September 1, 2003
"Ours lungs burn like the last remaining rainforests, our livers are
damaged like the flagging filtration system of the shrinking wetlands,
Our brains are showing signs of a vast diminishment of bio-diversity,
our tongues now ceaselessly babble the intoxicated nonsense of the mass
media. We start senseless brawls with other mindless, hostile, barstool
tyrants, we're shunned by the world for our selfishness and recklessness
acts -- but things are FINE -- We're in CONTROL -- Let's open another
million barrels of oil, hair of the dogs of wars, and belly up to the
bar, boys -- It doesn't get any better than this (the dismal reality of
that sentiment alone should be enough to keep you drinking) --
Bartender -- another round for all my friends and all of the loyal and
hardy members of the coalition of the swilling, come-on, bartender --
Don't ever think of taking away the keys to my Humvee -- We'll provide
free rides on public transportation to secret detention camps for
party-popping killjoys who think like that -- Come on, drink up
everybody -- This round is on the future.... Hey, who turned out the
The breakdown of the power grid may augur what is in store for us. Like a chronic drunk with whom the collapse of vital region of his brain and nervous system are preceded by delirium tremors -- the blackout (another word culled from the lexicon of drunkards) is a dire warning. Unfortunately, as with the case of far-gone drunks, the means of apprehending the problem are already greatly diminished by the time the acute neurological symptoms are manifested. In short, they no longer possess enough of a brain to comprehend that their brain is dying. I fear culturally we are in the same predicament. The very things that provide us with the provisional comforts on which we've come to rely are the very things that are killing us. Without those things (like the prospect of facing the day without booze is for a hopeless alcoholic) -- life seems unbearable -- but with their escalating usage -- we seal our doom.
Selfishness, grandiosity, isolation, memory loss, a reckless disregard for the consequences of your actions upon others, the inability to trace the pervasive chaos of your life back to yourself: -- Confessions at an Alcoholics Anonymous Meeting -- or a description of the United States of America and her citizens in the present era?
Baudelaire advised (paraphrasing here): If you want to get drunk, stay drunk -- on wine, on poetry, or virtue. But what would have Baudelaire made of a culture that is drunk on oil (as opposed to freedom of movement), careerism (as opposite to devotion to craft), bad television (as opposed to losing ourselves in the sublime of a story well told), pornography (as opposed to revelry in the erotic), junk food (as opposed to Epicurean delight)? The list could go on and on... We, like a sloppy drunk, debase what we claim to delight in.
William Blake famously claimed: "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." Why then has it led us to the mcmansion, the drive-through windows of fast food restaurants, internet porn sites, massive shopping malls and endlessly replicating Mega-stores -- all of our proliferate palaces of soullessness located in this kingdom of the crass and the oblivious?
While there is excess in nature, there exists great thrift as well: The baroque of high summer is abstracted down to winter's minimalism.
Excess and Thrift. Nowadays, we do not recognize nor respect the dominion and necessary interplay of either. The ancients realized this attitude spelled trouble. The gods get testy when they are ignored. Physicists have a term for the wrath of vengeful gods -- it's called entropy. As Yeats prophesied: The center cannot hold.
Proliferating bacteria suffocate in their own waste in a petri dish. Traffic gridlocks. Communities disintegrate. The over-extended armies of empires bog down in distant wars. Power grids collapse.
But we seem to be blind to the warning signs of approaching tragedy. We seek provisional comforts to push down our growing sense of unease. Empty sensation replaces experience. Ruthlessness prevails over reason. Ambition over merit. Expediency over wisdom. A dim, callow prince usurps the throne. The world wends towards wasteland. Do you wonder why corporate food has so little taste -- but why, incongruously, you crave more of it? Why it is that pop music is so tedious and banal -- but it is so loud and ubiquitous? Why television is rarely enjoyable -- but we continue to watch it? It is due to the fact that we're not watching "Survivor" -- we're watching the "Entropy Hour." We're not watching "reality TV" -- we're watching the seething contents of a petri-dish's ever-accelerating spiral toward self-destruction. Like hopeless drunks, we are no longer the captains of our fate -- instead, we have given ourselves over to the engines of oblivion.
