1. Connecting the Dots
This one is easy. It’s what every kid knows. Been hearing it from TV quack lawyers like Perry Mason since the old black-and-white days. Jessica and Mrs. Marple also touted the wisdom of it. So, how come we still don’t do it?
For example: A few days ago, one of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, appropriately named, “The Torch,” went up in flames in Dubai. I watched it burn on Al Jazeera, but nary a mention of it on the MSM! [Main Stream Media] It was kind of beautiful— from a healthy distance of half a world away, and the announcers’ assurance that everyone had evacuated safely.
But here’s the rub: I kept waiting for this building—a flaming torch, indeed, from about the top 1/4 of its stories upward—I kept waiting to watch this building collapse into its footprint at free-fall speed. After all, I had seen that happen—must’ve been a hundred times!—on September 11, 2001. Happened to 2 World Trade Center towers. Crash! Boom! Collapse! (Happened to a third skyscraper and there wasn’t even a crash. I guess it fell out of sympathy, watching its confederates fall!). But this time, in Dubai, no collapsing into its footprint—just a flaming torch that would burn out.
No Jessica around to connect the dots. No Brian Williams to tell us he was there and he saw it collapse—whether we saw it or not. Nothing! No follow-up, no curiosity, no follow-thru. No questions asked. Nyet!
Speaking of follow-thru… I like to think of it as foresight. This is less well understood, though most of us have heard of Einstein’s saying—apocryphal or not—that if you keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results—you’re nuts! (Well, he probably said it in German and it probably sounds more authoritative that way!)
Foresight means connecting the dots… and you keep going beyond the last dot. You imagine the trajectory of the dots and you make adjustments beforehand, based on the best info you have, to get the desired effect. The dots take you to a certain point, and then you project the diving board and figure out if you really want to cannon-ball or belly-flop off of it.
When it comes to the US “War on Terror” (wrong preposition; should be “of”!), we’ve been belly-flopping since 911! Soon after the buildings collapsed, Super-brain George W. (I hear his slightly brainier bro is now running?) announced that we’d be going on a “crusade” (his word!) against the “Axis of Evil”—Iraq, Iran, North Korea. And soon after that, we were bombing Iraq and Afghanistan!
14 years later, we’re still at war with Iraq and Afghanistan, we’ve managed to “lose” over 6,000 of our own guys (“guys” being a genderless term… as is “Army Strong” or ABC’s “America Strong”) and we’ve obliterated like bugs over a million of their guys, capsized relatively progressive, prosperous and stable Arab states in Iraq and Libya, and we’ve been playing the manic Iran and North Korea cards for so long now—most MSM-brain-drained Americans actually believe it!
Couldn’t we look ahead? Couldn’t we project? Have a little foresight? Couldn’t we look back and learn, make adjustments, look forward?
Hadn’t George Bush, Senior drawn a “line in the sand,” and Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf assured us that we were going to “clean Saddamn’s clock”? That was all way back in the early 90s! And where did all that bravado, that “Luciferian defiance” get us?
The great Chalmers Johnson was one of the first to tell it like it is and was. He called 911 “blowback”—wrote a book about it. I guess Brian Williams missed that one. I’m sure O’Reilly dissed it.
In first grade they taught me: Look both ways when crossing the street. We don’t look back, and we don’t look forward!
This has a connection to “foresight,” but it’s trickier. It’s getting lost with Orson Welles among the funhouse mirrors in “The Lady from Shanghai.” You keep looking for Rita Hayworth as the cropped-haired (practically) irresistible, sultry, dangerous blonde, and you keep ending up with the crazy little guy with the gun grinning in the distorted mirror, trying to kill you.
Great comics like Richard Pryor, George Carlin or Aristophanes have always understood irony inside out because… that’s exactly what it is: it’s the inside-out of things. It’s not just about following thru with the dots, it’s about recognizing that Yin turns into Yang which turns into Yin again, etc. It can be funny, but you can also die laughing!
Here’s an example: a fortyish Las Vegas mother takes her young daughter out for a driving lesson. Freedom! Independence! What America’s all about! Women in our beloved ally, Saudi Arabia (the Islamic-Extremist-Wahabi-Capitalist-Paradise) can’t imagine such freedom!
Actually, neither can we! That’s where the irony comes in! The “freedom” we love to imagine for ourselves is something the teachers inculcate with the first “pledge of allegiance.” Walt Whitman understood the concept better. He had a sense of irony: “One man’s freedom to swing his arms,” he said, “ends where another man’s nose begins.” (That’s the great irony of freedom: It only makes sense when it’s very carefully defined, when it’s delimited, boundaries drawn.)
So… this woman is out with her daughter, and, what looks on TV like your typical, scary, scrawny neighborhood teen-boy pulls up behind them too fast, scares the bejesus out of them, there’s some sort of altercation (details still sketchy), and Mom goes home, wakes her 22-year old son and they both go out looking for the teen. Oh, yeah: the 22-year old is now packing heat!
After driving around a bit, they don’t find the teen, but, soon enough, he finds them. Do they talk things over like good neighbors yakking over the fence? (“Good fences make good neighbors,” Frost wrote.) No! It’s gunfight at the OK Corral, numerous shots exchanged between son and teen and Mom winds up with a bullet in her head, dead in her own driveway!
