20 January, 2009

Angelic Bitchslap

I write a lot here about the spiritual and practical effects of embracing uncertainty, doubt, displacement and, ultimately, change. I like to think that often enough I remember to link my ruminations through the ungentle art of bondage and its related practices. This one is going to be a stretch.

I look out my living room window as I write this entry and see a decrepit oil tanker loudly blurting diesel fumes into the air as it delivers another 40,000 gallons of soon-to-be greenhouse gases into the bunker beneath my building in Brooklyn. It will lumber around the corner onto the main commercial drag in my neighborhood and crumble a few more centimeters of salt-crusted tarmac from the hundreds of potholes it hits as it coughs its way back to the oil terminal along Gowanus Canal.

However it arrives, the day is coming when this little transaction will cease. Even so, with the snow on the ground and the wind chill approaching zero, I'm glad for a warm apartment and that the toddler running around over my head can at least do so in stocking feet. As I watch the delivery conclude, the hose is coiled back to its ready position and a few obsidian drops mark the snow and the event... and the need. The truck lurches away in crescendo of ground gears and a cloud of blue smoke.

Made of fungible stuff, these carbon traces - the oil on the snow, the blue fumes - may come from Saudi Arabia, from the North Sea, from Texas, from Venezuela or from any several of the thousands of corners of earth being ruined by the habit of consumption, war and resistance to change.

Today, around noon, we will watch as our last, desperate, generations-long bitchiness about progress sings its nunc dimittis, having delivered fully on the pestilential promise of its creed. The revelation of our folly was so sudden and catastrophic, in our freshly home-made straits we have already begun to sigh with relief at the mere promise of remedy, of a shift. The long captivity to which we consented began in a spasm of self-loathing following the banishing of institutional prejudice with the triumph of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and was tempered by the schism of Vietnam. We have been having something like Robert Frost's "lover's quarrel" ever since.

No one ever tells you that the "better angels" of which Lincoln and now Barack Obama have spoken so eloquently can reveal to a culture and a people just how hateful and venal they have been. In the venal acts of 9/11/01 we had an opportunity to heed the angels' call - the manner of our better angels is not necessarily kind, but it encourages us to be more so, and their point is that we not make war upon ourselves. That devastatingly obvious opportunity was squandered and the acid bath of the last eight years was, in a way, just the last swing of the pendulum before it finally lost its moorings. We totally ran the clock down, broke it, maybe because it needed breaking, but also maybe because our collective soul needed just this much uncoiling, just this much and nothing less.

The utter loss of institutional and personal certainty, of anything like "homeland security," and the certainty of the change that will ensue is the same opportunity, only more obvious, less dispensable. It still boggles my mind that we dispensed the call of 9/11 with comic bromides like shopping is patriotic, but if, in the the end, we were engineering a shovel-ready shit-storm such as we're now experiencing, all for the sake of a fresh appreciation of the excellence of our Constitutional principles, then leveraging pliant national moods during national tragedies is just one abuse among a multitude we consented to.

Today we close the old book, the book of reaction and victimization, right to left and left to right, and we step up upon its terrible lessons to our prosperity and our posterity, to look homeward to where we grew up before, and to where we are to grow up yet again. It's the way we do it here.

Congratulations to Barack Obama and to our United States.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hear, hear!