much of the mail this column receives comes in
the form of frothing, barely literate invective
from Bushist Homelanders, occasionally a more
plaintive cry will slip over the transom. "It's
easy to be negative, to say what's wrong with
the world," these anxious readers write. "But
what do you think should be done about it? What's
your answer to all these problems?"
which the only reply is, of course: "What makes
you think there is an answer?"
we can just get it right somehow, do the right
thing, then all will be well -- is that the idea?
If we get the right politician in office, the
right regime installed on top of this or that
arbitrary accretion of tribes and wanderers (i.e.,
every nation in the world); if we get right with
God, say the right prayers, adopt the right economic
system, read the right books -- then death, deceit,
treachery, greed, cruelty, stupidity, fanaticism,
bloodlust and delusion will simply vanish from
the face of the earth, right?
course there is no "answer." Death won't stop,
murder won't desert us, the biochemical frenzies
that lurk in the mud of our monkey brains -- in
every single one of us -- won't go away because
some gregarious backslapper buys, lies or fast-talks
his way into office, or because some angry exile
in the British Library overdoses on Hegel, or
because some caravan trader or carpenter's son
begins hearing voices. You can surrender your
will and your mind to anybody or anything, to
any set of beliefs, sacred or secular -- but that
surrender will leave you in the same black hole
of ignorance and fear you started from. Not one
of those beliefs will make everything "right."
do we counsel fatalism, a dark, defeated surrender,
a retreat into bitter, curdled quietude? Not a
whit. We advocate action, positive action, unstinting
action, doing the only thing that human beings
can do, ever: Try this, try that, try something
else again; discard those approaches that don't
work, that wreak havoc, that breed death and cruelty;
fight against everything that would draw us down
again into our own mud; expect no quarter, no
lasting comfort, no true security; offer no final
answer, no last word, no eternal truth, but just
keep stumbling, falling, careening, backsliding,
crawling toward the broken light.
what is this "broken light"? Nothing more than
a metaphor for the patches of understanding --
awareness, attention, knowledge, connection --
that break through our darkness and stupidity
for a moment now and then. A light always fractured,
under threat, shifting, found then lost again,
always lost. For we are creatures steeped in imperfection,
in breakage and mutation, tossed up -- very briefly
-- from the boiling, chaotic crucible of Being,
itself a ragged work in progress toward unknown
ends, or rather, toward no particular end at all.
Why should there be an "answer" in such a reality?
and this alone is the only "ideology" behind the
column, which tries at all times to fight against
the compelling but ignorant delusion that any
single economic or political or religious system
-- indeed, any kind of system at all devised by
the seething jumble of the human mind -- can completely
encompass the infinite variegations of existence.
What matters is what works -- what pulls us from
our own darkness as far as possible, for as long
as possible. Yet the truth remains that "what
works" is always and forever only provisional
-- what works now, here, might not work there,
then. What saves our soul today might make us
all we can do is to keep looking, working, trying
to clear a little more space for the light, to
let it shine on our passions and our confusions,
our anger and our hopes, informing and refining
them, so that we can see each other better, for
a moment -- until death shutters all seeing forever.
what about the charge of rampant "negativism,"
the lack of "positive ideas?" It doesn't hold
water. A 900-word weekly newspaper column dealing
with current events, aimed at a general audience,
would be a ludicrously inappropriate venue to
offer detailed prescriptions for the complexities
of public policy, which in any case require extensive
input, cooperation and compromise from many different
sectors of society -- not a fiat from a journalist.
a journalistic forum can be a particularly effective
tool for puncturing the lies, hypocrisies, corruptions
and machinations of the powerful. If Leader A
says X, and X is not true, then it doesn't take
a great deal of space to expose that fact. If
Leader B receives financial benefits from advocating
policy Y, pointing out that connection is a relatively
brief, straightforward affair.
if a concerned citizen of the world (and of the
United States, in the case of the present writer)
discerns what he believes to be highly dangerous
implications in the actions, pronouncements and
ideologies of the American ruling clique -- a
clique that now holds a position of unprecedented
dominance in the world -- then is it not his duty
to point out these implications, as strongly and
"negatively" as possible?
a surgeon's hands, a knife or a needle becomes
a "positive" implement for restoring health. The
same principle -- though on an infinitely less
important scale -- applies to "negative" press
criticism of dangerous rulers in times of upheaval
and extremity. To "inoculate the world with disillusionment,"
as Henry Miller put it, is a positive act.
August 18, 2003