Wednesday, December 30, 2015
In yesterday's post, I described the ideas behind Roberto Saviano's accounts of crime and the drug trade. According to Saviano in ZeroZeroZero, cocaine use has overrun western societies:
Cocaine is a vice and vanity but it fills other gaps in western culture. Self-medication enables addicts to cope with deeper problems. Drugs are signposts pointing to the subliminal world. Cocaine is popular in western countries because it papers over the cracks for people driven to the breaking point. It enables people to force themselves forward in environments which are already locked in overdrive, no matter what the cost, no matter what their spiritual heartbreak or moral dislocation. Some parts of daily life are identical to what they were thirty years ago, but in the areas touched by connected technology, the cultural and social impact is almost unimaginable. As I suggested, there is a reason for this desperate need to keep up. If you do not change in a hyper-changing society, you die."The guy sitting next to you on the train uses cocaine, he took it to get himself going this morning; or the driver of the bus you’re taking home, he wants to put in some overtime without feeling the cramps in his neck. The people closest to you use coke. If it’s not your mother or father, if it’s not your brother, then it’s your son. And if your son doesn’t use it, your boss does. Or your boss’s secretary, but only on Saturdays, just for fun. And if your boss doesn’t, his wife does, to let herself go. And if not his wife, then his lover—he gives her cocaine instead of earrings, in place of diamonds. And if they don’t, the truck driver delivering tons of coffee to cafés around town does; he wouldn’t be able to hack those long hours on the road without it. And if he doesn’t, the nurse who’s changing your grandfather’s catheter does. Coke makes everything seem so much easier, even the night shift. And if she doesn’t, the painter redoing your girlfriend’s room does; he was just curious at first but wound up deep in debt. The people who use cocaine are right here, right next to you. The police officer who’s about to pull you over has been snorting for years, and everyone knows it, and they write anonymous letters to his chief hoping he’ll be suspended before he screws up big time. Or the surgeon who’s just waking up and will soon operate on your aunt. Cocaine helps him cut open six people a day. Or your divorce lawyer. Or the judge presiding over your lawsuit; he doesn’t consider it a vice, though, just a little boost, a way to get more out of life. The cashier who hands you the lottery ticket you hope is going to change your life. The carpenter who’s installing the cabinets that cost you a month’s salary. Or the workman who came to put together the IKEA closet you couldn’t figure out how to assemble on your own. If not him, then the manager of your condo building who is just about to buzz you. Or your electrician, the one who’s in your bedroom right now, moving the outlets. The singer you are listening to to unwind, the parish priest you’re going to talk to about finally getting confirmed because your grandson’s getting baptized, and he’s amazed you’ve put it off for so long. The waiters who will work the wedding you’re going to next Saturday; they wouldn’t be able to last on their feet all that time if they didn’t. If not them, then the town councillor who just approved the new pedestrian zones, and who gets his coke free in exchange for favors. The parking lot attendant who’s happy now only when he’s high. The architect who renovated your vacation home, the mailman who just delivered your new ATM card. If not them, then the woman at the call center who asks “How may I help you?” in that shrill, happy voice, the same for every caller, thanks to the white powder. If not her, your professor’s research assistant—coke makes him nervous. Or the physiotherapist who’s trying to get your knee working right. Coke makes him more sociable. The forward who just scored, spoiling the bet you were winning right up until the final minutes of the game. The prostitute you go to on your way home, when you just can’t take it anymore and need to vent. She does it so she won’t have to see whoever is on top or under or behind her anymore. The gigolo you treated yourself to for your fiftieth birthday. You did it together. Coke makes him feel really macho. The sparring partner you train with in the ring, to lose weight. And if he doesn’t, your daughter’s riding instructor does, and so does your wife’s psychologist. Your husband’s best friend uses it, the one who’s been hitting on you for years but whom you’ve never liked. And if he doesn’t, then your school principal does. Along with the janitor. And the real estate agent, who’s late, just when you finally managed to find time to see the apartment. The security guard uses it, the one who still combs his hair over his bald spot, even though guys all shave their heads these days. And if he doesn’t, the notary you hope you never have to go back to, he does it to avoid thinking about the alimony he has to pay his ex-wives. And if he doesn’t, the taxi driver does; he curses