zondag 18 juni 2017

Geert Mak als Graadmeter 5

Wat is er in hemelsnaam aan de hand in de wereld? Waar ging het mis met Europa, en wanneer? 
Geert Mak. 2017 Jaar van de waarheid. 14 februari 2017

Kijk, er is iets heel geks gebeurt. In Europa waren we zo bezig met die soft power en op een andere manier een internationale orde te scheppen, en Europa is daar heel succesvol in geweest. Alleen Poetin doet dat weer op een negentiende eeuwse manier. Het is een andere manier van denken die hij ineens weer de Europeanen door de strot douwt. Wij moeten er wel op voorbereid zijn dat her en der de negentiende eeuw ook nog heerst. Dus defensie kun je niet helemáál afbreken.
Geert Mak. Eén op Eén. 5 mei 2014

[B]reaking Russia has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.
Henry Kissinger over de Amerikaanse beleidsbepalers. The National Interest. 19 augustus 2015

Russia is on the move again. After the collapse of the Soviet Empire it wants to start history once more, and how! Old myths about Russian greatness and the Russian soul are being dusted off. Borders are being redrawn, spheres of influence determined by force — it's as if we're back in the nineteenth century, complete with rigid and short-sighted tsarism. Russians have a sense that the Western world, including Western values and Western ways of thinking, are no longer paramount.
Geert Mak. In America. Travels with JOHN STEINBECK. 2015

Theresa May has said she would be willing to authorize a nuclear strike that could kill 100,000 people, as the House of Commons voted overwhelming to replace Britain’s Trident program. The prime minister confirmed she would be prepared to press the nuclear button if necessary as she opened a debate about whether the UK should spend up to £40bn replacing four submarines that carry nuclear warheads.
The Guardian. Theresa May would authorize nuclear strike causing mass loss of life. 18 juli 2016

What have they done to the earth? 
What have they done to our fair sister? 
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her 
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn 
And tied her with fences and dragged her down 
Jim Morisson. When The Music's Over. 1967

Go on, my dear Americans, whip your horses to the utmost — Excitement; money! politics! — open all your valves and let her go — going, whirl with the rest — you will soon get under such momentum you can't stop if you would. Only make provision betimes, old States and new States, for several thousand insane asylums. You are in a fair way to create a nation of lunatics.
Walt Whitman. 1878

De kern van de pionierservaring schuilt in de enorme rijkdommen en als die rijkdommen onbegrensd zijn, waarom zou je daar dan zuinig mee omspringen of ze zelfs maar efficient benutten. Het doel is de bestaansbronnen zo snel mogelijk te exploiteren en vervolgens verder te trekken. Het is deze pioniershouding ten aanzien van de benutting van bestaansbronnen die ten grondslag ligt aan het kapitalisme en waar hedendaagse natuurbeschermers het zo moeilijk mee hebben. In deze zin is de erfenis van de Amerikaanse pionier nog altijd onder ons…

In de jaren vijftig van de vorige eeuw hadden de Noord-Amerikanen ongeveer viervijfde van de dierenwereld van het continent uitgemoord, meer dan de helft van de bomen gekapt, de inheemse culturen vrijwel  volledig vernietigd, de meeste rivieren afgedamd, de productieve zoetwater-visserijen verwoest en een groot deel van de bodems uitgeput. Ze hadden een grote overwinning in de oorlog behaald en een van de welvarendste en zelfgenoegzaamste maatschappijen aller tijden gecreëerd, en nog was de plundering van de de natuurlijke bestaansbronnen niet afgelopen. In 1999 stonden twaalfhonderd inheemse Noord-Amerikaanse soorten op de officiële lijst van bedreigde diersoorten en dat is een zware onderschatting, want betrouwbare schattingen gaan ervan uit dat ongeveer zestienduizend soorten ernstig in hun voortbestaan bedreigd worden… superioriteit heeft wel een prijskaartje gehad, want het kostte het continent een groot deel van zijn natuurlijke rijkdommen en zijn ecologische stabiliteit. Zelfs nu nog offert het agressieve kapitalisme rivieren, bodems en de armere volkeren van Noord-Amerika op het altaar van de god van fortuin, net zoals de Azteken 500 jaar geleden met hun slachtoffers deden.
Tim Flannery. Een ecologische geschiedenis van Noord-Amerika. 2001

It seems to me we have grown distressingly used to war… War and the military have become a part of our environment, like pollution.

