The world just ended, and I’m still here, so maybe I’m already in hell, where I have reserved a booth jammed with half-forgotten faces, or maybe I’m shunted to heaven, thanks to a bureaucratic mix-up.
Swedenborg said that heaven or hell can appear just like any place on earth, a bar, deli or your own living room, etc, since heaven or hell is strictly self-made and personalized. Self-love is hell, he said. Something like that. Solipsism. I’m quoting Manny from memory, since I’m in a lowlife drinking joint, facing this sign, “NO ESCUPIR EN EL SUELO GRACIAS.” Don’t spit on the seldom mopped floor of this boozy purgatory!
Kafka noted, “In your fight with the world, side with the world.” Well, everyone loves himself, it’s a given, but the trouble comes when you love yourself so much, you no longer see or care how others see you. That’s hell, if you ask me. You will insist, for example, that you’re a steadfast force for universal betterment, even as you wreck entire countries, most casually, and your flag is burnt more often, and in more places, than any other.
Am I calling the US hell, then? Yes, Samuel, but only the state, not its people. I’ve traipsed all over this country, and I have strayed into countless joints where I didn’t belong, which wasn’t hard to do, admittedly, since I belong nowhere, but the folks I’ve encountered, whether black, white, brown, yellow, urban or rural, have been overwhelmingly open, generous and beautiful. You may think I’m insane for saying that. Of course I know that assholes lurk all over, but I will insist that most Americans are quite decent, tolerant and fair-minded, unlike their cynical and sinister rulers.
Recently, I made this same point to Sheila Mogdlin, bartender at Dirty Frank’s. Shellacked, I even grabbed her hand as I slobbered, “Sheila, you are an angel,” and of course she is an angel, for she runs Sunshine Arts, a non-profit that teaches arts to poor kids in her Upper Darby neighborhood. Sheila is white, most of her kids black, but I don’t think she gives a damn. A working class woman pushing fifty, Sheila does what she feels is right, without fanfare, and there are many, many more Americans like her, and yet this country is a genocidal and earth wrecking machinery. As their military kills more foreign kids than any other, Americans lead the world in foreign adoptions.
Evil is in the heart, certainly, and individual evil is evil enough, but our latent evilness shouldn’t be multiplied and amplified by the systematic and impersonal Satanism of the state, and an empire at that. Left to our backwoods selves, we can’t possibly do as much damage as that committed for us by the United States of America.
All that comes from the land, of the local, has an unimpeachable integrity, thus folk arts have always been sublime, but nowadays too much of our aesthetic productions are reduced to parodies of a wretched and cynically manipulated fulcrum. Each Hollywood burp reverberates worldwide, unfortunately. Each Madison Avenue fart. Though I write in English, I pray for the wasting away of this lingo, for it’s past time we listen to other people’s jejunums.
Hell, it’s time we listen to our hickish selves more clearly, most clearly. Look into my eyes, amiga, and speak. Heaven is already here, if you want it. Good Lawd, that cheap beer must be kickin’ in. A portly dude eases a buck into the juke box, prods Los Tigres del Norte to sing, “Salierón de San Isidro, procedentes de Tijuana.” This is a Korean-American bar, by the way, and of the lowest, skid row variety. Here, a plate of rice and bulgogi is only $3.99, and even the homeless can kick back and chill. This is no heaven, certainly, but no hell either, and from the uproarious laughter I heard just now, it was at least momentarily heaven.
Heaven is here, if you want it. What I mean is, I have never been to an American place, Normal, Allentown, Youngstown, that isn’t intrinsically magnificent, yet in their present manifestation, many have been reduced to desolate shitholes, thanks to empty streets and plazas, and everyone inside being mesmerized by rootless media. Brain-raped, we’ve come to hate life itself. That’s why we can’t do anything without nullifying or blunting its edifying effects with a distracting or even hostile counter action. We can’t eat, for example, without reading or watching a screen. We can’t even shit without reading. Two reasonably excusable activities are thus mutually negated. Shakespeare with aroma.
The media feed us cheese, slogans and stereotypes, and stoke our worst impulses. Us against them. They hate us for who we are. Kill! Kill! Kill! Go into any American bar, however, and you will most likely be treated warmly, unless you bring up politics, of course, then it’s neocons vs. libtards, accompanied by regurgitated media sound bites.
This week, I went on Iran’s Press TV to talk about the economy. Of course, the US Dollar will collapse, I said, likely within the next five years, and of course Americans will soon wake up to their true poverty. We are bankrupt in every sense of the word. Though we won’t be able to dodge the antsy fatso’s frightful finale, the collapse of our empire will benefit even us if we can learn to rejoin humanity as mere mensches, and not bullying assholes. We will be much poorer, for sure, but at least we won’t live or die under a psychopathic banner. Our flag has been stained with rivers of blood, so let’s stop fluttering it at a gazillion military bases worldwide.
In your fight with the world, side with the world. Befitting a Kafkaesque thought, this sounds perverse, if not suicidal, though tinted with humor. Wouldn’t it end, inevitably and ultimately, in one’s own demise? I take it as a challenge to always recognize the larger logic, justice and beauty beyond the tip of your insolent nose.
Capitalism insists that every man is for himself, that individual greed is a given and ultimate aim, while Communism taught that blood sucking was strictly the domain of the ruling class, a charge echoed by our recent Occupy flash in the (brain) pan. Communism immediately degenerated into Totalitarianism, however, with an all-powerful ruling class. Moreover, its centralized control never dampened greed, only stunted production. The collapse of Communism, then, was seen as a vindication of unchecked greed. The mechanics of exploitation still had to be tweaked, however. Hence, the strange coupling of the US and China.
China’s remarkable revival has been assisted, in no small part, by greedy US corporations, not just manufacturers like Apple or Nike, but also retailers like Walmart. To take advantage of the cheap labor kept in check by a totalitarian apparatus, US companies brought American industrial organization and technology to China. No need to send so many spies here, we sent them the blueprints to kick our asses. Starting from deep poverty, Chinese workers have seen their standards of living rise, though they still suffer many abuses in this new economic and social order. For American workers, however, it has been a free fall down an elevator shaft, head first, into destitution. During the past decade, about 50,000 American factories have shut down, and it has all been done by design, let us not forget. To fatten American corporations, Washington has deliberately betrayed American workers. The only clear winners from all this are the ruling classes of both countries.
The new order between the US and China was augured by Nixon’s visit to Beijing in February of 1972. A new understanding was in the offing. In January of 1974, Chinese warships sailed through the US 7th Fleet to seize the Spratly Islands from the South Vietnamese. This remarkable episode was ignored by the media at the time, and forgotten today, though it reveals the coordination between two erstwhile enemies. Tipped off by the US that it would soon hightail from Vietnam, China had to grab those islands right then, for had it waited another year or so, it would be stealing from its own allies, the North Vietnamese. In any case, the rapprochement between the US and China diminished the importance of Vietnam, war or country, in American eyes. US war profiteers had already made tons of money, so that mission, too, was accomplished. Still, American progressives thought they had a hand in ending that war. Thought is cheap!
Quitting Saigon, the American radio station played Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” One chapter of empire was closing, but now we’re experiencing another, much more serious collapse. Our foundation quakes, our roof blows off, the earth cracks and our forests burn down. The President fakes a laugh, then cries most convincingly. It is near Christmas, and again, there’s no snow. Like the shuttered shops and homeless everywhere, this too is the new normal.
Linh Dinh is the author of two books of stories, five of poems, and a novel, Love Like Hate. He’s tracking our deteriorating socialscape through his frequently updated photo blog, State of the Union.