Sunday, October 23, 2005

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Jeffers Got it Right

Robinson Jeffers got it right, back in World War II when the technology was growing at a phenomenal pace and the means of destruction was expanding to terrifying dimensions. He wrote this apt description of an administration he did not yet know, but knew was coming over the horizon. And now we have it.


Unhappy country, what wings you have! Even here,
Nothing important to protect, and ocean-far from the nearest
enemy, what a cloud
Of bombers amazes the coast mountain, what a hornet-
swarm of fighters,
And day and night the guns practicing.

Unhappy, eagle wings and beak, chicken brain.
Weep (it is frequent in human affairs), weep for the terrible
magnificence of the means,
The ridiculous incompetence of the reasons, the bloody and
Pathos of the result.

DISSENTER'S NOTEBOOK: Bush by Sophocles? No Way...

Bush by Sophocles? No Way…

There is an American tragedy unfolding around the world. It has its beginning in our nation’s capital, but it’s impact is being felt worldwide and more by others than by ourselves. At the heart of the tragedy is a fatal flaw, the classic ancient Greek notion that hubris (arrogance, pride, which blinds us to reality and renders us ignorant) will always bring the powerful down. But in this case George W. Bush is only a pitiful stand-in for Oedipus, and also for previous leaders both Republican and Democrat who have led our nation to its present position. By Sophocles' standards this is not tragedy but melodrama.

The arrogance is laid out for us daily in the official and unofficial reports of our adventurism's bullying failures. The ignorance is revealed in the results on view: people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, devastated by war. Mexico and Central America, New Orleans and our own Gulf Coast, and Pakistan (again) left devastated by natural catastrophes while our attention, priorities, and materiel are misplaced on a war of our own making, indeed of our own invention. We do almost nothing to assuage the world’s suffering; give but a pittance for relief because our resources are sucked up in a spreading inferno that consumes them for illegal purposes (pre-emptive wars) using illegal means (cluster bombs and depleted uranium). Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Mr. Brown of FEMA fame went to lunch while New Orleans drowned.

America is going down without a respectable or decent face to show the world. The multitudes we have harmed with wars, misguided trade policies, corruption, deceit, and wasteful consumerism must have little sympathy for our decline and fall. Some of the hungry, wounded, and destitute we leave in our wake surely think the sooner we're gone the better.

The reason this is not a tragedy out of Sophocles is simple. The proposition Sophocles offers in his analysis of human tragedy begins with a great man, a government official who has done great things for his people. He has one blind spot and when it is revealed, he knows his life has been a sham. In an agony of shame, repentance and grief, he gouges his eyes out and leaves his beloved city/state behind to live in exile.

George W. Bush is not a great man who has led his people into prosperity nor organized a compassionate and generous approach to his nation or his world. He does not love the united States. His loyalty lies elsewhere: personal power, corporate greed, favors for his toadies, his own lackadaisical and unstudied life. Neither will he ever, metaphorically or otherwise, gouge out his eyes to wander the earth blind. He does not have the stature, conscience or courage to be a tragic figure. A sober recognition that he is not up to this job and a simple resignation would suffice. Hubris prohibits both. Our President is just a minor ne’er do well and hoodlum whom others thrust into position to wreak major havoc. He can no more recognize shame or contrition than he can a conflict of interest, or a principle worth standing for. The rest of the world suffers the tragedy he has instigated, but his fall will have not a single tragic element to it. “The bigger they are the harder they fall,” we say, but George W. Bush is such a small person that his fall will not even register -- not even on the most sensitive seismograph in science’s array of sophisticated equipment. And not on Sophocles’ scale of human tragic flaws. If he does not fall soon, he will neverthelss fall, and by his own hubristic hand. Only a few will mourn.