On the "Issue of Character" and Empire

Late last month, poet, musician, and self-termed “bluesologist,” Gil Scott-Heron exited the hologram and returned to the source?to begin chanting, eternity will not be televised.

In an earlier era, Stephen Spender feted the following tribute to those who fell resisting Francisco Franco’s fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War. His lines of verse serve as an apt epitaph to all those souls who devoted their art and labor to the ceaseless struggle against the perennially risen, death-besotted forces of coercive power: “The names of those who in their lives fought for life,/ Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center./ Born of the sun, they traveled a short while towards the sun,/ And left the vivid air signed with their honor.”

At present, in contrast, the dismal air is signed with the scandalous tweets of a congressman’s undergarments and the concomitant, predictable howling from the hectoring ghosts of U.S. Puritanism, conjured from their graves by the contrived spectacle and its promise of anonymous arousal intermingled with the blood sport of public shaming.

By finger wagging and sneering, carnal desires can be lived out vicariously in the Puritan/Calvinist imagination. In this way, petty moralists can ogle what they claim to condemn.

To Puritans, all the problems of life can be traced to the genitals…true, but only their own problems.

How many times do the prigs, ninnies, and scolds of the U.S. have to repeat this sort of inanity before they grow up and realize that human beings have strong libidos? Libido propels both creativity and contretemps, and it is wise to aver that “the issue of character” should best be evoked and debated, as a general rule, when the situation involves hypocrisy.

Moreover, those claiming that their own sexual desires have never rendered them vulnerable to silly misjudgments evince a more noxious form of hypocrisy. Yet, if, in fact, their lives have been absent such propitious misfortune, then one should withhold the scorn reserved for hypocrites, and, instead, grant these poor souls pity, for they have been afflicted with the awful circumstance of having passed through their lives without ever being seduced by life.

A more profound “character issue” here would seem to involve that of the representatives of mass media news gathering organizations, in particular — their greed for ratings. And what is one to make of the character of the individuals who comprise the general public and their seemingly endless avidity for these stories — their insatiable craving to revel in the tawdry — but remain engaged in the delusional worship of their own toxic innocence?

Although, it is futile to struggle against the symptoms not the source. As banal as the dreams of witless bullies, the architecture and artifice of U.S. militarist/corporate imperium not only surrounds us but has colonized our thoughts and desires. Ergo, the elite of the corporate media and the U.S. public remain untroubled by Bradley Manning’s forced nudity, yet a couple a snaps of a congressmen’s crotch sends their imagination reeling.

Since U.S. Empire is maintained by militarism — a de facto strong-arm racket shaking down the people of the world to sustain the endless cupidity of its elite and proffer just enough bribes to keep its populace overweight, arrogant, and oblivious — what “character issues” come into play involving an individual’s complicity in the maintenance of blood-fueled imperium? Perhaps as a reminder, fleets of U.S. aircraft carriers should be christened with names such as, the USS Entitlement, the USS Displaced Resentment and the USS Willful Ignorance — all armed and ready to patrol the oceans of the world, poised to attack and subdue those who would deny us our birthright to consume the world like a bag of Cheetos.

Because facing folly is difficult, both powerful and pawn have embraced the most airless of aspirations?that greed run riot is a viable means to move in the world, even the sole means of establishing a social order.

As was the case with any imperium throughout history, the present order is maintained by state-sanctified homicide. To exist in empire, one is induced to deaden ones heart. The act of having internalized (albeit inadvertently) the propaganda of the militaristic/corporate state and thereby cling to its provisional comforts?is to clutch a handful of dust. And what is the mode of being to which so many cling:

Shuffling the floors of some suburban turdbox?within a gated “community” where one rarely sees, much less speaks to one’s neighbors; spending hours at a time, anxious and irritated (if not outright enraged) in soul-grinding commuter traffic, listening to the observations and pronouncements of inspired souls such as Morning Zoo Crews and deep thinkers like Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing talk-radio, hate merchants; then languishing all day in a cubicle…just to turn around and do it all again.

Is it any wonder so many in the U.S. consider “our way of life” non-negotiable? What kind of a miserable, bitter malcontent would wish to challenge and change such a life-enhancing, soul-vivifying mode of being? There is just no pleasing some people.

A loss of empathetic imagination is endemic to the consumerist mindset of the mechanized era. This form of pathology began, years ago, when our ancestors offered up their life’s blood to the early corporatists of the Industrial Age.

