Friday, September 30, 2011

Blindness vs The New Death

Joan Jonas - Mirror Piece I - 1969
- Guggenheim Museum
I recently watched the film Michael Clayton for the second time. This is not just an excellent thriller, it is also a story that brilliantly reveals the way we walk through our lives ignoring the truth of injustices happening in front of us. In the film, the injustices are perpetrated by an agricultural corporation, Unorth, (Monsanto?) poisoning local ground water with the run-off of from their toxic fertilizers. The film speaks to the double-sided face of corporations, how outward marketing counters the inherent corporate culture of greed and narcissism, and how we all "buy-in" to the face of things and not the reality. The character who "wakes up" to his role in the "system" does so only by becoming "crazy."

Saul Bellow writes in his novel More Die of Heartbreak:
"In the West, the ordeal is of a new death. There aren't any words for what happens to the soul in the free world. Never mind 'rising entitlements,' never mind the luxury 'life-style.' Our buried judgment knows better. All this is seen by remote centers of consciousness, which struggle against full wakefulness. Full wakefulness would make us face up to the new death, the peculiar ordeal of our side of the world. The opening of a true consciousness to what is actually occurring would be a purgatory."
It seems that the single, core value in business these days is profitability. How did we get here?? How is it that the fight in Congress is to ensure that the only responsibility businesses have is to their own bottom line? What happened to the idea that businesses could make money and also support their workers and their local community? Yes, profits might be less, but does that matter if other values are equally important? We have literally bought the system we have, through our purchases, and we do so willingly. We put on blinders every day to the power we wield in fostering these institutions.

As Michael Clayton points out, we are all a part of this system that encourages us to be blind to our role and actions in this profitability culture. We buy their products, we vote for their politicians, we accept that paradigm. Waking up, as Bellow says, "would be a purgatory." Such consciousness is too painful. And since this evil of conscious ignorance is part of our daily lives, resisting it has become an individualized and personal battle. (The only power "we the people" have left are in unions, and this is why there is a clear and powerful attempt to break them up.)
"Evil in [Jane] Austen, as in most great fiction, lies in the inability to "see" others, hence to empathize with them. What is frightening is that this blindness can exist in the best of us as well as the worst. We are all capable of becoming the blind censor, of imposing our visions and desires on others. Once evil is individualized, becoming part of everyday life, the way of resisting it also becomes individual. How does the soul survive? is the essential question. And the response is: through love and imagination ... "Perhaps to remain a poet in such circumstances," Bellow wrote, "is also to reach the heart of politics. The human feelings, human experiences, the human form and face, recover their proper place--the foreground." Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Of course the corporate strangle hold on us and the media was articulated well in the speech from Network (1976).
You are an old man who thinks in terms of nations and peoples. There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today. That is the atomic and subatomic and galactic structure of things today! And YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature, and YOU... WILL... ATONE! Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale? You get up on your little twenty-one inch screen and howl about America and democracy. There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM, and ITT, and AT&T, and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today. What do you think the Russians talk about in their councils of state, Karl Marx? They get out their linear programming charts, statistical decision theories, minimax solutions, and compute the price-cost probabilities of their transactions and investments, just like we do. We no longer live in a world of nations and ideologies, Mr. Beale. The world is a college of corporations, inexorably determined by the immutable bylaws of business. The world is a business, Mr. Beale. It has been since man crawled out of the slime. And our children will live, Mr. Beale, to see that... perfect world... in which there's no war or famine, oppression or brutality. One vast and ecumenical holding company, for whom all men will work to serve a common profit, in which all men will hold a share of stock. All necessities provided, all anxieties tranquilized, all boredom amused. And I have chosen you, Mr. Beale, to preach this evangel.
But Network also provided a speech articulating the drive and fight of the individual against the status quo. It's the very essence of Occupy Wall Street.

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