the traffic but then goes all happy again. If not him, the engineer you have to invite over for dinner because he might help you get a leg up in your career. The policeman who’s giving you a ticket, sweating profusely even though it’s winter. The squeegee man with hollow eyes, who borrows money to buy it, or that kid stuffing flyers under windshield wipers, five at a time. The politician who promised you a commercial license, the one you and your family voted into office, and who is always nervous. The professor who failed you on your exam. Or the oncologist you’re going to see; everybody says he’s the best, so you’re hoping he can save you. He feels omnipotent when he sniffs cocaine. Or the gynecologist who nearly forgets to throw away his cigarette before going in to examine your wife, who has just gone into labor. Your brother-in-law, who’s never in a good mood, or your daughter’s boyfriend, who always is. If not them, then the fishmonger, who proudly displays a swordfish, or the gas station attendant who spills gas on your car. He sniffs to feel young again but can’t even put the pump away correctly anymore. Or the family doctor you’ve known for years and who lets you cut the line because you always know just the right thing to give him at Christmas. The doorman of your building uses it, and if he doesn’t, then your kids’ tutor does, your nephew’s piano teacher, the costume designer for the play you’re going to see tonight, the vet who takes care of your cat. The mayor who invited you over for dinner recently. The contractor who built your house, the author whose book you’ve been reading before falling asleep, the anchorwoman on the evening news. But if, after you think about it, you’re still convinced none of these people could possibly snort cocaine, you’re either blind or you’re lying. Or the one who uses it is you."
In this post, I commented that ever since the 1960s, death is not an option. The Baby Boomer revolutionary creed was anti-militaristic and pro-youth-forever. The Boomers adored eastern faiths, but a Buddhist might find they diverged from any eastern path. With their marketing, lifestyles and values, the Boomers taught us to abhor death, because death entails the destruction of the ego and the continued survival of the soul. This is unimaginable in a materialist society ruled by egotists. In their true hearts, the last thing the members of the Me Generation wanted was to preside over a mechanistic order of crushing egotism, but that is the outcome of their collective efforts.
One may ask why. Why did the Baby Boomers develop such a confused message of holistic social healing, in societies now dominated by hostile materialist egotism? Initially, the Boomers promoted youth, pacifism and liberalism. This is a mantra against death. Their avoidance of death ended up promoting the ego, thereby sponsoring the social ills and totalitarian self-promotion which plague western societies now in mass media, politics, entertainment, workplaces and the economy. Western cultures are on the run from death; which is why westerners (and many non-westerners) now worship fast-paced change. We must change more and more; we must go faster and faster; we must work ourselves to death, but we must not die. A rest or pause would entail contemplation of that which pursues us - and that is very difficult to do.
It is difficult because most people alive today arrived during or after the worst blood-letting of the 20th century occurred. Imagine the last century's hemoclysm as a grotesque journey into humanity's dark night of the soul, in which some 180 million people died in armed conflicts. Historian Eric Hobsbawm put the number at 187 million people who were "killed or allowed to die by human decision" in the "short century" between 1914 and 1991. And scholar Milton Leitenberg, citing Hobsbawm, places the number higher, at 231 million people who died in wars and conflicts in the entire century. That makes the 20th century the bloodiest in history. It would be accurate to see the ideological solutions of the Boomers and succeeding generations not as solutions, but as masks to hide the collective shock after the bloodbath, and a desperate, reflexive need to contain further bloodshed at all costs - even, ironically, through the propagation of small wars to let off steam, but not have the whole system blow. Liberal democracy hides the west's survivors' mentality. In that aftermath, add a layer of glittering technology to spread blind hope in peace and connectivity, and you have the current state of affairs.
Since the turn of the new Millennium, no shiny technology, and certainly no drug, can conceal or suppress the enduring darkness in the human soul. To shake off utopian denial and face death in western cultures squarely and honestly, as author Roberto Saviano struggles to do, takes courage and a different set of values than those promoted forty-five years ago. And contrary to what conservative pundits would say, we do not know what those new values are. For Saviano, it starts with the courage to recognize the ugliness in human nature, not with ideological formulas, but with honesty about 'real' reality.
