/ Kleptocracy /
first @ IonaArc
The gal puts curlers in her hair to hold what she, not her genes, not the weather, put there. Maybe she perms it, sprays it, as well. Maybe she looks good, maybe she looks like a horse’s ass: point is, it works: for a while. But after a few night’s sleep, a few rain storms, that curl is a faded memory. After enough centuries her skull in the tomb looks pretty much like any other skull. Long enough later, there may not even be a skull.
If “nature” had put the curl there, eventually, “she” still looks just like any other skull, or, like nothing at all.
The thief grabs her purse. Quick: scores, and shoots up. The cops grab him. “Where’s the money?” Guh, guh … He’s still on the nod. If the cops grab him in time, they can give the gal her purse back, the money still in it; or they can go have a beer, or donate the cash to St. Patrick’s Firemen.
If the thief is quick enough, there’ll be nothing to pay back.
When Napoleon grabbed the Rosetta Stone from Egypt, took it to Paris, it wasn’t the sort of thing that could easily be “spent.” Centuries later a different “French” government could give the stone back to a different Egypt. And there could be all sorts of good excuses: We were putting it to good use; you were ignoring it. It’s not quite the same with the Elgin Marbles. “Greece” was doing “nothing” with its classic architectural heritage. Greece wasn’t selling textiles to the world, sailing all over hell and gone, taking tall trees from Maine for ships’ masts, impressing sailors, soldiers … Lord Elgin swiped the marbles, put them in London, where, thanks to all the sailing around and impressing of sailors and manufacturing textiles and hiring Cockneys into a new slave class, London got socked into a pollution such as the world had never seen, at least not associated with man. The marbles started to rot: faster than they were rotting left where they’d fallen at the Acropolis. England swipes marbles. Oh, sure: they were “putting them to use.” England centuries later can give back only dust.
Guh, guh. On the nod.
Peoples swept across Asia, pushing other peoples. Sometimes they would have ousted the evictees nose to nose, spear to club, arrow to a stone cutter that fit the hand, machine gun to wooden staff. Sometimes the evictees would have receded before the advance, and the rousters would never have seen their costumes, heard their babble. Same in Europe, same in the Americas. What if, eons later, the “Chinese” felt bad, said they were withdrawing back to Mongolia, invited the Polynesians back to their “China” … Say the Polynesians recognized themselves to be the true Chinese, wanted the mainland again: the China they got back would be only the ashes of the China they’d fled.
If the English gave Australia back to the natives, would they take the rabbits and cats back with them? Even if they did (even if they could, even if there were an England capable and willing of receiving them back), would the ashes of Australia then satisfy the natives who once had a very different ecology?
Modern kleptocracies in-common close their books at the end of the year. The values of the purses that they snatched are in their arm, burbling around in their blood streams, or long ago excreted, taken by the bacteria.
Columbus could have given the West Indians back their islands meaningfully only if he did it before he scored and shot up, before the King of Spain scored and shot up.
What if God specially resurrected Van Gogh, put him back in contemporary Arles, Paris, or Amsterdam: or Philadelphia or Tokyo. Could Van Gogh say to any effect, “Those are my paintings. You have no right to them. Give them back”? Could MOMA, could the Barnes, meaningfully say, “Oh, why don’t we buy them from you?” Where would MOMA get new billions of dollars? What about the “owners” who got multi-million dollar write-offs when they “gave” the paintings to MOMA? When Barnes bought the Van Goghs for $20, $40, $80 … maybe $200, did the dealers have a right to sell them?
If Australia gave Australia back to the natives, what would they do with wealth they had actually created, wealth they had a legitimate claim to? Much is stolen, but much is innovated too, earned.
Well, it’s beyond me. But I don’t believe it’s beyond God. God has got to be able to find a way to punish the junkie purse-snatcher and to compensate the poor girl: who had a little curl, whose purse was snatched. Surely God must have some way of knowing what contents of her purse were legitimately hers and what devolved from thefts she cooperated in. (If you’re paying taxes on land snatched from the Mohawk, you’re cooperating.)
Now just a goddamn minute, pk. Who’s this goddamn God? Is this the same one who couldn’t find Adam hiding in the tree?
