Monday, February 21, 2005

The best minds of our generations....

I felt a strong vibe just before I steeled myself and told my brother that Hunter S. Thompson was dead, that I'd read it in one of my mailgroups and then in the daily headlines. Was just reminded--and then reminded again. It was a feeling of numb despair, and it wasn't mine...

I'm not sure what I'm hearing, what I'm feeling now. This is the sort of thing where you think, well, if even he couldn't laugh it off scathingly, what does that say about where the future stands, what are we facing here? Because I don't doubt for a second that it's the state of this nation/empire, even as the rest of the civilized world seems to be evolving and learning from its mistakes, that would lead an American of such stature to put a bullet through his head.

We are regressing here, backsliding insidiously via loopholes and legislation riders and myriad condonings back towards an idyllic-framed mediaevalism, feudalism, whatever will satisfy the demands of the rich and their corporate interests. Blink as a bill goes through and you'll see nothing changed on the surface--compare the national views of a week, a month, a year...and you start to see more than you want to. The various layers of state and federal and local obscure it, if you look too closely at one or the other--but see the big picture, and the big words, and the shapes are clear. And you ask yourself, if you haven't already, is this actually my country?--the one I used to believe in as an ideal??

And maybe the answer is no. Maybe the most certain thing in this brave new world is the acceptance of lies and those who spread them, and the vilification of those who assert that "the truth" has any meaning. After all, the truth changes nothing--it has not yet raised up any Senate Investigatory Committees or other dei ex machinae, because there is no independent power left in the legislature to move that mountain, no matter what our faith. The system has been gradually hamstrung while its citizens were distracted by war--the strings are all leading right into the White House, with all action under the 'yea or nay' shadow of a single political party that has been gathering its forces and wish lists for decades. We are even now living in a state of unconstitutional lawlessness, whatever the official line of the day might be.

In such a time as this, one longs for Victor Hugo, for Emile Zola, for Aldous Huxley, for Fyodor Dostoyevsky, for Albert Camus, for George Bernard Shaw, for George Orwell, for Eric Hoffer--for everyone who has stepped to the forefront of their times, boldly or subtly, and cut through the crap to say what needs saying. We want their voices along with Bill Moyers, Noam Chomsky, Kurt Vonnegut, and all the rest of us here--everyone with the gift of words--to clarify, to show the subtle, to speak the truth and give it back its power before it's all stolen away in more distractions, more violence, less bread and more circuses but always the promise that we're getting better and better every day...

National improvement is not a natural process. It takes stern will and honesty, and willingness to plan for the future not for immediate gratification, whether it be misleading tax cuts or being able to gamble away your own retirement money unhindered. It takes looking at the needs of all people, regardless of whether they go to church or not, or how much they gave your campaign or that of your opponent--it takes intelligent humanity, not just the will of some God whose name and supremacy you latch to your cause...and "humanism" is not, must not become another dirty word, tainted with spin. Humanity is our ideal as humans, not a thing to be demeaned at every turn.

And it also takes the effort of those who will hold a nation to its own avowed ideals--the ones who will needle and nag, the ones who will deftly prick egos and tip sacred cows, and test whether people practise what they preach in this still-ongoing (till further notice) "experiment in democracy." To cite last night's "most controversial episode ever," this country may even owe a great deal of its remaining intellectual freedom (and even capacity, I daresay) to "The Simpsons"--and I've said more than once, the day when that show is forced off the air is the day that we lose all intelligent media in America.

But here we have another defining event--though "forced off the air" is perhaps too blunt and implicating a term for what has been technically ruled a suicide. And in the wake of this passing, perhaps we can make sure that his signature spirit of reckless inquiry and irreverence to all things arbitrary never leaves but only grows stronger now, pulling more people out of the wings and the shadows, off of the sidelines here.

There is too much to be done to let Hunter S. Thompson be forgotten...or Arthur Miller...or anyone who has written things that need to be spoken again, and firmly, and unmistakeably. Time to set about cutting the crap.

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