“I attack all those persons/ who know nothing of the other half,/ the half who cannot be saved,/ who raise their cement mountains/ in which the hearts of the small/ animals no ones thinks of are beating.” — Federico Garc?a Lorca,
excerpt: New York (Office and Attack)

Henry Ford and the rest of the Industrial Age’s klavern of gray ghouls measured our flesh, muscle and bone with a productivity-measuring stopwatch. Cunning practitioners of the dark art of convincing human beings they were mere cogs in a soulless machine, it was only a short trudge from that blood-bartering viewpoint of existence through history’s slaughterhouse to Adolf Eichmann’s cold, corpse-rendering, mathematical constructs.

Insulated, as he was, within his fortified tower of mortared casuistry, Eichmann proved adept at emotionally shielding himself from the horrific implications of the system of mechanized extermination he helped devised. From individual alienation to planet-wide ecocide, Hannah Arendt’s insights, regarding Eichmann’s psyche in her seminal work, Eichmann in Jerusalem, applies to our present condition: “The longer one listened to him, the more obvious it became that his inability to speak was closely connected with an inability to think, namely, to think from the standpoint of somebody else.”

Accordingly, to lose the green fuse of transformation, implicit in interpersonal relationships, is to be driven by dehumanizing engines of annihilation.

In regard to the consumerist-colonized psyches of the populace of the U.S., an inner architecture is in place — an internalized shopping mall (complete with sub-cretinous security crews trained to shut down political speechifying and pamphleteering — but who seem unwilling or unable to subdue the impulse to buy, on credit, unnecessary items).

Conversely, for a culture to thrive, a vital agora and public square is required. Given the agora has been replaced by mall and social media’s weightless pixels of narrowed apprehension (an almost all-encompassing, amateur improvisational theatre for those with short attentions spans) can there be any chance of an awaking, even an uprising, against such life-negating forces?

Using any metric, the present system, based upon a zombie-like proliferation of exponential growth is unsustainable. By the destruction leveled on nature and public space, in combination with, the usurpation of time and identity (individual and collective) — the very structure of the present system creates alienation and anomie.

Moreover, the root of Puritan panic (including the constant upwelling of sexually related scandal) is caused by its compulsion to winnow down the human psyche and its attendant drives, actions, and enterprises to only what is deemed pure and practical; hence, panic ensues when the musk and fury of the larger world (even one’s own thoughts and desires) rudely breaches the life-denuded contours of its cordon sanitaire.

The anecdote: Don’t tiptoe through your life like a ninny nor become a finger-wagging scold, so mortified by your appetites and desires you would scour the messiness of the world into a sterile prison of self-deprivation. Like Emerson, we must insist: we have a life to live — not a perpetual apology.

Poetry and music can awaken imagination and induce empathy, therefore are potent provisions that sustain one while carrying the darkness. However, first one must engage the struggle, to face the everyday monster whose name is, “That is just the way it is and must remain” — even to risk having one’s concept of self devoured by the task. To paraphrase Lorca: to know oneself by drawing near to the beating heart of the monster of the world.

“But the Duende–where is the Duende? Through the empty arch enters a mental air blowing insistently over the heads of the dead, seeking new landscapes and unfamiliar accents; an air bearing the odor of child’s spittle, crushed grass, and the veil of Medusa announcing the unending baptism of all newly-created things.” –Federico Garc?a Lorca, excerpt: The Duende: Theory and Divertissement (1930)

One cannot kill nor banish personal demons but one can give them supervised work to do (that way one can keep an eye on them).

(Knowing one’s demons also provides insight when dealing with adversaries and can prevent one from being drawn into the self-serving ploys of mass media vampires of mind and spirit who retail sexually related scandals that bring glee to the bloodless.)

Personally, it could trouble me less if the sky shook, thick as seething locust, with a pixel-borne pestilence of suggestive photos of political sorts. Funny, the same crowd of fundamentalist, petty moralists who believe that global warming is the result of natural forces insist the heat of human libido is what will bring on man’s doom i.e., greenhouse gasses aren’t melting the polar regions; instead, Climate Change is caused by the hot breath of Satan himself tweeting pictures of his lust-scorched undergarments.

In times such as these, one is advised to embrace both mystery and logic — both ?lan vital and logos. Be both apprehensive and comforted by the unknowable, ineffable quality of existence; thereby, one comes to be moved by a poetic approach to mystery, and the realization arrives?that one is vividly alive even amid dismal, alienating circumstance, and, as a result, that the ennui engendered by the illusion of atomization is, to a degree, mitigated.

Although one’s suffering is uniquely one’s own, one remains part and parcel of the implicate order of a living planet. This is how Wallace Stevens delivers, in verse, the case for acquiring and maintaining a view of the world by means of empathetic imagination (that can serve as a panacea to the preening narcissism inherit in toxic innocence). I’ll give him the final word:

We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one …
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

–Excerpt: Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at: phil@philrockstroh.com . Visit Phil’s website http://philrockstroh.com / And at FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100

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