by Gaither Stewart
16 February 2009
“To seduce also means to destroy”
I ran into a reference to The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits and found the suggestive old poem extensively reproduced and commented on line. The work consists of a poem, The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest, and an extensive prose commentary. The poem which first appeared in 1705 was intended as a commentary on England, as the Dutch Englishman, Bernard de Mandeville, saw it. Here is a stanza:
A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.
The ‘hive’ is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for. It’s all quite familiar and contemporary. Eh?
(Rome) Since I have been over the whole route, from the political no-man’s land of the “majority”, across the cavernous divide to the independent and autonomous state of intense engagement, paying for my mistakes and reaping immeasurable rewards along the way, I can now permit myself some liberties of opinion. Still, I listen and listen and listen and wonder where I stand in the never-ending discussion on What is to be done? Like other emancipated people I wonder not only about my own ideas but also about those persons of Power dedicated to the methodical conditioning and fierce control of the malleable consciousness of the masses, Power dedicated to the seduction of humanity.
I might agree with one thesis or another, at first, before launching myself into fascinating directions. For I want to understand. Then, explain. But sometimes I am so skeptical even about the latest lessons learned that I make myself sick. Therefore, I continue to question and wonder. I read enthusiastically Michael Parenti’s Left Anticommunism and the merited praise for his magnificent study. But then … then, I realized he could not really deal with all the many nuances in the evaluation of the people and times of the ideologically tormented 20th century.
For example, the case of the Italian Communist Ignazio Silone, one of the six ex-Communist turncoat writers included in the book, The God That Failed: in Parenti’s article Silone did not get any special criticism, at least not the same criticism aimed at Arthur Koestler. Nor does he deserve it. Of course, Silone should never have written his testimony in that book even though it reflected the direction his life took. As are many novelists, he was a naïve man. Certainly he was a tormented man, torn between duty and obedience, perhaps even between duplicity and betrayal, living and acting as if he wanted to be discovered. Though he became an active anti-Communist, I believe he meant something very different from that which emerged in the above book. Because I knew personally Silone for some years and have read closely his work, (first I read much of his work, then I met the man!) I have concluded that he is not to be cast in the same mould as Koestler. Nor perhaps in that of the other contributors either: Louis Fischer, André Gide, Stephen Spender and Richard Wright. Silone never betrayed his early beliefs, even in the difficult times of Fascism in power in his homeland. About the Left, Silone remarked pertinently, “Once a true Socialist, you are a Socialist for life.”
Parenti makes the case for purity of the Left, as also did Lenin. I admire Lenin the revolutionary. But I also recall the existence of Right Communism in Lenin and Stalin’s Bolshevik Party in the period of shifting loyalties, when yesterday’s Left became today’s Right until the day arrived when personal positions seemed irrevocably final and a man died easily over questions of purity. The lance I break here is for both more purity and unity of the Left. We are few too few and, as Lenin sometimes felt, we need them all.
At the end of the read of Michael’s article I recalled Borges’ protagonist who in his attempt to re-create the entire universe, in the end, with horror, realizes how easy it is to forget the moon. Unity! Again, my plea is for more unity on the Left. Lenin, in his eternal struggle for Party unity, did say repeatedly, “Enough opposition!”
For example, and with Silone in mind, let’s consider the real, the original meaning of Socialism. The word is not complex. It is quite simple. Socialism/Communism is natural and simple-a lot of redistribution of wealth and a lot more control over who does the distributing. In his last articles in 1922 Lenin defined Socialism in these broad terms: “An order of civilized co-operators in which the means of production are socially owned.” That cuts a wide swath through the world of the Left. Instead, today in Europe, as in the USA, while Capital brazenly occupies the State and the Right advances EVERYWHERE, conquering society, economy and State, the electorate too shifts farther and farther to the right in an act of submission to the Great Seduction. When I, for example, remark, remind, repeat publicly, that I am Communist, friends laugh and snicker and elbow me in the ribs: “He’s a Communist!” As if the word were synonymous with cannibalism or mother-raping.
