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A Voice in the Wilderness

As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness. -- William O. Douglas

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Which Side Are You On?

Which Side Are You On?
by Florence Reece - Performed by Natalie Merchant

Come all you good workers
Good news to you I'll tell
Of how the good old union
Has come in here to dwell

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

My daddy was a miner
He's now in the air and sun
He'll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle's won

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

They say in Harlan County
There are no neutrals there
You'll either be a union man
Or a thug for J. H. Claire

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Oh workers can you stand it?
Oh tell me how you can
Will you be a lousy scab
Or will you be a man?

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

Don't scab for the bosses
Don't listen to their lies
Poor folks ain't got a chance
Unless they organize

Which side are you on boys?
Which side are you on?

As a form of self-abuse, I regularly frequent my local news networks' blogs. I am amazed at the ceaseless whining and anti-liberal invective there is to be found in such a venue. While I remain unconvinced that the people who post such vitriol do not represent prevailing sentiment, such
disturbing commentary cannot and should not be ignored.

I often wonder what kind of people they must be after reading their consistently rude, xenophobic and downright nasty commentary. Can they be that hateful in person?

I recall a comment James Madison, our fourth American President wrote, in a letter to his old Princeton classmate, William Bradford on 24 January 1774 regarding persecution of Baptists in his home colony of Virginia, "I have squabbled and scolded, abused and ridiculed so long about it that I am without common patience."

To no avail, I have also used varying responses and never seem to have found the magic bullet either to change their way of thinking or to silence them for even a short while.

If the philosopher George Santayana was correct in his contention that we are doomed to repeat history if we are unaware of it, then it is a logical conclusion that the more time passes, the more things stay the same. It is evident - at least to me - that America, and perhaps all of Humanity - is plagued by a collective historical amnesia. It makes even more sense that the redundancy of errors continually repeat themselves from age to age with staggering consistency reflect why change is slow to come. The problems never change but the faces do.

As we live in a world of ever shrinking resources - as Thomas Malthus revealed - inevitable strains result and survival becomes paramount; "That the superior power of population it repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice."

Disaster thinking takes precedence and the need to rationalize regarding exclusionary practices takes over.

Arguably, a conspiracy theorist could point out that powerful groups among us who engage in manipulation of the herd mentality by exploiting fear. There is no doubt that people react to pressure differently but, violence and justification for the same are common symptoms resultant of stress. Naturally, capacity to exploit frustration and fear ought never be discounted.

While the media's ostensible objective is to garner higher ratings and thus greater market share, it has determined that shock and awe sells. Perhaps such a distilled conclusion makes sense but what about the potential for certain groups who stand to gain the most from market share? Can it be summarily dismissed that part of Human Nature is to pursue agendas that are less than selfish?

Perhaps it is true that raising such questions makes me a cynic. However, I also believe there is truth in knowledge and my claim does not go without supporting evidence. Karl Marx identified religion as the, 'opiate for the masses.' I don't think he was that far off and would go so far as to claim that our new religion in America is anti-intellectualism, anti-immigration, anti-labor, anti-poverty and anti-change.

In America, 'Anti' is the new religion because it rationalizes prejudice, avarice, intolerance and violence. Our new altar is the media and our high priests are the inane talking heads who ceaselessly pursue market share. Manipulation is the intoxicating brew of choice and only requires titillation of the reptilian brain whose primary responsibility is either fight or flight.

"Which side Are You On," was a song written by a United Mine Worker union organizer's wife, Florence Reece
in the 1931. It poignantly reflects the plight of mine workers in Harlan County, Virginia at that time and articulately argues for the value of collective bargaining. Natalie Merchant recently covered the song and that is why I have it here.

I find it interesting in that the song appeals to Humanity while also appealing to fear - there is strength in numbers. I am completely in favor of collective bargaining and this would be my example to the naysayers as to why unions need to exist. However, I also see that it is as much a manipulative device - coming in the form of entertainment to effect change - much like the media currently seems to be.

The Human Animal has the capacity to process information and thanks to such an ability, it is predisposed to group think. Appealing to deep-seated survival based on instinct is all that is necessary to cause otherwise rational, high-minded people to abandon the long ingrained sense of decency for baser, albeit cruder forms of communication aimed at self protection and sufficient reason to hurt, maim and even kill fellow Humans on the basis of our thrust for survival.

It is no wonder therefore that news blogs are so fraught with 'ANTI' commentary. People are scared and they are turning on each other - just as Malthus ominously predicted.

My advice is, if you ever want to see just how cruel and mean fellow Americans can be, visit your local news network blog because it provides a relatively anonymous means for people more akin to bathroom wall posts to share their paranoia, fear and hatred with little to no consequence of being called on about it. It is a great place to see the coupling of rational thought to reptilian synapses and their tie into the Human brain's Limbic system.

Let it serve as a sober reminder of just how far we - as a species - can degenerate when we are driven by fear.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

John Irving's, "The Fourth Hand" - My Review

This story, with all its unlikely characters and the attendant twists and turns, has John Irving's mark all over it. John Irving is with out a doubt, my favorite living American writer. It therefore comes as no surprise that I would find this book enjoyable.

For me, the characters are believable and their stories come together to reveal the intricacies that tie them all to one another. Patrick Wallingford is a sympathetic enough character in that his initial shallowness makes him someone whom I would like to see get his comeuppances. However, the accident which he had a hand in (pardon the pun) proves to be a point of embarkation where he realizes that such a devastating loss leads to immeasurable rewards.

I found the back story about the 'faux' news network to be particularly apropos because Irving was able to project an absurd sense of reality to an otherwise inane albeit acceptable genre of entertainment in American culture today; news.

Mary Shannahan's character was someone who I loved to hate - not so much because of her gender but because of her ceaseless, raw ambition which defies everything her television personality puts forward. It is a matter of image versus substance - the entire theme of this book - who we are as opposed to who we want people to believe that we are.

For anyone who feels jaded by what comes across as news nowadays, this is definitely a book for you. For those who fail to see the irony in news which really isn't; this may not be the book for you. Such critics of this story who point to the unbelievability of such a story as, "The Fourth Hand," are likely to pan it because, "The Fourth Hand" fails to follow a prescribed script more akin to what can be routinely found on any given cable news channel.

Ignore the naysayers and read the book. It is good and stands on its own.

As an aside, I'll definitely be picking up, "The English Patient," and "Stewart Little" - the two books Irving mentioned in this story.

I enjoy picking up on the ongoing side bar commentary he seems to offer to anyone who is paying enough attention to what he has to say - aside from the obvious story line in his other books. His delivery is subtle and unmistakably John Irving. I suppose this why I enjoy his writing so much.

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