No, no, no. Sorry. I misspelled it. I meant “god”: the intelligence behind how blood clots, behind the Four Basic Forces … behind evolution … cybernetics, information … behind how any cubic hectare of reef is every bit as complex, as simple, as any human brain, as any human city … behind we don’t know what all (if indeed it’s intelligence that’s behind it).
Christians tell us that justice can never happen here, but assure it transpiring after death: in heaven and in hell. I don’t believe that humans are capable to distinguishing earth from life from death from heaven from hell. I believe that earth is just one of infinites of petri dishes in god’s “lab.” I believe that god puts one kind of culture in one dish, infects it with a disease or two, watches what happens. god can then throw the dish away, clean and sterilize it, extract some of the resultant culture and move it to a new dish. god can throw a culture he likes out into the garden where it can take its own chances. Or, in a new dish, he can infect it with still other new diseases …
Death is a generalization. Your death will not be like mine.
Now just a goddamn minute, pk. You mean this “god” of yours is really just like God after all? just maybe a little smarter?
No, no, no. Sorry. I believe nothing of the kind. I’m just fantasizing: and trying to communicate something
using your language.
Social truths cannot be uttered in university natural languages: like Standard Written English. Only macroinformation can rise an inch off the pavement, only art.
PS This draft isn’t bad, it says some of what I mean, but it also totally missed a couple of the illustrations I’m meant to put near the climax: illustrations not standard to anthropologists’ litanies:
In the 1960s Ivan Illich was developing his critique of rampant American culture, cresting for example in Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress. Illich said that American trucks, exported to South America, could be more harmful than American tanks placed in the same places. The tanks could run things over, knock things down, burn and kill; but the trucks would addict subsistence cultures to tools it could never afford to keep up with. Roads would have to be built, a whole new (expensive) infrastructure would have to be inserted. Tanks would destroy some things; trucks would destroy everything. Suddenly, Illich, the Church’s most popular priest, the priest clearly closest to Jesus (and to St. Francis) in the two-millennium-long history of Christianity, was suddenly persona non grata. Ours is the society of business: of greed enthroned, of no-questions-asked profit as our summa-theologica. Yet when Illich’s books sold surprisingly well, when paperback editions became best sellers, his books disappeared! Ah! So profit wasn’t our only consideration after all. What we value even more is no criticism, no intelligent criticism.
Illich showed us how a people could shrug off centralized, top-down rulers: the public must network itself, obviate our reliance on hierarchy. (This from a priest!) I recognized Illich’s design to be the internet I had been awaiting since 1960. Disregard the governments’ insistence on licenses, certificates, centrally-approved performance … and people might judge for themselves. Soon, their judgments would necessarily improve: survival-driven. (And if they didn’t? Tough nugies.) Immediately I told Illich, “I’ll do it.” Over night I was answering correspondence with other mushrooming local nets (and licensed schools, universities), telling them how I would coordinate all the local nets into an internet. (Understand: network was a word conspicuously used by Illich; neither of us said specifically “internet”; the concept had been coined, but not the word.
Illich’s books disappeared from print, from the book stores. Fewer and fewer libraries acquired them. Illich’s speaking engagements in the US shrank. I witnessed him being invited to say more on TV by Hugh Downes, I witnessed him squeezed out, no explanation offered, Downes’ invitation was just silenced. Illich’s books disappeared; pk’s never appeared. Americans practice their “free speech,” universities practice their academic freedom, only the way the Soviet practiced its highly ideal constitution:
At first, by late 1971, pk’s FLEX, (Free Learning Exchange, my seed for an internet) was getting free publicity right and left. Several dozen people were using it. Then, all at once, we got no new publicity: and our contributions dried up: from two cents, to one cent, to no cents: and my volunteers finally fled: before we were tarred and feathered.
PPS This post is emphasizing theft and displacement over innovation, invention, new earnings. I’m aware of that. For some purposes I live with that flaw. Maybe Barns put his $40 Van Gogh into a nice frame: the frame belongs to Barns, not at all to Van Gogh. Barns and a host of others made the Van Goghs “worth” forty-, sixty-million dollars. But it was Van Gogh’s style they were doing it with.
