Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking Back

Recapturing the film of 2007, many things happened, in many places of the world. But then, it’s also true that events take place all over, all the time. We live in constant flux and movement, and this very constancy of change is one of the things that tell us we’re alive, and that our world is alive.

A planet without volcanoes, without earthquakes, is a dead piece of rock with nothing but perhaps fossils or stones for the collectors to examine at their leisure. A planet with volcanoes, with earthquakes, with moving plates is alive, even though those phenomena kill and inflict such terrible loss and pain on those it strikes. Chaos is a very much needed part of life, and without it, Order would simply entomb us in stillness. Entropy, beyond being the focus point of the famous second law of thermodynamics, is the one force that sparked life to everything we know: to the stars we see in the night sky, to this fantastic, ever-developing universe we’re such a tiny, tiny bit of, minuscule ants that we are, and who often delude ourselves into thinking we’re the center of everything--helped in this by the monotheistic religions, which in this aspect as in many others, do nothing other than flatter us and mirror back what we want to hear.

But enough with philosophy.

So 2007 was, like any other year, a year of change. However, looking back I can’t help wondering if the changes that took place aren’t mostly in a direction I’d rather avoid. Of course I’m biased, and I’m sure a great many people would disagree with me, but still.

Let’s start with the bad stuff.

In France, the population elected an openly populist, demagogic president. Since then, this man has done little else but turn the political existence of the country into some gigantic, badly written TV soap where he’s the lead actor. This change has allowed him to start on profound changes, most of which are aimed to enact a very, very strong rightwing policy, and also to unravel all the laws and all the social rights that the French workers had won after so many battles since the 19th century. But people don’t see, it, refuse to see it, under the glamour of the huge reality show the current tenant of the Elysee puts out for them. What amazes me, and disgusts me, is that it works, and that so many people are all too willing to fall for it, that so many people are all too willing to start drooling and wagging their tails whenever they stumble upon an authoritarian figure who then simply has to bark something for them to believe it’s some kind of absolute, divine truth. Mr Sarkozy has done everything from staging his ex-wife as the savior of the famous Bulgarian nurses who were held in Libya, trampling from underfoot and denying all the efforts made by European diplomacy, stealing the stage in such a gross fashion that everyone in France should have screamed “fake”, to going into hiding and uncharacteristic silence during the social conflicts in Autumn and then arranging to have himself and his newfound “love” photographed by paparzzi in Eurodi$ney to draw attention from the fiasco of his welcoming Kadhafi like a hero. And people bought it.

In the US, the subprimes crisis has ruined many families. Many people have gone bankrupt, and are now homeless, all because the US system has gone beyond any kind of sustainable balance, and because this system has taught generations of American people that, yes, they should live beyond their financial means, and that they should live indebted up to above their necks, that it’s perfectly okay. The inexistent social security and health care system has once again demonstrated how retarded the US are in that regard, where millions of families, of kids, had better not fall ill, because nobody will give them proper treatment, their only choice being to go to hospitals to be treated by students in their first year of practical field exercise. The crumbling of the middle-class has left dozens of millions with no label of “poor” enabling them to have a minimum of access to any kind of health care, and leaving them at the tender mercy of private insurance companies, which propose contracts those families can no longer afford. But then, I guess that when you embrace a system that glorifies individualism, says you shouldn’t pay taxes, and you shouldn’t have to insure yourself or pay for stuff you think you’ll never need (and it is well known we never get sick, we never grow old, we can never get fired from a job, of course), well you have to take responsibility and accept the consequences of the choices you make for the society you live in. The American Dream is dead and buried, but I wonder if the US people even realize that.

In Iraq, the population has drowned deeper into chaos and terror, all consequences that had been detailed and exposed to the US, and to Mr W Bush, who still decided to go and “liberate” Iraq, a decision among the worst and most ill-advised of these last centuries. Never has the US had a worse president, a president who was reelected nevertheless, by a part of the population who’s either deaf, or blind, or perhaps simply too self-centered and uneducated to see what’s happening beyond the borders of what no longer is a land of hope and dreams. Every single step along Iraq’s nightmarish descent into hell has been forewarned, foretold by this “old Europe” the fools called neo-cons so loved to deride. And now, what? With elections looming near in the US, all the candidates want to get out of the quagmire. But that’s all too easy. Is the US so callous as to barge in, spark chaos and death and terror, and then when all that they had been warned comes true, horrible step by horrible step, they’d just gather their things, leave good guards around the oil reserves and then scamper away like thieves, justifying this rout with claims like “the Iraqi need to take responsibility for themselves, they’re free”? The Iraqi are simply free to wither and to die, their country is in chaos, and all that courtesy of the “liberators” the US claimed to be through the voice of a fool named Georges W Bush, a man with a mission from whatever god he believes in , a man mad enough to invoke crusades in what betrays an incredible lack of historical knowledge and understanding, and, if you stop and think about it, a man whose words and actions aren’t that far removed from what a fanatic would do or say.

