Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Worst Since WW2

to continue the happy vibes from the last post... this one is for the new year.

had a dinner party last night and there was someone who works as camera man for the UN, just arriving in Berlin a few hours earlier, after being stationed in various parts of Africa for the past 8 years: mainly Uganda, Rwanda, and for the past 4 years, Congo.

a few hours before he got on the plane (i guess the day before yesterday?), a church where 400 children and some adult refugees were hiding was discovered by rival faction soldiers, and all 400+ were hacked to pieces with machetes, and thrown into the river.

a normal occurance, just another day.

i knew that things have always been bad since (and before) the beginning of the second Congolese war, and after its "end", and that there have been recent escalations of violence, but i did know just how bad.

he told of child soldiers aged 7 to 17, acting in groups of 6 to a dozen: the oldest would be the leader, and the job of the youngest was to carry the cut off hands and feet of dead enemies. they would return to base at night, and would take out the body parts to show the commanders, like "here are 12 pieces, look how well we did." hoping to get a promotion, and/or more food, more drugs.

regularly he documents the aftermath of a battle, with hundreds of bodies strewn about, sometimes having been left in the sun for weeks. and on several occasions run ins with child soldiers, and having the nozzle of an AK47 shoved into his face, and the cold, empty, inhuman eyes of a 10 year old staring into his own.

the drug of choice for these children is a mix of heroin, sometimes cocaine, cut with gunpowder as an extender, mixed with a bit of water. the method of intake is to soak a piece of cotton with the mixture, and insert it into a slit cut into a cheek on the face, sealed by a bandage -- this way the dope slowly and steadily enters the bloodstream, and lasts all day, as they go out and do their thing. (not sure why the face is used and not, say, inner thigh).

he told of millions of people who have been moving from refugee camp to refugee camp, often several times a year, for the past decade or more. the lucky ones have a single cooking pot that they carry with them on top of the head. at each camp, they are given a piece of plastic and some wood/branches, with which they build a small tent/shelter, after clearing the ground of rocks with their hands.

the main objective for the many different factions, is of course to dominate pieces of land rich with mineral and other resources, mainly diamonds and the stuff that goes in cell phones. gaining control of territory and setting up mines can mean billions of dollars for the war lords -- every cell phone in the world has a piece from those regions, and every diamond -- the global economy is directly connected with what is happening.

"talk about 'how the other half lives'", he said.

some Congolese Rumba came on my randomized itunes play list, and he told of the smiles immediately lighting up African faces when they hear music, and immediately getting up to dance: it is the only good thing in life. and "similar to the culture of fashionable men with starving families who support their obsession with haute couture: entire villages will celebrate if someone brought back a Comme des Garçons jacket from Brussels -- it is one of the only happy things in their lives".

he told of a Dutch artist who made a project called "Enjoy Poverty", which involved him traveling around various parts and trying to explain to the local photographers how much the foreign journalists would make from a single photo of their misery, and that if they did the same...

the UN has called these wars and conflicts the "worst since WW2", and it doesn't even make headlines in the west or east.

someone threw out an equation, something like 100 African deaths = 10 Middle Eastern deaths = 1 European death to the news media.

and someone else commented that when he hears the endless reports about the Gaza strip and the jews vs. arabs thing, he's just like "shut the fuck up already." adding "of course there are many socio economic geo political reasons for the focus on the conflict in that region, but we need to balance it out a little bit with reports of things like what is happening in places like Congo.

"what is the answer to the question asked by a first world citizen: 'what can i do to help'?" "the only one is Not Much". of course there are cosmetic things one can do, but it can not amount to much of anything in the face of this kind of pandemic suffering. and most people really devoted to the cause, who volunteer in these places, soon see their own lives fall apart...
for me, any concept of "right" and "wrong" and justice and morality just fall apart like a house of cards in a tornado when i consider this, and especially how it is directly connected to the life of obscene luxury that i live.

had a hard time sleeping last night and am crying as i type this.

