23 December 2011

Let’s go to another country*

(or the timeless specter of St. Monica)

I am hooked on Eduardo Galeano.  The man walks through my sensibilities, planting flowers.  Some are made of dry-wit brown, some flutter like flags of rebellion, some exude the fragrance of hope and some are textured with irony and pain.  And in this field of color, texture and fragrance, from daybreak to dusk and in the many hours of night, are produced aggregates that shatter television screens and simple stories that fuel the relentless interrogation of truth.  I am a poor student of this extraordinary man, but I record, by way of appreciation, the stories, subplots and elaborations that jump off the canvass on which he paints the world in all its colors, dismal and brilliant. 

“In the barrio of Cerro Norte, a poor suburb of the city of Montevideo, a magician gave a street performace.  With a touch of his wand, he made a dollar bill sprout from his fist, then from his hat.  When the show was over, the magic wand disappeared.  The next day, neighbors saw a barefoot child walking the streets, magic wand in hand.  He tapped on everything he came across and stood waiting.  Like many other children in the neighborhood, that nine-year-old boy liked to sink his nose into a plastic bag filled with glue.  Once he explained why: ‘It takes me to another country.’”

In the aftermath of the US Presidential “election”, a new map has emerged in North America.  The unknown cartographer has gathered “blue” states that “went to Kerry” in an expanded “United States of Canada”, and has named “red” states as Jesus Land.  Jesus I am sure would have pouted and said “Elie, lama lama sabathkini”, for being a Buddhist, I have heard that the archenemy of liberation marches into the final battle wearing the clothes of liberation.  But that’s another story. 

The story is that of many blue-citizens wanting “out”.  “I want to migrate to Canada”.  “We might as well secede from the union”.  These are the gut-reactions of some who have only now noticed their beloved country is disintegrating before they eyes or that it never really existed in the first place.  These are the sentiments which persuade me to say by way of offering comfort and light humor to ease the pain, “Come to my country; I will do my best to give you citizenship, for you are political refugees”.  Yes, the wheel has come a full circle.  A land peopled by freedom lovers fleeing tyranny, have to flee the tyrannies they themselves spawned.  Except that this very same tyranny has erased for all intents and purposes the notion of territory-based nation. 

This country inhales a plastic bag filled with glue that takes the people to countries called nostalgia and forgetting.  And this diplomatic passport that facilitates travel from one dream to another, one myth to another is called television. 

“Development: an image on TV of a TV showing another TV on which there is yet another TV.”

Life is an entity that lives off make-believe, not realizing, as Peter Guerevich has pointed out that power is the ability to make one inhabit the powerful’s version of one’s reality and conversely, that inhabiting someone’s else’s version of one’s reality is the ultimate condition of ideological slavery.  A simple exercise would explain it all.  Replace “development” in the above proposition with “life in the United States” and we get the following:

“Life in the United States: an image on TV of a TV showing another TV on which there is yet another TV.”

“During the year 1998 the globalized media dedicated the most space and their best energies to the romance between the president of the planet and a plump, voracious, talkative woman named Monica Lewinsky.  In every country we were all Lewinskyized.  We had her for breakfast, reading the papers; we had her for lunch, listening to the radio; and we had her for dinner, watching TV.  I think something else happened in 1998, but I can’t remember what.”

Lewinskyization is not something that happened in the middle of Clinton’s second term.  It is as much an “American” tradition as is Apple Pie and Ice Cream.  This is why Weapons of Mass Destruction is Monica Lewinsky.  This is why The War on Terrorism is Monica Lewinsky.  This is indeed why The Existence of Democracy is a Monica Lewinsky.  Moral Value?  Yes, another Monica Lewinsky.  Islamic Fundamentalism too.  As was the Evil Empire prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

This is why people find it hard to believe that another country exists within this Monica Lewinskyized USA, a country that resides as a throbbing pain in their hearts and minds, so painful that it requires the constant anesthetization of Monica Lewinsky morphine.  

The United States cannot remember Enron, does not want to know the links between the Bush family and the Bin Laden family, does not want to learn the political economy of oil, forgets that it houses a significant segment of the “Third World”, does not breathe a word of how its industries are rapidly making it difficult for the entire world to breathe, and will not admit that the “Axis of Terror” is headquartered in Washington DC.  The above do not coalesce into that fascinating an image on TV of a TV showing another TV on which there is yet another TV the people of the United States consumes from their living rooms. 

This Monica Lewinskyized country will not admit that the franchise of their people is systematically robbed or, more correctly, was aborted at birth.  This country which audits the health or otherwise of political systems all over the world, does not tolerate or make possible an audit of its own “democracy”. 

When will the United States switch off the TV that is the “plump, voracious, talkative creature named Monica Lewinsky”?  Sorry, I should write that in a different way.  Will the United States ever wake up to the need to switch off the TV that is the “plump, voracious, talkative creature named Monica Lewinsky”?  That is a question that the United States must answer.  I come from another world, but I do not think I will be judged harshly or be called presumptuous for offering the following observations. 

I do not think that the “other country” so desired by a citizenry that has been turned into glue-sniffers exists outside the United States.  For this “other country” is the United States, which, despite manifest fraud, systemic disenfranchisement (not to mention vast sections that refused to exercise its franchise, probably due to a manifest lack of faith) and endemic Lewinskyization, still “officially” voted against Bush to the tune of almost 50%.

Today is the name of this other country.  This Hour is the name of the state each citizen must live.  This Moment is the name of the community that builds the trenches, builds the schools, develops an embrace made of love and hope, and lays the foundation of that other, more enduring and infinitely more honorable universe called Tomorrow.  

*The ninth in a series of articles collected under the title 'Love Notes to Democracy', written while in the USA as a member of a team of international monitors during the US Presidential Election 2004]