In Iraq, bombs explode and shred bodies into bloody pieces of flesh and bones. Families and friends weep, despair, and fall into this ages-old cycle of hatred and revenge. Blood calls out for blood, death calls out for death, all sparked by the folly of a nation who elected a fool, a puppet of very particular corporate interests, and a puppet of madmen who wrongly thought that the world is their playground, where they can build and install whatever society THEY think is best “for everyone”. The neo-cons are, along with religious hierarchs of any kind, those I despise the most, because they claim they know better, because they claim they know the one and unique truth, because they feel entitled to “save us” in spite of ourselves, because, by their way of acting and their way of moving, they show that they believe themselves superior to us, common mortals, when in fact they’re no different, no better, and simply crave power and wealth, same as your next door neighbor.

In Belgium, the June 10th election gave birth to a six months-long crisis, which showed how obsessed with themselves and their greed for power some politicians are, chief among them Mr Leterme and Mr Reynders, who’d sell every single citizen of Wallonia to the Flemish interests if it could give him the dubious “throne” of Prime Minister. It served as a revelation of the way Flemish media and extremists maneuver by the nose the “mainstream” parties, who are now little more than pawns in a dirty nationalist extremist game. It showed the Walloons that they should perhaps envision the day when there will no longer be a country named Belgium, although a great many among us do not want this to come to pass.

It also showed, as it has in France, that the weaker social classes, the worker class and all those who lack in wealth and security in their jobs and their lives, tend to be duped by the simplistic speeches of the right. They elect the right in power, even though they will the first to suffer from its actions. Deaf and blind to anything other than populist speeches, people bark with the dogs and refuse to see beyond the edge of their noses to envision the consequences of their actions. As unbelievable as that can be, still it happens, again and again. Jobless people vote for those who will shape and vote laws that will authorize the hunt for people like them, who will authorize the withdrawal of what little help they have that enables them to keep on living. They put in power people who will unravel all the laws, all the covenants that allow them to live, that their grandparents fought, bled and sometimes died to tear from the powers-that-be of the time. All because people no longer think, no longer take a step back, no longer question. Because it’s so tiring to do so, because it’ so much easier to watch whatever crap is on TV, as long as it doesn’t demand any kind of reflection, as long as it takes us elsewhere, and doesn’t remind us of the mediocrity of our lives…

In Pakistan, a woman with a shady past dared to come back, in spite of all the threats on her life and on that of her family. This woman came to a land now ruled by fanatics in the streets, and by a military dictatorship that parades as a would-be candidate for democracy in the official seats of power. Benazir Bhutto was certainly anything but a saint. It’s more or less sure she benefited from money, that corruption used to sit comfortably on her shoulder. That’s as may be, but she was brave, this woman. She returned to a country where she knew she’d be the target of both the current government, and of all the foaming at the mouth religious extremists Pakistan shelters. On the very day of her return, they almost managed to get her. Still, she didn’t give up. She continued organizing public gatherings, she went to open places, to speak to people, unveiled. A woman in her own right, free and undaunted, she showed those barbarians who proclaim themselves servants of a fictional deity what bravery truly is. In spite of the fear that must have twisted her gut every single moment of every day of her final stay in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto never gave up. Fools in the US believed her to be their pawn, but they never understood the complexity of the East. Fools in the US have had the gall to try and take advantage o her death in their own selfish quest for power in their own little presidential race. In the end, it doesn’t matter. In the end, what matters is that this woman denied all the extremists, never yielded to fear, and never gave up on who and what she was: a woman, without a veil, a true woman, a strong personality, someone with ideas and strength, ready to do what it took to win the hearts of a population and to be elected in a fair democratic process. Nobody can take that from her.

And, last but not least, the brighter stuff.

As for me, 2007 allowed me to discover a land of wonders, on the other side of the equator, a land of beauty called Namibia. In spite of a true, and rather “interesting” brush with death over the Namib desert, images of this fantastic journey will stay with me. Nature undaunted, landscapes that take your breath away, gentle people, most of them living in a poverty we have difficulty imagining, I don’t think I’ll ever forget Namibia.

In New Jersey, people’s representatives took a courageous decision. They abolished the death penalty in a state of a country where many still hold backward beliefs like “an eye for an eye”, and where some will tell you, unashamed, that it’s better to kill criminals, because feeding them costs money. New Jersey brought hope to a country that’s so often been a cause for despair or sadness. It’s the proof that there’s always a potential for good, for things to get better.

A potential for hope.

The world, when you look at it, is a place of beauty and wonders. When there’s ugliness, you always find people at the source. We are, all of us, hope and despair, light and dark, stillness and movement, order and chaos. We can move. We can think. We can choose. We only need to decide to do so. We only need to take a step back, to take off our blindfolds, to look at ourselves, to look at our world, at our society, and ask this question: is this the way we want to live? Is this the way we want to be? The answer doesn’t have to be “yes”. The answer is what we decide, nothing more and nothing less. There is no foreordained course. No Fate written that we blindly follow. No bearded old man watching from above the clouds. No economical divine law dictating that our lives should be this or that.

We are what we choose to be.

We are strong, much stronger than often we know, or even suspect, but not alone. We are strong when we gather, around ideas, around ideals. All along our history, we have toppled tyrants, unmade monarchs of divine right, brought down castes which oppressed us. How many times have simple people risen against powerful oppressors? Too many to count. Time and again, we’ve done this.

We can do it again.

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