Monday, December 29, 2008

American Violence

started watching DeadWood this week between christmas and new years and i must say it's a pretty entertaining little vitual bubble to get sucked into. characters are strong and although cliched, believeable; story engaging... if ultimately pointless, at least it doesn't shrink away from straight forward depictions of the real stuff America is founded upon: greed, inequality, complete disregard for human rights/life, and violence without flinching or remorse.

to the show's writers' credit, there was even mention of "Rough and Tumble", a specific style of early American sport fighting, in which the opponents gouge eyes out, tear lips off with teeth, and rip the gentials off, etc.

seems like in many ways an integral part of the "southern ethic" and early American experience, but so dark, so disturbing, and so embarrassing that it is altogether swept under the rug. i think it is important to know about this stuff, in relation to the particular American fascination and relationship to violence, and a specific set of social values, which to this day in some way shapes everything from film-making to politics.

the following is a chilling artile, but fascinating in terms of social history and anthropology.

"Gouge and Bite, Pull Hair and Scratch:" The Social Significance of Fighting in the Southern Backcountry
a historical account and sociological study from 18th Century on.

a few excerpts:

... a man’s role in the all-male society was defined less by his ability as a breadwinner than by his ferocity. The touchstone of masculinity was unflinching toughness, not chivalry, duty, or piety."

"The southern ethic anticipated human evil, tolerated ethical lapses, and accepted the finitude of man in contrast to the new style that demanded unprecedented moral rectitude and internalized self-restraint."

"The lower classes are the most abject that, perhaps, ever peopled a Christian land. They live in the woods and deserts and many of them cultivate no more land than will raise them corn and cabbages, which, with fish, and occasionally a piece of pickled pork or bacon, are their constant food'. Their habitations are more wretched than can be conceived; the huts of the poor of Ireland, or even the meanest Indian wigwam, displaying more ingenuity and greater industry." [EN22] Despite their degradation - perhaps because of it - Janson found the poor whites extremely jealous of their republican rights and liberties. They considered themselves the equals of their best-educated neighbors and intruded on whomever they chose. [EN23] The gouging match this fastidious Englishman witnessed in Georgia was the epitome of lower-class depravity:

We found the combatants' fast clinched by the hair, and their thumbs endeavoring to force a passage into each other's eyes; while several of the bystanders were betting upon the first eye to be turned out of its socket. For some time the combatants avoided the thumb stroke with dexterity. At length they fell to the ground, and in an instant the uppermost sprung up with his antagonist's eye in his hand!!! The savage crowd applauded, while, sick with horror, we galloped away from the infernal scene. The name of the sufferer was John Butler, a Carolinian, who, it seems, had been dared to the combat by a Georgian; and the first eye was for the honor of the state to which they respectively belonged.

Janson concluded that even Indian "savages" and London's rabble would be outraged by the beastly Americans."

"The battle began - size and power on the Kentuckian's side, science and craft on the Virginian's. They exchanged cautious throws and blows, when suddenly the Virginian lunged at his opponent with a panther's ferocity. The crowd roared its approval as the fight reached its violent denouement:

The shock received by the Kentuckyan, and the want of breath, brought him instantly to the ground. The Virginian never lost his hold; like those bats of the South who never quit the subject on which they fasten until they taste blood, he kept his knees in his enemy's body; fixing his claws in his hair, and his thumbs on his eyes, gave them an instantaneous start from their sockets. The sufferer roared aloud, but uttered no complaint. The citizens again shouted with joy. Doubts were no longer entertained and bets of three to one were offered on the Virginian.

