..............PRELUDE  ...(Oct -04)



I recently began writing a pseudo-spoof article called 'The Barbaric Comedy' and had written more than ten pages (paperback size) about the horrors that have so far resulted from the invasion of Iraq - about the pricks who gain political power and then Tarrah! reveal themselves as genocidal nutters - a bit like a Lion masquerading as a docile kitten until you hand it the freedom to do as it likes. (And remember, it begged 18-years for that freedom, during which it made all kinds of wonderful promises; then in the end it presented a NEW façade and completely took us in - MUGS! - though a few astute commentators, notably Gore Vidal, were not fooled). But as I tried correcting this article, tarting it up a little here and there, it began to look more and more like a disordered mishmash of observations and distastefully humorous comments that would only confuse readers. Then I thought: well, confusion reflects precisely what the US & UK have created in Iraq: - a seething cauldron of increasing disarray, intrigue and counter intrigue, turmoil, destruction and murder. (Tell me, someone, how can our soldiers invade and murder thousands as they have with their bombs, missiles and bullets, and then just one of them is charged with murder? If we were invaded wouldn't we consider every killing committed by the invaders to be murder?)

It has long been the way of the west, their ruling classes at any rate, to commit (via a proxy working-class army) plunder and slaughter around the world. These rulers continue to take abroad their insatiable greed and appetite for killing. No wonder they used to regard ordinary people like me as belonging to a different species, and regarded themselves virtually as gods. I know it is uncharitable of me, and I know it is their way I am taking to say this, but I truly wish them ill, and a very bad fate. It is they - and they are everywhere - who are the deliberate architects of the perennial man-made tragedies of the world.

Why am I dwelling on this perennial human tragedy when outside this Sunday morning the air is fresh and sweet and dew lies like little diamonds in the grass? I can have no influence, so why do I not extricate myself from it all and turn away from those alarming activities - insofar as they don't affect me directly? Perhaps I will. It is nevertheless all around me in its apparently benign guise: commercialisation. (I shall restrain myself from expanding on this huge point). And while I've been writing nice stories which largely avoid the big man-made horrors in the world, the news bulletins have continued to pour out their monotonous sordid amalgam of pseudo-truths and propaganda.

My heritage is in England. A distant cousin of mine traced our family back several hundred years. She found not a scrap of anything but English. I look English, speak English, am English. Yet I detest what England stands for and what is done in the world in my name by our successive governments, which seem only to worsen (compared with what we have now, Tory 'sleaze' of the 90s was equivalent to raiding the petty cash). What's more, I cannot think like an Englishman. My brain works differently. Why this is, I cannot say. I see things from the opposite angle to the English. Here I generalise, of course. There are others like me, I know. I have met them. They are the people I prefer to associate with - though I know a few others too.

Some years ago in Townesville, Australia, I boarded a bus which happened to have just one vacant seat. The young guy beside the vacant seat objected to me taking it. He was probably Syrian, I don't know; he looked a little like Sammy Davis Jnr: darkish skin, thick black hair and a moustache. He had heard my English accent when I spoke to the driver as he searched for this vacant seat. The Syrian asked to be moved. The driver assertively told him 'You don't have to ride on this bus, fella.' So the Syrian reluctantly acquiesced, turning ostentatiously away from me and positioning himself as close to the window as possible. And so the bus got on its way.

After a while I said, 'I understand why you hate the English. I hate them too for what they do around the world.' There was a delay during which I wondered if he'd respond. Then he turned to face me, looked at me questioningly, and said, 'Your government stinks. And your people are arrogant beyond decency.' 'True enough.' I replied, 'But that's the least of it. I know the history, and I know what kind of people they are. But some of us are different. Some of us flinch when we see our government's depraved policies at work in the world.'

Gradually, he began to open up and by the time the bus reached Cairns we were on excellent terms. He was all smiles, and shook my hand as we parted. I wondered later if I had deceived him with my honesty. The next Englishman he encountered would most likely, I surmised, cause him to revert to his former view. But maybe not. Maybe he would begin to regard each human being as the individual they are, and not prejudge. He made the mistake I make myself in my habit of generalising. He mistook me for the stereotype. When I was a kid I hated schoolteachers - with good reason, I might add, but that's another tale. Then I discovered that a relation of mine was a teacher. She was the same person I just mentioned who years later researched our family ancestors. She was kind, friendly and outgoing. I thought, 'If only my teachers were like her.'

Why do the English feel hostile towards the French? Outdated rivalry? Envy? Of all the French people I've met, I have not found one who has been in any sense objectionable; in fact, the reverse. Or is the hostility a myth? France, it is said, is a nation of philosophers - and I don't think this is purely to do with Voltaire, Rousseau, Sartre or Camus, etc. Beside this, like us, they have a stained history, as do the Spaniards whose treatment of the Incas went beyond the pale.

My experience with black and half-cast people, whether English or otherwise, and all the foreigners I've ever met, is the same as with the French. Perhaps I've been lucky, but I think not. Of Americans, only one, perhaps two, of the many I met with during six-months I spent in the US, failed to strike me as people I would want to spend time with. I can say the same for Australia.

In those days I moved principally among travellers, backpackers, nomadic natives, adventurers, and those who associated with them, such as rangers, hostellers, and in Australia bus drivers. Now I should say that bus drivers in Australia are not like your usual bus driver in the UK. They are, essentially, roving rangers; they are guides, conversationalists, founts of stories and jokes. They can be eccentric, playful and even a bit mad. They are, like rangers in the US, as individual and varied as it's possible to be - with the prerequisite of friendly, helpful, and having a composure and patience that would impress a TM practitioner. They have a talent for making those around them feel good, as the dedicated practical psychologists they are. Moreover, they are skilled mechanics: if the bus breaks down in the outback, well then, they have to fix it all by themselves; passengers' lives depend on it.