Violence is our most important product. We have been spending nearly $80 billion a year on the military, which is more than the profits of all American business, or, to make another comparison, is almost as much as the total spending of the federal, state, and local governments for health, education, old age and retirement benefits, housing, and agriculture. Until the past session of the Congress, these billions have been provided to the military with virtually no questions asked.

The military has been operating for years in that Elysium of the public relations man, a seller's market. Take the climate into which the Sentinel ABM program was introduced. Many people looked on it, as they now look on Safeguard, not as a weapon but as a means of prosperity. For the industrialist it meant profits; for the worker new jobs and the prospect of higher wages; for the politician a new installation or defense order with which to ingratiate himself with his constituents. Military expenditures today provide the livelihood of some ten percent of our work force. There are 22,000 major corporate defense contractors and another 100,000 subcontractors. Defense plants or installations are located in 363 of the country's 435 congressional districts. Even before it turns its attention to the public-at-large, the military has a large and sympathetic audience for its message.

These millions of Americans who have a vested interest in the expensive weapons systems spawned by our global military involvements are as much a part of the military-industrial complex as the generals and the corporation heads. In turn they have become a powerful force for the perpetuation of those involvements, and have had an indirect influence on a weapons development policy that has driven the United States into a spiraling arms race with the Soviet Union and made us the world's major salesman of armaments…

Militarism has been creeping up on us during the past thirty years… Today we have more than 3.5 million men in uniform and nearly 28 million veterans of the armed forces in the civilian population… The American public has become so conditioned by crises, by warnings, by words that there are few, other than the young, who protest against what is happening.

The situation is such that last year Senator Allen J. Ellender of Louisiana, hardly an apostle of the New Left, felt constrained to say:

‘For almost twenty years now, many of us in the Congress have more or less blindly followed our military spokesmen. Some have become captives of the military. We are on the verge of turning into a military nation.’

This militarism that has crept up on us is bringing about profound changes in the character of our society and government-changes that are slowly undermining democratic procedure and values.
Senator James William Fulbright. The Pentagon Propaganda Machine. 1971

In two short centuries we are practically going down the drain. Ausgespielt! No one is going to mourn our passing, not even those we helped to survive. In the brief span of our history we managed to poison the world. We poisoned it with our ideas of progress, efficiency, mechanization. We made robots of our stalwart pioneers. We dehumanized the world we live in… It seems as if we were conceived in violence and hatred, as if we were born to plunder, rape and murder. Our history books gloss over the cruelties and abominations, the immoral behavior of our leaders... 

They name it a republic and a democracy, but it never was and is not even one now. A few patrician, wealthy families control the government of these states… Indeed, for all our talk of progress, we are just as narrow-minded, prejudiced, blood-thirsty as ever we were. Just look at the military situation — the Pentagon! — is enough to give one the shivers. The last war – Vietnam – what foul doings! Tamerlane and Attila are nothing compared to our latter-day monsters armed with nuclear weapons, napalm, etc. If Hitler subsidized genocide, what about us? We have been practicing genocide from our very inception! That goes for Indian, Negro, Mexican, anyone… And we wonder why, as a nation, as a people, we are falling apart… In short, how to survive in an age of barbarism such as ours?

We have plenty of money for bombers, submarines, warheads, for all that is destructive, but not for culture, not for education, or for relief of the poor. What a thing to say of the supposedly greatest nation in the world that thousands of our poor are content to live on dog and cat food. I say thousands, but for all I know it may be millions… The cream, so-called, of society is just as criminal-minded as the dregs… In Roman times it were the emperors and patricians who were pathological. Today in America it is the citizenry… Money indeed is the only thing that talks. All the rest is mute. All the rest watch unblinkingly while one atrocity after another is perpetrated. To speak of the public is to speak of the unacknowledged Sphinx. It hears nothing, sees nothing, smells nothing, says nothing. And all the while it gives off a vile odor – not the odor of sanctity, as in ancient times, but the odor of neutrality, of indifference… 

And only that Democrat or that Republican stands a chance who is a ‘friend’ not of the people but of vested ‘interests.’ Millions of dollars are spent to elect a fool or knave – in any case, a willing puppet. And this is styled a democratic form of government… He is but a pawn in the hands of the various greedy, blood-sucking interests… For all their woes and misery, our people have been thoroughly brainwashed to accept and endure any conditions imposed on them… Our foreign policy has always been a disgrace… Always the first, the best, the greatest, the biggest, the mostest. Here superlatives have lost all value… The streak of Puritanism in us is ineradicable… 

