13 jan 2018
John Davis’ article, Mud Slide, on CounterPunch this weekend, talks about a pretty pertinent question when he asks:
Can we do good within a corrupt system with which we are complicit? Or, as Adrian Parr notes, in her startling new book, Birth of a New Earth – The Radical Politics of Environmentalism, 2017, “political awareness arises from the realization that” (quoting Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari) “the reality I see is never ‘whole’ – not because a large part of it eludes me, but because it contains a stain, a blind spot which indicates my inclusion in it.”
The idea of complicity or “blind spots” got me to wondering about the moment(s) when I had an inkling of the socio-cultural straight jacket into which I had been born. The “stain”, if you will. The log in my own eye.
Was it the moment when, still toddling around in diapers, I decided to make my way down the back few stairs, push open the screen door of our row house, wander out into the back yard, wriggle out of my diapers, and pee freely in the sunshine (a wonderful feeling). Our Polish babysitter remarked from the doorway (probably in Polish, which I had come to understand), “Well now, master Stephen thinks he lives on a farm!”
Or was it five or six years later, as my father and I were torching an infestation of tent caterpillars in the winter pear trees, when I asked him why a Russian farmer would want to fight an American farmer, as I looked to the northwest from which I figured a Russian missile would come?
Was it during a winter storm, watching the snow whip by my cracked open bedroom window, weighted down by multiple layers of wool Hudson blankets, that I dreamed of being a tree, or joining a band of migratory Indians, padding their way through eternal autumns and springs?
Maybe it was towards the end of high school in the mid-sixties, when I remarked to a group of friends that I figured men had to be liberated before we could talk about liberating women. Or about the same time I decided that reading history through the lens of battles won or lost between some feuding families was less interesting than the lives of most of humanity living through those times. It was about that time I gave up reading newspapers and magazines, watching television.
Was it the moment I dove into the unknown January waters of the Calanques east of Marseille at two in the morning? Or the time I decided to be an agricultural worker, working for food and living in a tent by a river in la Drôme and reading Giono?
Or the time I refused a tenure-track position at a French university because I felt I was too young to retire from the world?
Or rolling my eyes when future naval officers in Saudi Arabia wanted nothing more than to talk about Madonna and Michael Jackson?
Or listening to the taxi driver in Istanbul talking about the true meaning of “jihad” as I let him drive me here and there, having never been there before, as I nursed a half bottle of raki?
Or agreeing to deliver a sailboat from Turkey to Greece and discovering I had just smuggled fifty kilos of gold?
Or describing my mid-life adopted home town to some journalists from National Geographic Traveler as a “speculator’s paradise”?
Or when I sold or gave everything away so I could leave the US with what I could carry?
Or that time, later on, in Morocco, when a taxi driver who was taking me to an area of illegally built seaside houses east of Rabat, after asking me what I was doing in Morocco, calmly explained that the US had no sense of history, was always in a hurry, and because of that, the patience of the majority of Moroccans would eventually outlast the senseless activity of the West, and, putting his right hand on my left arm as I was about to get out of his car, said that I should, in spite of the expected hilarity of my hosts, listen to the children.
When Davis writes:
When I turned the key in my car’s ignition recently to flee the Thomas Fire, California’s largest and almost certainly exacerbated by global warming, I was both victim and perpetrator, caught in the ouroboric moment of the snake eating its own tail.
… I could only think of the times of my own complicity in the crimes against the less fortunate, of the crimes against Mother Earth.