But how's this for contrast: Australian busses carry a notice beside the driver saying, 'Please come up front and chat with the driver.' In the US I had a car, but I saw in a bus there a similar notice, which this time stated: 'Talking to the driver when the bus is in motion is a State offence.'

These days I'm a little tied-up, unable to zoom off at a whim. So instead I reflect. And I reflect that in the US I had no definite plan, and tended to follow the most alluring route. I would study the map as dusk fell and decide the following day's itinerary. Then after setting out the next morning I might, as likely as not, take a detour that led me quite away from where I had planned to go. One can only trace a thin line, after all. But to continue thus for several months brings what I believe is the nearest to physical freedom I'm ever likely to know - and, somehow, psychological freedom too. It is a kind of free-running - a most glorious experience. So whenever I hear the word 'freedom' it is that which comes to mind - and decidedly not the interpretation I mention in the article that follows, ie: 'The Barbaric Comedy Plays on…'.

This is also possible on a small scale. Every day when I can, I slope off to the fields and woods where I let my brain free-run and see what happens, the thoughts that flow. With usual concerns put aside, my thoughts can drift like a cloud over a landscape of unexplored dreams (sounds maudlin, but it is something like that, and very nice it is too - not to be confused with that other mental 'exercise' of clearing-the-mind). When a visit from Rod is imminent, I look forward to deep philosophical conversations about life and humanity and the universe. I anticipate this, but in fact it rarely happens; because when Rod does arrive, we soon become wrapped in what we are going to do or are doing, and the philosophy takes backstage - it appears fleetingly, and is interrupted or superseded by events, and in the end just glimmers occur: a momentary poignant detail or two. Even so, such days are always splendid and full. Not a moment wasted. A day to remember. Ah, if only more of life could be like that?

I recall a snip of dialogue from a Spanish detective novel where the detective announces: 'Whenever I hear the word "philosophy" I reach for my gun!' Not many things I read make me laugh outwardly as well as inwardly, but that did. I thought later: what do I reach for? Probably I reach for that most perceptive, truthful and sensitive centre of consciousness (is that what people call the 'soul'?) What do you reach for: your gun or your soul? Does it have to be one or the other? Unless the word 'philosophy' has acquired banal connotations for you, is it possible to regard it with indifference? This is from William Saroyan's 'And Man':

"I'm going to school, I said, and left the house. But I knew I would not go to school that day. I had decided not to go in the middle of the night, when I had been unable to sleep. In school, in that atmosphere, it would never happen. I would never be able to understand what it was that turned in me, circling toward truth, and it would be lost, maybe for ever. I decided to walk into the country and be alone with the thought, helping it to emerge from the bewilderment and confusion of my mind, and the fever of my blood, carrying it to silence and simplicity, giving it a chance to reach its fullness and be whole.

Walking through the country, moving quietly among the leafless grape vines and fig trees, the thought became whole, and I knew the truth about myself and man and the earth and God.
At the proper hour I returned home, as if I were coming home from school, and the following day I went to school. I knew I would be asked for an excuse and an explanation for my absence, and I knew I would not lie about it. I could tell them I had been at home, sick with a cold, but I didn't want to do it. There would be a punishment, but I didn't care about that. Let them punish me if they like. Let old man Brunton give me a strapping. I had walked into the country, into the silence, and I had found the truth. It was more than anything they would ever be able to teach. It was something that wasn't in any of their books. Let them punish me…"

Perhaps this is all getting a bit soppy. So maybe I should stop here and leave you to tackle, should you feel so inclined, that peculiar article I keep referring to. I once regarded second-hand car, double-glazing, and insurance salesmen as the lowest of the low. Then, when I began buying and moving house, I transferred my scorn to estate agents. When I became more enlightened, estate agents were supplanted by the big corporations and their billionaire investors and the City where they daily cream vast wealth from us ignorant slaves who under-sell most of our life to them. Now, as you'll see, it's politicians I have in my sights - who toady to the mob they replaced in my list of ogres. Indeed, in the US, they are the same people: the corporate bosses have gained total political control, and uses colossal tax funds to further their heinous corporate aims.

The Republican Party convention in New York was aptly described as a corporate orgy. As for the New Labour conference… well, from the snippets I saw on Channel-4 News, that was an orgy too, one of self-adulation. What could be more sick-making? And on the last day of the month, I noticed, any dissenting voices on Iraq were knocked smartly into line - rather like a class of wayward infants intimidated by an assertive headmistress; or maybe like the early 30s in Hitler's Germany. Which reminds me of a poignant section from an article by William Blum earlier this year. His reply to the question: Do you think the United States has ever done anything good in the world? How about World War Two? Would you have fought in that war? was:

'If I had been old enough, and knowing what I know now, I would have been glad to fight against fascism, but I would not have been enthused about fighting for the United States, or for the United States government to be more exact. Our leaders bore a great responsibility for the outbreak of the world war by abandoning the Spanish republic in the civil war. Hitler, Mussolini and the Spanish fascists under Franco all combined to overthrow the republican government, while the United States, Great Britain, France and the rest of the world (except, arguably, the Soviet Union) stood by; worse than standing by, American corporations were aiding the fascist side. At the same time, the US and Britain refused the entreaties of the Soviet Union to enter into some sort of mutual defense pact. The Russians knew that Hitler would eventually invade them, but that was fine with the Western powers. Hitler derived an important lesson from all this. He saw that for the West, the real enemy was not fascism, it was communism and socialism, so he proceeded accordingly. Hitler was in power for nine years before the United States went to war with him -- hardly a principled stand against fascism -- and then it was because Germany declared war on the United States, not the other way around.'