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Nothing

by DAVID Ker THOMSON

“Though my tale be naught, yet will I tell it.” –the bearer of bad news in Antigone

I don’t mean to boast, but I think I can claim about my life that I’ve amounted to almost nothing.

When it comes to supporting the system, there’s nothing quite like nothing if it’s nothing you’re hoping to accomplish.  Nothing abides.  Nothing keeps the vigil, for example, with Nobody in right field, the only unfilled position in the Marx Brothers’ routine “Who’s on first?”

Call us utopian, but we truly believe nothing is possible.

In a world dominated by pugitives, caught in the endless rehearsal of reflex—pugilist/fugitive, fight/flight—we urge nothing.  We make no policy recommendation for bolstering or reforming this or that corporation or government.  We remain resolutely skeptical of calls made to us and in our name to do something good that ignore the more prosaic task of undoing the far greater number of sly incursions and outright hostilities performed already in our name and supposedly on our behalf.

When harried with particular urgency, we remember a thousand instances of good content in reprehensible form, and when the man comes knocking we are pigs admiring the huff and the puff of bluster.

No one is the candidate of choice.  We vote for naught.

We have argued carefully and at length elsewhere against participating in the giddiness called democracy.  Diligent readers can find the time to ignore, at their leisure, our earlier contributions to the field of reticence, and we do not intend to belabor the point here.  Still, we like to think that after having tendered a number of such deliberations we have refined our capacity to render with a certain pungency the stench of democracy, which is a system for performing evil with tremendous force and then slightly and partially withdrawing that force in the name of a lessening evil.

When I used to work on Navion hydraulics while studying for FAA certification in Ozark, Alabama, back in the days before they invented terrorism and any unqualified fool could monkey with the undercarriage of an airplane, the specs manuals used to advise us to finger-tighten certain screws, then crank the hell out of them for so many rotations, and then—the part that interested me—backturn them slightly, by say a half or a quarter rotation.  I guess this last bit was so they wouldn’t get stuck for the next guy.

With the hydraulics, all you really had to do was stick the bayonet couplings together, but if you didn’t do it right some guy’d be circling the field for half an hour trying to get his left retractable wheel strut to lower into place, with Plan B consisting of landing on one wheel.  After an incident like that I laid off the hydraulics and stuck to screwing, which I could manage as well as the next guy.  This was before monkeywrenching, when I was trying to help the internal combustion engine machines.  I did enjoy the backturns, and even now when I tighten jar lids I have a slightly autistic way of backturning the lids to help the next person with their unscrewing.  I didn’t really learn to fly in Alabama but I did learn to fly later, without motors, which are best kept at a safe distance from me and my fitful attentions.

This turn-of-the-screw story is just by way of leading up to my voting analogy.  Readers who need to “keep up” on the empire are free to go read The Economist at this point.  Bone up.  Self improve.  Stay current.  Send in the marines to save the women of Iran from their sexist husbands.

So if the quirky stuff in my inbox is any indication, there’s still a fair number of you with me.  Motley crew, but still.  Let’s see who we can irritate.

You like to vote?  Let’s suppose your thirteen-year-old comes home and says there’s a rape club at school, and there’s going to be a big vote on raping fewer kids.  So you urge your child to go vote for the lesser evil.  Those of us at City Without Cars or Elba Kramer or whatever face of ecotopia or nowtopia we are this week might demur by pointing out that any system with such options shouldn’t be encouraged by participation.  In other words, we are expressing our reluctance at the level of form.  At the level of content, of course, less rape is actually a good thing.

Students of literary theory might notice that the rape-vote tale isn’t precisely analogy or metaphor but is actually an instance of metonymy—a small part standing in for the whole—since democracies aren’t like rape but actually are rape, unless you want to believe that rape is not a part of the disciplinary protocol of empire.  Making such distinctions is why literary theory makes the cut in our utopia even though we believe that at least eighty percent of jobs people now have aren’t worth doing.  For my late-night viewing audience, that last comment goes out to Imre Sz—, the Marxist intellectual and critic at whom we’ve poked fun in these pages and from whose unbearable heaviness of being Hungarian we hope never to be too distant.  Fellow travelers and all that.

So for those of you who just tuned in we’re talking about goodness.  The funny thing about doing good is it’s generally very bad.  Charity, for example, is very similar to kicking someone in the nuts.  Both actions lower the recipient.  The difference between the two is that, hmm.  Actually, there is no substantive difference.

