The worst violators of nature and human rights never go to jail. They hold the keys. In the world as it is, the looking-glass world, the countries that guard the peace also make and sell the most weapons. The most prestigious banks launder the most drug money and harbor the most stolen cash. The most successful industries are the most poisonous for the planet.
Between the richest of the rich, who appear on the porno-financial pages of Forbes and Fortune, and the poorest of the poor, who appear on the streets and in the fields, the chasm is even greater. A pregnant woman in Africa is a hundred times more likely to die than a pregnant woman in Europe. The value of pet products sold annually in the United States is four times the GNP of Ethiopia. The sales of just the two giants General Motors and Ford easily surpass the value of all black Africa's economies. According to the United Nations Development Program, "Ten people, the ten richest men on the planet, own wealth equivalent to the value of the total production of fifty countries, and 447 multimillionaires own a greater fortune than the annual income of half of humanity." The head of this UN agency, James Gustave Speth, declared in 1997 that over the past half century the number of rich people doubled while the number of poor tripled and that 1.6 billion people were worse off than they had been only fifteen years earlier.
- From Upside Down, A Primer for the Looking Glass World by Eduardo Galeano
With Eduardo Galeano’s exhortation that words are sacred resonating in my ears after my recent chat with him and the release of a new edition of the American Heritage Dictionary occupying some top-of-mind space, I can’t help but look at the public utterances of sick puppy anti-Semite Mel Gibson and automaton war criminal Condoleeza Rice with both despair and wonder. Having given up declinist impulses and proclamations sometime in my sophomore year in college, I don’t posit that the fate of the Universe hinges on anything that the so-called actor and the so-called diplomat say or do, but their recent actions and statements are symptomatic of a reality gone off kilter and the growing schism Galeano has lamented between words and reality.
Rice first. I saw Ms. Rice being interviewed by PBS’s Ray Suarez in a Q&A that was contrived to look as if they were in the same room (why would they do that, do you think?). Rice’s expressions of sorrow, speaking for the United States, about the 60 civilians, for instance, slaughtered at Qana, were so palpably unconvincing and mechanical as to be Stepfordian (one would hope that she had retained some humanity and that somewhere this brilliant-woman-turned-apologist/lackey did indeed feel the sorrow that she apparently was obliged to proffer). Of course, these dead were killed because the bad guys were allegedly hiding amongst them, so too bad.
And then we are treated to endless bleating and ululating about Mel Gibson’s latest depredations (anyone still trying to rehabilitate Herr Gibson would do well to read Christopher Hitchens’s judicious brief at Slate) leaving one to wonder if any thing means anything at all, or as Lewis Carroll proclaimed “words mean what I say they mean” and the like. Not for nothing was Carroll a logician by trade and author of Alice in Wonderland’s Looking Glass world.
Mel Gibson is not an anti-Semite like Charles Lindbergh and Father Coughlin and most of the world is not anti-Semitic. What was the name, again, of that movie Gibson produced and directed?
The trouble is, of course, not that there are bad people and evil afoot in the world. Well, okay, it’s trouble, but that’s the way it is, right? No, the cruel and profound puzzle is that in the face of evil and stupidity and the like, people who should know better turn away. Not a new phenomenon, so the ridiculous analysis that people suffer from disaster fatigue does not explain the world’s indifference in WWII and ever since, to the massive suffering that was finally given a name—that being genocide. Is it irony that crimes against humanity were identified and codified at the same time there was a valiant rhetorical resolve, “Never Again?” David Rieff has skeptically interpreted this to mean “Never again will European Jews be mass murdered in the mid 20th century.” One has only to look at a list of genocides in the waning days of the last millennium to understand the source of Rieff’s disbelief and to wonder at the durability of our humanitarian resolve.
Okay then, so what’s to be done? I’m not sure, but for a start I would like to see (y)our President take himself to downtown Beirut and dare the pair of murdering malefactors to shoot. I think that would end the hostilities. Maybe not. Or at least perchance save the lives of all those women and children that Secretary Rice is not shedding tears over. Keep in mind, being elusive is the one certain quality the mumbo jumbo coming from senior administration officials has and that it is of the same quality as the gibberish that has been explaining what is now commonly known as the Iraq fiasco and the post-Katrina debacle which, as Izzy Stone pointedly made a career of proclaiming, is a pack of lies.
And Mel Gibson and anti Semitism—really, who cares? Jews don’t, except for a few headline-glomming rabbis looking for larger congregations. Is there anyone in this world that thinks that there is one thing that can be done to eradicate, reduce or ameliorate anti-Semitism? If there is, let them answer the question, “Why do people hate the Jews?” As far as I can tell, Henry Bean’s poignant film The Believer had the right answer: “Because they just do.”
Being against anti-Semitism and racism and war—such noble aspirations. It reminds me of the lines from Gil Scott Heron’s "Work for Peace":
If we only work for Peace,
If everyone believed in Peace the way they say they do,
we'd have Peace.
The only thing wrong with Peace
is that you can't make no money from it.
It remains to understand what is being done to our understanding of the world when we care so little about how we use words that relate to it? We don’t seem to think they are sacred after all. Perhaps we should surrender to the regnant trope of our time?