I now realize that the reasons for my own belated awakening lie in my reaction to the age-old seduction of the American and European people(s). I mean the seduction that in ancient Greek means also destruction. In that sense most of us by now should know that we have been seduced. Hoodwinked. Screwed. (Obama language!) For example, the Crown (the Crown of perfection as emblematic of the good life of comfort and ease) offered is the ultimate seduction. It is Euro-American Exceptionalism. The Crown offered to the naïve seduced often only seems like perfection. But in reality it is the betrayal that imprisons its recipients. Perfection turns out to be betrayal.
Oh, the promises, promises! of Neil Simon’s famous Broadway musical of the 1960s and 70s. Men live on promises they never keep. Promises they never intended keeping. Presidential candidate Obama promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq within 16 months. Now, apparently, the whole frigging Pentagon is up in arms against him. “What! End our nice comfortable war! Over our dead bodies!” But our fearless leader resists. “Look, you guys, let’s end this thing so I can keep some of my promises and the confidence of our (seduced) people. In exchange I’ll give you a good war in Afghanistan against those Taleban terrorists.” While George W. Obama musters his own American troops, the ones he wants to pull out of Iraq, and through NATO browbeats Europe to increase its commitments there, I wonder that no one around him explains that the Taleban are not terrorists but an organization/party that once ruled the country under US tutelage, now fighting to rid their country of foreign troops. And the generals? Are they accepting the bargain? Most certainly. One war is as good as another. And this one, with poppy fields and pipelines to be defended and illiterate savages to be contained, and to boot a war more obscure and difficult to check on, is actually more appealing than Iraq.
As the Obamese seduction continues, so do the infringements on American civil liberties, just as before. The war on terrorism at home (What terrorism exactly are we speaking of?), in the good old USA continues. Promises of medical coverage for 4 million children is a fine thing but what about the millions of people without any guaranteed medical assistance at all? Change? Change? Where is it?
Contemplation and study of human life make one skeptical and generate despair. With luck the thinking man comes to recognize the despair of the great seduction tempting everyone, and he is compelled to search for the often hidden greater meanings in life. Choosing then brings the lucky one nearer self-awareness. To despair is to refuse to be one’s former self. It means to become a foe of one’s former self. You come to feel as if you’ve arrived from a tiny forgotten town in another world, long cut off from the rest. You’re a stranger. A stranger because you prefer the ethical route. Even though to succumb to despair is ultimately suicide, the ready alternative to the great seduction is positive despair.
In that sense, a poet wrote, “My depression is my most faithful mistress.” Some people find hope in the religious. Others garner hope from reason, the ethical, and doing good. Otherwise, writers like Alberto Moravia or Ernesto Sabato would say, Why live at all? By his nature man lives in anxiety. He can either kill himself or try to live in his desperation. To succeed he relies on hope and reason in order to distinguish between good and evil. Man’s real life often seems to depend on hope in what we call good faith and tolerance in a world where intolerance of the ambiguity in one’s self and others is growing. Though hope is acceptance of vulnerability as part of man’s life, man, in his desperate desperation, often feels obliged to rely on hope.
However, hope, I find, is a false direction. Hope resembles the faith of the religious person. Admittedly, in the worst times, it can be a cushion. A consolation. But in the long-run, hope is the bailout for the helpless and especially the seduced.
ONE POSSIBLE LIFE
Let’s say you live your life in splendid isolation, above events. Things seem clear to you. Unreasonably clear. You are comfortable in the embrace of the seducers. But one day real life is suddenly unleashed and hurtles toward you. To the extent you descend from your tower to the actual field of action your former image of what has happened around you is erased or seems shrouded in unreality. Emulation and fashion are the rules of the game. (As someone wrote, writers shouldn’t use words that appear often in the press!) You realize you don’t know what is happening. You feel remote. Life is remote. Your whole social class is dissipating. Your life style has vanished. Your security hangs by a thread. You are uncertain of what you are about. You come to feel that the words you speak are senseless. You come to know you have lost contact with real life. Your youth of irresistible passion and your self-assurance in your way of life have come to seem no more than the senseless flapping of the wings of a tiny bird against the maelstrom. You no longer understand time, why or how, or for how long. Uncertainty replaces your former self-assurance and cocky nonchalance. Life once seemed boundless and unlimited. Now you feel the need for a protective ring, for a new chalk circle. You begin to recognize fate, chance and causality. As time passes you no longer underestimate the significance of events and the relationship between historic events and the role of individuals. You recognize the reliance on destiny, which is not the same as hope! Though some people-for example American neocons-believe they can control history, you recognize that the attempt to change the world is also linked to destiny and time. Yet, yet, you still believe that the individual-such as Marx or Lenin or Che Guevara or Daniel Ortega-can make the difference in the chaos and turbulence of events and destiny. Though you can’t count on it, you tell yourself you are fortunate to have descended from your isolation of unconsciousness.