But the fight continued. The Kentuckian grabbed his smaller opponent and held him in a tight bear hug, forcing the Virginian to relinquish his facial grip. Over and over the two rolled, until, getting the Virginian under him, the big man "snapt off his nose so close to his face that no manner of projection remained." The Virginian quickly recovered, seized the Kentuckian's lower lip in his teeth, and ripped it down over his enemy's chin. This was enough: "The Kentuckyan at length gave out, on which the people carried off the victor, and he preferring a triumph to a doctor, who came to cicatrize his face, suffered himself to be chaired round the ground as the champion of the times, and the first rougher-and-tumbler. The poor wretch, whose eyes were started from their spheres, and whose lip refused its office, returned to the town, to hide his impotence, and get his countenance repaired." The citizens refreshed themselves with whiskey and biscuits, then resumed their races."

"I’m a salt River roarer! I’m a ring tailed squealer! I’m a regular screamer from the old Massassip! Whoop! I’m the very infant that refused his milk before its eyes were open and called out for a bottle of old Rye! I love the women and I’m chockful o’ fight! I’m half wild horse and half cock-eyed alligator and the rest o’ me is crooked snags an’ red-hot snappin’ turtle…. I can out-run, out-jump, out shout, out-brag, out-drink, an’ out-fight, rough-an’-tumble, no holts barred, any man on both sides the river from Pittsburgh to New Orleans an’ back ag’in to St. Louiee. Come on, you flatters, you bargers, you milk white mechanics, an’ see how tough I am to chaw! I ain’t had a fight for two days an’ I’m spilein’ for exercise. Cock-a-doodle-doo!"

"Davy Crockett coolly boasted, 'I kept my thumb in his eye, and was just going to give it a twist and bring the peeper out, like taking a gooseberry in a spoon.'"

and if you want to take classes and train in this style of fighting, The American Rough and Tumble Society is right in Santa Monica, California, where i have lived before. NOTE: this link is not working any more. i guess this last vestige has vanished?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Against Human Nature

it does not exist. there is no such thing.

and any case for it, one way or another, can only be attributed to, motivated by, and stink of agendas related to ideology to which the person making the case subscribes. Marxists say humans are good for one set of reasons, and christians say humans are evil for another set of reasons -- but both only seek to further their cause with these fictional claims.

while i truly believe, without a single doubt in my mind, that humans are not inherently anything -- that we are adaptable to any condition, malleable under all circumstance, and each one of us are capable of behaving in a million ways, from saintly compassion to horrifying cruelty. if any one of us is groomed and educated and trained, we can become a spiritual leader, and if we are mal treated and abused enough, can become a serial killer.

a misguided soul remarked once that humans are inherently selfish, because if there was one piece of bread left and 4 people are starving, they would all want it for themselves. well i'm certainly impressed because a leap across the gap in logic of this proportion truly requires extraordinary levels of stupidity. if people are put in desperate situations, they will behave desperately. sure, and if these same 4 people had all taken ecstasy 2 hours before they would be laughing and hugging eachother -- what is the point? circular logic like this is for the birds.

of course a certainly level of "free willie" and "personal choice" exists, but its importance compared to the shaping circumstances in which people find themselves have ALWAYS BEEN GROSSLY EXAGGERATED. "nature" is privileged in our art and thinking over "nurture" for several reasons: 1. it is easy: "this person is good, this person is bad" -- like in the movies. 2. it appeals to the romantic notion of fundamental individual differences and uniqueness 3. it allows the comfortable and well to do to feel self righteous: "i've never committed a crime because i'm good, and not because i come from a perfect family and i've never needed to" 4. it upholds the illusion of personal "freedom" - and we prefer to think of our lives as autonomous and our choices our own, and not dictated by circumstance. but reality, when examined by a sober and rational mind, seems obvious: that environment dictate much much more the shape of our lives than we like to admit.

and there is a 5th reason: that the structure of much of our bullshit society of lies will crumble if people stop thinking like this ---- just think of the "justice system" ---- which i'd like to point out once and for all, is not "flawed" as much as it is fundamentally absurd and cruel.

of course there are countless exceptions but if you grow up poor and neglected from a broken family in a squalid part of town, the chances of you becoming a criminal is exponentially greater than if you were born in the royal family. i don't see how anyone with half a brain not permanently damaged by doctrine can argue with this.