"Oh go piss up a rope, you tight-ass loser. Who the hell needs you at this party, anyway? I don't need your lectures -- I need comforting. I need to be told everything is going to be OK. That these things are going to work themselves out all on their own. That obviousness is salvation. That I'm being watched over by angels, just like Oprah and George W. Bush tell me. Swaddle me in a celestial missile defense shield of ignorant bliss. Ply me with more oil and tell me I'm the greatest. George W. Bush tells me the less I know the more smarter I am -- and the more smarter I am -- the less I want to know. See how things all work out without any effort on my part? That's the kind of smarts you can't get from books. So don't you go and try to tell me that things are going all to hell -- and that -- my drinking is making things worse -- That it might even be the cause of the mess I'm in -- I don't want to hear anything like that -- because that only has the effect of scaring me badly enough that I need another drink, god damn it! In fact, big mouth, you should be buying the next round -- You're either with us or against us!"
So goes the circular thought of addiction, which, like any other form of totalitarianism provides the promise of comfort, a sense of security, connection to a large order -- and demands, in return, indenturement, dependence, and obedience. When attempting to break the dependency by attempting to move more freely in the world, the addicted/totalitarian personality will freeze up -- like John Ashcroft before a pair of (even sculpted marble) breasts -- or like his dry drunk boss, George W. Bush (drunk on power -- if not the scent of his own rectal vapors) does when confronted with an unexpected question or occurrence. (On the morning of September 11, when informed that a second jet had struck the second tower of the World Trade Center, W. continued reading aloud from "The Hungry Caterpillar" to an audience of school children at a staged and highly scripted event.) To an addict or drunk (dry or otherwise) there is far too much uncertainty involved in a spontaneous act, too much danger of exposure, too much risk that their tiny, insular reality that they have constructed out of expediency and casuistry might be shattered by exposure to the vast, unpredictable world. George W. Bush suffers from such a high degree of pathological rigidity -- he could easily be replaced by an animatronic figure from Disneyland's Hall of Presidents and few would notice. It's a small world after all. Or: -- At least the Corporate Capitalist/Neo-Con Fantasist/Christian Fundamentalist version of it is.
Benumbed by it all, we need more and more distraction and hype to get us off. We have developed such a high tolerance for fakery and phoniness that we don't react with outrage when we witness the empty spectacle of a spoiled preppy frat-boy, who went AWOL rather than serve in the military, costumed in jet-fighter jump suit and useing billion dollar military hardware as a prop for purposes of partisan propaganda. Nor does it register when we are confronted with pictures of dead and maimed Iraqi men, woman, and children whose fate was sealed by those same soulless machines of war.
"Sure, I've had a blackout or two. OK, OK -- I did wake-up one morning to realize that I had been rolled by Enron executives -- but I swear -- I don't know when during the spree I spent the budget surplus and then went into deficit bingeing -- but here's the bill -- It's right here on my Master Card (make that my Mastah Card -- just like on a plantation). What this now? -- You're telling me I got really belligerent and started a war? Well, I must have had a really good reason. The guy must have taken a swing at me first.... No, you say.... I broke into his home in the middle of the night and started pummeling him. Well, I bet he was planning something. I bet he had weapons hidden there and he was ready to use them against me.... They found no weapons. I bet he wanted some weapons, though. I bet he wanted to use them on me. He hated me because he's jealous of me -- They're all jealous of us Americans -- and you know why -- it's because we're free to do and say whatever we please -- and if you disagree with that -- I'll kick your ass too."
So goes the palaver from the petri dish here in the United States of Entropy.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Phil Rockstroh, a self-confessed gasbag monologist, is a poet and a musician who lives in New York City (Manhattan). Rockstroh is co-author, with Chris Chandler, of Protection From All This Safety, (Portals Press, 1997, ISBN: 0916620301). He's had short fiction published in Silver Web Literary Magazine, Thin Ice, Brutarian, and poems included in a few anthologies, such as "From a Bend in the River."
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