There are many, many ways of preventing the truth from coming out. And of squelching unwelcome views of a writer or thinker… In a sense, censorship is with us always. The men in power know how to protect themselves… If I look upon our history as a total flop, I could say the same about most civilized countries… Of all the civilized peoples in the world I regard the American as the most restless, the most unsatisfied, the idiot who thinks he can change the world into his own image of it. In the process of making the world better, as he foolishly imagines, he is poisoning, destroying it.
Henry Miller. A Nation of Lunatics. 1977

If we ask ourselves what has heightened our sense of loss in North America, what has made us feel around in the dark for a place where we might take a stand, we could have to answer that it is the particulars of what is now called the environmental crisis… what we really face, I think, is something much larger, something that goes back to Guanahaní (eiland waar Columbus voor het eerst de Nieuwe Wereld betrad. svh) and what Columbus decided to do, that series of acts — theft, rape, and murder — of which the environmental crisis is symptomatic. What we face is a crisis of culture, a crisis of character. Five hundred years after the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria sailed into the Bahamas, we are asking ourselves what has been the price of the assumptions those ships carried, particularly about the primacy of material wealth. 
Barry Lopez. The Rediscovery of North America. 1992

Laat ik Mak’s vraag ‘Wat is er in hemelsnaam aan de hand in de wereld?’ als uitgangspunt nemen, met de kanttekening dat de tweede vraag ‘Waar ging het mis met Europa, en wanneer?’ niet kan worden beantwoord zonder de brede geopolitieke en historische context te analyseren. In de geglobaliseerde wereld is Europa vandaag de dag onlosmakelijk verbonden met het agressieve Amerikaans imperialisme, en de hegemonistische Amerikaanse cultuur. Maar voordat ik verder ga, leest u eerst welk antwoord het orakel van Bartlehiem zelf geeft: 

Welnu, ik neem aan dat u, net als ik, in Mak’s betoog geen antwoord heeft gevonden op de vraag wat de precieze oorzaken zijn van de diepe crisis waarin de westerse wereld zich bevindt. Mak’s woorden dat 

de crisis, met de globalisering, de automatisering en een nieuwe technologisch golf, een ander Europa [schiep] en een ander Amerika. Op beide continenten bouwde zich daarover een grote woede op. Bij alle verschillen — en die zijn enorm — is er één constante factor: of het nu gaat om Britse mijnwerkers, Franse boeren, Nederlandse bejaarden of Poolse huisvrouwen, ze voelen zich verlaten en vernederd, in de steek gelaten door hun leiders, achtergelaten in de tijd,

zijn een beschrijving van de huidige situatie, maar geen verklaring voor het ontstaan van ‘de crisis.’ Ik zal een poging wagen dieper hierop in te gaan, waarbij ik Mak’s simplisme even terzijde schuif. Zoals elk mens uit eigen ervaring weet is de werkelijkheid veel complexer dan de verpolitiekte visie van ideologen doet voorkomen. Ik begin met een langer fragment van de Amerikaanse essayist, dichter en boer Wendell Berry, die in 1968 in A Native Hill op de ‘shameful history’ van de VS wees om vervolgens te stellen:

I am forever being crept up on and newly startled by the realization that my people established themselves here by killing or driving out the original possessors, by the awareness that people were once bought and sold here by my people, by the sense of the violence they have done to their own kind and to each other and to the earth, by the evidence of their persistent failure to serve either the place or their own community in it. I am forced, against all my hopes and inclinations, to regard the history of my people here as the progress of  the doom of what I value most in the world: the life and health of the earth, the peacefulness of human communities and households.

And so here, in the place I love more than any other and where I have chosen among all other places to live my life, I am more painfully divided within myself than I could be in any other place.

I know of no better key (toetssteen. svh) to what is adverse (vijandig. svh) in our heritage in this place than the account of ‘The Battle of the Fire-Brands,’ quoted in Collins’s History of Kentucky ‘from the autobiography of Rev. Jacob Young, a Methodist minister.’  The ‘Newcastle’ referred is the present-day New Castle, the county seat of Henry County. I give the quote in full:

‘The costume of the Kentuckians was a hunting shirt, buckskin pantaloons, a leathern belt around their middle, a scabbard, and a big knife fastened to their belt; some of them wore hats and some caps. Their feet were covered with moccasins, made of dressed deer skins. They did not think themselves dressed without their powder-horn and shot-pouch (hagelzak. svh), or the gun and the tomahawk. They were ready, then, for all alarms. They knew but little. They could clear ground, raise corn, and kill turkeys, deer, bears, and buffalo, and, when it became necessary, they understood the art of fighting the Indians as well as any men in the United States.