Irony? Wasn’t the “right to bear arms” supposed to make us all a lot safer? Next to actual war-torn nations, is there a less-safe place than the United States?
The same week this is taking place, the trial for the killer of the “American Sniper,” Chris Kyle, is running neck and neck with the Oscar nominations for that bloody Clint Eastwood biopic. Who thinks of timing like this?
Irony? We’re supposed to feel sorry for Kyle and his buddy because they got “wasted” while trying to help a bazonkers-back-from-Afghanistan soldier whom they had taken to a shooting range in order to “help” him! Kyle, himself, had shot over 100 people—back, front, sideways, heads blown off, mothers, fathers, kids– and he’s some kind of national hero?
And nobody’s asking if the whole, goddamn war wasn’t insane to begin with? Ask, instead, the “crazy suspect” (alleged!) if he knows right from wrong? Don’t we already have plenty of crazy people in our government and corporate structures who will swear they know right from wrong and will curse you, have you arrested or more closely “scrutinized” if you doubt them? And maybe the people who should be on trial are the people like Senators McCain and Graham who call protesters against war—like Code Pink—the “scum of the earth” while they sit fat, comfortable and rich (McCain is worth $10 million), kowtowing to international war-criminals like Henry Kissinger?
Will wonders never cease?
4. Creative Intelligence
“Logic will get you from A to B, Imagination will take you everywhere,” said Albert E.
This is the lollapalooza–not just inside-out, but up-down-and-around thinking and doing–and it’s sorely missing in the American Empire.
Creative Intelligence walks side by side with Freedom from Fear. Our most creative artists, scientists and thinkers have always been our most fearless. Like Galileo, Tesla, Lorca, Thomas Paine and Van Gogh, they have often suffered, and sometimes paid the ultimate price, for their willingness to go where others dared not. When the amalgamation was just right, the timing perfect, as with Picasso, young Rembrandt, George Gershwin, the world celebrated their gifts….As often as not, they were spurned (and sometimes burned at the stake!).
But, where is there scope for daring, creative thought, within our Surveillance State? If every thinker must check him/her-self with every utterance, every wayward thought or systemic challenge, the capacity for creative intelligence withers into an indigestible pit in the gut.
When the towers collapsed, it was like two big spikes being driven into our collective skull!
Speaking of “collective”—what was the last American movie highlighting collective action taken by American workers? Workers striking for better wages, or working conditions, etc.?
There’s the classic, “Black Fury,” with Paul Muni organizing coal miners. But, more recently, the first one that comes to my mind is “Norma Rae”—and that was over 30 years ago!
Spin the channels on the boob tube, and you’ll spin thru: “thrillers”; horror movies; sci-fi that you’ve probably seen at least once too often; “romantic comedies” that are hackneyed-romantic and un-comedic; war movies, re-hashing the same themes ad nauseum—and a plethora of commercials for pharmaceuticals with all kinds of warnings about the various ways they will make you sick or kill you. (But, hey, at least you get to piss like everyone else!)
While spinning the other day, I landed on “Monuments Men” just long enough to hear George Clooney explain the point of our heroes’ mission; to wit: you can destroy buildings, you can destroy cities… and people will rebuild. But, if you destroy a people’s art, the treasures of their art, then you destroy their civilization and they have nothing to rebuild.
There’s truth in that… and also painful irony! One wonders: What great art will America lose now that will preclude its rebuilding? Video tapes of Britney Spears, or Miley Cyrus? “Dumb and Dumber” movies? “American Sniper”?
When I was a child, I would walk into a neighborhood bookstore, and breathe in the aroma of the books! Steinbeck, Hemingway, Asimov, Harper Lee, James Baldwin were alive and kicking then and people read their books and talked about them. Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Carson McCullers were writing plays worth reading and seeing and talking about… and changing lives. Teenagers got into land-grant universities, didn’t amass dream-killing student debts up to their eyeballs, and we took courses in the Humanities because we wanted to know for the sake of knowing!
There were plenty of insane elements in our culture back then; there have been insane elements in American culture from our colonial period, thru our Revolution and Civil War, thru the Gilded Age, the World Wars, Cold War and up to today. We’ve always had reductionist fools like a Giuliani or an O’Reilly throwing their crap against the wall—and seeing what sticks. Long before our current MSM, we had the Hearst newspapers and The New York Times telling us what to think and how to think (and omitting all the news that wasn’t “fit to print”—according to their dictates!). Fortunately, we also had Mom and Pop and Aunt Jenny relating the old maxims, keeping the balance: “a stitch in time, saves nine”; “look before you leap”; “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”; “two wrongs don’t make a right;” “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
In this ice-cold winter of our discontent, it seems that Nature itself is crying out against the depredations of the human race—what we’ve done to our fracked-up, bombed-out Mother Earth, and to ourselves; how we’ve wasted the seeds in our intellectual storehouse. Can the beleaguered citizens of the most militarily powerful nation on the planet have the power to restore sanity, rationality and intelligence?
Gary Corseri has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library, and his dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta and elsewhere. He has published novels and collections of poetry, has taught in US public schools and prisons and in US and Japanese universities. His work has appeared at Pressenza, The New York Times and hundreds of publications and websites worldwide.