See? Right there: Van Gogh’s style doesn’t exist in isolation: MOMA, Barnes, were also using business’s billions, governments’ tax systems …
The baby can be killed, but there’s no way to give the father’s part back to the father and the mother’s part back to the mother once their union goes the way of all unions. Wouldn’t it be nice if we refrained from improving things until we actually owned them? I’ll bet god’s petri dishes have more than one genius hiding their light under a bushel until the correct green light comes on. In the Seven Samurai Rikichi’s wife smiles in silence as the bandits’ stronghold burns around her. She refrains from shouting Fire. She’ll die happy knowing that some of her rapists will burn around her. (Maybe she even knows that her husband is among those setting the fire! Ah, but regardless, she knows she’s now damaged goods.)
2015 11 11 I seem to have written two Saving Lives pieces, bothy at IonaArc. Here’s the other. Then I’ll edit, dedup …
Mission: to expose and to mock governments’ supposed concern with life.
Seat Belts Save Lives. Oh, goody.
See? They’ve got us again.
Living things are programmed to live. To replicate. To do whatever they can to go on living. That’s given. Reason is irrelevant.
Social man has stacks of traditions where he who saves a life is respected for it. We have myths where he who saves beaucoup lives is worshipped: Jesus, to whit. Social man also hedges his bets: the Chinese hold that if you save someone’s life you’re thereafter responsible for them; Twain wrote a series of stories in which the savior rues the day.
Overall though, the savior is respected. Jesus is told to have told of the Good Samaritan. The story needs some translation, a few notes: it was like the union striker saved the scab.
So if a government goes around saving lives, that government must be good: No? Whoever first thought of rigging some sort of restraining straps around the driver of a racing car was certainly trying to reduce the risk of injury to the driver. It was probably the driver himself, trying to save his own life — or the driver’s mechanic (dependent, partner, employee), maybe the driver’s sponsor … I remember hearing I think it was Sterling Moss talk about feeling at one with the car. Hey: I’m a mystic too. I couldn’t wait to drive a tuned car with all systems tight, strapped in. Just weld me to the frame. How many logics are bridged, how many of the bridges burned, when the government tells you to Buckle Up — or else?
I rode my first motorcycle around 1965, bought one soon after, made sure I bought a good helmet with it. But in 1965 it was up to me when I wore it, if I wore it. There were times where in my judgment I was safer without it. You hear less, see a great deal less, with one on: with that weight on your head, your reactions are necessarily a tad slower. Within a year the state was telling me I must wear one; or not ride: wear one under all circumstances. (I loved Cycle Magazine’s report of the guy who thereafter wore his helmet on his knee. The cop who stopped him didn’t get it, made him switch.) (Later he fell and hurt his knee!)
R.J. Rummel of the University of Hawaii calculates that in the twentieth century alone, states murdered about 162,000,000 of their own subjects. This figure doesn’t include the tens of millions of foreigners they killed in war. In Vietnam the United States saved untold people by dropping napalm on them.
What’s going on? To me the answer is clear. I want to emphasize two aspects of my answer.
2. Predators’ Stalking Blind When bigots want to kill niggers they dress as Christians, burn crosses. Their true purpose is disguised: to their prey, to themselves.
4. Scared Shitless James Burke explained, traced patterns, like doctors’ non-accountable authority, to the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon took a census, counted so many million Frenchmen. The emperor of Austria, the kings of England, of Italy, had taken no census. They had no idea how many subjects they had. The question had never come up. Therefore, Napoleon’s count, whatever the number, scared them all shitless. It was a number threatening a non-count. Thereafter, all states have tried to have as many citizens as they could manage: to scare the shit out of their competitors. No account need be taken of the population’s health, viability … just its sum. (Which doesn’t mean that the same government won’t kill the Cheyenne or the headhunters or the Jews or the anarchists by the carload if it’s running a different program for the moment.)
PS bk responds with a few arguments that seat belts cost more lives than they save. Maybe he’ll add those comments himself. If not, I’ll do something parallel eventually. Meantime, know: just ’cause you hear it a million times don’t mean it’s so.