To awaken, to descend from isolation, is to begin a cycle of resistance and revolt that perforce must end in revolution. This is not an impossible hypothesis. For how can one realistically rely on hope and non-violent sit-ins to oppose violence in a country as violent as the United States of America-from the genocide of the original peoples to the importation of black slaves to the “seduction” of an entire people?
In such conditions, voting is not enough. Sit-ins and marches and the poll booth are not enough.
By now that newborn thinking person, descended from his former isolation, understands that globalization is US imperialism at work. Now we know that globalization is nothing less than the American aspiration to global hegemony. That globalization is the exploitation of the workingman everywhere for the benefit of a few. It is the great seduction. The great deception. The ultimate seduction.
Globalization is still an ideology. It is the old market ideology. Now we know that globalization is a story of failure. Today in a time of crisis globalization appears as the evil it has always been. The man descended from isolation knows that the world needs jobs, food and health. Globalization instead means suppression of normal local activities. Globalization defined as global democracy is elite malarkey. Exportation of American style democracy is anyway by definition anti-democratic. How can one rationally even speak of a US democracy? Moreover, globalization, especially during crisis, means loss of jobs. Europe, I experience daily, is in reality more and more terrified of globalization. Nostalgic nationalism and desperate protectionism are raising their ugly heads. The 120 Italian oil industry workers in the UK irritate British workers. The 3000 British workers in Italy cause conflict among unemployed Italians. Globalization means that strong countries become savagely stronger, weaker countries, helplessly weaker. Most certainly globalization is not progress. It is the seduction exercised by an evil elite that while it destroys planet earth promotes inequality and widens the gap between rich and poor, confirmed by the fall of pro capita income in 70 countries during the last 20 years.
Now the foe of your former self, you come to see that anything smacking of the status quo is evil. You see that earth is and has always been the planetary killing fields of all forms of life. You become aware of the super secrecy of Power, especially American Power. Secrecy is at the helm, secrecy for each component of Power. You learn that no one really knows what the fuck American troops and those of its reluctant, vanishing allies are doing in Iraq. In that respect, you realize, Power is virtual and therefore secret. Power operates in a secret world of virtual reality. Though that rings technological, it is also real. And it is the source of evil. Churchill could have been speaking of Power in general when he said, “Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
Power accuses its enemies of its own faults. Marx too charged that the secrecy attached to his theories was only the reflection of human stupidities.
Despite the continuous reassurances of the seducers out to get us, things just don’t seem to work anymore. Though it is a truism that many people don’t work and yet get richer, that is not what I have in mind. Instead I wonder about the USA. Did the USA-Home-of-the-Free thing ever work? Was it flawed from the start? Was there always the stain? Were they always rich and the rest, poor. Was there always their goodness, their god-fearingness, their evil hidden deep, deep in the profundities of their super goodness and self-righteousness.
A curiosity: In recent times I have noted a rebellion of objects. I happen to touch a glass awkwardly, not hard at all. Yet it falls from the rack. It breaks into pieces, it seems on purpose. A suicide. Splinters rebound back up at me, slithers in my hands and on my cheek. I stand bloodied above the suicidal glass. What was the problem? What had I done to deserve it? Well, I admitted, I washed it haphazardly, without soap and tossed it into the rack. I wondered what special attention a glass needs. That glass rebelled, like animals sometimes rebel; a dog bites a human or the proverbial mule refuses to move. And now planet earth too is rebelling against occupation by human beings. One has to conclude that, yes, there is a human stain.
It is truly an enigma.
Gaither Stewart, Senior Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal/tantmieux, is a novelist and journalist based in Italy. His stories, essays and dispatches are read widely throughout the Internet on many leading venues. His recent novel, Asheville, is published by Wastelandrunes, (www.wastelandrunes.com).