It calls for a frank acknowledgement of the survivors' mentality, because we will exist between apocalypses, and not just after them, if we do not. In the movie, Silent Fall (1994), Liv Tyler's character remarks that in their grief, survivors no longer want to know or show themselves as they truly are. They inhabit a purgatorial state of quasi morto, or near death:
"I figured out something about death. It's contagious. I know that sounds crazy, but it's like when people you love die, you feel like you should have died too. And you don't want anybody to know that you survived. No one."Survivors deny the reality of their own existences because they feel guilty that they are still alive, when others have died in their stead. To live on a mountain of skulls is to want to disappear. It is easier to dream of peace than it is to be fully conscious after one's whole civilization has undergone near-total obliteration. Virtual reality well suits the sleepwalker's state of denial and the authoritarian mechanisms do and will quietly follow. If we are all survivors who have denied our true natures, who are we really? As the old year dies, the question of how to find the time to become fully conscious of 'real' reality has never been more important.
ADDENDUM (29 May 2016): On 28 May 2016, BBC interviewed author Roberto Saviano on his work which confirms that the City of London is a centre for money laundering of Mexican drug money and the Italian mafia. Thus, the wealth and lifestyles of the City rest on violence and crime discussed in the following posts:
- Post-Apocalypse Rehab (6 October 2015)
- Quasi Morto (29 December 2015)
- Mysteries of Things to Come (30 December 2015)
- Stains on the Heartland (18 March 2016)
- Quid Pro Quo (3 April 2016)
BBC interview with Roberto Saviano (28 May 2016). Video Source: Youtube.
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
"The arrest of older Camorra bosses has 'created a power vacuum,' allowing younger, less disciplined men to recruit Kalashnikov-wielding youngsters who 'follow absolutely no rules.'" Image Source: The Independent.
On 28 December 2015, BBC's programme Hard Talk broadcast an interview between Stephen Sackur and writer Roberto Saviano. In 2006, Saviano became famous for his non-fictional account of the mafia of Naples, the Camorra, entitled Gomorrah; he was an average Neapolitan citizen who exposed the crime syndicate which plagues his city. In the BBC interview, he claimed that average citizens must not ignore, or pretend to ignore, crime and brutality. He observed that the Russian mafia has eaten up Greece, and in this, as in its spread elsewhere, "We are complicit."
"Roberto Saviano claims the war against drugs is 'unwinnable.'" Image Source: The Telegraph.
Saviano and his family paid a price for his exposé. He goes everywhere surrounded by armed guards and his family lives in hiding. Writer Salman Rushdie, who hid and moved constantly for years after a fatwa was issued against him, counseled Saviano; the latter described Rushdie's advice on Facebook:
"You must take back your freedom. Remember that freedom is all in your head," Rushdie told him. To live in fear is to live as one who is quasi morto - a 'near dead.' With that term, these writers summarized what is evident but less understood. That crime, addiction, violence, and brutality exist because of the broader population's allergies to truth and courage. The former problems are an index of the latter. When Saviano talks about the mafia, he is not talking about the mafia. He uses them to hold a mirror up to the mentalities of law-abiding citizens.«Devi riprenderti la tua libertà. Ricordati che la libertà è nella tua testa. Ti diranno che siccome sei vivo e non ti hanno ucciso allora sei una bufala. Diranno i più stolti che se ti vogliono morto sei morto e quindi sono i tuoi nemici a volerti vivo. Idiozie. Ti costringeranno a vivere come un quasi morto. Non farlo: la tua vita è la prova della tua vittoria. Divertiti, vivi, scrivi.» Salman Rushdie aveva passato più di dieci anni a nascondersi dal regime di Khomeini prima di trasferirsi a New York. Mi disse queste e altre parole d'incoraggiamento. Ancora oggi non so dirvi quanto profondamente abbiano segnato la mia esistenza.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
Neptune's moon Triton is a dwarf planet, a captured body from the Kuiper Belt. The moon was photographed by Voyager 2 in 1989. Image Source: JPL/NASA.
Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to visit Neptune and reached its closest point on 24 August 1989. The eighth planet was discovered on 23 September 1846 and was named for the Roman god of the sea. This gas giant has fourteen moons, all named after water nymphs and lesser sea deities. It has six rings, some of the fastest winds in the solar system, and a dark storm spot on its surface large enough to swallow the entire Earth. For the sound the planet makes from space, see my earlier post here.
Even today, astrologers maintain ancient religious values in their notions that Neptune dominates sleep and dreams, the imagination, ecstatic visions, mass entertainment, news as political theatre, and the 'eternal everything.' The planet can positively inspire the arts or negatively spin dark, mad fantasies. In his First World War Planets suite, composer Gustav Holst dedicated his musical poem to the planet as Neptune, The Mystic.
Image Source: Ruby Slipper.
Image Source: Illume Astrology.