Tuesday night I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down in an intimate media room on North Campus with renowned performance and visual artist Karen Finley. (She”s also known for rolling around naked in honey, which she did last night at the Michigan Theater). What began as Karen”s asking the small group of art faculty and students (and me, the lone social sciences guy) to assess the impact of the very emotional events of the 11th on our scholarly and artistic projects quickly turned into something much more personal. As we shared stories about loss and acknowledged inappropriate WTC humor, we tried to understand how to make what we do something personal and at the same time very public into something that would fit.
It”s hard. Admittedly, like most, I”m still confused, and think my procrastination in writing this column has had something to do with the fact that I want to write about issues that are important to me, but that somehow feel unimportant now that we Americans know how the rest of the world lives.
I know I can”t change you by writing any of this. I can only do my best to articulate thought. And what my thought tells me is we must start thinking about the consequences of our actions. And even more important than simple thought is the real. We must act.
But some people, especially those in power, have little to say and even less still to act on.
“Recognize,” New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani said, “that there is no room for neutrality on the issue of terrorism. You”re either with civilization or you”re with terrorism.” Bullshit. I”m for neither civilization nor terrorism. There is no dichotomy here. People with small minds dissect issues into polarity like this. (My respects to my high school econ teacher who said thesis and antithesis was a rational way to look at the world).
The problem is that humanity has organized itself much like a clan of chimpanzees. The dominant male climbs to the top of the social heap and acts as the arbiter of permissible social conduct. He bites the chimps who get out of line, keeps the enemy “Other” monkeys away and munches on the choicest jungle leaves. He has it good, while the rest of have to behave.
Humans, on the other hand, though theoretically having more advanced cognitive abilities than monkeys, have it much worse than the lower primates. Humans have to work at jobs they hate (or soon will, college set) when all monkeys do is eat and fuck. Humans have delusions of grandeur like that pretentious idea of “civilization” a notion that has so far only given our species dabbles of art and a middle class lifestyle.* We”re still playing the same monkey political games that our distant ancestors played. The guy with the biggest stick wins. Yet it doesn”t make me feel any better to know that our Monkey in Chief has the biggest one of all. It scares me to death.
Now that it”s “us” and “them,” “America” versus “those who hate freedom” and all this rhetoric of war, war, war, I even begin to doubt that we live in a postmodern world. Because, for living in a period many characterize as being distinctly postmodern, we still have to deal with a lot of modern crap. And Bush is the epitome of this. As much as the rest of us are at face value disempowered by media representations and the blurring of boundaries that comes from living in postmodern times, our boy on top thrives on his illegitimate power.
As any artist can attest, their craft has become increasingly complicated after the events of Sept. 11. Considering myself an artist of the printed word, my job has gotten extremely difficult as well. Can a person of consciousness simply ignore the fundamental shift that has rifted our society? Can that person proceed on a set course?
The answer, obviously, is no. And that”s why Dubya”s job, though he makes it look hard, is easy. He”s not a person of consciousness. Though he”s not gone as far in polarizing issues as his dinosauric Cold War cronies, he”s still using rhetoric that will get a lot of people killed. And that”s the modern in action, with its “I”m right, you”re wrong mentality,” hanging like a giant anvil over my head.
Ever since I realized in a very real sense that my life could end tomorrow, I”ve been stopping to enjoy things like beauty a lot more. Beauty is a very easy to realize social value. But beauty doesn”t cut it when I now know the terror that the rest of the world faces nearly every day. I now have a renewed sense of responsibility. I realize I have nothing to lose by acting. I have a renewed sense that this growing peace movement on campus will raise student consciousness in a swath of white light that could easily envelop the world, if we let it.
And though I”m confused, I”m chugging along. That”s because I tend to side with the values in Emerson”s transcendentalist thoughts. We must become the light that we wish the world to become in order that others may learn from us. Jesus, if I”m not mistaken, made a similar statement. In the Gospel of Thomas, when Jesus”s disciples asked him where they should go, he said, “There is light within a man of light, and it lights up the whole world. If he does not shine, he is darkness.”
Our boy, though his light is dimly cast like a fog across the globe, is strong and that”s something to be respected, even if it”s just out of fear. After all, he still carries the biggest stick.
Josh Wickerham can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Restrictions do apply. “Middle class lifestyle” granted only to Americans and other oppressors.