We took a lot of photos on our trip this summer. That’s the curse of digital photography: you can just keeping snapping away, deleting the duds later. Much later…
I won’t be posting many pictures of our trip, but there are bound to be a few, marking the high points of our thirty memorable days in Greece-Turkey-Czech Republic.
Here I am, touching the stones of Homeric-era Troy. Can’t put into words how powerful it felt visiting a place I’d read about since childhood. Glorious!
I also got the opportunity to make a pilgrimage, of sorts, to the grave of one of my literary heroes, Franz Kafka. Sherron snapped this one, then discreetly wandered off, letting me have a few private words with my old Master. No touristas about, no unwelcome intrusions. Special, special moment…
Over the past couple of years, I’ve increased my readings of history, economics and politics, and I think that comes from my determination to better understand the world as it is unfolding, and gain at least a few hints into what the future might hold for those of us who are left vulnerable to larger forces because of our class/caste, income, race, etc.
I’ve kept track of relevant quotes, statistics and observations by jotting them down in a black notebook, filling it to the margins. Recently I came to the last few pages of the notebook and decided to try and distill what I had gleaned from my readings into a mini-essay.
I’ve polished it some, clarified my thoughts in a few places, but tried to retain the surge of inspiration and anger that provoked its composition:
“Now and then I see the truth above the lies…”
Paul Banks, “The Base”
The uneasy truce between capitalism and democracy is breaking down.
At some point—if it hasn’t happened already—we’re going to have to choose between those two opposing ideologies and that choice will define (and haunt) our species for generations to come. Which will it be: a smoothly running corporate machine or our personal freedom?
Slavoj Zizek (among others) insists we’re living in a “late capitalist” world.
Capitalism is in the process of transforming into a more autocratic version of itself—something like China or Singapore, where individual rights, many of the privileges we enjoy as a western society, either do not exist or are drastically scaled back. Doled out in increments by an unholy alliance between state and industry.
It has gotten to the point where capitalism can no longer tolerate the constraints of democracy. Anything that slows or inhibits growth/profit, must be neutered, rendered harmless. And that can be accomplished, for example, through trade pacts that supersede or nullify a country’s legal codes and charters, fatally undermining national social institutions and standards.
Environmental laws, legislation restricting monopolies or policing the financial industry, are anathema to the one-percenters and business elite. They still exist in a magical land where growth is limitless, the stock market their personal Ponzi scheme and there are sufficient resources to sustain their extravagant lifestyles indefinitely.
Their narrative simply does not allow for maintaining a more modest standard of living, conservation, thrift, environmental stewardship…
All their talk of GNP and GDP and TTIP, but they persist in refusing to factor in the short and long term consequences of ruinous, wasteful industrial practices, mindsets that more properly belong to the notorious robber barons of the 19th Century, rather than enlightened and highly educated men and women (okay, mainly men) of today. And the toll continues to mount: pollution and ecological devastation on an unimaginable scale, with all the attendant health problems; a growing disparity between rich and poor; human populations becoming more fearful and anxiety-wracked as they face a future that no longer guarantees food security, let alone the safety and sanctity of their homes and persons.
Clean air, safe food, pure water, human dignity and basic, inalienable rights…these things are non-negotiable. In fact, they are the basis for life itself.
Why would we cede responsibility over such crucial issues to petty bureaucrats and corrupt apparatchiks?
Have we become so lazy and stupid, such sheep, that we would willingly hand the keys of liberty to our warders and bare our throats to ravenous wolves?
Time’s crooked arrow
describes an erratic arc
heedless of any damage
it might incur
an unrepentant apologist
skilled at self-deception
(in the Hegelian fashion)
tipped for advancement
all the right clubs
holding a mirror before
a cold, blue corpse
writhing with flies
dubbing it progress
with bland assurance
cue the teleprompter
for the usual disclaimers
© 2014 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a poem paying tribute to the river valleys that have been home and sanctuary to our species for many millennia. We’re blessed with a particularly lovely one here and I’ve often driven or walked through these hills and imagined this place when it was younger, wilder, populated by an entirely different kind of people.
Happy birthday, North Battleford.
Irresistibly drawn to these green
descending hills, natural cradle
for a squalling, nascent civilization
offering the allure of water, game
shelter from on-rushing tempests &
killing winter winds that seek
but fail to penetrate the draws
& shallow, dipping coulees
grudgingly retreating only when
the first crocus, purple with apoplexy
sends them packing back to their
Rocky Mountain redoubt
Summer settlements along the
sandy riverbanks, for trade &
contact after another hard winter:
fishing & hunting & sport
rough games to occupy the young men—
old feuds recalled, raids re-enacted
blood alliances forged between families
& lodges, only the occasional grass fire,
torrential hailstorm or inevitable drowning
dispelling the illusion of idyll
& so it was & remained until one day
(overcast, with a promise of rain)
on the horizon, no attempt to hide
(there! there! see?)
strangers & from the look of them
they’d come a long way…
Rounding the big curve, topping the hill
the familiar sight of the river valley
spread out below us & then crossing the
newly repaired bridge, gazing down at the
olive-colored water, suddenly realizing
Heraclitus was wrong, this is that same river, we
are merely the latest arrivals, on our way to
supper with friends in Old Town, who will
excitedly tell us about the moose spotted on
the island, offer to show us the nest of the
Great Horned owl so that we, too, can
endure her cool, dispassionate regard, whispering
so we don’t spoil the moment
© Copyright, 2013 Cliff Burns (All Rights Reserved)
You read the poem…then you heard the audio version…
Now ’76 Corral, the short film. Created with some help from my son, Sam.
Shot and recorded on location in Grasslands National Park (Canada).
All that’s left are your bones:
broken, splintered stelae
jutting from unpeopled places
where hope used to reside
but has long since departed.
These mortal remains
attest to your brief presence
like weathered tombstones
of the forgotten dead.
Were there an epitaph,
it would be unsparing:
“Here lies one who lived
but did not thrive;
but did not stay.”