Shortly after we had taken up our residence, I was called upon to assist in opening a road from the place where Newcastle now stands, to the mouth of Kentucky river. That country, then, was an unbroken forest; there was nothing but an Indian trail passing the wilderness. I met the company early in the morning, with my axe, three days’ provisions, and my knapsack. Here I found a captain, with about 100 men, all prepared to labor; about as jovial a company as I ever saw, all good-natured and civil. This was about the last of November 1797. The day was cold and clear. The country through which the company passed was delightful; it was not a flat country, but, what the Kentuckians called, rolling ground — was quite well stored with lofty timber, and the undergrowth was very pretty. The beautiful canebrakes (bamboe. svh) gave it a peculiar charm. What rendered it most interesting was the great abundance of wild turkeys, deer, bears, and other wild animals. The company worked hard all day, in quiet, and every man obeyed the captain’s orders punctually. 

About sundown, the captain, after a short address, told us the night was going to be very cold, and we must make very large fires. We felled the hickory trees (bitternoot. svh) in great abundance; made great log heaps, mixing the dry wood with the green hickory; and… elevated the heap and caused it to burn rapidly. Every man had a water vessel in his knapsack; we searched for and found a stream of water. By this time, the fires were showing to great advantage; so we warmed our cold victuals (proviand. svh), ate our suppers, and spent the evening hearing the hunter’s stories relative to the bloody scenes of the Indian war. We then heard some pretty fine singing, considering the circumstances. 

Thus far, well; but a change began to take place. They became very rude, and raised the war-whoop (oorlogskreten. svh). Their shrill shrieks made me tremble. they chose two captains, divided the men into two companies, and commenced fighting with the firebrands (brandende stukken hout. svh) — the log heaps having burned down. The only law… was, that no man should throw a brand (hout. svh) without fire on it — so that they might know how to dodge (ontwijken. svh). They fought, for two or three hours, in perfect good nature; till brands became scarce, and they began to violate the law. Some were severely wounded, blood began to flow freely, and they were in a fair way of commenting a fight in earnest. At this moment, the loud voice of the captain rang out above the din (geraas. svh), ordering every man to retire to rest. They dropped their weapons of warfare, rekindled the fires, and laid down to sleep. We finished our road according to directions, and returned home in health and peace.’

Deze opmerkelijke gebeurtenis ontleedde Wendell Berry als volgt:

The significance of this bit of history is in its utter violence. The work of clearing the road was itself violent. And from the orderly violence of that labor, these men turned for amusement to disorderly violence. They were men whose element was violence; the only alternatives they were aware of were those within the comprehension of main strength. And let us acknowledge that these were the truly influential men in the history of Kentucky, as well as in the history of most of the rest of America. In comparison to the fatherhood of such as these, the so-called 'founding fathers' who established our political ideals are but distant cousins. It is not John Adams or Thomas Jefferson whom we see night after night in the magic mirror of the television set; we see these builders of the road from New Castle to the mouth of the Kentucky River. Their reckless violence has glamorized all our trivialities and evils. Their aggressions have simplified our complexities and problems. They have cut all our Gordian knots. They have appeared in all our disguises and costumes. They have worn all our uniforms. Their war whoop (schreeuw van opwinding. svh) has sanctified our inhumanity and ratified our blunders of policy.

To testify to the persistence of their influence, it is only necessary for me to confess that I read the Reverend Young's account of them with delight: I yield a considerable admiration to the exuberance and extravagance of their fight with the firebrands; I take a certain pride in belonging to the same history and the same place that they belong to — though I know that they represent the worst that is in us, and in me, and that their presence in our history has been ruinous, and that their survival among us promises ruin. 

'They knew but little,' the observant Reverend says of them, and this is the most suggestive thing he says. It is surely understandable and pardonable, under the circumstances, that these men were ignorant by the standards of formal schooling. But one immediately reflects that the American Indian, who was ignorant by the same standards, nevertheless knew how to live in the country without making violence the invariable mode of his relation to it; in fact, from the ecologist's or the conservationist's point of view, he did it NO violence. This is because he had, in place of what we would call education, a fully integrated culture, the content of which was a highly complex sense of his dependence on the earth. The same, I believe, was generally true of the peasants of certain old agricultural societies, particularly in the Orient. They belonged by an intricate  (complex. svh) awareness to the earth they lived on and by, which meant that they respected it, which meant that they practiced strict economies in the use of it. 

The abilities of those Kentucky road builders of 1797 were far more primitive and rudimentary than those of the Stone Age people they had driven out. They could clear the ground, grow corn, kill game, and make war. In the minds and hands of men who ‘know but little — or little else — all of these abilities are certain to be destructive, even of those values and benefits their use may be intended to serve. 

