Forget Allah, Buddha, Christ, etc. Two minor Greek mythological deities excavated by Freud in his theory of what makes us humans tick have been ruling the world forever. Eros, the god or drive for love and Thanatos, that of death. Of course, any number of cultures follows the established pattern of duality. Be it yin and yang or the light versus darkness of my Zoroastrian ancestors, these warring forces live inside all of us. Looking at the state of the world, one would have to wonder if, for several decades now, more than explaining humanity, they aren’t actually splitting it in two
Populations with a pea-sized brain (and I’m being generous here) in countries or communities prey to religious superstition and/or battleground to sectarian or other conflicts, tribalism, warlordism, illegal occupation, and/or crushed under brutal regimes—take your pick—have every reason to believe in Thanatos’s supremacy. That is what they see all around day in and day out. You can preach all you want about peace and love and the brotherhood of man, they would sooner drive a sharp dagger through your lying heart than listen to more pieties. Death is all there is and you are responsible for this, they will assert time and again, you caused this war and the one before that. You brought to power that tyrant. You stole our ressources, you victimized us, and now you insult our prophets. You deserve death, I will kill you and die myself rather than live to see another day.
There you go. Thanatos once more spreading his dark wings, grabbing his scythe. What can you do against imbeciles whose most powerful emotion is hatred, who will always destroy rather than build, who will hold the most asinine beliefs and defend them to the death?
Also powerful believers in Thanatos are the vicious regimes which we, to our shame, pretend are no better and no worse than any other, whose repulsive heads we invite at our tables, with whose governments we sign juicy contracts, whose terrible crimes we pretend not to see. Did our administration voice even a modest protest over the 47 executions in Saudi Arabia last Saturday? Is decapitation horrendous only when performed by ISIS? Is crucifixion bad when putting Christ to death but okay to get rid of pesky teenagers who send out one tweet too many? Yet, even that kingdom built on sand has executed only 150 people in 2015. Our real best buddy since the signing of the doomed-to-crumble nuclear agreement is Iran where nearly one thousand people have been executed during the year that just ended. (Hurray for Iran, they’re getting there, though still far from our own United States where this past year 33,000 of our citizens died through gun violence—thirty-three THOUSAND?—and where cops killed almost 1200 people, mostly from minorities and often unarmed. All this to much cheering from the half-wits who refuse gun control and police accountability.)
We can’t confront Thanatos, his hold is too strong on fanatics and deranged individuals (for whom we continue to voice excuses and understanding.) That shouldn’t prevent us from recognizing his cult as the big divide between civilized discourse and mayhem. Or from picking Eros.
Whoa, hasn’t this story run its course yet? I know, there’s no end of fascination with what journalists and the media do to our society. And no answer to the vexing and clichéd chicken-and-egg question: Does the media create news or do news create the media? Still, with the present colorful and exasperating circus round the Snowden/NSA story, another question pops up, when is enough enough?
In the latest development, President Obama has cancelled his trip to Russia, ostensibly because he didn’t think at this point it would improve the relations between the two countries. Seriously? Does anyone believe that behind the inflated rhetoric about agendas not meshing and whatnot and unspoken disapproval of that thug Putin, this is not first and foremost about Russia granting asylum to Snowden? Or anything but a preemptive appeasement of the crazy conservatives in our country? Imagine what Tea Party extremists, libertarians, Paul Ryan (along with Ron Paul, Rand Paul and all similarly named Republicans) would have had to say if this unpatriotic Kenyan-socialist-communist-black president had not cancelled his visit, the mud-slinging he would have had to endure for showing such disregard for security breaches, intelligence, and keeping Americans safe! Read more…
“Don’t know” is a response that doesn’t exist outside polls. Everywhere else, everyone knows everything, has an opinion about everything and is busy sending it out for all to hear. What we don’t always realize is how obvious our buttons are, the ones that every social, economic, or political issue pushes. We are robots with features incorporated by our background and circumstances and rarely are we capable of moving beyond. Think? God forbid. We just jump in and engage in disquisition about this or that issue that’s already being beaten to death. The public gabfest wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t carry my voice, would it?
Case in point, the Zimmerman verdict. This guy, a self-appointed vigilante who thought packing heat made him someone to be reckoned with (my regular readers know how I feel about guns) shot and killed a young black man. Neither the police investigation nor the trial that just ended with Zimmerman’s acquittal could establish the exact sequence of events, only that the armed guard was not racist. The jury did its best under murky circumstances and returned a not-guilty verdict. But the chorus of voices on all sides pitching in with arguments and opinions? The only one worth hearing was the President with a moving unscripted statement about what it means to be a black man in America today. Everything else, just so much wind.
Case in point. Rolling Stone magazine’s cover of surviving Boston Marathon bomber, Dzohkhar Tsarnaev, and the related story by Janet Reitman. Howls of outrage went up; calling it a glam shot glorifying the assassin, retailers refused to carry the issue; one Boston police photographer retaliated by producing photos of Tsarnaev bloodied and dazed flushed out of his hiding place. Personally, I’m not as worried about the cover as about the question foremost in my mind: how many Tsarnaevs, Adam Lanzas, Mohammad Attas are even now stirring in their primal muck in pods like those in the old horror film “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” getting ready to unleash mayhem? But does the magazine cover insult the victims of the bombing? I don’t know.
