“As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods.
They kill us for their sport.” Shakespeare, King Lear
“I’d rather be a free man in my grave
Than living as a puppet or a slave.” Jimmy Cliff
“I want something done! I want something done! I want something done!” Charlie Cheswick in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, protesting Nurse Ratched’s rationing of the patients’ cigarette supply
Summer weather has already kicked in here in Seoul, addling my brain even more than usual. I’ve also found that married life has been providing me with the opposite of inspiration when it comes to writing, if there’s a word for such a phenomenon. Maybe I’m just sick of complaining about the same shit all the time.
Which brings me to the Edward Snowden case. I was very attentive when the story first broke–actually, I didn’t read or see Glenn Greenwald’s interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, but I did see Snowden answer Greenwald’s questions at the Guardian’s website (not that all this is news to the N. S. A., which it turns out already knows everything about everybody anyway, at least if they happen to be U. S. citizens), and I was floored both by the guy’s intelligence and by his guts.
Of course, the mainstream media set on him like a bunch of attack dogs after that, telling us all what to think and how to feel with condescending confidence. I didn’t bother to consult any of the pundits to be told how I should react to the news, apart from watching a clip of John Oliver hosting the Daily Show, who coincidentally seemed to feel the same way about it as I did, flatteringly enough.
It reminds me of how someone on the news described Bradley Manning as “naive,” as if it were somehow childish to feel it incumbent upon oneself to have enough of a conscience to want to report serial war crimes to the public–one’s own safety, welfare, and future prospects for any kind of decent life notwithstanding. The international edition of Time Magazine, the one with the cover story about China’s rocky rise, had a short article about Manning with an unflattering photograph that showed him looking pale and and painfully pimpled, even though the text quoted him as saying he was only trying to do the right thing. (He looks much more presentable in other photos.)
Who knows what’s going to happen to Edward Snowden now? And will his revelations about the PRISM program make a dent in the vast surveillance apparatus growing up all around us? Also, since when did America become so un-American? Pretty soon the police will start arresting you for blowing your nose with the flag instead of wiping your ass with other countries’ flags the way you’re supposed to.
This is where our long project of national narcissism has led us, letting our leaders lead us by the nose to the edge of a giant cliff overlooking a cesspool. This is what we get for being so stupid, for trusting the likes of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney not to abuse their precious (stolen–twice) positions of power, or their friendlier-seeming successor who appears to have been transformed into someone less likable since he slid into home plate five years ago.
And now China is following in our drunken footsteps. Well, they don’t seem to be as bent on imperial adventures as we’ve been, bombing and torturing the hell out of anyone we don’t like until they finally love us (hey, it worked for God, didn’t it?), but they’ve picked up our habit of mining the rest of the world for resources and teaching their citizens to consume their way through life until the air becomes unbreathable and the fish in the rivers need windshield wipers for their eyeballs in order to see where they’re going.
Mind, I’ve never been to China, so I can only write based on what I’ve heard and read from others. As I mentioned a few posts ago, I’ve been meaning to read a book by Martin Jacques called When China Rules the World. I’ve become a tad curmudgeonly in my old age and am less amenable to learning new tricks than I was as a young dog (or maybe I’ve just learned how to play dead too well), but I don’t think I could handle mastering Chinese at this point.
So I was marginally relieved, in a petty, mean-spirited way, when I read in the Time article that China’s speedy development has had certain deleterious side effects, leading to a national brain-drain and widespread social unrest. Not that I broke out Old Glory and started waving it around yelling “rah, rah, rah!” I’d like to see a world without such neurotically imposed national boundaries for a change, and one less intent on gobbling everything in its path. (Granted, I’ve been doing the lion’s share of the gobbling myself.)
Did you see the Sunday New York Times (also International Herald Tribune) piece on how China is moving 250 million of its rural inhabitants into newly developed cities, all so they can consume more of the products the global behemoth is manufacturing and help civilization dig its own grave that much faster?
I wish the people of Istanbul luck in preserving their embattled grove of trees, and I hope the folks in Syria can settle down before Obama gives the cue for the air force to take a dump on their country, embroiling us in yet another misbegotten Middle Eastern adventure.
And I also hope–not that this is an urgent a matter–that Ray Kurzweil’s prediction that by 2030 we will all be robots doesn’t come to pass. True, most of us may be forlorn beasts at the mercy of deluded predators who mistake themselves for gods (and some of us may make the same mistake ourselves, with less far-reaching repercussions than the usual suspects have), but at least this way we have some chance to hang on to our last vestiges of integrity, decency, and dignity, instead of becoming shiny reproductions of Star Wars props used in some ludicrous George Lucas extravaganza.
“The doctor will be with you shortly.”
Right after he makes this putt.