Environmentalists have long been familiar with greenwashing, the process whereby the biggest polluters are spray-painted like leprechauns.  So for example you’ll see this or that fun run against this or that cancer and the corporations with the highest level of spew and the lowest level of accountability get their seals of approval at the bottom of the posters so they can jack up their levels of offloading cancerous substances upwind and upriver of the very children who are collecting nickels and dimes to keep the system going.

Then there’s politics.  The worst thing about politics has always been that it’s not very political.

So when the latest call comes in from Africa to just do something—Bono has held off from French kissing some politician long enough to issue the call, say, or the progressive academics are urging us to intervene militarily in this or that African nation—the call to do something in Africa conveniently hides the fact that we’re already strenuously doing in Africa and have been at least since Europeans made deals with local black elites to pick up slaves.

We can fuck Africa sixty ways to Sunday with vast North American farm subsidies, mosquitosuck the oil out of the place, colonize it then post-colonialize it then post-post-colonialize it with the dreck of empire’s product fetish and other “benefits” like electricity so Africans can stay up late and witness the spectacle of Western idiocy.

When we’ve made off with the last of the raw and the crude, it’s time to send in charity.  Charity is helping a man who’s lying in the gutter because you knocked him there.  Give starving Africans cheap computers, so they can tally their net non-worth.

“What are you working on now?” says my wife, the professor, who has wisely urged me to spend more time marketing my nearly finished books than composing pieces for muckraking sites.

“Nothing,” I tell her.

She gives me the look, so I’ll be brief.

The case against Nothing is usually rigged so that it’s so late in the day of somethings that Nothing seems perverse.

Despite its initial appearance, that last sentence actually means something.  On something day—and it’s always something day in the empire—it’s always eleven o’clock, the rapist is already in the bedroom, the prisoners in their cells are already the worst scum who wish nothing more than to become that rapist, the cute kids on the corners of the streets in Toronto with their Sick Kids notepads and their perfectly aligned teeth who say “do you have a moment for sick kids?” are already committed to a system where the hospitals have to beg on the streets.  The moment is always already rigged so that if you suggest Nothing you’re heartless.

And what we’re saying is, take it back to ten o’clock, to nine o’clock.  Anything happen in this whole long day of somethings to set up a situation where saying no means you’re supposedly churlish?  Maybe the rapist got put in jail a dozen times for victimless crimes like possessing drugs before he started getting seriously vicious?  Maybe the politicians got it figured that it’s easier to beg for sick kids than for the sick-in-a-different-way soldier kids?  Maybe the prison-war complex is set up to produce sick kids.

Just because the bullies on talk radio or national “public” radio frame this discussion or that discussion or all discussion as if it were the eleventh hour doesn’t mean we have to submit to it.  The fact that we’re asked to decide frenetically on content rather than carefully on form—think fast rapist in room whatareyou gonna do?oops too late—doesn’t mean we have to accept the form.

The form of the empire is to pretend there’s no form and it’s all content.  As if the broadcasting bullies—the form—didn’t get there in the first place from their willingness to suck at the right teat.  As if there’s no back story on the lips giving us the content.

No One asks (and we’re with No One on this one): which is easier, to give a piece of silver to the children of Ishmael or to stop giving the ten pieces of silver to the children of Israel who are forcing Ishmael to strip and be searched every day to get to his olive grove?  To give money to bankers and Detroit or cut them adrift?  To have expensive transportation bureaus and plans and bike lanes, or just stop paying car welfare?  To have seven hundred Battle-Star-Galactica-sized military installations around the world antagonizing everybody and his brother and then pay for the backturn of charity to try to undo the damage, or just stop antagonizing people in the first place?

The history of the empire’s attacks is complex but we should reserve the right to remain skeptical when The Economist or NPR tell us that the solutions are complex.  Kicking a man repeatedly and in a manner deft enough to keep him alive may be complex.  But getting out is as simple as falling forward and, just before you tip over, thrusting one leg forward.  Then doing that over and over till it becomes a habit.

This activity is called walking and was first invented in nowtopia, which has never left us.

DAVID Ker THOMSON is exactly the same age as Michael Jackson.  For more on this, see here.  He can be reached at: Dave.thomson@utoronto.ca

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