Case in point, Edward Snowden. Now stuck in Russian limbo, was this man–overnight celebrity for the next fifteen minutes–right when he denounced the NSA’s vast spying system of unsuspecting citizens? Here I do have an opinion. Yes, he was. But the rest of the discussion about his life, personality, motivation—out to make a quick buck, selfless whistleblower, cheat, hero? Who knows? I certainly don’t. And I’ll defer to Daniel Ellsberg, certainly more qualified than anyone to have an opinion on the matter, when he says that Snowden was right to make a run for it.
Case in point, Syria and American intervention. Is it okay for tens of thousands of Syrians to die while Bashar Assad emails congratulations to his wife for buying her latest Louboutin heels? Should Obama go in, is he half-hearted about it, has he moved the red line again, should he actually arm insurgents? I don’t think anyone, including the President, has the answer to that. The administration is playing it by ear. Two years ago, something could possibly have been done to overthrow the tyrant son of a tyrant and replace him with a more palatable government (though America would never have heard the end of it) but now? Obama promised light armament and logistics help to the insurgents but despite David Ignatius’ op-ed echoing others accusing the president of equivocating, the situation is not clear. Whom would we be arming? Sectarian fanatics? Democratically inclined future leaders, potential allies of the US? Brutal thugs who think nothing of ripping out their enemy’s heart and eating it, as we saw in one video? What should Obama do? Once again, I don’t know.
About many things, I have an opinion, some too strong for my own good. But about many others, such as in the above examples, sorry, the earth will have to continue turning without knowing what I think. All of you out there express more than enough to fill the void.
The military are temporarily—at least, so they claim—back in power, having gotten rid of Morsi, an inept and clueless would-be autocrat. Muslim Brotherhood leaders once again find themselves behind bars while their rank and file vow martyrdom. So, what has changed?
a) Politically, Egyptians have come of age. Put to the test, they rallied. Shifting alliances? Of course. A mix of secular and well-educated youth, disenchanted officials, Coptic Christians, even Salafists, unhappy with the Brotherhood? Sure. But any population that can come out 17 million strong with demands has to be acknowledged. No one can pull a Bashar Assad and mow down such crowds. Morsi failed to capitalize on the goodwill of people finally rid of decades of military dictatorship and corruption; he had no idea of how to build democratic foundations and no intention to do so; he didn’t begin to tackle the immediate and huge economic problems of a population already poor before the Arab Spring and now plunged into immeasurable woes and difficulties. Read more…
No matter what happens next, Iranians will have known relief and a great burst of enthusiasm after the results of Friday’s presidential elections were announced, an overwhelming and unexpected majority for 64-year old cleric Hassan Rouhani. Not wanting to risk bloody demonstrations such as the ones following its rigged elections of 2009, the regime played it safe this time, sharing the returns as they came in and waiting for the total countdown before announcing Rouhani as the new president. It’s safe to assume that the Supreme Leader was not dancing in the streets with the exuberant crowds—his preferred candidates came in a very distant second and third. Read more…
What should the new post be about? Chavez? Nah…I don’t know anything about the man or about Venezuela or even about Latin America. To paraphrase famously brainy Dan Quayle—remember him?–I don’t even speak Latin. After two days of enduring the torrents of words and images hurtling through the ether about el comandante, assessments from both grieving followers and ecstatic foes and op-eds from experts and analysts and mixed reactions from world leaders, boredom is setting in and I no longer feel like weighing the “yes, buts” and the “on the other hands.” As in, Chavez was a populist and a socialist but his rogue buddies—Assad of Syria, Ahmadinejad of Iran, the late-and-little-lamented Qaddafi of Libya—spoil the picture. As in, he was brought to power by popular vote, including in the recent elections, but despite enormous oil resources, the economy is not good and his fourteen years at the head of the country include some unsavory violations, great corruption, and unchecked crime. Bottom line, he was no Che Guevara and certainly no Salvador Allende. Also, as a matter of personal taste, I dislike posturing strongmen whose main platform is to thumb their nose at the culture of the great white oppressor. Read more…
The air is so stale around the G-8 meeting, it almost smells like the cigar-smoke-filled rooms in the all-boys’ clubs of yore. Just as we still rely on fossil fuel (“fossil,” shouldn’t the very word scare us away?) and fight wars over it—killing an amazing number of people, with no one batting an eye—just as we build enough nuclear energy sites, shown catastrophe after catastrophe to be lethal, to give cancer to half the world population, we keep on trotting out workhorses that should have been put to pasture a while back. Even a village idiot understands that if he holds his hand to the flame, he’ll get burned. That’s called experience. But our leaders start every day anew, not having learned anything from anything. Read more…