On such a night as the Reverend Young describes, an Indian would have made do with a small shelter and a small fire. But these road builders, veterans of the Indian War, ‘felled the hickory trees in great abundance; made great log heaps… and caused [them] to burn rapidly.’ Far from making a small shelter that could be adequately heated by a small fire, their way was to make no shelter all, and heat instead a sizable area of the landscape. The idea was that when faced with abundance one should consume abundantly — an idea that has survived to become the basis of our present economy. It is neither natural nor civilized, and even from a ‘practical’ point of view it is to the last degree brutalizing and stupid. 

I think that the comparison of these road builders with the Indians, on the one hand, and with Old World peasants on the other, is a most suggestive one. The Indians and the peasants were people who belonged deeply and intricately to their places. Their ways of life had evolved slowly in accordance with their knowledge of their land, of its needs, of their own relation of dependence and responsibility to it. The road builders, on the contrary, were placeless people. That is why they ‘knew but little.’ Having left Europe far behind, they had not yet in any meaningful sense arrived in America, not yet having devoted themselves to any part of it in a way that would produce the intricate knowledge of it necessary to live in it without destroying it. Because they belonged to no place, it was almost inevitable that they should behave violently toward the places they came to. We still have not, in any meaningful way, arrived in America. And in spite of our great reservoir of facts and methods, in comparison to the deep earthly wisdom of established peoples we still know but little. 

Wendell Berry werkt dit thema verder uit in essays en gedichten, het thema van de vervreemding, waardoor de mens in een permanente staat van oorlog verkeert met de natuur, de medemens, en zichzelf. Mak verwacht nu van de neoliberale politici en de bureaucratie in Brussel en Washington dat zij de ‘placeless people,’ hun ‘roots’ weer zullen teruggeven. De reden dat hij dit denkt is omdat hij weigert te beseffen wat er vóór zijn ogen gebeurt. Hij bezit te weinig kennis en te weinig empathie om een antwoord te kunnen geven op zijn eigen vraag: ‘Wat is er in hemelsnaam aan de hand in de wereld?’ Hij komt niet verder dan dat ‘de globalisering, de automatisering en een nieuwe technologisch golf, een ander Europa [schiep] en een ander Amerika,’ en dat op ‘beide continenten bouwde zich daarover een grote woede op.’ De mensen ‘voelen zich verlaten en vernederd, in de steek gelaten door hun leiders, achtergelaten in de tijd,’ maar waarom dit zo is, welke cultuur de ‘crisis’ heeft veroorzaakt, wil hij niet weten. De ‘populairste geschiedenisleraar van het land’ heeft zelfs geen begin van een antwoord, het ontbreekt hem aan de subtiele inzicht van een kunstzinnig mens of dat van een belezen mens, hij bezit ook niet de wijsheid van bijvoorbeeld een Indiaans opperhoofd als Chief Seattle die lang geleden tegenover de witte man opmerkte:

Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as they swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people. And the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than to yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch… And when the last red man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the white men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe. And when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night, when the streets of your cities and villages are silent, and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The white man will never be alone. Let him be just and deal kindly with my people. For the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death. Only a change of worlds.

Mijn oude vriend Geert Mak begrijpt deze wijsheid niet. Hij kan dit ook niet, de man die zijn hele leven lang een ‘geheime liefde’ koesterde voor het witte ‘Amerika’ groeide op en keerde terug naar het gereformeerde geloof dat eens zo scherpzinnig werd geanalyseerd door de Indiaans Amerikaanse milieu-activiste Charlotte Black Elk toen zij opmerkte:

Look at the origin legends of the Judeo-Christian people. You have an origin legend that says that Adam and Eve were banished onto earth and earth is an enemy. And you have native people, and Lakota people in particular, who say the earth is my mother and we all have to live together as a family. Those are very, very opposed viewpoints from one who says: this is my mother and the other who says: this is a place of banishment and you don’t really have to care for it because someday you are going back to paradise when you complete your banishment. And I think those attitudes are what came into play when you had western encroachment and the wars of the 1800s, the whole uprooting of native people.

Mak is met stomheid geslagen wanneer hij tegenover zijn publiek van ‘placeless people’ wanhopig uitschreeuwt: ‘Wat is er in hemelsnaam aan de hand in de wereld? Waar ging het mis met Europa, en wanneer?’ Nooit zal hij zich realiseren dat zijn ‘wereld’ het product is van het bewustzijn waarin hij gevangen zit en waaruit hij zich niet uit weet te bevrijden.

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