speech, an audio book, would not have been acceptable to him …

(Translated from the German original to English by the author and Carol Yalcinkaya-Ferris)

Helga Neumayer (Austria) is an ethno-historian, author, editor, translator and multilingual radio activist. She edited a number of anthologies. For more than a decade she has been editing a renowned Austrian feminist magazine ‘Frauensolidarität‘.( Solidarity among Women) She is the co-founder of the radio editorial ‚Women on Air, a multiligual magazine that coveres issues on global power relations. She is a member of P.E.N. Austria and on editorial board of Words &Worlds. Helga Neumayer lives and works in Vienna.